Advanced Tutorial About How To Dodge and Burn in Photoshop - Dreamstime


1-Step By Step

2-Help Layers

3-Be Organized!

4-Go, Go, Go

5-Once You Zoom In, You Can Never Go Back


7-Take A Look At The Big Picture

8-Modification vs Correction

9-Different Layers for Different Parts

10-Where to Stop?

11-Keyboard Shortcuts (Photoshop Assistant)

12-Neutral Gray vs Transparent Layer

13-Alternative Techniques

14-Different Applications

15-Creating The Art

In this blog, which will be more than long, I will try to explain a very important part of beauty retouching process.

Dodge and burn a portrait picture, without using any automated filters or actions. I will use the Adobe Photoshop as the processing software, since it’s the industry standart at the moment. Most of these informations are available on video tutorials or some e-books. I tried to summarize what I learned from many people.

First of all, let's take a look at which tools we will use:

1-Brush tool

Yes, that’s it. We will use the simplest, the most basic tool of the tools panel, the mighty brush tool.

Ok, here we go:

1- Step by Step

- Open the picture in PS (Photoshop) and duplicate the background layer. As I always suggest, always keep your bg layer, because you don’t know when you will need to go back to the base image.

- Create a new empty layer and set the layer mode to “Soft Light”

- Grab the brush tool from the tools panel on the left side (if you didn’t change it)

- Set the opacity value (top panel) to 100 and set the flow to 01 or 02.

- Simply press “D” on the keyboard. This will set the foreground and background colors to black and white.

Ok that’s you are ready to start dodging and burning. We will use “white” to dodge (lighten) and black to burn (darken) the imperfections of the image. But there are a couple of steps before we grab the brush tool :)

Actually, DB (Dodge and Burn) always reminds me of playing a bass guitar. It is very easy to learn, very hard to master.

2-Help Layers:

Help layers are a simple “black and white adjustment layer” and a “curves” layer.

We create the BW layer, because all that color of the photo (generally skin tone) makes it very very hard to see the real problems. Also, it is not good for our eyes health. Create the BW layer and set all the values to “0”. Why? Because if you change the overall lighting of the image, things will not look like the BW version, when you go back to the color mode.

Then, create the curves layer, click on the middle of the curve and drag down to darken the image, until you will still be able to see every detail. This will help you see the imperfections easier.

3-Be organized!

“To be organized” is pretty important because when you start a serious retouching session, one generally gets 15 to 30 layers. Believe me it’s not fun to look for “that” layer between layer 1, layer 2, layer 3, layer 4, ... , layer 18, layer 19. So write a meaningful name all your Liv Tyler, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt...this will motivate you :P

Ok I’m serious...start with naming your first DB (Dodge and Burn) layer, name it “DB 1”.

Press and hold CTRL and select the BW and Curves layers, press CTRL+G to group them. Name the group as “help layers”

Now we have to organize our work process. Press Ctrl+R to reveal the rulers and divide the picture on parts. Let’s say...for a full frame face image, I can say that 9 parts will be good to go. We will use the divisions to follow our DB process. We won’t pass to the next division until we finish the first one. This will help use not skipping the imperfections.

4-Go, go, go

Ok we start :) Grab your brush tool and white color, select the DB 1 layer and quickly zoom in to the eyes. Just below them, you will find the perfect place to practice your new DB technique :)) use a totally soft brush and slowly paint over the dark part just below the eye. Since we used “flow” instead of “opacity”, you don’t have to click everytime you move the cursor. Unlike opacity, “flow” will let the paint over and over just like a charcoal on real paper.

Move the cursor forth and back, sooner or later you will see that the part you paint on goes lighter and lighter. Yes :) this is the “dodge” effect.

Now, simply press “X” to change the back and foreground colors. Now that you have “black” on your brush; find a bright part and “burn” there until it gets the same gray tone as it’s neighbour.

Yes...isn’t it so simple! You betcha hahahh

5-Once you zoom in, you can never go back!

DB (Dodge and Burn) is a very very time consuming, (sometimes) boring and exhausting process. It makes your eyes run dry and it will give your hand some cramps. So you will have to decide a limit for yourself. Especially at first times, a full frame face retouch can take up to 5-6 hours (using a mouse will add even more).

I use the “zoom-level” limitation technique for myself. I look at the picture and say that “I will not zoom in more then 65% and I will only correct the mistakes I can see from that level.”

As the title of this section says; once you zoom in, you can never go back. You will see incredible tone differences and you will want to correct them all...tadaa a whole saturday spent for a single image LOL

Decide your zoom level and save your time. If you think that you are working on a state of the art image, let go the limitations and dodge and burn the hell out of it. Still, beware of the time...


