One of the basic photo editing techniques is, using dodge and burn to brighten, respectively darken and area of a photo. Photoshop of course has specific tools for that, but using them has few downsides. The biggest one, is that you have to apply it directly of a pixels of a photo, and so the effect can not be tweaked or reversed (only undo helps :))

So as I mentioned in my most useful blending modes in Photoshop, you can also use the Soft light blending mode, as a way to do Dodge and Burn in a more control way. Btw. I used a little stronger effects on the sample images, to illustrate the effect.

Soft light

As stated before, Soft light blending mode will either darken or brighten the layer underneath, based on the layer it has been used on. So everything that is 50% grey (#808080) has no effect at all, everything that is darker, will darker the bottom layer, everything that is brighter, will brighten the bottom layer.

Dodge&BurnOriginal photo
Dodge&BurnDodged the foreground threes

Dodge & Burn

Once you know how soft light works, it’s easy to figure out how to use it to Dodge and Burn. What you do is:

  • Create a new empty layer
  • Set it’s blending mode to soft light
  • Take a soft brush, at around 30% opacity
  • Paint with white color on the new layer to dodge
  • Paint with black color on the layer to burn
  • Paint with 50% grey or use erase at a lower opacity, to undo what you have changed

You can also use shift-backspace, if you want to fill the whole layer with 50% grey. Just choose it from the option in the small window that will open.

Dodge&BurnBurned the top part of the photo
Dodge&Burn50% grey has no effect

Adding color

When you are using only white, black and shades of grey, you will only dodge and burn. But if you are using a colour instead of them, you will not only affect the brightness, but also the color of the area. This can help in a lot of situations. For instance, if you to paint more yellow into a sunset, or more green into autumn grass and similar. By using soft light, and a low opacity brush, you can create a very nice transition for most cases. You can of course also change the opacity of the soft light layer, to further tweak the strength of the effect.

Dodge&BurnDodged with yellow color the trees
Dodge&BurnBurned with blue color the sky

Using with luminance and color selections

One thing that works great with this approach, is combining it with different selections. Especial luminance selection work great with Dodging and Burning, and color selections (select/color range) with color painting. Just create yourself a Light selection and paint with black to make the areas darker, or opposite, create a darks selection and paint the area with white to make it brighter. With the selection active, you will only effect the selected bright/dark areas and nothing else.

Dodge&BurnBurnig with a luminance mask
Dodge&BurnColor selection to restrict the are affected

And that’t it. Feel free to ask any questions.

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