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To improve flat photos we usually increase the contrast in post-processing. This method is very common for beginners who don’t know how to improve the exposure and sharpness. Overcooked underexposed or overexposed photos with noise are the result. To avoid this, light painting is the best method. Some parts of the photos require more light and others less. In Photoshop this is called dodging and burning.

Dodging when we light up a specific part of image and burning when we do the opposite. Let’s see how to use the dodge and burn tool.

Tutorial details and resources

Apps Used: Adobe Photoshop
Estimated Completion Time: 15′ Minutes
Resources: Girl Portrait

Step 1 > Open the Image

Open the image you want inside Photoshop. The girl looks beautiful but the exposure can be better.

Dodging and burning step 1

Step 2 > Dodging and Burning

First, duplicate the layer so you don’t have to import it again if something goes wrong.
Before you use the tool, look at the image and decide what parts of your image need dodging (lightning) and what burning (darkening).
The goal is to give the main object a 3D feeling and not a flat one. Usually, try to darken parts where the light naturally would be less. And use dodging in parts where the light would be more.

To use the burning tool go to tools palette and pick it or press (O). Below I used the burning (darkening) around the face to make it pop out.

dodging and burning


Burning (darkening) around the face and hair.

burning and dodging step 3


Dodging (lightning) on eyes and hair

Photoshop dodging step 4


When you want to use dodging on highlights make sure you change the range to “Highlights” and when you want more darkening for shadows to change the range to “Shadows”. You can use Dodge and Burn Tool  (O) from portraits to landscapes. With dodging and burning you can emphasize specific parts of your image making it more appealing.

dodging and burning part 5b