A photo is a 2D image (wow...did you know that!) we perceive it as 3D thanks to the shadows-highlights and texture. During the DB process, you will change shadows-highlights and make them kinda equal. This generally ends up with something like a flat cheek or weird forehead. To prevent such nice surprises, I will give you some simple tricks, out of my experiences.

I generally tend to use the white rather then black...which means I generally lighten (dodge) the dark parts of the image. After some time, I realised that I should use the poor little black (burn) too...for the sake of equality :))) now I don’t have flat cheeks and foreheads.

Pay attention and if you dodge one part, burn the other part to make sure that you don’t change the overall view and dimension of the image.

7-Take a look at the big picture

For the same reason again, frequently zoom out and see how you are doing in general view. Zoomed in 100% you see nothing but the corner of nose or a little part of the sweet cheek. Press and hold Ctrl+Space, it will activate the zoom tool...if you click and drag to left or right, you can quickly zoom in and out. Since you will be using “X” very very frequently, your hand will be close to Ctrl and space keys :)

Also, use the layer visibility to see the before after of the process. It will help you a lot in seeing how you are doing. The little eye icon next to the layer will do the trick.

8-Modification vs Correction

There are two basic types of DB process.

Correction is the micro level DB, the one you zoom in and dodge-burn the pixels to make the skin silky smooth. ( Click here for a total explanation of every trick applied on this image)

Modification is the macro level DB, the one you zoom out and change the overall look of the face creating new shadows and highlights.

I suggest using different layers for modification and correction. Why? Because modification is harder than correction and you will probably won’t like the result. If you create a new “soft light” layer and work on it, you can just delete it and create a new one...try again, try again etc. If you work on the same layer, you will lose all the micro corrections you made when you want to delete your unwanted modification.

9-Different layers for different parts

For the same reason again; use different layers for different parts of the face. Let’s say, use a layer for eyes and lips...another layer for skin. So that you can change or delete them whenever you want.

10- Where to stop?

If you can limit yourself using the zoom-level technique, you probably won’t need the answer of this question. If you can’t.........I don’t know the answer, sorry. Dodge and burn until you fall asleep on the keyboard.

Ok, getting serious again, over DB make the skin look like a “boiled egg” or porcelaine. You should keep the skin texture. That’s why we spend this much time, to keep the skin texture. If you go too much, you rather use the “surface blur” and erase all the details, it’s faster...really!

11-Keyboard shortcuts

Yes...this is very important. Learn the keyboard shortcuts of PS. It’s not quantum physics...

D : Set foreground and background colors to Black and White

X : Change foreground and background colors.

Ctrl+Space : Zoom. Click and drag horizontally to zoom in and out.

(my personal setup, since A and Z are very close to the bottom left corner of the keyboard, I don’t have to lift my hand to change the brush size...and I change it very frequently)

A : Increase brush size

Z : Decrease brush size

There is a great 3rd party software (free) called Photoshop Assistant. It let’s you to create a shortcut for layer visibility (you know, the tiny eye icon next to the layers). I don’t know why Adobe don’t put a simple shortcut to the menu. Whatever...this little software locks the Alt key menu activation, too. “Alt” is a frequently used key in PS and it’s very boring that it activates the menu shortcuts everytime you press it. If you find this little friend, just get it.

12-Neutral gray vs Transparent Layer

This is an interesting dilemma.

All of the professional retouchers suggest to fill the DB layer with neutral gray, which is %50 gray. Since it’s the neutral color for “soft light” layer mode, it doesn’t effect anything. You paint white and black on the gray to get the wanted effect.

So...I DO NOT fill the layer with neutral gray. Because when you dodge or burn some part of an image, you change the saturation of that part too. So, sometimes you need to increase or decrease the saturation. I use my DB layer as a mask for Hue/Saturation layer and get a perfect saturation correction. When you use the neutral gray as background, you can’t get the free layer mask! Maybe it has a reason but I don’t know it and I didn’t see any down sides until today. Maybe I invented a new thingy :) heheheh

13-Alternative Techniques

You can use the “Adjustment Brush” tool (Shortcut “K”) in the Adobe Raw; it will give much better results especially for the parts that you need to make huge changes. It also gives a chance to tweak saturation and noise reduction, which are vital in some situations.

You can create a lighter and darker version of the same image from RAW and use it with masks. Also, you can create 2 curve layers, one for lighten (dodge) and the other for darken (burn), set them to “luminosity” mode (this way you can keep the saturation a little more) and again, use masks. These 2 different layers techniques are not suggested in general, since you need to select another layer everytime, it is very hard to dodge and burn at the same time.

Lastly, you can always use the basic dodge and burn tools directly on the picture.

14-Different Applications

Dodge and Burn can be used on landscapes, correcting small lighting mistakes too. It can perfectly "iron" any cloth without loosing the texture. When used in the right mode (Shadows, Midtones, Highlights) can create wonders on sky or eyes of a model.

