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How To Use Color Dodge and Burn in Photoshop

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Are your photos missing some punch or atmosphere? Color Dodge is a great way to add colour and contrast.

You can use Color Dodge in different ways. Often, it’s used in combination with Color Burn, but we’ll start with just Color Dodge.

How to Use Color Dodge in Photoshop

This tutorial works great for photos with a light source. It could be the sun, a light bulb, or a candle.

I’ll use this photo, and we’re going to make the light pop out a bit more.

a portrait of a girl by a riverStep 1: Curves

First, we’ll bring back the highlights a bit. I also want them to look warmer.

Click on the “Add fill or adjustment layer” icon and select “Curves”. This will add a new layer, and the Curves panel will pop up.

a screenshot showing how to add a new adjustment layer in Photoshop

a screenshot showing how to select curves in Photoshop

Open the RGB dropdown menu. Select “Red”.

a screenshot showing the rgb menu in Photoshop

Pull the top anchor point slightly to the left. This will darken the highlights and add some extra red.

If you had pulled the anchor point down, it would have added cyan tones.

a screenshot showing how to add colour in Photoshop

Next, select “Green” and “Blue” and do the same. In my example, I had to pull them down to make the highlights warmer.

It depends on the image you’re working with and what you want the result to look like: warmer or cooler.

Step 2: Use Layer Style to Protect the Shadows

Curves affects all areas in the image, including the shadows. I only want the highlights to be affected.

We can do this in the Layer Style option window.

Alt + Double-click on the Curves layer. A dialogue box will pop up.

We are going to use the bottom slider called “Underlying Layer”.

a screenshot showing how to set a layer style in Photoshop

Alt + click on the black triangle and drag it all the way to the right. The little triangle should split in half.

a screenshot showing how to selectively affect highlights in Photoshop

Now, Curves only affects the highlights in your image.

Step 3: Layer Mask

Use the layer mask to remove areas where you don’t want the highlights to be affected.

Select the mask thumbnail of the Curves layer.

a screenshot showing layer mask in Photoshop

Select the Paint Brush tool and paint with black over the image. You’ll see the mask change.

White areas are affected by the curve effect, and black areas aren’t.

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

Step 4: Change Blending Mode

Now we’ll add some punch to the light. First, click on the “Create new layer” icon.

a screenshot showing how to use create a layer in Photoshop

Set the blend mode on Color Dodge and Fill to around 60%.

a screenshot showing how to use blending mode in Photoshop a screenshot showing blend mode in Photoshop

Select the Paint Brush tool and Alt + Click on a colour in the highlights of your image.

This will make that colour your Brush colour. Set the Flow of the brush to 10%.

a screenshot showing how to set brush flow in Photoshop

Start painting around the light source to colour blend and create some haze and light leaks. Experiment with different colours and brush sizes.

a screenshot of editing in Photoshop

Step 5: Blending the Colours

Use Step 2 again for better colour blending in the shadows and highlights. Just Alt + Double-click the new layer thumbnail. Just don’t drag the sliders as far.

a screenshot showing how to blend colours in Photoshop

Step 6: Add a Layer Mask

With a mask, we can make the effect look even better. Make sure the new layer is selected. Click on the “Add layer mask” icon. A thumbnail will appear.

a screenshot showing how to add layer mask in Photoshop

Make sure the mask thumbnail is selected and start painting with black in your photo.

Set the Flow of the brush back to 100%. The process is the same as Step 3.

a screenshot showing layer mask in Photoshop

Remove the areas where you painted too much or where it doesn’t look right. Most of this is personal taste.

Step 7: Darken and Colour the Shadows

Finally, to add some punch, we’ll darken the shadows.

Click on the “Add new fill or adjustment layer” icon and select Levels. The Levels panel will appear.

a screenshot showing how to select levels in Photoshop

Make sure you set the RGB dropdown menu to RGB. Drag the middle triangle to the right to darken the tones.

a screenshot showing how to adjust RGB dropdown menu in Photoshop a screenshot showing how to adjust RGB dropdown menu in Photoshop

Now, we’ll add some warm and cold contrast. Select “Red” from the RGB dropdown menu and slide the middle and left triangle to the right. It is up to you how far.

a screenshot showing how to use RGB menu in Photoshop

Step 8: Protect the Highlights

We’ll use Layer Style to apply the effect only to the shadows and protect the highlights. Alt + Double-click on the layer thumbnail.

This time, Alt + Click on the white triangle and slide it to the left.

a screenshot showing how to use protect highlights in Photoshop

And that’s it. Color Dodge to play with light in your photos.

A portrait of a female model after using Color Dodge to play with light in your photos

How to Use Color Dodge and Color Burn

Color Dodge can do a lot more, especially in combination with Color Burn. Here’s how you can add colour to your photos.

Use a photo like this with neutral colours to start. This makes it easier to experiment.

A studio portrait of a female model

Step 1: Add Solid Colour Layers

First, we need to add two new solid colour layers. Click on the “Add new fill or adjustment layer” and select “Solid Color”.

A screenshot showing how to add solid layers in Photoshop

A screenshot showing how to add solid colour layers in Photoshop

You can pick any colour you want, but opposites tend to work best.

In my example, I used red and cyan. But you could use green and orange or blue and yellow.

Step 2: Set Blend Modes

Now, set the blend modes. Color Burn will affect dark areas, and Color Dodge affect the lighter areas.

A screenshot showing how to set blend modes in Photoshop

I’ve set the red layer to Color Burn and the cyan layer to Color Dodge. Your image will look like this.

A portrait of a colour layered red

There’s just one thing you need to do to make it look right. Set the Fill of both layers to around 15%.

A screenshot showing how to adjust fill layers in Photoshop

You’ll see that the red hair of the model really pops now. Also, it adds just a little bit more contrast and colour to the overall image.

A portrait of a female model

Step 3: Protect Shadows or Highlights

But there’s a problem. The highlights in the model’s blouse are blown out and don’t look right.

It’s time to protect those areas from the effect.

A studio portrait of a female model with highlights circled in yellow

Alt + Double-click on either layer thumbnail. In my case, the Color Dodge layer.

a screenshot showing selected layer in Photoshop

Then, Alt + Click on one of the triangles of the bottom slider. Black will protect shadows, and white will protect highlights.

a screenshot showing blending option in Photoshop

And that’s it. Instant punch added to your photo! By double-clicking on the Solid Color layers, you can still change the colour and try out different settings.

A studio portrait of a female model edited using color dodge in Photoshop

A studio portrait of a female model

Conclusion

Color Dodge and Color Burn are easy but powerful tools to colour grade your photos and play with light. You can use this method for landscapes, portraits, or street photos.

Remember to drop your Fill down to around 20 percent to make it work.

After that, you can adjust opacity and Layer Style settings for that perfect colour-graded look.

Want to become a pro at editing? Try our Effortless Editing with Lightroom course!

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