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Posts tagged “dodging and burning


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


Laupahoehoe Harbor on Maui, HawaiiThis week I am presenting an oldie but a goodie that was done quite a while ago. Decided to try it out again with some new images and I still like this technique. It is just slightly different from the normal Dodge and Burn techniques and very simple to do. The above image was taken on Maui, Hawaii at the very breezy Laupahoehoe Harbor.

I learned this at a Photoshop World several years ago and am not sure who even presented it. It was just in my notes so I thought I would give it a try and got some really nice results! The workflow is pretty simple:

  1. Duplicate the image twice after doing the basic color and tone corrections to the image.
  2. Add black layer masks to each layer by holding ALT key while clicking on the Add Layer Mask icon (rectangle with circle in center) at the bottom of the Layers Panel or by pressing CTRL+I in a white layer mask.
  3. Now on the top duplicate layer, change the blend mode to Linear Burn and name it Darken.
  4. On the layer underneath, change the blend mode to Linear Dodge (Add) and name it Lighten.
  5. Using a soft round brush set the Options Bar Opacity to 9% and Flow 55%.
  6. On the Lighten layer mask paint in white over areas to brighten. Do same for Darken layer mask on areas to darken. Since the Opacity and Flow are set fairly low, it will be a build up effect to get just the amount needed.

It is a very easy way to add a little color and/or focus to different parts of your image. If the effect is too strong, just lower the layer opacity. Also, the Linear Dodge (Add) blend mode could be used as a spotlight effect to fill darker areas with some soft light. For the above, the Lighten effect used the Linear Dodge (Add) blend mode at 75% layer opacity and the Color Burn blend mode did a great job on darkening with a layer opacity set to 48% – the Linear Burn was too much for the shadows in this image.

Just to let you know what is happening with these blend modes, here are the blend mode explanations according to Lesa Snider in her Photoshop CS6 – the Missing Manual book (an excellent book BTW):

Linear Dodge (Add) – “Lightens your images by increasing its brightness. It is a combo of Screen and Color Dodge modes, so it lightens images more than any other blend mode. But since it tends to turn all light colors white, it can make an image look unnatural.”

Linear Burn – “In this mode (which is actually a combination of Multiply and Color Burn), Photoshop darkens your image by decreasing its brightness. Linear Burn produces the darkest colors of any Darken blend mode, though with a bit more contrast than the others. It has a tendency to turn dark pixels solid black, which makes it ideal for grungy, textured collages…”

From this it is apparent that Linear Dodge (Add) can make an image look unnatural so take care when using it. And Linear Burn can give a grungy effect so watch the results of this. Therefore if your image does not look quite right, try changing the layer blend modes to Screen or Color Dodge for the Lighten layer, and Multiply, Darken or Color Burn (as I did above) blend modes on the Darken layer. Experimenting with blend modes can give some great effects! Image taken on the Big Island in HawaiiThis image is from the Big Island in Hawaii after a short rainfall. Just painted areas to lighten and areas to darken using both the Linear Dodge and Linear Burn blend modes. Used Nik Viveza 2 to even out the colors.

Hope you get a chance to try this little technique – pretty easy to do and can give some great results. See ya later!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
How to Create a Subtle Dodge and Burn Effect
How To Use Curves Adjustment Layers to Dodge and Burn an Image
The Best Dodging and Burning Technique!


Image of little yellow blooms on a Ti PlantThis week I am doing a little video on how I brought these tiny yellow flowers into sharper focus using one of my favorite dodging and burning techniques and show what a few of my other workflow techniques look like once applied. This image could have been used with several other textures or have been cropped differently for a totally look. I really liked the negative space and dreamy feel of the image, so I left it the way it was done for the video. Links to more information are provided below. Here is the video:

Here is a list of places that will give you more info or where you can get more information on some of the techniques or resources presented in the video:

  • Lightroom Preset called Hazy Days 17 by 2 Lil’ Owls – See sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link, she has a lot of great Lightroom presets besides her gorgeous textures.
  • My Fun Photoshop The Best Dodging and Burning Technique blog – basically same technique as presented in the video except that a black brush color is used to burn instead of sampling a dark color from the image.
  • I Qwillo Brush from – keep checking back on Monday’s on Nicolai’s site for a free brush each week – love his brushes!
  • Adobe’s Paper Texture Pro – free panel that can be added into Photoshop to quickly add and change textures layers to your images – very useful.
  • My Fun Photoshop How to Add a Spot of Light blog – the blog used a technique by Corey Barker, but Pratik Naik uses the same technique with the soft round low flow brush – try this brush in different colors to get some interesting effects.
  • My Fun Photoshop How to Use a Black & White Adjustment Layer to See Contrast in an Image blog – should use this technique on every image to make sure your focal point is standing out.
  • My Fun Photoshop Yet Another Great Way to Create a Vignette! blog – same technique used in the blog except the Gradient Editor was opened and the gradient color changed from black to a soft purplish color in the bottom left tab. Blake Rudis came up with a brilliant idea here!

