Dodge and Burn: how to master one of the most vital photo editing skills

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Get to know the Dodge and Burn tools

Get to know the Dodge and Burn tools

The Dodge and Burn tools are stacked together with the Sponge tool in the toolbox. To switch between the tools, just click and hold on the 
one that’s visible and then select the other one from the list that appears.

At the top of the screen, the tool properties bar provides options to change the size and type of the brush as well as a drop-down 
box to select whether to target the shadows, midtones or highlights.

If you want to darken the midtones, for example, select the Burn tool and the Midtone option and paint over the area that needs darkening.

There’s also an Exposure control that allows you to specify the strength or Opacity of the effect.

It is usually advisable to keep this very low, often around the 5% mark, and build up the effect gradually with a large soft brush avoiding any harsh edges.

Protect your original image when you Dodge and Burn

Protect your original image when you Dodge and Burn

Rather than working directly on an image or a duplicate layer, another approach is to work on a 50% grey Fill layer. The first step is to create the layer using Layer>New>Layer. When the New Layer panel appears, select Gray from the Color drop-down list and set the Blend Mode to Overlay before hitting OK.

Now you can use the Dodge and Burn tools set to Midtones to darken and lighten parts of the image. However, because these tools work in specific brightness ranges, it’s often better to use a black or a white brush with a low Opacity. A black brush darkens the image, while a white one lightens it.

Protect your colours when you Dodge and Burn

Just like when you use the Curves command, when you lighten and darken images with the Dodge and Burn, the colours are sometimes altered as well. However, if you work on a duplicate layer of the background and set the Blend Mode in the Layers Panel to Luminance, the adjustments are restricted to the brightness and colours are left unaffected.

PAGE 1: What is dodging and burning?
PAGE 2: Get to know the Dodge and Burn tools
PAGE 3: Adjustable Dodge and Burn
PAGE 4: Dodge and Burn in Camera Raw and Lightroom

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