• Have a reasonable understanding of photoshop.
  • Know how to create layers and mask in photoshop.

The Guide

I like to use the dodge and burn tool in photoshop for final retouching while processing my images. Almost every time i process an image i use bracketed exposures. I would use either variations of exposures from a single raw file or multiple images from the use of the Auto-Exposure-Bracketing function in the camera. I will merge these exposures using my preferred method of blurred based masks in photoshop and with the use of masks will perform all the major image adjustments needed to reach towards a finished result, once satisfied with the overall look and feel of the image i would flatten all the layers to a single layer and begin performing the retouches and cleaning up of the image. The cleanup and retouch process will almost always involve the use of the dodge and burn tools in photoshop and there is a simple way to do this nondestructively

Add a new layer

Hold option/alt key and add a new layer by clicking the icon in the lower right of screen, a new window will pop up and you need to select mode as overlay and check the box that  will fill the layer with 50% gray. This is the layer you will perform the dodging and burning.

Select the dodge or burn tool

Select the dodge or burn tool from the left menu and ensure the range selected in for the mid-tones, mid-tones are in fact 50% grey, so any dodging and burning of the mid-tones on the 50% gray layer with the combination of an overlay mode will result in the brightening and darkening of the image.

Correct any errors

To correct any mistakes made whilst dodging and burning, to bring it back to the original state the brush tool is selected and 50% gray is painted over the new layer. To get this in the colour box you will need to select 50% gray as the colour of the brush, this is shown in the image below.


  • Create a new layer in photoshop (option click if clicking icon bottom right of screen).
  • Select overlay mode and check the box “Fill with Overlay-neutral color” (50% Gray).
  • Select the dodge/burn brush in photoshop ensuring midtones is selected (midtones = 50% gray).
  • Now you can dodge and burn on the 50% gray layer.
  • If you need to re-correct yourself, choose the brush tool and paint back the 50% gray by selecting in in the colour palette.
  • You are now dodging and burning non-destructively.

One Response to “Dodge and Burn Non-destructively”

  1. Rob on

    Wow thank you very much for this gem of information! I use Dodge and Burn in my own post processing, but being self taught in Photoshop meant it was the last remaining destructive touch-up method that I was still employing (Obviously I have learnt how to be non destructive on everything else). All that is history now with your brilliant explanation for dodge/burn. Thanks!


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