Local Dodging and Burning for Beauty Retouching


Lesson Info

Live Demo: Local Dodge and Burn Continued

So I'm, like I said, going to be working a lot on my dodge, more dodge than burn. I'm gonna go ahead and tweak this a little bit, make it a little bit easier to see. Alright, so we've got a nice bit of contrast on the skin. And I can definitely see that there are problem areas. So to kind of show you what I'm looking at, I have this issue, right? And you can definitely start to see... I'm trying to circle different tonal areas. Right, are you with me on that? We're starting to see where those tonal transitions are. And so, basically, I'm gonna take these transitions and I'm gonna try to make them less abrupt. And that's the entire process. So let's start to do this. By the way, this particular step is relatively long and monotonous, so I'm gonna try to talk through it as much as I can about what the process is. This is a great opportunity for you to ask me any questions you have about the process, why or why not you might do certain things and so forth and so on. So I'm gonna pick my d...

odge and I'm gonna select my brush. Again, I'm on white. If you ever happen to go too far with your effect, all you have to do is paint black over it and it's just like erasing it because you want to mask. Now, I'm gonna set my flow at three percent. I'm working on a tablet, if you are not working on a tablet, you're gonna find that you're probably gonna want to end up using a little bit of a higher flow. Entirely up to you which is gonna take you longer. So I'm gonna start working through this image. And it's also okay to undo things. Let's turn that flow down a little bit more because I had the contrast cranked up a little bit higher. If you paint something and you don't like it, instead of trying to equalize it out, just undo it. It's gonna be a much less-restrictive process if you just quickly undo what you last did instead of trying to fix it later. You'll notice my brush is very, very soft. Here it is, it's the taper brush. It's probably gonna be a little bit better to us a brunt edge, but it depends if you are taking advantage of the pen dynamics on the brush. The tapered edge, especially if you're using a really light brush, is gonna give you really hard edges during this process and that's really not what we want at all. We want to make those transitions as subtle as possible. I'm using a brush that is as big as the section I'm working on. So sometimes, you're going to be zooming in. This is a massive file so sometimes, you're gonna be zooming in on this, and sometimes you're gonna be working at it a little bit more from the distance. Again, the matter in which it's going to be viewed is definitely going to make a different. So in that one image, you saw that my changes were a little bit more surgical and a little bit more precise. So if you want to come in and individually start to hit some of these little tonal inconsistencies, you can do it this way or, for the sake of time, you can just zoom out a little bit and you can work at it from a distance. I'm gonna kind of alternate back and forth between the two. Something that I think a lot of people find interesting and if you happen to be using two monitors, this can also be very helpful. If you go up to window and you go to, I'm sorry view, no, it's window, arrange, and you go to new window for your file, what it will actually create is a secondary window for the image you're creating. It's not creating another instance of the image, it's creating the same image. So anything you change in one window will affect the other one. So I'm gonna create a new window and, obviously, it's here, right? You can do this on one monitor, but some people like it better on two. And so what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna go to arrange and I'm gonna go 2-up vertical. So it's gonna give me a split-screen. And I can keep one wide, and I can zoom in really close to the other one so that I can actually see one-to-one what my changes are. Or I can jump over here, and I can fix a bigger area and then jump back over here and fix a smaller area. I have found that this process, because it is so time-consuming, I'm looking for any shortcut that I can to make this work. Something that I like to use, it's this cheap 30 dollar gizmo, it's called a Griffin PowerMate and it's just basically a knob. And, depending upon the way in which you may like to adjust your brush size, like some people like to use the tablet wheel, I find it a little bit awkward because I like to keep it to the right, and I like to use a lot of shortcuts. So I keep a wheel right over here and I only have it for brush size. And so it allows me to quickly change the brush size very, very quickly, more so than the brackets, or more so than holding the command option shortcut where you sling it back and forth like that, yeah. I was just curious since you brought that up, what buttons do you put on your Wacom pen? That's a good question. So, Prateek, he uses the up and down between layers, which I think is really clever, especially on this step, going back and forth between the dodge and burn, you can alternate very effectively. I have a secondary set of buttons where it's like arcade-style buttons, it's called Palette and I use it to go back and forth between the layers. I use a right-click and I use step backward. So I've fount that I didn't find myself using un-do as much as I use step backward, so I could sit there and I can scroll back through multiple steps and so that was my choice. But I've seen a lot of different instances of what people go with. It's very easy to get lost in this close-up, so what you're gonna want to do constantly is go back and see how it looks from a distance, which is why the split-screen can be very effective. So, like I said, this was a little bit of a problem area, so I'm gonna work to equalize out this transition. I'm gonna show you later on some examples of good and bad, as well, some practice images that I've seen other people do. Now remember, it's a path of least resistance, so if you're looking at a large part of the skin where you've got a few dark spots, it's going to make sense to lighten those dark spots. Or if you have the opposite, or you have an overall dark part of the skin with a few light spots, it makes sense to burn those