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Dodging And Burning

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Dodging and burning has a long history in the photographic arena.  It was generally used to improve an area of an image that for some reason or other, was too dark and/or too light. 

"Dodging and burning are terms used in photography for a technique used during the printing process to manipulate the exposure of a selected area(s) on a photographic print deviating from the rest of the image's exposure.

decreases the exposure for areas of the print that the photographer wishes to be lighter, while burning increases the exposure to areas of the print that should be darker.

Ansel Adams elevated dodging and burning to an art form. Many of his famous prints were manipulated in the darkroom with these two techniques.

Adams wrote a comprehensive book on this very topic called "The Print."

(Source - Wikipedia)

Dodge and Burn to:
  • Make a dark area lighter
  • Make a light area darker
  • Remove small blemishes
  • Remove bags under the eyes
  • Eliminate skin creases
  • Enhance small details like eyelashes
  • Tone down excessive red on the nose or cheek or chin
  • Control local exposure
What this does is expand the dynamic range of a digital image.  The dynamic range is the amount of brightness between the lightest and darkest area of a picture.  In one respect it is very similar to HDR (High Dynamic Range).

dodge and burn original

Back in the "wet" darkroom a burn tool was generally a ragged hole punched in a small piece of cardboard and a dodge tool was a round piece of cardboard attached to a very thin wire. Both of these homemade tools were held between the light of the enlarger and the paper on the easel.  

It really was a hit and miss affair.  One could dodge like crazy, run the print through the chemicals only to discover that not enough or too much dodging was done.  

 The print went into the trash and the process was started all over again either adding or subtracting from the dodging times.  

With Paint Shop Pro in your digital darkroom you can do the same thing with the Dodge and Burn Tools quickly and easily.  They work well and there is a reasonable amount of adjustments available with these tools.

This technique is best completed with either a Wacom Bamboo or a Wacom Intuos graphics tablet.  The ability to change pressure sensitivity on the fly and the precision of the pen and tablet make the procedure so much easier and more efficient.

Built In Dodging and Burning Tools

The standard dodging and burning tools in Paint Shop Pro are designed to work directly on the image while the soft light technique works on layers.

If you are 45 minutes into your work with the built in tools and you make an error or mess up directly on the image you will likely have to revert and start over - yikes!

When you are working on a layer (or multiple layers) and you mess up badly just throw the layer in the trash and start over.

You can also lower the opacity of the layer if you go a bit too far and you cannot do that directly on the image.

Dodging Example

dodge and burn

The original picture I took was way too dark making it difficult to distinguish any of the detail in this image - but the sky was not too bad!

To fix the image I did a few simple things.

I duplicated the image, changed the blend mode and then added a soft light layer.

At that point it was a simple mater to dodge and burn different parts of the image with my Intuos tablet to get the image the way I wanted it to be.

Read on to find out exactly how to do the same things yourself!


You can pretty much use the soft light dodging and burning technique for anything and it's really effective removing small imperfections in an otherwise good portrait picture.

You will be working at a high zoom level with a portraits so you can see individual pixels and you will be working with very low opacity - in the range of 3% to 5%.

What this does is make it a rather slow technique but the end results are well worth the effort.

What you end up with is natural looking skin that looks - well - natural. It differs from the end result of the skin smoothing technique.  With skin smoothing you often end up with skin that is totally devoid of any texture whatsoever and that, my friends, is just not natural.

We're humans - we have pores - we have small creases. 

Dodging and Burning With A Soft Light Layer

Adjusting the Dynamic Range

The dodge and burn techniques in this tutorial expands the dynamic range of an image.

The dynamic range is the range of brightness from the darkest area to the lightest area on the image.

In most cases the dyamic range of a scene can be easily captured by your digital camera with no need to dodge and burn.  In other cases, especially in landscape scenes, the dynamic range will exceed the ability of your camera to record the full dynamic range resulting in either blown out highlights or blocked shadows.  

Open you image in Paint Shop Pro.

Add a new Raster Layer and then do some inspection of your image. 

What needs removing? 

What needs enhancing? 

Select a nice bright color from the Materials Palette, get a small brush and circle the areas you want to modify on the layer you just made. This is your guide (not necessary but useful).

