Technique // Dodge and Burn

There’s a photographer I follow on Facebook, Georgios Karakostas, who does the most amazing edits.

Full bodied, rich colours somehow mixed with a heavy matte that looks like old school vintage film photography. He hand edits everything, he doesn’t use actions or presets. He wrote a brief outline once on a FB photography group about his process, and the one thing that stuck out for me was that he said he used a lot of “dodging and burning” to add depth and dimension.

He is light-years ahead of me in terms of photographic skill and editing technique, but I was interested to see if I could apply some of the tricks he talked about to my convention photos. Now that was always going to be a big issue – he shoots a lot of natural light, lifestyle photos. Working in the context of a convention panel room is hugely constrictive – you are at the mercy of the stage lighting and where you’re sitting. But you can use some of the principles to help, especially with colouring.

So, to help me out, I’m going to ask Mr Ackles here. Who doesn’t look at all impressed.

Jensen Ackles, VanCon 2014

Jensen Ackles, VanCon 2014

 

I use a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. I shoot in RAW, so I open the file in Lightroom where I will make white balance adjustments, sharpen and decrease noise before exporting as a JPG into Photoshop.

When looking up more information about dodging and burning, I found two articles that have really helped me. The first is by David Lenhert, called “Painting with Light, or Dodge and Burn Technique #5 “, and the second is an article on FStoppers, surprisingly called “A Makeup Tip I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Started Photography” by Dani Diamond. I highly recommend both of these articles.

Now, I’ve used concepts from both of these articles, and it could be completely wrong for all I know. But the beauty of Photoshop is that a lot of it is experimentation. It is trying things out and seeing what works.

So I have my file open in Photoshop (don’t resize it yet, work on it full-size), and I will duplicate the layer twice. Click on the picture to see the full size image of the Photoshop desktop.

Duplicate your layer twice

Duplicate your layer twice

 

Then I will change the blending modes for each of those layers – one is set to Colour Burn, the other Colour Dodge. Change the names of the layers to make things easier when you come to work with them, because they will work in very different ways.

Weird

Weird

When you change them, in all likelihood your expression will look a lot like he looks in the photo because it looks weird. But don’t worry, along comes the next part.

Go up to Edit > Fill, and fill your Colour Burn layer with white. Fill your Colour Dodge layer with black. Your photo should look now look how it did in the beginning.

Thank God.

Thank God.

Now comes a very very important part. Go to your burn layer, then open your brush tool and make sure the opacity and flow for your brush tool is changed from 100% all the way down to around 8%. This keeps things subtle.

With your Burn layer selected, change your brush colour to black, and start to very gently brush the background. Here, I’m brushing the edges and just behind Jensen to make him stand out.

Burn Layer

Burn Layer

Now it may not look like much is happening but it is. And here is where the makeup tutorial article is going to come in handy. Now Jensen doesn’t need much enhancement, granted, but we can utilise makeup tricks to highlight and give dimension to the photo. It’s just like contouring with makeup – you highlight some areas and darken others.

Contouring Diagram by Smashbox

Contouring Diagram by Smashbox

 

Following this diagram, we are going to “Burn” the brown areas, and “Dodge” the white areas. So take your burn layer, and very gently burn where suggested – the cheekbones, along the top of the hairline, on the sides of the bridge of the nose. We are still working with the burn layer first, so make sure your brush is set to black and you still have the burn layer selected. Make sure your brush tool is not set to 100% hardness too – working with a soft, light touch is key.

Once you’ve used the burn layer, switch to your dodge layer. Change your brush tool to white, and follow the diagram again, this time highlighting – the forehead, above the eyes, around the nose and along the bridge of the nose. Again, you may not think there is much of a difference but if you go back to how your original looked, you are adding subtle dimension to the photo, and it will overall make a big difference.

Before

Before

After

After

 

Here is where you can add an action, or a texture or anything else to your image. Just flatten your layers and then add onto it. My personal rule of thumb is to try to keep skin tones as realistic as possible. Once you have that grounding you can go to town.

You may need to add another burn layer at a later stage – I will do this often to darken the hair or around the subject just to anchor it to the background. Sometimes if you do a lot of adding your subject can look very artificial and transplanted onto the scene.

Here I’ve added an action called Create III by Jackie Jean then I have manipulated it to get a look I want. Actions and Presets are really good, but a lot of the time you need to cater them to work with your base image. Again, a lot of actions out there are for very different photographic situations to a convention panel ( a lot of them are for Portrait or child photography) so it is really about experimenting to find what works. Again, always keeping the skin tone realistic will help keep it balanced.

After I added the action, I used a Curves Adjustment layer to boost the contrast and lighting just a tad.

Create III and Curves Adjustment

Create III and Curves Adjustment

 

I’m fairly happy with it, but I did go and do another Burn layer just to darken part of the hair again. Then I flattened all the layers, resized my image and it’s done!

You can smile now, Jensen

You can smile now, Jensen

 

Sometimes you will end up doing a lot less, and sometimes you will end up doing a lot more. It really depends on the image and what you’re going for. As I said, I am by no means a whiz with photoshop – it takes me a long time, I have to study, I have to try to emulate what other people do. And colour is a huge weakness of mine – I am much more comfortable working with black and white. But usually you experiment and when you find something that works you’ll just know.

Jensen Ackles, VanCon 2014

 

Jensen-8027a

 

There’s no right and wrong, and the beauty of working with layers is that if something is really not working out, you can get rid of the individual layer and start again!

 

 

 

 

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