Anything Photoshop or Photography


Image of a Squirrel Monkey at the Jacksonville Zoo in Florida
This is a pretty basic blog on Dodging and Burning – a topic everyone knows about can be so confusing when you see all the different methods out there from the various Photoshop gurus. I have done several blogs on dodging and burning using other techniques (see my related blogs at the end of post). Recently I was looking through Glyn Dewis’s (another great PS guru) really good book called Photograph Like a Thief and found this technique. Had to try it out so here is my guinea pig, I mean Squirrel Monkey, taken at the Jacksonville Zoo in Florida. It is a good example for using this technique since he has a lot of back-lighting on his body (this little guy just would not stop moving long enough for me to get his face straight on through a fence, so this is what I got – as they say better than no picture at all). Using the following steps, the monkey was dodged over the edges of his face, whiskers, top of his head to emphasize the lighting effect, and burned where his tail is and parts of his fingers to show a little separation in these areas.


I am sure you have heard of this technique using black and white brushes to paint in where the highlights and shadows should be. This time, besides using the 50% gray layer, the Dodge Tool and Burn Tools were selected instead of the Brush Tool to create a really nice soft effect. Simple enough. So lets start with the easy set up workflow and then discuss why you would do it this way.

  1. Create a New Layer on top of your image this way:  ALT+click on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Name the layer Dodge and Burn, set the Mode to Soft Light so the Fill with Soft-Light-neutral color (50% gray) checkbox is visible.
  2. Set the color swatches to their default black and white (CTRL+D for black and white, and then click on the Foreground Color and open the Color Picker – set it to Midtone Gray – H0/S0/B50). It does not seem to matter if you forget this right now, but you do need to create a Medium Gray foreground color to do this technique correctly.
  3. Select the Dodge Tool (O Key) in the Toolbar. Create a soft round brush and in the Options Bar use these settings: Range: Midtones, Exposure5%, and check the Protect Tones box. I saved my brush and named it GDewis Dodge Brush.
  4. With the Dodge Tool selected, softly paint over the light areas of your image where you would like some extra highlights to be. Build up your effect slowly as a little bit goes a long way.
  5. Hold down the ALT Key and the same settings will be used to paint with the Burn Tool – paint over areas to be darkened and also build up the effect. For example, if my regular Burn Tool brush is set to 23% Exposure setting, it does not matter – just the 5% that is in the Dodge Tool settings is applied. (This applies the reverse way if the Burn Tool is selected and the ALT Key is held for the Dodge Tool.) Major Cool!
  6. If you made a mistake and an area is too light or too dark, switch to the Brush Tool and paint over the white or black marks to set it back to the Medium Gray instead of trying to erase it. That is why the foreground is set to Medium Gray. Also Major Cool! Set the Brush Tool opacity to less if you only want to reduce the effect partially.

To see the gray layer without the underlying layers, ALT+click on the eyeball and the other layers disappear. ALT+click on the eyeball again and they appear. This makes it really easy to fine tune areas that may be over brightened or darkened. I find I am constantly turning this on and off to see where the effect appears overdone.

You can adjust the Exposure setting as much as you want, but he prefers to keep it fairly low – in the 5-10% range – and building the effect up slowly. Some info from The Photoshop Wow Book for CS3 and CS4 follows: Many people like to use the Overlay blend mode instead of Soft Light for the gray layer. Just watch out for your image becoming too saturated – if this happens, change to Soft Light. Also, the Protect Tones checkbox causes the tool to reduce its effect on pure black or white (Adobe says it minimizes clipping in the shadows and highlights). It also attempts to protect the hue so your colors do not become more neutral as you alter their luminance. And different types of brush tips can be used and settings just like with a regular brush – only Color Dynamics is not available in the in Brush Panel. Try changing the Exposure Jitter slider in the Transfer section for an interesting different result.

