Dodging and Burning is one of the oldest techniques in photo editing. It has been there ever since the early days of film photography. The terms themselves actually come from the darkroom techniques of exposing some areas longer (burning) to make them darker and some areas shorter (dodging) to brighten them.
In Photoshop, there are many different techniques to dodge and burn an image. You may know the Dodge and the Burn tools that let you work directly on an image layer to darken or light areas selectively. The problem with the direct application of these tools is that they are destructive. This means, they directly change the image pixels and you cannot really undo or change them once they are applied.
In this article, you will learn four different techniques by Photoshop masters for actually applying dodging and burning non-destructively. These are very important skills that will make your workflow faster, more flexible, and more robust, no matter which type of photography you are into.
Using a 50% gray layer (Nathaniel Dodson)
Nathaniel creates a 50% gray layer on top of the actual image layer and, instead of applying the Dodge and Burn tools directly to the image, he applies those same tools to the 50% gray layer. The trick is to set the blend mode of that gray layer to Soft light to blend it together with the original image layer and make it appear as if the effect had been applied directly to the image. But effectively, you can switch the effect on or of, make it stronger by duplicating the gray layer and change the opacity to make the effect more subtle. Overall, this is a very elegant way to dodge and burn.
Using separate Curves layers with layer masks (Elena Jasic)
Elena uses a technique by which she creates two separate Curves adjustment layers on top of the actual image layer. She uses one Curves layer o darken the image (burn layer) and another Curves layer to brighten certain areas (dodge layer). Then, she reveals only certain parts of these layers by creating black layer masks and painting with white on them to let the effects shine through.
One improvement to this method that Elena did not show in this video is to switch the blend mode of both layers from Normal to Luminosity. This makes those Curves layers only affect the tones and not the colors.
Using brushes on separate layers (Aaron Nace)
Aaron use a pretty straight-forward technique, but in a very refined way. He simply create empty layers on top of the image layer and paints with light and dark colors that he samples from the skin tones of the model. This allows him to be more subtle and influence not only the tones, but also the colors if he likes. On top of that, he also gets to use the Blend-If tool that we’ve learned about in a previous post to change the way those layers are blended with the image layer. Overall, this is a very powerful technique.
Generating a Dodge and Burn effect from the actual image layer (Calvin Hollywood)
Calvin does not bother painting anything onto the image as the previous techniques have demonstrated. Through a series of steps that can also easily be stored in an action and applied very quickly to any image, he generates a layer on top of the image layer that increases the contrast and gives the image a nice dodge & burn look. To do so, he merges one image layer copy and an inverted version of it set to Vivid light as a blend mode. He also uses blur effects at different stages of this process. This is a very quick way to apply a dodge & burn look, albeit with much less control of the actual outcome.