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Portrait Retouching Basics

Lesson 5 of 7

Dodging and Burning


Portrait Retouching Basics

Lesson 5 of 7

Dodging and Burning


Lesson Info

Dodging and Burning

Let's talk about dodge and burn. With dodge and burn, what that is for those of you who don't know, is basically lightening and darkening. That's the simplest way to put it. If you're lightening something and darkening something. Usually that's going to be areas on the skin that are a little bit patchy or need transitioning. So I'll do that. Now, when it comes to dodge and burn, that's gonna be in another folder, so I'm gonna close this. I'm gonna hit save or if you haven't saved before you just go to save as and simply save it where you want to save it. Typically either as a PSD or a TIFF file. So either way, they both will save layers, okay? The only difference is the PSD is limited to two gigabytes of maximum space and TIFF can go up to four. If you do PSB, which was originally called Photoshop big file I think but now it's called the large document file, I told you they make it really easy, doesn't it? That can save up to a size that you don't even want to know. So it can go pretty...

high in case you have different file sizes. Now let's talk about dodge and burn. So the next step is I'm gonna be clicking on this folder here and I'll call this our dodge and burn. Now I'm gonna set this up manually so you can see exactly what is happening. But typically you just run an action or whatever it is. So what happens is if you want to dodge and burn, I like to use what's called a curve adjustment layer. So by default over here there's a little half cookie thing and they are adjustment layers, so you can actually make adjustments without being permanent, that's what the are basically. There's one for exposure, is what I would like to call it. It's called curves, okay? Now with a curve itself, by default it does absolutely nothing unless you modify it. So if you don't see this it's going to be under window and properties. So when you see this over here what is going to happen is if I bring this up it increases the exposure or the brightness or whatever you wan to call it of the image. And we're gonna use parts of this to brighten up selective areas, okay? So I'm going to hit command Z. And first I'm gonna increase this, let me show you how much exactly, to about 145, where it says output to 145. The input is going to stay the same because it's on the vertical axis. So output is 145. And what happens is that by default it's going to increase the brightness. Actually you know what? Let's go up to 150. Okay, once I have that set I'm simply just going to hit command I or control I on my keyboard with this mask selected. Okay, so now it does absolutely nothing, it's ready to work on. And to make life easier, we'll add another helper layer and that's going to be called turning into black and white temporarily as well. So there's a lot of ways to do this and I do this a couple of ways. But to make it easier for now I'll just put my black and white adjustment layer on. And the reason I'm doing this is because I can simply see tonality, I'm not worried about color, 'cause you don't have to worry about color right now. The biggest thing is tonality. You want to see the areas that you wan to even out. So with this black and white layer I'm gonna keep that on top and just leave it there for now. So I'll go back down to my curves, this is gonna be called my dodge. And I'm gonna be evening out some of these darker patches on the skin. The way to do that is I'll select my brush tool or B on your keyboard by default and I'm going to change my flow to about 2%. So I have my flow here at 2% and my opacity at 100. And what that's going to do is it's going to make brushing really gentle and it's gonna build like an airbrush, like an airbrush effect. So once I have those set I simply am going to change my parameters of my brush size based on different areas. So very simply put, if I started working as it is right now with a really big brush and if I go back and forth, what's going to happen is absolutely nothing because I want to make sure that my brush is set to white. And that's okay, it'll happen all the time. You're gonna work and be like nothing's happening, and you're gonna want to quit and then leave. That's why I'm mentioning these parameters because you have to make sure you've got it right. You have a brush set to white, your mask is selected, your flow is low, and then you're ready to go, right? So now when I start brushing, thank God, there ya go. So you notice that it will increase the brightness of areas that we're painting on. So I'm going to hit command Z to undo what I just did. Now I want to focus on certain areas. One of them is going to be on areas like this so this is why I have my brush size at the Q and W because I can keep changing it. 'Cause I don't want a brush size that's too big or too small, it's simply going to be the size of the area that I'm working on. So I'm gonna just go ahead and do a few strokes on the side of the mouth here. And what happens is it lightens up that area without being overdone, and if it's too slow you can simply increase the flow to whatever number you want but usually under five is a good number to be at, you don't want to do it at 'cause it'll just be really quick and uncontrollable. Okay, the same goes for some of these areas here. I'm gonna zoom out and focus on this large area. Typically it's always going to be the under eyes, the sides of the mouth and under the mouth you'll notice that they always catch shadows. Another really great tool is over here. You have the rotate tool and the rotate tool allows you to rotate your canvas. This is beneficial because if there are angles that you are working in that are really difficult, you can just rotate it there. Okay, by default it's the R key, and if you get stuck just hit escape and it'll jus go back to what it was. Okay? So I'm gonna continue. This is almost like a carving. If you have ever seen somebody carve something, it's kind of like that you're just chipping away very gently at areas that you wanna even out. And the best part about this is the fact that it allows you to undo everything that you overdo. You simply just hit the X key and it goes back to black. And you can undo something, which is really really useful. So let's zoom out here. So what happens is that when turn that on and off, you'll notice that very simply, when you zoom out over here, you'll notice that she starts looking a little bit more matte and more finish without doing too much. If I quickly just turn these two on and off, you'll notice how far we've gone in such a short