If anyone has questions on some of the procedures performed on this image, just drop me a question in the comments below and I will go over it more clearly. This was a pretty fast pace for describing all the steps followed in this image. Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend and Happy Halloween!…..Digital Lady Syd

The Best Dodging and Burning Technique!

I loved the way this image turned – the kind of art I like to do! These orchids were sitting backwards in the grocery store and it just struck me how interesting they looked from this angle. So here is the shot I got with my little point and shoot. Since it was not the best quality image, I had to do quite a bit of manipulating to it and that included some major dodging to clean up the lines in the image. I can’t tell you how much I rely on Lightroom to help me clean up these JPGs from this little camera. There is no way I could get them looking this good without it. I did two major things in Lightroom – added David duChemin’s Lightroom 4 preset Honey on Land which turned the really purple and white flowers into rich pink and gold colors. Next I used the Lens Correction panel set to Color and manually defringed this image. It had some pretty bad yellow fringing going on. To fix this, the Remove Chromatic Aberration box was checked, and using the Fringe Selector Tool, the yellow area was clicked as a starting place. The final Amount for the Green Hue was 3 and the Green Hue tabs were set to 0/19. Unfortunately ACR does not have a Fringe Selector Tool but you can manually manipulate the defringe sliders and get very good results. This feature alone is one of the reasons you should upgrade to Lightroom 4 or Photoshop CS6. Now I will get off my soapbox.

Photoshop is where the burning and dodging magic come in to play. Topaz (for website link see my Tidbits Blog sidebar) Simplify 4’s Watercolor II preset was applied. In an added layer mask, most of the flowers were painted back using a low opacity brush to reduce the effect of the filter on these areas. A Selective Color Adjustment Layer and a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer were added with some slight changes to the Reds and Yellows to bring back a bit of the purplish color. Next French Kiss Studio (for website link see my Tidbits Blog sidebar) Botanique2 watercolor texture was added and set to 70% at Normal blend mode. In a layer mask, the flowers were lightly painted back but the background retained the greenish colors. A Curves Adjustment Layer was added to add back the contrast lost with the texture.

The next step is the Burning and Dodging tip that comes from John Paul Caponigro, one of the best users of Photoshop to create fine art and a total Photoshop guru, in a course he offers called Drawing with Light – 21st Century Dodging and Burning (Kelby Training also has the tutorial if you are a member – this DVD is excellent covering many topics to improve your images). To add the burn effect to an image, a New Layer is created and set to Overlay blend mode. With a black soft-edged brush, paint over any areas or edges that need a little more separation. I like to use a very low opacity brush around 12% or less, but John Paul likes to use 100% and back it off completely.
The reason I love this method is that it is easy to erase a mistake or add a layer mask to reduce the effect. If you make one stroke too dark, just go to Edit ->Fade and reduce its strength. Also the layer opacity can be reduced if the total result is too much – you may only need a 15-20% layer opacity to get the effect. If you have a lot of changes and want to Dodge some areas, create another New Layer set to Overlay and use the same brush set to white. Be careful not to overdo this – it is easy to do. The white paint seems to really stand out. But it is a very easy way to direct the eye to the important parts of the image. Remember the layer is set to an Overlay blend mode which means that anything greater than 50% gray brightens the image, and anything darker than 50% gray darkens it. Therefore, when black is painted over the darker areas of the image, only the dark areas are being affected – the lighter areas stay the same. When dodging with white, only the lighter areas are being affected. One thing to watch out for is that the Overlay blend mode tends to increase saturation, so make sure this is not happening. May need to use a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to desaturate slightly. The last step for this image involved adding a Curves Adjustment Layer to bring in some overall contrast to the image. Textures can tend to flatten out an image.
This image is of a little tiny hard pod or flower growing on my Peace Lily or Spathiphyllum plant.  A macro shot was taken of the flower with filtered light from the south facing window that gives a really soft background feel. Before doing any darkening on this image, it was processed in Lightroom using just the Basic sliders. Next in Photoshop, Topaz (for website link see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) Simplify 4’s BuzSim III preset was applied. 2 Lil’ Owls Mosaic Set Amour texture (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) was then applied twice. First time it was set to Overlay blend mode at 100% layer opacity. Second time it was set to Multiply at 100% opacity and the flower was lightly painted out in a layer mask. Finally the a New Layer was created and set to Overlay. In this case, the top of the pod was getting lost in the yellow of the leaf behind it and needed a little more definition. With a soft black lower opacity brush, the top of the pod was painted back to reveal the edge more clearly.

I have used this technique for several years now and still find it the best for localized dodging and burning. This technique is a totally non-destructive to the image, and I think the results are far superior to the other methods out there. Definitely on the top of my favorite techniques. Give it a try and see if you like the technique!…..Digital Lady Syd