The Alligator image below used three dodging and burning techniques to get this final effect. I really like the subtle way Glyn’s technique adds the contrast. But the image needed some small details lines added for separation as these alligators are look similar – so I used  my Best Dodging and Burning Technique blog on a separate layer above, then a couple Curves Adjustment Layers were used to paint in parts of the areas that needed a little more darkening and lightening. The point is, sometimes you just have to combine techniques.

Image of Alligators sunbathing at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida

Why This Works

This technique finally makes sense to me and here is why. I have always been confused as to why some people just use black and white brushes to dodge and burn since it creates a pretty good result also. Glen says “…. when I’m dodging and burning, if I need to remove or reduce an area, I can quickly select a brush and paint over the area with this 50% gray color at whatever opacity I choose.” This means it is much faster to remove mistakes by just switching to the Brush Tool (B Key) instead of using the Erase Tool which may be too strong or sharp, or having to keep selecting the gray color for the foreground color to make the correction and then changing the foreground back to black. Otherwise I am not sure there is a lot of difference.

It works great on portraits which is what Glyn’s photography seems to emphasize. But on a very busy floral image of Azaleas, it just had very little effect. That confused me – until – wait the Dodge and Burn Tools are both set to Range Midtones. If your image is has more contrast to start, then possibly a Range set to Highlights would make more sense for painting with the Dodge Tool. David Belliveau, the wonderful painter and illustrator, in his Dodge & Burn: How to Fix Highlights in Your Paintings video says using the Dodge Tool set to a Midtones Range, even if you keep painting over it, only affects the midtones in your image. The highlights or shadows will remain the same and you could very easily blow out the midtones. See left side image below.

  • If you set the Range to Highlights, all the sudden the whites popped a lot more. Since Azaleas have a lot of white in them, it is what was needed on the flowers.
  • By changing the Dodge Tool to a Shadows Range and painting over the darker areas, just a little bit of light is introduced into the darkest areas.
  • If the Dodge Tool is set to Highlights Range and the ALT key is held down to get the Burn Tool, what happens? When I tried this, it added just a little bit of darkening to the edges of my flowers and actually slight cooled down blow areas in parts of the flowers. This was a surprise to me, but definitely worth trying when you have blown out areas of an image that is attracting too much attention. See the right side image below.

Tych of Dewis Dodge & Burn Method

Image of Belliveau Method of Dodge & Burn

Glyn Dewis also says it makes it a lot easier to blend or transition the light and dark areas on an image, especially in portraits. One of his portrait tricks is to select with the Lasso Tool for example on the gray layer a rough transition area, and duplicate the selection by clicking CTRL+J. Then on selected area go to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur to soften the transition a little bit.

I guess what I am getting at is you need to experiment with these settings and adjust them so they work with the image being post-processed. This actually turned out to be a lot of fun and I believe there are some good creative uses here along with the great advantage of being able to selectively emphasize how the dark and bright areas are presented without touching the original image. Hope you learned something – I sure did just by trying out all the brush settings. I plan on taking next week off so will blog here in as soon as I can get back at it. Have a great week! ….. Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd’s Related Blogs:
How to Use Curves Adjustment Layers to Dodge and Burn an Image
How to use Linear Dodge (Add) & Linear Burn Modes on Image
The Best Dodging and Burning Technique!
How to Create a Subtle Dodge and Burn Effect
How to Add a Spot of Light

4 responses

  1. Ann Mackay

    Bookmarked! Thanks for the great info…this will be very useful. 🙂

    03/24/2019 at 7:23 am

  2. Will definitely try the grey layer. Love the alligators!

    03/25/2019 at 8:37 am

  3. I often use gray Soft Light layer. But I have never used it with dodge and burn tools. Will have to try it. 🙂

    04/02/2019 at 5:30 pm

  4. Pingback: REBOOT – HOW TO USE LINEAR DODGE (ADD) & LINEAR BURN BLEND MODES ON IMAGE | Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

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