Photoshop dodge and burn

One of the easiest ways to make an impact on your images in photoshop is a good old technique that has been used for years in the darkroom. Dodging and burning are basically just methods of adding or subtracting light to your images that can really help you guide the viewers eye through your photo. It is a simple method but can make a very dramatic effect in your work. Here is a quick walk though of an image.

We will start with an outdoor shot at the pumpkin patch.

Here is the image right out of the camera, it was taken in partial sunlight and overall has a pretty flat light to the subject and the scene. Notice how the background being bright really captures your attention more than it should. The main focus here should be on the child not all of the bright pumpkins in the background.

photoshop dodge and burn lesson

The first thing I am going to do before dodging and burning is do some quick overall adjustments. The exposure is off a bit on the image and its a little too bright so i’ll start by adjusting the brightness a bit and tone it down.
photoshop dodge and burn lesson

Then I will start darkening the areas that are a little too bright and distracting. I’ll start with the hay on the very bottom of the screen. In photoshop i’ll use the burn tool and set the exposure to somewhere between 15 and 20%, the brush will be set to a hardness of 0 so it feathers off and i’ll adjust the brush size as needed for where I am painting in the light.
photoshop dodge and burn lesson 3

After the hay I will burn in the background. For this I always start on the edges and since I am using a brush with a low exposure (around 15%) I will paint the light back in with a few strokes. Each time I use this tool it gradually darkens the photo and I keep building it up until I think it looks good for my style. I like a pretty dramatic look to my images and do like the background and edges usually burned in pretty heavy, you might not like this look so just burn it in until it works for you.
photoshop dodge and burn lesson

I think the background looks pretty good now so we can move on to the next step. The lighting on the subjects face is OK, but flat and a little bit dark. I want to add some highlights to her face to make the image look more dimensional. So I will lighten it up a bit. I’ll use the dodge tool to lighten up select parts of the face. I’ll start with the right side of her face and with a small brush lighten the side of her face, i’ll also lighten up her eyes and chin a bit. I’ll use a smaller brush and only work on certain parts of the faces to try and bring some extra dimension to the photo.

And finally while we are working on the face i’ll bring out the stamp tool and remove the little red rash by her mouth.
photoshop dodge and burn lesson

The very last step I will finalize the curves and contrast to give it just a little more pop. Here is a comparison from the first to last revision so you can see the difference together. I also did one final revision at the end with even more of a burn around the edges. See how your focus goes on the subject as the edges and background get darker and darker.

photoshop dodge lesson
photoshop dodge lesson

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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1 Comment

  1. I love this post! The step by step comparison pictures really drive the point home. Playing with lighting on edits is my favorite.


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