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Bair Art Edition's Tutorial on:
Adjusting Color & Exposure
In Adobe Photoshop

Solving Exposure Problems: Dodge and Burn

Dodging and Burning is actually more of a lighting correction than an exposure correction, but it seems to fit in the catagory anyway.

You may use the actual dodge and burn tool in order to get the desired effects, however we champion another approach which utilizes the full power of layers. In effect, using the dodging and burning tool is essentially painting white or black at various opacities, while using a feathered brush.

We capatilize on that fact, and paint on a layer. This allows the dodging and burning to be erased, hidden, turned off and on, and set to various opacities; all independent of the background layer.

To do this go to Layer/ New/ Layer. When the New Layer pop-up window appears, select the Mode and choose "Overlay" Then check the box: Fill with Overlay - nuetral color (50% gray) and click "OK." You may decide to name this layer "dodge and burn," or you can create two layers, one each for dodging and burning. This is acutally advivisable, and will allow you more control.

As you begin to dodge and burn, make sure that the layer palette is visible, and that you are painting on this layer and not the background.

Begin by setting the color palette to the default colors of balck and white. This can either be done by clicking on the default icon, or by typing "d" on your keyboard.

Now select the brush tool (also accessed by typing "b"). For burning use black as your color, and white for dodging. We suggest you lower the brush's opacity down to 20 - 60% depending on your taste (remember that you can always lower the opacity of the entire layer later, and you can erase the paint whenever you want).

If you have the brush's opacity down to around 20%, each pass of the brush will be almost inperceptible, and no matter how many times you pass over the same area, the paint will not increase until you let up on the mouse and depress it again.

I like to go a little heavy and keep my opacity above 50%. This way I can really see where I have painted. Then I go into the layer's opacity and bring it back to the level I want. My coworker, however, likes to use 20% and make fine-tuned passes. Find your comfortzone and paint away!

Here is an example of a burn that I made to enhance an image that had very difficult lighting. After correcting the exposure, the background was too bright in many places. Here is the before and after:

After Burning

As explained above, I made a new layer and started to paint on that layer with around 30% opacity black, using a soft brush.

I burned it without trying to be careful, in fact you can see in this next image that the black I painted on has no fine edges:

I created a layer mask, and masked out the fine edges, which resulted in a burn that looks like this:

These are the other sections of this module:
  • Main Exposure Page - Discusses basic exposure issues in digital images, including histograms.
  • Using Levels to Correct Exposure - Covers the power of levels as an adjustment layer to correct underexposed and slightly over exposed images. This is my favorite method.
  • Using Curves to Correct Exposure - This method is favored by many who like te freedom to move the adjustment in all directions. (I like the controlled, linear levels, but then again I'm not that artsy). It is also most powerful in lightning/darkening only certain ranges (highlights, midtones, or shadows).
  • Using Contrast/Brightness to Fix Exposure Corrections - Having used one of the above methods to correct exposure, the image may become flat and without contrast. This will fix it!
  • Using Curves to Add Contrast - A better, more controlled approach to adding contrast. It "pinches" shadows and highlights rather than clipping off information.

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- Stephen Bair, Utah Wedding Photographer

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