Dodge and Burn Technique: Retouch Skin Like a Pro!

In previous article I asked if some of you would be interested in post about dodge and burn technique. I got pretty big positive response, so here it is :)

Dodge and burn is mainly used to retouch skin.The biggest advantage of this technique is that it preserves (unlike using filters, Stamp Tool, Brush Tool etc.) skin texture. You don´t change the surface of the skin, only make some parts lighter - dodge them (like blemishes and circles under eyes) and some darker - burn them.

Because Photoshop is very complex tool you can get same results with different approaches. Dodge and burn technique is no exception. In this article I´m showing you my way, but know that it´s not the only way.

Let´s take a look at what can you do with these technique. Move your mouse over the upper and  following images and wait few seconds till the unretouched photo appears.

Note: Making big hair is not aim of this article. I´m working on workshop about beauty retouching in Photoshop where this will be explained among other things such as features improvement, eye enhancement, more in depth explanation of dodge and burn technique and also email consulation!

How do I do it?

As I said there is more ways how to make this technique. What´s the same in every approach is that you need one layer for dodging (lightening) and one for burning (darkening). I´m most comfortable with using two adjustment layers Levels.

So what´s the exact process?
  1. Add new adjustment layer Levels on the top of all layers and set the Input Levels to make the picture very light.
  2. Fill the layer mask with solid black color.
  3. Grab the Brush Tool (B), set Master Diameter on 2 - 5 pixels and lower the Opacity on about 5%.
  4. Paint over the areas which should be lighter.
  5. Add new adjustment layer Levels on the top and set the Input Levels to make the picture very dark.
  6. Fill the layer mask with solid black color.
  7. Grab the Brush Tool (B) and use the same settings as for lightening.
  8. Paint over the areas which should be darker.
The theory is pretty easy isn´t it?

How to achieve great results?

Despite the above description may sound very easy you´ll need some practice to get the best results. Below you can see list of things which can help you to improve this skill.
  1. Practice! With every image you retouch you´ll become better.
  2. Be patient. This technique is not meant to be done in 10 minutes. Count with one hour or more.
  3. Use very small brush and work with low opacities.
  4. Zoom in e.g. 300% to see every little imperfection.
  5. Zoom out to make sure that you didn´t deform shape of the face by changing lights and shadows.
  6. To see imperfections better place Hue/Saturation adjustment layer on the top and desaturate the image. You won´t be distracted by colors, you´ll only see what´s lighter and what´s darker.
  7. It so much easier to do this with tablet instead of mouse.

Nice ... but how exactly should I do it?

Below you can take a look at the video I´ve recorded while retouching the very first photo from this article.It took me to retouch the face 30 minutes but if I have to retouch only head photo (and not the whole body like in this case) it would last much longer. I would have to retouch bigger area with more details.

I speed up this video four times to make it shorter and not boring :)

As you can see I´m working with desaturated image to see better which parts should be edited and not to be distracted by colors.

Try to find the variant best for you!

As it has already been said there is more ways how to use this technique. I work with Levels adjustment layer but it may not be the right thing for you. You can try following instead:
  • use Curves instead of Levels,
  • paint on new layer filled with mid grey (#808080) set on Overlay Blending Mode with black and white brush,
  • in Camera RAW set three different exposures for your image - light, normal and dark and then put all these in one document. Hide light and dark picture and make visible only those parts which shoul be ligter/darker.
Do you know or use any other variations? Please let me know in comments so I can complete the article!


Dodge and burn is powerful technique. You get the best results if you work slow with patience and small, low opacity brushes.
Would you use this technique? Is there anything I forgot to mention? Let me know in comments!

Also let me know if you are interested in workshop. I´m planning to make it smaller (like for ten people) to be able to really help you.

Have an amazing Monday.
 - Jarka