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Dodging and Burning is by far, one of my favorite techniques in Photoshop. That's in part because it allows me to exercise great control over the tonality of an image. And partly because it just feels more creative than typical adjustments that involve sliders and buttons. While Photoshop does include tools specifically designed for Dodging and Burning, I prefer to use a different method, that provides a bit more flexibility. Allow me to show you how it works. In this case I'm working with an image that I've already converted to black and white, and I've flattened it, just for convenience for this lesson. I'll create a new Layer for Dodging and Burning, but I want that new Layer to have special properties.
So instead of simply clicking on the Create a New Layer button at the bottom of the Layer panel, I'm going to hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh while clicking that button. This will cause the new Layer dialog to appear. I do recommend giving the Layer a name, if for no other reason then it will help you avoid any confusion later about why a particular Layer exists. In this case I'll just call the Layer dodge and burn, since that's what I'm using it for. The most important thing to change here, is the blend mode. We want to use the overlay blend mode, which is one of the contrast blend modes. You can also use soft light, which a little bit more subtle than overlay, but I prefer to use overlay so I have a little more leeway with my adjustment. I then want to turn on the fill with overlay neutral color, 50 percent gray. That will cause the Layer to be filled with gray, but that gray won't have an influence on the image initially, because of the overlay blend mode as you'll see in a moment.
With these setting established, I can click OK, and as you can see, I have a new dodge and burn Layer, which is filled with gray, and the blend mode is set to overlay. Next I'll choose the Brush tool from the toolbox and press the letter D on the keyboard to make sure the colors are set to the default values of black and white. You can also set the defaults by clicking on this small representation of the color picker, directly above the actual color picker. On the options bar, we'll make sure that we're working with a soft edge brush, with the hardness set to 0%. I'll also generally use a standard, round brush, rather than one that has a funny shape to it.
On the options bar, we'll leave the blend mode set to normal. All of the magic is happening on our Layer with the overlay blend mode set for that Layer. The brush itself, we want to behave normally. We'll return to the opacity setting in a moment, but note that if you're using a tablet, you can turn on this option, to enable pen pressure to determine the opacity for your brush. The flow setting is not important because I recommend leaving the Airbrush feature turned off. And finally, we have the option to use the pen pressure, to determine the size of the brush. Again, that would only be applicable, if you're using a tablet. So at this point, we have everything configured, except for our opacity. But I want to use a 100% opacity setting initially, just to demonstrate what's going on with this Layer.
Because the blend mode is set to overlay, the 50% gray that is contained in this Layer, is not having any effect on the image. That's because 50% gray is the neutral color for the overlay blend mode. But if I paint with black, I'll have a strong darkening effect on the image. And if I paint with white, I can switch the foreground to white by pressing X on the keyboard, then I'll be lightening the image. In this case, because I'm working at a 100 percent opacity, I'll be having a very significant effect on the image. When you're Dodging and Burning, you usually want the effect to be very, very subtle.
So I'm going to undo those last couple of brush strokes. And now I'll reduce my opacity setting, to usually around 10 to 20%. 20% is a rather strong setting, but I'm going to use 20% here, just so that the affect will be a little more obvious as you're following along. You can use the slider for the Opacity control, or simply click on the word Opacity and drag left to right. But I also like to use a keyboard shortcut to adjust the opacity value. Pressing 1 will give you 10%, and pressing 2 will give you 20%. If you need 15%, you can just type 1 5 relatively quickly. In this case, I'll press 2, for 20%.
Now keep in mind that I can switch back and forth between lightening and darkening, based on which color is my current foreground color. White will lighten and black will darken. Right now white is my foreground color but again I switch at anytime by pressing letter X on the keyboard. I'll be lightening the image since I'm painting with white. So let's go ahead and lighten up the area around the eye of the bird. I'll adjust my brush size, using the left square bracket key to reduce the brush size, or the right square bracket key to increase the brush size. In this case something just a little larger than the eye will probably work out reasonably well. I can then click and paint around the image, in this case just over the eye, to brighten things up a little bit.
Now, one thing that's very important to keep in mind, is that when you're working with this technique, you'll want to paint over an area completely, without releasing the mouse button. If you release the mouse button, and paint in multiple strokes, you'll have an overlapping buildup effect in various areas of the image. And this can create problematic patterns in the image. So whenever you're working on one area, click and hold that mouse button down don't release until you've painted over the entire area you want to affect. So for example I might want to darken the bill of the bird to bring out some more of the texture, so I'll press the letter X, and then adjust my brush size as needed with the left and write square bracket keys. And then I can click and paint down the bill of the bird. However, notice that down at the end I'm going to have a problem, because it's relatively small down there.
So I'll adjust the size of my brush so that'll work well in that area and then click and drag across the bill of the bird. I'll keep that mouse button down while I continue to paint over the entire bill. Being careful to pay attention to where I've painted and where I've not yet covered, so that I'm able to get a consistent result across the entire area. I can also use this technique to apply something of a vennette effect to the image. I'll use a larger brush and then I can paint into the edges and the corners of the image, in order to give a little bit of a darkening edge, which can help keep the viewer's eye focused more toward the center subject of the image.
Now the most important thing to keep in mind when Dodging and Burning, is that subtlety is everything. When someone look sat your images, they shouldn't think wow, I see you've learned how to use a dodge and burn technique. Instead, they should just appreciate the image for what it is. But if you turn off the visibility of your dodge and burn Layer, you should see a nice change in the image. Well, a nice change when you turn on that Layer anyway. When we turn off the Layer, you'll see the before version, and when we click again to turn on the Layer, you'll see the after version. And hopefully you like the after version better than the before version. You can continue painting around various areas of the image, lightening and darkening as you see fit.
I sometimes like to emphasize certain areas, so for example darkening shadows, and then lightening highlights, so that I get a little bit more contrast. Just keep in mind that you're painting with light, and so you can determine where you want to lighten the image, and where you want to darken the image. If you make a mistake, or you otherwise want to undo any of the effects you applied, I recommend painting 50% gray at a 100% opacity. You could erase, but then you're not able to go back to your dodge and burn Layer, and see what sort of work you've done. You'll have erased pixels where they would have otherwise been middle gray, for example.
So instead what I do is click on the foreground color, and set my brightness value, the b in hsb, to 50%. This gives me middle gray. Then I'll set my opacity back up to 100%, and I can paint in areas of the image that I want to undo the effect that I've applied. For example, I feel that I've lightened up these feathers just a little bit too much, and I'd like to take them back to their original appearance. So painting with middle gray at a 100% opacity, I can effectively erase my work in specific areas of the image. When I'm done cleaning up my work, I can press the letter D on my keyboard, to get back to my default values of black and white.
And then of course I'll want to remember to reduce my opacity as well. I can then continue to dodge and burn in various areas of the image. For example, I think I'll darken up this shadow just a little bit more, to add some contrast, and drama to the image. When Dodging and Burning, you're literally painting with light in an image. The result is an ability to draw out detail in specific areas of an image, as well as to emphasize or de-emphasize specific portions of an image.
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