Video: How to shape the light in your portraits using subtle dodging and burning in Photoshop


posted Tuesday, March 15, 2022 at 12:00 PM EDT


Last month, we shared a couple of photographer Sean Tucker's videos about portrait photography. In those two videos, Tucker outlined how he retouches skin and eyes in his portraits. In his latest video about portrait photography, Tucker shows how he uses dodging and burning techniques to emphasize good light in his portraits. As he points out, it's not about rescuing poorly lit photos. Rather, it's about using precise, realistic editing techniques to improve upon an already strong foundation.

If you're unfamiliar with dodging and burning in Photoshop, the gist is that dodging is localized brightening, whereas burning is darkening. Like with using Photoshop to retouch skin and eyes, less is more. It can be tempting to overdo it with dodging and burning, but subtlety is often the better approach.

To start, you want to analyze how your portrait image is lit. It's worth creating a layer and marking on the image where the light is hitting your subject's face. You may find it helpful to use different brush colors for different light sources. Next, mark where the light sources create the shadows. The combination of highlights and shadows creates visual depth in your portraits. Ultimately, you want to accentuate these shapes and depth using subtle dodging and burning.

With your sketched map completed, you want to create four new 'curves' adjustment layers. Rename the first layer 'dodge' and the second layer 'burn.' Next is 'BG' for background and 'light.' Without changing the curve in the 'dodge' layer, change the blending mode to 'screen.' Tucker then inverts his layer mask, which turns everything on the layer black, making it look like the original photo. Now it's time to go in with a white brush to start adding in some of the dodging created by the 'screen' blend mode on the curves adjustment layer. Tucker likes using a 3% flow, which allows him to gradually paint the dodging effect over the areas he originally marked as highlights. You do the same thing with the 'burn' layer, except you select the 'multiply' blending mode and paint over the shadow areas in the portrait.

Be sure to watch Tucker's full video tutorial to see how he uses the remaining two layers. As you can see, the result is subtle. However, without losing any detail or making the image look unrealistic, Tucker's dodging and burning techniques add a lot of dimensionality and depth to his portrait. He doesn't change how the image was originally lit. He instead emphasizes the lighting style he chose and adds a layer of polish to the final photo.

To see more of Sean Tucker's videos, be sure to visit his YouTube channel. To see more of his photography, visit his website and follow him on Instagram.

(Via Sean Tucker