Back in the olden days of photography, when you needed a dark room and trays of exotic chemicals to develop a photograph, rudimentary photo alteration was still going on. The Victorian equivalent of Photoshop was double exposures, aperture techniques, burning and dodging. To burn and dodge was to cover or overburn a negative or areas of a negative to give lighter and darker effects. Reducing light on a print was called dodging, this would lighten the image, and increasing the light exposure was called burning, which would darken a print.

With this in mind, Photoshop’s Dodge and Burn tools make a little more sense, all they are really doing is mimicking this age old process of under and over exposing a print to light, except now we can do it far more accurately, apply it to only certain layers, and click a button to undo anything we don’t like, we’ve come a long way.

Open any image in Photoshop, a photograph is probably a good place to start and duplicate the layer you are altering, since all dodge and burn effects will directly alter your layer image. On the left hand toolbar, the burn, dodge and sponge tools are grouped together, the burn tool is a hand icon and the dodge tool is a magnifying glass.

Choose the dodge tool first, at the top left you will see options similar to the brush, with size and hardness variables to choose, a hard edge on a dodge toll will give an obvious line to the effect, so generally a soft edge is preferable unless you want a hard edged effect for a shaft of light or a very specific lighter area. You can also choose if the tool lightens shadows, mid-tones or highlights, try choosing each one and seeing how the tool reacts to it.

As you use the tool, notice that you can build the effect up, each pass makes the area lighter, you can either set this to build each time you click select, or enable the airbrush-style build up effect button to do one continuous movement that builds up the effects, like using an airbrush would. The exposure is automatically set at 50%, you can experiment with altering this too just by moving the exposure slider.

Pass your dodge tool over half your image, then swap over to the burn tool and repeat the process on the other half, notice the difference in the two effects, it doesn’t just darken and lighten, Photoshop tries to mimic the effects of under and over exposure, so the contrast and saturation changes as well. Too much burn and the colours start to overexpose, giving a garish effect.

Another effect that would have taken hours in the dark room, reduced to a few moments tinkering with the cursor in Photoshop, you can now add dodge and burn to your arsenal of Adobe Photoshop’s weapons.

[Image via Russ Payne]