Dodge and Burn Technique


Today’s Question: Do you still prefer your “Overlay” technique for dodging and burning in Photoshop, rather than using the Dodge and Burn tools?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, I do prefer using the dodging and burning technique that employs the Overlay (or Soft Light) blend mode in conjunction with the Brush too, rather than using the Dodge and Burn tools. The primary reason relates to workflow efficiency and flexibility, since this approach makes it easier to switch back and forth between lightening and darkening areas of the image.

More Detail: The Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop were updated not too long ago, and the result was an improvement in the results you can expect from these tools. However, these tools still involve switching back and forth between tools when you want to lighten versus darken specific areas of a photo.

By making use of the Overlay (or Soft Light) blend mode on a separate layer and then painting with black or white at a reduced Opacity setting using the Brush tool, you can switch between lightening or darkening just by pressing the letter “X” on the keyboard. That keyboard shortcut switches the foreground and background colors shown at the bottom of the toolbox. So if you press “D” first to set the colors to their defaults of black and white, you can then switch between those colors just by pressing “X” on the keyboard.

I prefer to work on a separate layer for this technique, of course. Therefore the first step is to create a new layer. Hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh while clicking on the Create a New Layer button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel. In the New Layer dialog you can enter a name, choose the Overlay (or Soft Light) blend mode from the Mode popup, and turn on the “Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray)” checkbox. Click OK to create the layer.

Then choose the Brush tool, and set the Opacity control on the Options bar to around 10% to 20%. Then paint with black on the new layer you created to darken areas of the photo, and paint with white to lighten.

I prefer the results and workflow I’m able to achieve with this approach over using the Dodge and Burn tools, and also over the technique of using separate adjustment layers (such as Curves) in conjunction with a layer mask.