amount of time, and she still looks real, she still has that natural grit and texture you'd imagine from a hard light portrait, but at the same time she's looked a lot more cleaned up. And the emphasis will still continue with what we're focusing on. The best part about this process is that the more you continue doing this, the more you see what is left to do. So let's focus on the big areas here. Now the opposite of this is actually darkening, so let's say in theory this is what I would continue doing, or continue lightening areas that need to be lightened. But if I want to do something where I want to darken some areas in the sense where I have gaps that are too bright, I'm gonna be burning and I'm gonna do that next. As soon as I do a couple more areas here. Let me turn that on and off. Another really cool thing to do is if you hit option and click on the mask, you can kind of see your strokes. You can see what you've done, what you haven't and so forth. Another option is on your keyboard there's a backslash button on the right hand side. And you're able to see your strokes based on what's transparent, which is really really helpful in times you're just not sure where you brushed or you haven't. So the opposite is going to be my burning or the burn curve. So I'll do another curve here. I'm gonna simply drag it down to about 100, right I'm gonna nudge this over with my arrow key. And I'll invert command I and this will be my burn. So same thing goes, I'll click on my mask itself with my brush and if there's any areas like this that stand out, I'll simply brush over them. And what happens is it fills in any areas that I want to slightly diminish and you can go as far as you want. And like I said, if you mess up you simply need to hit invert here or hit X on your keyboard and you can flip from black and white. So let's go to the dodge and tidy up some of this other stuff here. Now I'm gonna rotate this. This is actually my favorite part about retouching because you can really go into your little zen mode and just focus in on that. And sometimes I forget there's like a million people watching. (crowd laughing) But I think you'll find that when you actually start doing this process you'll realize how fun it is to kind of start etching away, but the biggest emphasis is that make sure you're zoomed in while you're working. I'm sorry, zoomed out and focus on the big areas first before continuing. In a minute I'm going to turn off my dodge and burn so you can see what we've accomplished in about five minutes so let's go ahead and do this. Now I'll go to my burn tool here and focus in on some of these brighter little patches here. Now the key is this is all about practice. And when you have an easier image to work on, what happens is it becomes a lot quicker to get through everything. But already, if I turn these two on and off by clicking on the eye you see the areas that we kind of want to focus on. But the biggest thing that I want to take away here is that usually when you have your dodge and burn set, you want to make sure that you're focusing on the transitions first 'cause you don't want to overdo anything and the best way is to keep zoomed out. If you're zoomed out what happens is that you're able to take care of those transitions and then zoom in later to kind of even things out. While we're killing time. Yes. Going back to the use of the tablet, I don't see you using your right hand for a right click, maybe you are but I'm just not seeing it. That's one of the reasons I have difficulty using a tablet, are you or are you using the keypad a keystroke instead? To actually make the strokes itself? Or rather a left click yeah. Oh yes, that's right sure. Let met show you that real quick. But before I do let's save again. So the way this works on the tablet itself is that every time you actually press down on the pad itself it makes a click. And it's so minimal that you don't really hear it, but the way a stroke is registered like a mouse is that with the mouse you actually have to press the left click to make a stroke or activate the brush. But with the tablet itself, the actual right click is done when you activate it by touching the tip of the actual stylus to the tablet. Basically I'm asking are you using the button on the stylus? Any of the buttons on the stylus at all? Oh sorry, right right right. I'm sorry. No, the only time I'll actually sue the button on the stylus is if you have anything that's customizable. For me personally I like to switch it up so sometimes this can be used for option or alt and people like to do that if they want to not use the keyboard and they can just use this button here to sample and then do it that way. But for the most part I don't really use these buttons. There are other options like you can cycle through different layers by doing different keyboard commands. And that's usually accessible in the settings. And when you have your driver installed you can access it by clicking on the program your want to use and you see over here it has different variations of what you want to do. So you can see when I mention cycling the layers, I have option bracket. Option open bracket and option close bracket so for example when I go back to Photoshop and I click on these actual buttons I can go up and down on the layers palette if i choose to do it that way. But for the most part I'm trying to do everything by actually clicking on it so you can see what's happening. It's also great 'cause that means you don't even need the buttons if you don't really want to use them either. So let's say that this is kind of the direction that we're going in. And let's recap here, you notice that we're able to see what we've done and I think while I was saving you see this little spot that I made on her nose. I can simply hit X, just bring my flow back to 100% and just cover it. What happens is that you can go back at any time. So this workflow is really great because it keeps skin looking like skin and if I spent maybe another 10, 15 minutes on it it would be kind of where I want it to be. But this is kind of a workflow that I'm really happy with because it kind of gets me to what I'm looking at. So let's take a look at what we've done so far. If I turn off my cleaning layer, turn that back on you notice how nice it is already. And it gives me a nice base because now when I'm dodging and burning you see how it evens out those areas that I was focusing on. And just like that she's looking a lot more realistic, it's not overdone, it's really beautiful, and it prevents you from going too far. Because the danger is going too far and I think with this step, with this technique and this workflow, it stops you from overdoing something.

