Dodge and Burn Tips

In the Dodge and Burn tutorial I covered the basics of D&B, using the curves and soft light methods, pixel level and carving. In this article I’ll cover a few extra tips that’ll help your eye make the right decisions and to avoid any unwanted colour shifts.

Enhancing the Problem (temporarily)

There are a couple of good ways to temporarily alter the image to show up the problem areas and help you dodge and burn what you otherwise might miss. The first is simple, add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and pull the saturation slider to -100. After all, we’re dealing solely with luminosity, colour can be an unwanted distraction.

Secondly, you can use a curve to increase contrast to the areas you’re working on. The steepest part of a curve is the area of highest contrast, and we can manipulate this to help us work on problem areas. With this sample image I’m lucky enough to be able to significantly increase the steepness of the curve without losing much detail at either end;

This brings out a lot of detail that might otherwise be difficult to spot. To increase contrast in a specific area, such as the highlights in this collarbone, shift the curve so that the steepest part of the curve lies in the lightest part of the histogram;

Be aware that by doing this you’re decreasing contrast in the shadows and in danger of plugging the blacks, so you may need to steepen the curve there later to check you haven’t missed anything.

Group your desaturation and contrast curve layers together and simply switch them off when you’re done.

Combating Colour Shifts

The problem with dodge and burn is that areas of shadow are more saturated than midtones, and a lot more saturated than highlights. As we’re dealing solely with luminosity, those hues won’t change, meaning an area you’ve significantly lightened can appear oversaturated and a darkened highlight can look ashy and dull.

To remedy this open two new Hue/Sat adjustment layers, one above each of your Dodge and Burn curves;

Alt/Opt click between layers to clip a layer to the layer beneath. This means the effect of the clipped layer will only affect the appearance of the layer it’s clipped to. It will recognise masks, so clipping a Hue/Sat layer to your Dodge curve will affect only the dodged areas;

As we know that dark areas are likely to become (or rather remain) oversaturated when lightened, drop the saturation slider on your Burn adjustment. And as lighter areas are less saturated, and will remain so when darkened, raise the saturation slider for your Dodge adjustment. You can set the saturation slider according to how much of a shift you see in colour, frequently anywhere between no shift at all to plus or minus 20pts depending on the image. Zoom in and check closely while you choose your slider setting, and don’t forget you can adjust the hue in the same dialog if you find it necessary.

Please feel free to share the article, and if you have any questions please post them below.



  1. says

    Hello i really enjoy your work and was wondering do you offer classes or have dvd tutorials for sale..? or of any internships or additional help you may need.? Thank You-Chris Johnson 585.451.8400

  2. Clive says


    Thank you so much for your tutorials! They’re to the point, helpful, and honest. They’re gems, especially when one is tired of ‘quick fixes’ and is looking for the professional, high-end, non-destructive techniques.

    I’ve recently broken away from the ‘frequency separation’ technique of separating one’s color and detail layer, as I found the skin to still look too ‘photoshopped.’ I felt it lacked control. That being said, without your color layer, how does one tackle uneven, blotchy skin tone, like overly red foreheads/cheeks, and smudgy make-up? With my old technique, I could simply blend the colours together using a clone stamp set to a low opacity and flow.

    If possible, I would kill for a tutorial on how one might do so with less destructive methods and greater control 😀

    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!

  3. photoshop services online says

    Hi Daniel,
    While working with dodge & burn, I often face problems in selecting the pixel level. Seems like these tricks will help me a lot. Thanks a lot!!

  4. Lemay says

    In my case whatever I use D&B cuves or Micro D&B soft-light 50% grey or the burn and dodge tool on overlay layer it will considerably desaturate the shadows part I intend to remove to clean the image. Looking or a solution

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