For example;

In this very photo, the mantilla of the model is dodged to make it more shiny. Also I used dodge and burn to make the tissue free from any wrinkles.

Also in this photo of a male model; I again used DB to create deeper shadows (remember the shadow/3D perception) and make the chest muscles look bigger then they are. You cannot create an Arnold Schwarzenegger from someone, but you can emphasize what is already there.

15-Creating the art

After all those tips and tricks, the most important tool is your own self. To become a good retoucher, you should fill yourself with lots of knowledge from many disciplines.

Get a graphic tablet. If you are a frequent Photoshop user (or any other image editor). I seriously suggest you to get a graphic tablet, it will be hard to get used to it, but after becoming familiar you will feel the comfort and freedom. It changes a lot...All the professionals are using a tablet, they should know something LOL

Let’s say, “correction” type DB is easy because you see all the imperfections and just correct them. Just equalize the tones and you are done. It needs some talent, too but the most of us already have it, we are all artists yay :)

But, the modification type of DB, which is the macro one, which is the recreation of the hard one. It requires serious knowledge about light, make up, human anatomy etc and some artistic talent.

Watch tutorials about make-up, make-up is the basic trick of DB. I watched lots of tutorials (maybe even more then my girlfriend), I became a beginner make-up artist.

Watch documentaries about human anatomy. Recreating or mimicing the shadow of lateral leg muscle may be harder then you think. Actually, first of all, you should know that there is a muscle and you should also know that it looks sexy when it creates a subtle shadow. I learned about the facial muscles and how they act related to each other (it’s very useful in the liquify process)

Surely, watch tutorials about retouching. I can easily say that Natalia Taffarel’s “High-end Hair and Beauty Retouching Techniques Series Two” .... this is the best!!! I watched maybe 5-6 tutorial sets about beauty retouching. It makes more than 30-40 hours...none of them are even close to Natalia’s and noone is more funny then her. It’s like a 11 hours movie. She talks from raw process to the isolation techniques, from DB to advanced high-pass techniques. Just get it if you can. It is worth every single money you will pay...(Ok! end of the advertisement, sorry but these are really my personal opinions. I can’t skip it)

Watch tutorials about hand-drawing. (iPhone owners can find some free videos via “iTunes U”, there are lots of on Youtube, too) Drawing lessons help a lot in creating natural lines.

Ok, thanks for reading until you can see; one must hire professionals to do the job or be a lot of things to be a good stock photographer. I do never claim that I am one, but I do my best to learn as much as I can and never hesitate to share every single information with my fellow contributors.

As always, I will appreciate any additions, inputs, corrections or modification requests on this bloggy :)

Have fun during your DB sessions (if you can) :-)

Thanks for your time...


Photo credits: Parkinsonsniper.

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October 27, 2013


The more I read, the I understand more, that I understand nothing..... I Shall study more and more your technics, thanks that share skills.

September 01, 2013


Nicely written, organized and useful info! Well done! ...Useful button clicked too! ;)

August 23, 2013


Great blog, very useful, congratulations!

July 10, 2013


Thanks Suyerry, please feel free to ask anything at anytime :) I'll be glad to help...

June 27, 2013


I will have to try this, thanks so much for sharing! Not sure how I missed this blog until now, but glad I found it. :)

April 12, 2013


Mturhanlar, thanks for your nice words, too. I think this blog didn't get the attention I expected.

March 28, 2013


Thanks for your nice words :) I'll forward the compliments to the model too :)

March 25, 2013


thanks Parkinsonsniper this is great, i copied it and saved it to my computer ! and you have 1 super beautiful model there also !!!

March 24, 2013


its perfect post that I have read in DT blog until now about retouching.. I think I will learn lots of things from your posts here.. by the way your shots are really nice.. I wish you many sales ;))

March 22, 2013


Hey Mike, glad you find it helpful and thanks for the compliment too, I'll forward it to her :)

March 21, 2013


Great stuff! Thanks for writing. BTW, your female model is really pretty.

March 20, 2013


Hey thanks :) I can help further if you need any...

March 20, 2013


Wow! I am going to come back to this blog and study it. Thankyou for putting in so much time to create this very useful , teaching blog. Your portrait shots are amazing and certainly inspire me to use your techniques as I love portrait photography. Thankyou again!!!!

March 19, 2013


Amazing blog, thanks for sharing, very useful.

March 19, 2013


Laurasinelle :) your welcome and I'm glad you found it useful :))

March 19, 2013


Some interesting stuff here, will have to put aside a day to try this out

March 19, 2013


Thanks for sharing! this is a really useful blog! =)

March 18, 2013


Thanks @Yoavsinai

March 18, 2013


Very good

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