Class Description


  • Edit portraits with confidence
  • Create an editing workflow that works for you
  • Correct skin like a professional photo editor
  • Work with Photoshop layers
  • Confidently use healing and cloning brushes
  • Expertly dodge and burn


Find the thought of portrait retouching daunting? Professional photo editor Pratik Naik teaches photographers how to make the process simple -- and enjoyable -- in this 90-minute quick start class.

Rather than focusing on image-specific edits, learn the editing tool essentials that you can use on any portrait. Develop the best photo editing workflow for your photography and finish those edits faster. Gain the confidence to work with the healing and clone brush editing tools. Discover how to dodge and burn non-destructively.

Whether you are working with RAW files or JPGs, learn how to create a high-end portrait edit that flatters without airbrushing that plastic look. Edit photos with confidence, on a Mac or PC, inside Adobe Photoshop.


  • Beginner and Professional photographers working with portraits
  • Novice to intermediate photo editors
  • Photoshop beginners
  • Self-taught editors ready to create better retouches

SOFTWARE USED: Adobe Photoshop CC 2017


With more than a decade of experience, Pratik Naik is a high-end professional photo editor. Working primarily in the commercial and editorial sectors, his image retouching work has appeared in magazines like Marie Claire, Elle, Zink, and others. With a straightforward, fun teaching style, Pratik is also a mentor and instructor for photographers and photo editors.


  1. Class Introduction

    In this brief lesson, meet your instructor and learn what to expect over the course of this 90-minute class covering the start-to-finish editing process.

  2. Tools of the Trade

    Learn what you need for working in photo retouching -- and why working on a cheap monitor isn't such a good idea. The right photo editing tools will make sure you're seeing the images the way potential clients will see them, whether that's in your online photo editing portfolio or in print.

  3. Setting up a Game Plan

    Don't just jump into the edit the moment the photo editing software opens. Start with a game plan and start seeing the final image in your mind and noting how you'll get there. Pratik suggests starting by recognizing the areas to fix and marking those spots with a different color. He suggests making a plan for the healing brush before moving to the clone brush (and another layer) and the dodging and burning process, quickly marking each area.

  4. Healing and Clone Brush

    With a game plan in place, start working with the healing brush to fix the most noticeable skin imperfections for portrait retouching. Learn what settings to use on your brush as well as the necessary setting to heal from a new layer. Then, follow along with the healing brush process, including skin touch up and removing stray hair. Learn keyboard shortcuts for adjusting the brush and other time-saving options. Then, work with the clone brush for beauty retouching.

  5. Dodging and Burning

    The traditional doge and burn process lightens and darkens specific areas of the image, either to correct skin tone or create smoother highlight-shadow transitions. Learn Pratik's professional photo editing workflow for the dodge and burn process using a curve adjustment layer. But, don't forget to save your editing work. Pratik suggests PSD or TIFF, the latter which can handle larger files.

  6. Blend Modes and Adjustment Layers

    In this lesson, learn color correction techniques as well as editing essentials on using blend modes and adjustment layers. Follow along as Pratik uses brushwork and a layer in the color blend mode to correct contaminated colors and remove color casts.

  7. Liquify Tool & Unsharp Mask

    The liquify tool is easy to overdo. Learn how to tastefully use the liquify tool in beauty retouching to add body to the hair or correct lens perspective distortion. Finally, sharpen that retouched image using the unsharp mask and save the image (along with JPGs for the web).


Paloma Aviles

He is fantastic, the best online teacher you can have. You learn a lot from him, he made easy photoshop. I recommend his course 100%.

Anastasia Roschina-Kulakova

Retouching is my favourite part of the art process, and here I found really nice and helpful tips for an easier workflow! Thank you!


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