In this image the areas that need dodging or burning are:
  • Bags under the eyes
  • Shiny red nose
  • Two spots on the cheek
  • The area under the lips
  • Creases on the neck
dodge and burn original

Layer Set Up

  1. Select the Background and create a duplicate of it for safe keeping.  Next add a second Raster Layer right above the background and change the blend mode to Soft Light.
  3. Optional - create another Raster Layer above the Soft Light Layer - this one will be a guide layer.

  4. The best approach is to create one soft light layer for each area of the image you are going to work on and name them to maintain some kind of organization!

    You will now have the background, the Soft Light Layers and the Guide Layer  (if you choose to have one). 

Brush, Materials Palette and Brush Variance Set Up

  1. Your Materials Palette should now be black and white.  If it's not then click on the little tiny black and white box on the palette.

    Select the Brush (B) and lower the opacity to around 5% and the brush size to a few pixels (1 to 6 depending on the area should do just fine).  Lower the hardness to 1 so the brush has a nice soft edge.

  2. dodge and burn toolbar
    Left Side of Toolbar
    dodge and burn toolbar Right Side of Toolbar

  3. Open the Brush Variance palette and select pen pressure for size. You can do this technique with a mouse but you will not have the control that a wise Wacom Bamboo or Wacom Intuos user will have and your results may not be as striking.

dodge and burn brush variance

Working The Soft Light Layer

  1. Make sure you have the Soft Light Layer for the area you are going to work selected!  If you do this on the Guide layer by mistake you will be sending me harshly worded notes because the technique will not work.

  2. Choose the area you want to work on and then zoom way in so you can see the offending pixels of the blemish or mark you are going to remove. Now start working on the area you want to repair.

  3. dodge and burn zoom dodge and burn zoom
    Overview Zoom at 2500%

  4. In the image above (the working area) the dark spot in the middle needs to be lightened.

    Make sure that white is the foreground color and than start painting over the blemish.

  5. Because of the very low brush opacity the blemish will take some time and work to lighten - keep at it.  Zoom in and out to see how it is coming along and when you are finished move on to the next area.

  6. It is likely that the majority of your time will be spent paining white with your Wacom pen  to eliminate dark areas.  There are, of course, some times when you need to darken an area - in this case it is on the creases on the neck ...

Skin Creases

If you look closely at the creases you will notice that one side of the crease is dark and the other side is light so you will need to work both parts at a very high zoom.

dodge and burn creases dodge and burn creases gone
Skin Creases Skin Creases after Dodge and Burn

The light areas will be painted with black (burning) and the dark areas will be painted with white (dodging) on the soft light layer.

That's pretty much it - dodging and burning with a soft light layer.  The changes are small yet significant in the overall appearance of the image.

Dodge and burn pre.
dodge and burn post
Original Image After Dodging and Burning
With A Soft Light Layer

So now - go find yourself an image and have at it.

Dodging And Burning An Image
Rather Than Just Blemishes!

A soft light layer can be used in many different situations, not just for fixing blemishes and creases. Take the following image of my buddy Phil, for instance ...

I was in a rush to take a picture of Phil taking a picture of me in Las Vegas and didn't properly expose the shot with my trusty Olympus E300. As a result, the foreground is way too dark and the background is way too light.

dodge and burn phil dodge and burn phil post
Original As shot After Soft Light Layer Adjustment

There was a lot of dodging to do in the foreground which brought out the overexposed information quite nicely.

The burning was done on the casinos and sky in the background.

Once again the steps are ...

  1. Create a Soft Light Layer.

  2. Set the Foreground and Background colors to Black and White.

  3. Use a Wacom Bamboo or Wacom Intuos and set the Brush Tool to change opacity with pressure in the Brush Variance Palette.

  4. Lighten the areas that are too dark and darken the areas that are too light.

Have a successful time dodging and burning with a soft light layer - it really is fabulous!

Dodging and Burning
Black and White Images

This technique works beautifully with a black and white image and you can learn all about it right here ... Grayscale Soft Light Layers.


Dodging and Burning

Page Links

Dodge and Burn Tools

Using A Soft Light Layer
Other Images

Black and White Images - Link


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