Professional Retouching Tutorial: Dodge and Burn (Part 2)

If you've completed the Professional Retouching - Healing tutorial with your chosen image, you're ready to jump into the next step in your professional workflow, Dodging and Burning. This is an advanced retouching tutorial, so stick with it and keep practicing!

You may know the Dodge and Burn tools (O) alter local exposure, lightening or darkening your image in brush strokes. By using Dodge and Burn we're going to smooth and perfect skin while leaving texture intact, which is of critical importance in professional work. If you've ever followed those blurry skin tutorials on other sites, this is definitely the article for you. Some may have refined their understanding of blurring to a high level, which is fine but it's like spending years becoming so good at pitching a ball you can hit a batsman right in the face 95% of the time. It's a skill, sure, but unless you change your technique you won't make the pro team

Here's an example of skin retouching using dodge and burn;


Rather than use the standard tools, there is a better, more controlled and less destructive way to dodge and burn by using Curves, and we're going to use that method in this second part of the tutorial.

Open your chosen image and start a new Curves Adjustment layer and pull the middle of the RGB curve up as demonstrated below.

Name the layer 'Dodge', click on the white mask tab and press Ctrl+I (Cmd+I on a Mac) to invert it, turning it black.

Start a second Curves Adjustment Layer and pull the middle of the RGB curve down as demonstrated below.

Name the layer 'Burn', click on the white mask tab and press Ctrl+I (Cmd+I on a Mac) to invert it, turning it black.

Alongside each Curve below I've added blocked in red how each layer should look in the Layers palette when you're finished, named and with a black mask tab.


I'll reopen the image I began in part one to demonstrate.

Select a soft Brush set to around 1-4% flow, with your foreground colour set to white.


On the black masks you're going to paint with white, showing the effect beneath gradually.

Click on the Dodge layer's black mask and paint an area lighter, or click the Burn layer's black mask to paint an area darker.

Remember the dark area at the side of the mouth from the first part of the tutorial? Simply paint it out with the Dodge layer;


With your Flow set to 1% you won't see a huge change with every mouse click, it's a gradual, controlled build-up. Gently stroke your brush across all the problem dark and light patches, switching between Dodge and Burn until you have a beautiful, uniform skin texture.

If you're having trouble seeing what needs dodging or burning, open a Black & White Adjustment Layer and pull the Reds down far enough to add contrast;


See them now?

The rest is just time, a keen eye and practice. Here's the original side by side with what we can achieve with heal, dodge and burn;


It's subtle, it takes a lot longer than quick-fix blurring, but remember the bus stop analogy from part one. Good retouching is invisible, cut corners and every waiting traveller, driver and pedestrian on the high street will find out about it.

Professional results take time, but it's worth it. Web-sized images only tell a small part of the story, but in print, you need to be perfect.

If you have any ideas for future tutorials, please comment below and let us know, I'll be happy to explain the techniques behind any popular suggestions.

About the author

Copyright © All Rights Reserved