down. So, down here by the chin, I have more light spots on a darker tone and so that's what I'm gonna fix, down here. I'm usually alternation back and forth between the dodge and burn, so I kind of just jump around with my eye based on what's catching my attention in that relative part of the face. But you don't really want to fixate too much on any one area forever, I think. It just gets a little bit tiring to the eyes and the brain, and you get a little bit lost in it. The decisions that you make, in terms of what do I lighten and what do I darken, do get easier with time, but they are things that are very much independent to every individual image. So the more you do this, the better you will become at it. I would probably say it took me about a dozen or so images before I really started to get the hang of it. So give yourself some time to practice it. Once you do get it, I promise you it does make your life easier and better, but you just have to stick with it a little bit. You can kind of see the chin, how we reshaped that a little bit. Just smooth it out a little bit. And also because we're looking at it in high contrast, we may or may not want to make some final adjustments once we actually turn the black and white off. So just because... It still needs a little bit of work in there. See, but I couldn't really see the shadow a little bit, so if I wanted to brighten it up, I can adjust it and that'll help me make those changes. Also, depending upon what your curve layer looks like, there's only so far you can go. So you may have to make certain changes out side of this, either after the fact or before. There we go. It's like working through this, different parts of the face. And I'm constantly, constantly, constantly changing brush size, that is also supremely important. So I'm just keeping my finger on the bracket keys right now. And it's a pretty light touch and, like I said, I'm at a one percent flow, so we're working this pretty gradually. One of the most common mistakes I see in this process is the desire to want to flatten the face out completely and take everything that's bright and make it dark, and vice versa, that's not what this is about. This is about just making it a little bit more smooth. Now, what I'll also do sometimes, even in my own work because I'll find out that I have gone too far and I will regularly just put a mask over everything and kind of brush some of it back in, if I don't want to fade the whole thing back, I can kind of do it a little bit more selectively. So, like I said, you just take a little piece at a time. And again, I'm working pretty broadly here, I'm very zoomed out, but if I want to come in and I want to work on some of these individual pieces to really make it super smooth I can, but again, it's a matter of time and patience and if you find this to be worthwhile to you. But, for example, this piece here, if I darken that highlight and I lighten the shadow around it, we remove the depth. And it's all about how much of this you want to do. Okay, so I'm gonna back up a little bit, sort of lighten a little bit under the eyes. Some people also like the rotate. If you're a drawer and you like to rotate the paper, the R command, which is found underneath the hand tool allows you to actually rotate the canvas without rotating the image because you find that certain moves are better to do at an angle that's more conducive to your hand. So some people really like this. But you can come in and you can lighten up some of these lines. You can darken some of them. Again, it really depends on you. Okay, I'm gonna back it up a little bit. The R tool brings it right back, you just hit reset view and it puts you right back where you need to be. Wrong one. We're gonna lighten that up a little bit. You just want to be too careful about removing all the depth. All right, so the eye, we're gonna come in, and again, we're just gonna lighten those transitions around the edges a little bit. Get rid of some of those more abrupt lines. I would say if you're working with a 25-ish megapixel image, around a 10 to 15 pixel brush is probably gonna be a good place for you to start in terms of what you're actually working with. I'm gonna even up some of these. And sometimes it's light, it sometimes it the subject, and sometimes it's makeup, it could be a variety of things, but we're just coming in and, like I said, evening everything out. The more you do this, the more you will completely zone out on the process. Which I hope that's not what it sounds like I'm doing. But what you'll do is you'll just throw some music on and just power through it. And you don't even really think about it too much after a few dozen times of doing this. Then, it just becomes second nature. All right, let's take a look back and see how it's looking, which is definitely better, here's the before and after. Mmm, mmm. I'm gonna group all of these together so we can see it, there we go. And if I turn these off, we can see how we're working through it, okay? And the great thing about this is we're not actually changing any of the texture. We're just smoothening it out. This is a little bit troublesome to me, and a little bit over here, as well. I'm gonna fix this area of the face, a little bit by the nose. So again, you can spend forever doing this. And I'm not saying you should, but... While you're working, Chris, can I jump in with a couple questions? Oh, please do. From the internet. Again, you guys can ask questions because we're live. Thanks for the questions that you've already asked. Okay, here we go. I was going to ask about frequency separation, as well. Am I technically losing quality if I apply it before dodge and burn? So, that's a tough question to answer. It depends how heavy handed you are with the frequency separation, which can be very heavy. I think frequency separation tends to catch a lot of the flack for heavy handed photoshop, I think that between that and liquefy, it's tough to toss up who gets the bigger brunt of public hatred, but it can be very effective when you use it well and obviously it's really good at creating a shortcut for yourself. The way I think is more effective to use frequency separation is, I don't actually use it on the broad parts of the skin, like the big lit parts of the face. I actually find it's the most effective either on the body, where I'm