Dodging and Burning !

 In Post-production, Softwares & plugs-in

What is Dodging and Burning ?

Dodging and Burning techniques come from analog photography, and was used to correct, adjust exposure on selected areas before printing. In an other word, dodging is a technique of lightening and burning a technique of darkening. But what the aim of using these techniques ? Using Dodging and Burning is used in every type of photography to sculpt, create depth in a portrait or landscape or contour or more 3D to an object in order to produce more impact and emotion to an image.

With skill you can deeply modify how an image can be felt by the observer. You will be able to enhance how light bounce, reflect, and give an in depth life to a two dimension photo ! It’s actually what painters need to know at the beginning of their learning process. In the photographic world there is no difference to retouchers !

On a Raw photo, we all start to do some global adjustments to refine exposure, recover highlights if necessary as well as shadows, set blacks and whites etc..  It’s a kind of global dodge and burn adjustment to an image.

But what I’m up to discuss here is how to apply it locally, by using a graphic tablet with its pen in your raw processor, in Photoshop , and in Photoshop using luminosity masks and how to choose between those different ways to apply these effects efficiently.

First of all, we need to understand how lights and shadows work with each other. Here is a quick reminder :

The closest areas hit by a direct light are highlights, the brightest areas on a photo. At the opposite, areas aren’t illuminated are the darkest part of the shadows, which can be black or very close to black. You also have cast shadows, quite a dark zone too, but made by an object and close to this object. Between those two extremities you have the mid-tones, which are transitional lights between highlights and shadows. These mid-tones are made of gradients.

Thus, according to what we want to do on an image, we’ll use Dodging and Burning differently.

To even a surface to make it smooth and flat, 2D, we’ll reduce highlights and shadows as much as possible toward the mid-tones. Even more, may be reduce the existing gradient in the mid-tones.

To create depth in an image, 3D, we’ll do the opposite. we”ll pull the highlights toward the whites, and the shadows toward the blacks, increase the gradient in the mid-tones.. in other words, improve the contrast of on image by creating a wider range of mid-tones.

Technically, there are many ways to do this :

How to Dodge and Burn in a Raw Processor like Lightroom or On1 Photo RAW 2018 ?

This is, I think the quickest and the fastest way of Dodging and Burning. Most of the Raw processor nowadays come up with local adjustment tools.

Generally, to burn, photographer use the brush tool and paint on the wanted areas of the picture after reducing the exposure, the shadows or the highlight slider. To dodge, they will crank the same sliders upwards.

How to Dodge and Burn in Photoshop ?

In photoshop there are many ways to do this. The easiest is to use the dodge and burn tools on a layer copy of your image.

Or, in the same principle, you could make a filled layer with a 50% gray in soft light blend mode and use the same dodge and burn tools on it.

Even better, instead of using the Photoshop dodge and burn tools in soft light mode, you could use the paint brush with a shade of gray on it. With a gray darker than 50% of luminance you will burn and with a gray lighter you will dodge. At that point, you could ask me, what the purpose of this ? Well, there are 2 advantages with this method : the first one is you can still step backward by painting with a 50% gray which will cancel the dodge or the burn you did, and only where you want. Second one, you can use another colour than the gray to apply subtle colour on your image. Here to dodge you will need to use a colour with more than 50% luminance and to burn less than 50%. We are getting close to painters techniques here. (And you can still play with the opacity and flow of the brush in the option bar)

Reminder : the soft light mode allow you to keep the contrast of the overall image while the gray layer will be invisible.

Lightroom brush tool
Lightroom brush tool
Dodge & Brun Photoshop tools
Dodge & Brun Photoshop tools

How to Dodge and Burn in Photoshop through luminance masks ?

Let say, you are using the TKActions RapidMask 2 Photoshop panel from Tony Kuyper. (See how it works on my youtube channel here.)

With the Rapid Mask 2, you can create a selection, hide it but keep it activated, and you can paint through this selection on the gray layer technique described previously.

Doing this through a selection is a refinement of Dodging and Burning, because with the Rapid Mask 2, you make a selection of a range of luminance of pixels to dodge and burn through.

This have the effect of darkening and lightening areas where you paint with the retro-limitation of the range of luminance selected. In that way, your Dodging and Burning is very subtle, natural, invisible but real. (when you compare before after).

Furthermore, remember, you can Dodge and Burn, with the paint brush with a colour, on a 50% gray layer in soft light blend mode to apply a subtle colour effect and as you know now, through a luminance mask.

Don’t forget that you have the option to play with the layer opacity, the brush opacity and flow option too !

Luminance mask in PS done with the RapidMask 2
Luminance mask in PS done with the RapidMask 2

Right, I think we did a good review on few different techniques of Dodging and Burning. Hope It will be helpful for you. I know there are some other ways to dodge and burn in photoshop but I can’t do all of them, this article would be endless.

Thanks to follow me on Dragonstreet Photography,


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