Software: Photoshop and Photoshop Elements
Skills learnt: A technique for lightening and darkening picture parts using the Brush tool and Levels adjustment layers
Time: 15mins

There are few photographs that are not improved with a little dodging and burning designed to rearrange the tones within the image. The idea of darkening or lightening different parts of a picture to give emphasis, and focus attention, harks back to the days of the darkroom.

Photoshop and Elements have long had specific tools devoted to the task, but what if you want the flexibility of painting in your density changes, but also want to apply these changes non-destructively? In this issue we’ll look at two approaches to making local density changes using features found in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.
Let’s start with a solution that works equally well in both Photoshop and Elements, and combines the tonal control of the Levels feature and the abilities of adjustment layers and their associated layer masks. 

Simply follow these steps to add an adjustment layer effect and burn in non-destructively.

How To Add Contrast and Colour
Don’t think that this adjustment layer approach is restricted to adding or subtracting density. You can also alter contrast by adding an adjustment layer where the white and black point input sliders have been moved towards the centre of the histogram. When making such contrast changes, hold down the Alt/Opt key to preview highlight and shadow clipping warnings. To manipulate the image’s colour you can select one of the colour channels (R,G,B) from the Channel menu in the Levels dialogue. Moving the midpoint slider right or left will alter the colour of the middle values in the photo.  



How To Dodge and Burn: Page 2

1 Start by creating a new Levels adjustment layer above the background or main image layer. Do this by either selecting Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels or clicking the Create Adjustment Layer button at the top of the Layers palette and selecting the Levels entry from the drop-down menu.

2 To create a burn in effect, move the middle input slider in the Levels dialogue to the right. This will darken the midtones. Next move the white output slider to the left to reduce the brightness of the white areas. The image should be noticeably darker. Click OK.


3 Now select the layer mask of the adjustment layer. A set of corner lines will be displayed around the borders of the mask thumbnail when it is selected. Next choose the Edit > Fill Layer option and select Black from the dropdown content menu. Click OK to fill the mask with black and hide the effects of the adjustment layer.


How To Dodge and Burn: Page 3

4 To burn non-destructively, press D to set the default colours (black and white). Press the X key to switch white to the foreground swatch and select the Brush tool. Adjust the size and softness of the brush in the tool’s options bar, then reduce the Opacity to 20%. With the layer mask still selected, paint the areas you wish to darken.


5 If you accidentally darken an area too much or burn in the wrong picture part, hit the X key to switch the foreground colour to black and then paint over the problem section. Applying black 
hides the effects of the adjustment layer, restoring the picture back to 
its original condition.


6 To dodge or lighten an area, create another adjustment layer. This time drag the midpoint input slider to the left and the black output slider to the right. This will lighten the image. Next, fill the layer mask with black and then proceed to paint the lightening effect back into the photo using a soft-edged white brush.




  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. How To Dodge and Burn: Page 2
  3. 3. How To Dodge and Burn: Page 3
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