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Dodge & Burn using Soft Light blending mode in Photoshop

Dodging (lighten) and burning (darken) are legacy darkroom techniques for brightening and darkening specific areas in your image. Although Photoshop includes dodge and burn tools, these tools directly affect pixels, thus making this method destructive.

In this tutorial, we will be using a separate layer for dodging and another layer for burning. We will also only use the Brush tool to dodge and burn. This technique gives you greater nondestructive control over the adjustments. With each layer selected, we will dodge by painting with white, and burn by painting with black. Furthermore, by choosing a lower layer opacity setting, we can make sure we are not overdoing it and later we can increase the effect by brushing over an area multiple times.

  1. Duplicate the background layer by hitting Cmd + J (Mac) / Ctrl + J (PC).
  2. Click the Default Colors icon or press (X) to reset the foreground and background colors to black and white.
  3. Click the New Layer button to create a new empty layer. Name the layer "Dodge". Create another empty layer and name it "Burn"
  4. Change the layer blending modes to Soft Light.
  5. Click the Brush tool (B). Make sure you select a soft-edged brush.
  6. Set the brush opacity to 30%. Set the Flow to a very low setting like 15% to build up strokes for increased control.
  7. Click and drag to paint with black in the light areas of the image to darken (on the burn layer), or digitally burn them.
  8. Click the Switch Colors icon (or X) to reverse the foreground and background colors, making the foreground color white. Select the Burn layer and start painting to lighten.
Separate layers for dodging and burning

Separate layers for dodging and burning

Remark: You can adjust the layer opacity of the dodge or burn layer individually to give you even more control and use the Layers panel’s Opacity slider to adjust the effect.


Starting photo

Starting photo

Final photo: foreground memorial stone darkened, castle lightened, sky slightly darkened...

Final photo: foreground memorial stone darkened, castle lightened, sky slightly darkened...