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Dodging and burning is easily one of my favorite creative effects. I'm sure part of my fondness for this technique is a sense of nostalgia for the time I spent working in the wet darkroom. I also like this technique because it provides an opportunity to interact directly with the image in an artistic way. Effectively, painting with light and dark in various areas of the image. Photoshop does include Dodge and Burn tools and in fairness they've actually been significantly improved in recent versions. But I still prefer to use the Brush tool for this technique and in this lesson I'm going to show you how I perform the task. I'll want to work on a separate layer so I'm not altering my original pixel values and so I'm going to create a new pixel layer.
However, I want that layer to have special property's. So I'm going to hold the ALT key on Windows. Or the Option key on Macintosh while clicking on the Create New Layer button. The blank should have a paper icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. This will cause the New Layer dialog to appear. I can give the layer a name. This is certainly a good idea so I'll know exactly why the layer is here. In this case I'll call the layer Dodge and Burn. And the most important thing is to change the blend mode. The blend mode is going to change the actual behavior of this layer. And I want to use the Overlay blend mode.
This is one of the Contrast blend modes, and it will enable me to easily lighten and darken specific areas of the image. You could also use soft light, by the way. That simply produces a slightly more subtle version of the effect. But I prefer to use Overlay, so I have a little bit more latitude in my adjustment. So, I'll choose that blend mode. And I'm also going to turn on the check box to fill with overlaid neutral color. That would be 50% gray. This is an optional step, but as you'll see in a moment, it actually makes it easier to see where you've painted on this layer.
I'll go ahead and click OK to Create this Layer. And as you can see, I have a new layer on the Layers panel. It's called Dodge and Burn. It's filled with 50% gray, and the blend mode is set to Overlay. Next I'll choose the Brush tool from the toolbox, and then check the settings on the options bar. The size of the brush is not critical. I'll adjust that size on the fly while I'm working. But I do want to make sure the hardness is set to a value of 0%. I want to soft edge brush, so the effect will blend in to surrounding areas. I want the blend mode for the brush itself to be set to normal. The magic is happening on my Bodge and Burn Layer, on the Layers panel. So that is set to Overlay but the brush would be set to normal. And I'm also going to adjust my opacity.
But first I want to show you the effect of the Overlay blend mode. I'm going to press the letter D on the keyboard to achieve the default colors of black and white I can also, by the way, switch those colors by pressing X to swap foreground and background colors. You can think of that as exchange to help remember the keyboard shortcut. If I paint then with black, I'll press the right square bracket key to enlarge the brush. You can also press the left square bracket key to reduce the size of the brush. I'll go ahead and paint with black. And you can see that I'm darkening the image significantly. I'll press the letter X to switch foreground and background colors so that I'm able to paint with white.
And you can see that this is lightening the image significantly. That gives us an idea of the effect here but obviously it's a bit too strong, so we'll want to paint at a reduced opacity. I'll go ahead and undo those brush strokes and now I'll reduce the opacity. I can use the slider on the options bar but I can also use a keyboard shortcut. If I press the number one, for example, I'll get 10%. And two will give me 20%, etcetera. If I need somewhere in between, for example 15%, I simply press one, five relatively quickly, and I'll get 15%. Generally speaking I suggest working at an opacity of about 10%, and 20% is usually the most I'll ever use.
In this case, I'm going to use 20% though, so that it'll be a little bit easier for you to see the effect I'm having on the image. I'll go ahead then and adjust my brush size as needed, in this case I'd like to darken the horns of this cape buffalo, so I'm going to switch my foreground and background colors so that black is my foreground color. And now I can paint a darkening effect into the image. When you're painting with this technique it is important that you paint over an entire area that you want to effect before releasing the mouse button. Otherwise, you may not get even coverage in those areas, and that might lead to some variations in tonality. Let me give you an idea of what I'm referring to, if I turn off the visibility for my background layer, we can see the actual layer here. Notice how easy it is to see my dark painting when it's placed over the 50% gray area that I filled this layer with, that's the reason that I prefer to have that option turned on.
Now, let's say I needed to pain into a circular area, for example, if I were to use multiple brush strokes for that, then I would end up with some overlapping areas that don't match up with surrounding areas. You can see here, I end up with a little bit of a mottled pattern and that can be very problematic. And so that's why it's important to click and hold the mouse, and paint over the entire area until you've finished covering that area, before releasing the mouse and continuing on to other areas. I'll go ahead and turn on my background image layer once again so we can work on the image. And we can apply some lightening effects.
I'll press X to switch the foreground color to white, and then for example paint over the eye to help brighten up that detail just a little bit. The key is that I'm able to lighten or darken specific areas in order to emphasize them. For example, adding some density to the horns so they don't look quite so washed out, and opening up details in the shadows such as the eye. If I were to make a mistake when painting, I would want to use a particular technique to correct that mistake. For example, let's say I wasn't paying attention, and I painted multiple strokes over an area that I did not intend to lighten, causing a significant lightening effect.
You might be tempted to simply switch the foreground color to black and then paint over that area but this would lead to a problem because we would not be able to exactly match the original middle gray value. I'll go ahead and turn off my background image layer so we can see the painting that I've done here. And I'll switch my foreground color to black to show you the problem that we would run into. Notice that in the center area there it seems to be matching up reasonably well. If I paint multiple strokes, I might get it to match middle gray, but I also end up with a border area that does not match.
So instead of using that sort of technique, I'm going to again turn on my background image layer. I'll simply choose a 50% gray value. I'll click on my foreground color in order to bring up the Color Picker, and then set the B value in HSB to 50%. That will give me a 50% gray color. I'll then need to adjust my opacity up to 100% so I'm painting with an actual middle gray value, and then I can simply paint over that area, and you can see the correction is applied. Turning off the background image layer, you'll see that I've painted in middle gray in that area, taking it back to its original value. Of course, if I want to then continue painting in the image in order to lighten and darken, I'll simply press the letter D to get my default colors and then press the number two, in this case, to get my 20% opacity. And of course, I can use the opacity control on the options bar if I prefer as well.
The key to using the Dodge and Burn technique presented in this lesson is subtlety. You want to have a meaningful impact on the image but you don't want the viewer to realize immediately that you've applied such an effect. By utilizing a low opacity setting when painting with this technique you'll be able to produce great results.
- Safely experimenting with creativity
- Creating a black-and-white effect
- Using Curves presets for creative effects
- Applying a vignette
- Using the Filter Gallery
- Applying a Gradient Map adjustment
- Creating a multiple exposure effect
- Hand-painting an image
- Creative projects