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The Big Fixx: digital-camera image problems > Dodging and Burning Done Right

Dodging and Burning Done Right

If you’ve ever used Photoshop’s Dodge and Burn tools, you already know how lame they are. That’s why the pros choose this method instead—it gives them a level of control that the Dodge and Burn tools just don’t offer, and best of all, it doesn’t “bruise the pixels.” (That’s Photoshop-speak for “it doesn’t mess up your original image data while you’re editing.”)

Step One.
In this tutorial, we’re going to dodge areas of this temple to add some highlights, and then we’re going to burn in the water and sky a bit to darken some of those areas. Start by opening the photo you want to dodge and burn.


Step Two.
Go to the Layers palette, and from the pop-down menu, choose New Layer. The reason you need to do this (rather than just clicking on the Create New Layer icon) is that you need to access the New Layer dialog box for this technique to work, and you don’t get the dialog when you use the Create New Layer icon. If you’re a pop-down menu hater or shortcut freak (you know who you are), you can Option-click (PC: Alt-click) the Create New Layer icon instead to bring up the dialog.

Step Three.
In the New Layer dialog, change the Mode to Overlay; then, right below it, choose “Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray).” This is normally grayed out, but when you switch to Overlay mode, this choice becomes available. Click the check box to make it active, and then click OK.

Step Four.
This creates a new layer, filled with 50% gray, above your Background layer. (When you fill a layer with 50% gray and change the Mode to Overlay, Photoshop ignores the color. You’ll see a gray thumbnail in the Layers palette, but the layer appears transparent in your image window.)

Step Five.
Switch to the Brush tool, choose a large soft-edged brush, and then go up to the Options bar and lower the Opacity to approximately 30%.

Step Six.
Press “d” to set your Foreground color to black. Begin painting over the areas that you want to darken (burn). As you paint, in the Layers palette, you’ll see black strokes appear in the thumbnail of your gray transparent layer, and in the image window, you’ll see soft darkening (in the example shown here, paint over the water to make it richer).

Step Seven.
If your first stab at burning isn’t as intense as you’d like, just release the mouse button, click again, and paint over the same area. Because you’re dodging at a low Opacity, the shadows will “build up” as you paint over previous strokes. If the shadows appear too intense, just go to the Layers palette and lower the Opacity setting until they blend in.

Step Eight.
If there are areas you want to lighten (dodge), just press “x” to switch your Foreground color to white and begin painting in the areas that need lightening. In this example, you’ll lighten the dark areas inside the temple to bring out some of the detail. You can also lighten any of the red poles, and the area directly above the poles, and even the roof if you like. Okay, ready for another dodging and burning method? Good, ’cause I’ve got a great one.

Step Nine.
This really isn’t Step Nine; it’s another way of dodging and burning that I learned from Jim DiVitale, and I have to admit—I’m starting to really dig it. You still do the dodging and burning on a separate layer (no bruising pixels), but you don’t have to go through all the New Layer dialog hoops. Just click the New Layer icon, and then change the mode in the Layers palette to Soft Light (as shown at left).

Step Ten.
This is really Step Two of Jim’s technique. Now, just set white as your Foreground color, and you can dodge right on this layer using the Brush tool set to 30% Opacity. To burn, just as before—switch to black. The dodging and burning using this Soft Light layer does appear a bit softer and milder than the previous technique, and you should definitely try both to see which one you prefer.

Before Photoshop’s magic touches.

After (with the water and sky burned, and the temple dodged).

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