Photoshop Portrait Editing – master Dodge and Burn technique – learn how to improve your photos and get striking results

Have you ever been curious what it takes to get flawless, striking but still natural-looking portraits? In this article I will teach you a complete set of portrait retouching techniques with a deep dive into the Dodge and Burn technique- take your time to digest the theory and to practice what you have learnt. Be patient and gradually build up your skill, aiming for quality over quantity. Photography portraiture while being an extremely rewarding genre requires certain amount of skill to thrive.


The creative process begins with your unique vision, continues while working on mood, composition and exposure. Well exposed photo is a great starting point - if you produced quality RAW material during the photoshoot, you've arrived to a place where the magic begins. Now with skilful editing you can transform your images, taking them from OK-ish to impressive. "Skilful" is a master word here, since it takes knowledge and experience to enhance the RAW material by emphasising its' strong parts and correcting the flaws.



The Portrait Editing Workflow taught in this article consists of the following steps:


  • quick clean-up
  • advanced Dodge & Burn
  • targeted luminosity adjustments
  • selective sharpening
  • optional finish: funky Gel Lighting Effect


1. Clean-up
This is the first step, the process begins with a quick clean-up with the basic Photoshop tools such as Spot Healing Brush or Stamp (depending on the issue). Here we focus on removing any sensor / lens dust or major skin imperfections present in the image.


2. Dodge & Burn
The "heart" of any efficient edit. Dodging and Burning derives from a darkroom manual photo developing techniques. Simply speaking it is based on darkening (burning) or brightening (dodging) selected areas in the image. Since photography is all about light and shadow - Dodging & Burning well performed can truly enhance definition of your work.
First we will create a set of Layers that will be used to perform the Dodging & Burning technique. After getting the Layers stack ready comes the image evaluation - here we decide on the look we want to achieve. It is helpful to quickly mark on a helper layer the areas that need to be corrected, muted, reshaped or strengthened. Typically the Dodge & Burn process is divided into two stages: Corrective and Contouring. During the Corrective stage we are working with large magnification and focusing mostly on perfecting surfaces in the photo such as smoothening skin texture. This is most time consuming part of the edit, requires precision and patience. The second stage, Contouring is the fun-part, which most of the photographers truly enjoy. During Contouring we will work with global enhancement of light and shadow in the image - the effect is increased contrast, greater sense of depth and volume. Both stages need to be performed in a sensible manner there is a fine line between an enhanced, effective image and overdone, fake-looking final effect.


3. Targeted Luminosity Adjustments
At this point, after finishing Dodging & Burning we are ready to take the next step and apply Luminosity Adjustments to bring out selected highlights in the image, or mute areas that will benefit from darkening. This is the final step when it comes to working on luminosity levels in the photo - it is all about skilful balance and adjusting the look to our taste.


4. Sharpening
Selective sharpening is one of the typically added final touches, to accentuate elements or textures in the image. Best applied light-handed.
That's it for now. In the upcoming, second article we will focus on color grading of the image.


The animation illustrates original image (step 1) versus version with applied Corrective D&B (step 2), and Contouring (step 3).

The videos are part of "Using the Dodge & Burn Technique for Professional Photoshop Portrait Editing" online course.


In the complete video course you can learn:

  • How to perform a classic portrait edit workflow with professional Photoshop techniques
  • Effective use of the Dodge & Burn technique to enhance any image
  • Post production special effects: emulating Gel Lighting
  • Best ways to work with confidence using Masks and Adjustment Layers
  • How to work in a non-destructive way with the use of most powerful Photoshop toolAdd style to your image and get the artistic look by adding dramatic coloured effect inspired by theatre and cinematography. By introducing strong, flashy colors, we will create images with a twist — provocative, vibrant portraits, pulsating with energy. You will learn the complete color grading process with the Color Fill and Selective Color Adjustment Layers combined with Photoshop Masks to achieve an eye-grabbing effect.

Hello! I'm Kasia!

Photography is a celebration of life. It gives artists like you and me the opportunity to create soulful, meaningful, personal work-- for pleasure and for profit. As a fine art photographer, digital publisher and instructor of more than 70,000 students worldwide, my mission is to help professional photographers and experienced enthusiasts alike master advanced photography and editing processes, easily and effectively.

My courses are hands-on and include detailed Photoshop tutorials and high-quality downloads. You’ll feel fully supported as you enjoy the freedom to explore and experiment with new techniques. The goal of every class is for you to realise your artistic vision and achieve remarkable results with ease and joy. Read more

Follow us on Instagram

Something is wrong.
Instagram token error.

Recent posts

Luminosity Masks: The Definitive Guide

By kasia | September 5, 2019

Luminosity Masks: The Definitive Guide Luminosity masks are a photographer’s secret weapon to elevating a good photo to a pixel-perfect…

An American in Lanta

By kasia | July 31, 2019

The following series turned out to be my interpretation of the famous quote from Henry David Thoreau “all good things…

Copy, Apply and Fine Tune Image Adjustments in Capture One 12

By kasia | June 27, 2019

I must admit that one of my favorite features in Capture One are predefined Styles. Working with RAW files and…