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In this tutorial, you will learn everything you need to know about the Dodge & Burn Tool in Photoshop – a perfect guide for beginners.

Why Do We Use Dodge & Burn

The dodging and burning technique are probably, known since the first photographs. This technique allows you to work wonders with light and shadow, rescue underexposed or overexposed images. Or turn simple photos into beautiful paintings.

This technique has proven to be so useful that these days there is a digital equivalent. Almost no workflow can do without it. You will learn the secret of how all the raw material is processed. So that it can be applied later, from blog photos to glossy magazines.

What you’ll be creating

That is a very well-known and popular technique for correcting or even creating a chiaroscuro drawing from scratch. Photo manipulators, need to correct the source for the target work. To harmoniously fit a new fragment of a picture into their project.

Retouchers use this technique to change volumes and define shapes like sculptors. Photographers fill with emotions and reveal the beauty of their pictures. In the workflow of a digital artist, those tools can help to create ambiance, extra detailing, dramatic lighting, special effects.

Tutorial Resources


Besides the harsh shadows from objects and the sun. There are unnoticed features like Backlight, Diffused and Reflected light and shadows, reflections, ambient occlusion, atmospheric perspective. All these complexities of the real world.

Together, all that creates a pattern – chiaroscuro. It may change depending on weather conditions. Throughout the day, from lighting. From this chiaroscuro, we can determine the source and intensity of the light in our artwork.

When we take pictures, the camera doesn’t always make them perfect. There is a change in color or, as a frequent occurrence, a change in exposure. When details disappear from bright areas, the shadows are too black to see details. We get the wrong image, or too dark/light. The camera measures the exposure, for one thing, ignoring everything outside the picture size.

For this, a long time ago, invented the Dodging and burning technique. To manipulate the exposure (luminosity/value) of a selected area on a photographic print. Dodging increases the exposure to areas of the print that the photographer wishes to be lighter. While burning decreases the exposure to areas of the print, that should be darker. Nowadays, many graphic editors include all the tools and digital analogs of this technique.


Dodge Tool (O) and Burn Tool (O) are located on the left side of the main window, on the toolbar. Small preparations are enough to start using this technique. Create a New layer (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + N) with Blending Mode “Overlay” or “Soft Light” (produces softer results), checked “Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray).

More research is required, but I will say that from my practice I use this method to create a 50% gray layer, giving the program control the color accuracy. If you create an empty layer and fill it with 50% gray from the palette, it may turn out to be a little lighter or darker, which affects the image.

Dodge and Burn Tools

Set Dodge Tool and Burn Tool (O) with an Exposure: 5-20%, Range: Midtones. Set default black and white colors (D). Pick the right brush settings and size. You are ready to start creating shadows and highlights.

Dodging lightens an image, while burning darkens it. 50% gray color from the contrast blending modes group does not affect the picture in any way, but any corrections appear on it. Is not necessary, but it is needed for these two tools. Since they affect this color.


You can think of Exposure is like Opacity but do not confuse it in any way. There are significant differences in the principle of influencing colors. So, it is important to set the Range corresponding to the editing area. Protect Tones option minimize clipping in the shadows and highlights. You can edit the image by applying these tools directly to the image. It produces a different result than on the layer because the exposure affects the hue, saturation, and value. This option tries to keep colors from shifting original colors. At least you can’t remove any edits that you made or undo if something going the wrong way.

Alternative Options

If the task is to change the chiaroscuro, then there are alternative options for this that produce slightly different results. A variation of this technique is to use the same layer, but in place of Dodge Tool (O) or Burn Tool (O) is to use Brush Tool (B).

In this case, you can make corrections using the hue of the color. The “Opacity” of Brush Tool (B) you can use as “Exposure” of Dodge Tool (O) and Burn Tool (O). You can also use layers with different modes from Darken and Lighten blending modes groups. Like, “Multiply” for shadows and “Screen” for highlights.

As a completely alternative option, use adjustment layers. “Curves” are most commonly used. Create two Curves adjustment layers (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves or use “Create new fill or adjustment layer” icon), with a point in the center. One layer darkens, the other layer brightens, quite a bit. Then invert the layer masks (Cmd/Ctrl + I) and apply the necessary adjustments by editing the mask. In this case, corrections are applied by the settings of the adjustment layer. And this does not negate the fact that you can change the blending modes for adjustment layers to “Luminosity” or any from Darken and Lighten blending modes groups.

Do Not Overdo It

You can often see examples of when to overdo it. Unfortunately, this cannot be considered a visual effect. In such cases, it dramatically destroys not only the photorealism. But the design and harmony, regardless of where and how you use it. That is due to personal perception and the attraction to pronounced contrast. Whereas the real world around us is a little blurry. So our eyes and our minds are used to seeing. That can be corrected by a little work on your perception and analysis of real-life examples and light states. As well as more in-depth knowledge and walks in nature.

Tips and Tricks

Here are some tips on how to avoid the negative influence of these tools. You can turn aside from the recommendations given if you know exactly what you are doing. Any workflow is individual. It is few good practices from my own experience.

  • Less is better – be able to stop. Lack of lighting in the shadows will not cause much damage, but the black shadow can ruin everything.
  • Follow the shape – even though you are working with a flat image (2D space), it depicts objects in space. There is depth, surface distortion, perspective. Apply corrections following the sense of volume. Like modeling three-dimensional objects and space depicted in your work.
  • Match corrections according to light sources and light incidence from the original image. Do not apply corrections in the opposite or wrong direction from the light and shadow of the overall composition.
  • Apply adjustments gradually – first with a large brush, work over the main areas and gradually reduce the size to work on the fine details.
  • Create many layers with adjustments – you can always merge them at the end of the work into one layer. While you are making decisions, it is better to be able to more control the effect. Not count on the command “Undo” (Cmd/Ctrl + Z).
  • Try not to exceed the value for both Dodge and Burn tools not more than 30% for Exposure parameter and choose the right Range.
  • Not create pure black shadows or pure white highlights (unless it is a surface feature or extreme conditions).
  • A soft brush applied incorrectly ruins everything. While you want a hard shadow and precise shape. Make it with the right tools, but do not assume that no one will notice the spreading soft spot. Use these correction tools, shadow, and light in a suitable way.
  • If you have a graphics tablet: Use the brush pressure settings. It becomes much more convenient to control this effect. This will make the lines smoother and the ends fader. Such details add neatness to the work. But if you already remember about accurate and high-quality work, you can do it without it.

Useful Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Switch between tools – Shift + O.
  • Temporary using one of opposite tools while working – hold Opt/Alt.
  • To draw a straight line – hold down Shift.
  • To draw a line from one point to another – hold down Shift + click.
  • Numeric keyboard can set Exposure values – press any number on keyboard. 7 to 70%, 05 to 5%, 0 to 100% and so on.

Here are a few tutorials in which you can learn about several different types of similar corrections and useful techniques:


Sometimes it can take quite a long time. Just be patient if you need to do this. Do not be afraid to go beyond software, style, and genre. But, most importantly – do not hesitate to create and experiment! Thank you for your attention and good luck to you in your creative projects! Have something to add or ask? Use the comment section below!

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