obviously not gonna do this for the whole body because that's incredibly time-consuming, especially if you have a lot more of the body skin showing. But on those transitions between light and dark. So for example, areas like this or around these edges where the skin rakes across and creates that more abrupt texture, I would use a frequency separation there because that's more about speed and time. And I think that's probably a more effective place to use it. So I generally do some kind of a hybrid of both, where the frequency separation is gonna be my obvious retouch, but on those shadows, and I want to make those shadows a little bit smoother, that's really where I'm gonna fix it. Cool. Jacqueline says, "Chris said sometimes he "adjust the contrast on the curves layer "above 50 percent gray, what specifically are you "looking for to determine whether we have-" So, what I'm looking for is basically, we could be looking at darker images or high-key images, or medium tone images, and they're all gonna be different. So what I need is something that shows me the maximum contrast and texture while showing me most of the face. So, in this particular image, usually, I darken it down. But you can see that there's a threshold where I lose this half of the face. And it's great for working over here, but not for over here. This is a little bit lesser in contrast than probably there. So there is a threshold at which you're not really seeing what you need to see. So I'm looking to basically make the skin look as bad as I can. I showed you earlier how bad it was, that's what I'm looking for. I'm trying to make it look bad because it accentuates everything that I need to see. So I'm gonna work through here and just fix a few more of these problem spots. And, like I said, even though I do use frequency separation a bit in these shadow areas, you can also use local dodging and burning and in truth, local dodging and burning is probably gonna give you a better result, but I think you really don't notice the frequency separation all that much here in the shadows, so it's just a better use of time. Now we've got something that looks like that. Let's see the before and after, oh yeah, that's better. So I see I still have a couple of little areas you might want to work through, but for the most part, it looks pretty good. I don't love this little light by the mouth, so, realistically, burn's not gonna probably get me to where it needs to be just because it's too great of a tonal discrepancy. I could do it a little bit, but, truthfully, what I'd probably do here is just do it in the clean up. Do a little clone stamp. Let's make that a little bit softer. Something that looks like that, and that way that shadow's a little bit less distracting. So this, by and large, is going to be relatively close to where I want to end up with the image. I've hopefully preserved the general look and feel of the image, but I've just smoothed out that light a little bit more. Now, different kinds of light are gonna be a lot less forgiving to skin. For example, if you are using hard light, it's gonna show everything, but the choice to use hard light can be pretty stylistic. This is a somewhere in the middle, hard-ish, pretty hard light, so it definitely accentuates everything. And so I know going into it that I'm probably gonna have to do a lot more detail-oriented local dodging and burning. My own work, I like to use a lot of soft light. And soft light's a lot more forgiving, so I can generally concentrate on using a bit of a bigger brush as opposed to coming in and doing a lot of fine work. Not necessarily 100 percent of the time the case, but as a rule of thumb, just know that the way in which you shoot is going to affect the amount of work you have to do here. Okay so this is my local dodge and burn. Also, just so you know, if you click and drag through your layers, it turns them off. So if you ever want to turn off a bunch of stuff, you click and drag through it and that's just a quick, fun way to do it. You can also hold down the option key on Mac and click the eye, which turns off everything but what you're selecting, and it's alt-click on the PC. So I clicked this little eye right here, it toggles off my complete before and after. And I personally don't like to duplicate the background layer because I don't do any clean up and healing on the background layer anyway. If you're using the patch tool or content aware, you may want to do this, but just by duplicating it, it adds a nice chunk of size to the file and it's gonna slow you down. And if there's no reason for you to do it, I don't think you necessarily have to. So I just get to toggle off and that's my absolute before and after on this particular step. And you can see that it looks pretty nice. The skin looks pretty nice, it looks good close up. I think we're in a pretty good spot.

Chris Knight demystifies local dodging and burning to show you one of the most effective ways to make skin look amazing in your images! He'll show you how to use one of the most powerful tools in a retoucher’s arsenal. Chris will walk through this non-destructive technique that speeds up your workflow while softening the transitions between skin tones without losing the details you want to keep. Get an in-depth look at skin retouching and take your portraits to the next level.

Software Used: Adobe Photoshop CC 2017.1.1



  • A highly recommended class! Chris Knight is super efficient and tremendously clear an instructor. He manages to sqeeze so much useful information and tips into this hour, that I have to go back and revisit several times before i get it all. That may say something anout me myself, but I think also about the efficiency of the instructor. Very good!
  • I have viewed many Creative Live classes and rank this one among the best. Chris very effectively organized his class to impart knowledge. He Starts with an overview and summary level walk thru of the process and then goes into details and does an actual retouch. He concludes with a lesson on what can go wrong and provides practice images. I highly recommend this class to anyone seeking to learn Dodge and Burn. Thank-you Chris for a great educational experience!
  • I found this course to be a great explanation of dodging burning. I found the pace to be great and the information helpful. Chris is a great instructor.