A guide on how to approach dodge and burn, what are you trying to fix?
Dodging and Burning images is something that I see every day in photography and it seems to have two purposes: Artistic character and removing luminosity based distractions.
Today I’m going to be talking about the latter, removing luminosity based distractions. I’m going to assume you already know how to do dodge and burn (and if not you should check this tutorial), so we’ll skip the baby steps and jump straight ahead to the point of the article!
What are you trying to achieve with dodge and burn? To emphasise what is already there? To darken the darks and lighten the lights? To modify lighting? Reshape the body based on lighting perception?
For me, I’m using it to “fix” distractions that stop a shape from being a full, soft shape, free of distractions.
I want you to forget lights, darks and how much/little (as those things will become obvious after this next part), instead I want you to think of dodge and burn like this:
What shape is this supposed to be? How hard is the light source? What direction is the light coming from? What is stopping me from being able to run my finger across the shape without a dramatic change in luminosity?
If we were to think of dodge and burn like this we are faced with a simple method to start “fixing” an image.
Above we have a light source that is soft and moving from right to left on the shape. In this instance we want the shape to be a big soft circle. So if I were to drag my finger (using my eyes and imagination) in the top shape, what would I “bump” into?
Once I see the light and dark spots stopping this shape from being a smooth surface from point A to B (forget pores here, we’re talking about a cheek rather than each pore, or an entire leg as a shape etc).
If we remove those bright and dark spots from the shape we’re suddenly left with the big soft circle we wanted.
How does this apply to people?
On the model’s leg, I have drawn the shape (roughly) of the leg and where the direction of light is coming from and moving to. Now it’s our job to find the distractions (drawn in white) stopping this leg/shape from being a smooth surface from A-B.
Once these distractions have been removed you can see how the leg becomes much more pleasant and “smoother”. With no frequency separation (and painting on a low layer), just curves!
If you find that after cleaning the shape up you have lost some of the initial shape, you can create a new set of DB layers and gently repaint the light/shadows back in. this isn’t particularly ideal, but you can certainly get away with it in a lot of cases.
Here we have the same idea, shapes and light direction drawn in black, distractions in luminosity drawn in white. Try to think of everything as a shape that has a travel point from A-B and what distractions do you have to fix along the way to stop your finger/eyes bumping into something lighter or darker than it should be.
Remember that you have to understand shapes on a face and human anatomy in order to allow this process to work for you. It takes time, but it’s a method that I personally use in order to work my way through images.
How do you attack dodge and burn? Was this helpful for you?
Joseph Parry is a Commercial and Editorial photographer based in the UK that provides cinematic photography and ounces of humour. Follow him on Instagram for stories and kick ass imagery.