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How To Use Color Dodge in Photoshop

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

I’ll show you two examples that will improve your photos instantly. One with just Color Dodge and one with Color Dodge and Burn.

How to Use Color Dodge in Photoshop

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.

This method works great for photos with a light source. It could be the sun, a light bulb, or a candle. It really doesn’t matter.

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 river
© Pixabay

Step 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 use color dodge in Photoshop - add a new layer

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop - curves

Open the RGB dropdown menu. Select “Red”.

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop - rgb menu

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 use color dodge in Photoshop

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

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

Step 2: Use Layer Style to Protect the Shadows

The curves layer affects all areas in the photo, also the shadows. I only want the highlight to be affected.

We can do this in the Layer Style option window.

Alt + Double-click on the Curves layer thumbnail. The Layer Style window will pop up.

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

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop - layer style

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 use color dodge in Photoshop

Now, the Curves layer only affects the highlights in your photo.

Step 3: Layer Mask

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

Select the Layer Mask thumbnail of the Curves layer.

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

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

White areas are affected by the layer and black areas aren’t.

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

Step 4: Color Dodge

Now we’re getting to adding some punch to the light. First, let’s add a new layer. Click on the “Create new layer” icon.

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

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

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop - blending modea screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

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

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

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop - paint brush tool

Start painting around the light source to create some haze and light leaks. Just experiment with different colors and brush sizes. It really depends on the result you’re after.

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

Step 5: Blend the Colors

Use Step 2 again to blend the colors better with the shadows and highlights. Just Alt + Double-click the new layer thumbnail now and don’t drag the sliders as far.

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

Step 6: Add a Layer Mask

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

The layer mask thumbnail will appear.

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

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

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

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

Remove the areas where you painted too much or where it doesn’t look good. Again, most of this is personal taste.

Step 7: Darken and Color 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 use color dodge in Photoshop

First, make sure the RGB dropdown menu is set to RGB. Drag the middle triangle to the right to darken the tones.

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

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

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

Step 8: Protect the Highlights

Same as before, we’ll use Layer Style to apply the effect only to the shadows. So, 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 color dodge 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 + your photos using Color Dodge and Color Burn.

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

A studio portrait of a female model
© Pixabay

Step 1: Add Solid Color Layers

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

A screenshot showing how to use Color Dodge and burn in Photoshop

A screenshot showing how to use Color Dodge and burn in Photoshop

You can pick any color you want but opposite colors tend to work best.

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

Step 2: Color Dodge and Color Burn

Now, set the blending mode of the new layers. Color Burn will affect dark areas and Color Dodge affect the lighter areas in your photo.

A screenshot showing how to use Color Dodge and burn in Photoshop

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

A screenshot showing how to use Color Dodge and burn in Photoshop

Just kidding, there’s just one thing you need to do to make it look right. Bring the Fill of both layers down to around 15%.

A screenshot showing how to use Color Dodge and burn in Photoshop

In my example, you’ll see that the red hair of the model really pops now. Also, it adds just a little bit more contrast and color to the overall image.

A portrait of a female model after using color dodge in photoshop

Step 3: Protect Shadows or Highlights

But there’s a problem. The highlights in her 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 edited using color dodge in Photoshop

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

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

Then, Alt + Click on one of the triangles of the bottom slider to protect either shadows or highlights.

Black to protect shadows and white to protect highlights.

a screenshot showing how to use color dodge in Photoshop

And that’s it. Instant punch added to your photo! Now, by double-clicking on the Solid Color layers, you can still change the color 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 edited using color dodge in Photoshop

Conclusion

Color Dodge and Color Burn are easy but powerful tools to color grade your photos and play with light. You can use this method for landscapes, portraits, street photos, etc. It really doesn’t matter.

Just remember that the most important setting is Fill. You need to drop it down to around 20 percent to make it work.

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

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