Have you ever been working away in photoshop, keyboard short-cutting like no other, when suddenly you do something that is unexpected and awesome?  It happened to me when working on a image of the French Quarter in New Orleans.  This technique is one of the best kept secrets in Photoshop and it has changed the way I post process forever.

The original image, shot in New Orleans in 2004.

For years I have been reading all these crazy complicated ways to dodge, burn, lighten, darken and vignette.   Complex stuff involving layers and masks and various kinds of techniques.  Because the Dodge and Burn tools don’t match my taste, I was searching for a better option. .

There is a simple tool that does it better than any other.  Drum roll please:

It’s the History Brush.    I know what you are thinking.  History brush?  Where is it?  What does it do?  It seems a bit mysterious, but I don’t know exactly how electricity works either, yet I enjoy the benefits.

Editor: Essentially, the history brush can be used to paint back in time to a specific version (or state) of your image.  Think of it as painting in an Undo.


Editor: If working with a multi-layer image, you’ll need to flatten the file (or at least create a copy of the image that’s flattened).  Choose Select > All then choose Edit > Copy Merged.  Make a new layer and past the merged copy on top of your layered document.

For dodging and burning, just try this.

  1. If your are post-processing an image, and you get to a stage where you want to do burning and dodging, Save the Image to capture its current state.
  2. Open the History panel (Window > History).
  3. Click the Camera icon at the bottom to create a new snapshot.
  4. Click next to the new History state to set it as the source for the History Brush.
  5. Choose an area you want to dodge.  
  6. Choose the History Brush (Y). (Be careful not to choose the Art History Brush which is in the same tool well).
  7. In the Options bar (across the top) set the Blend Mode of the History Brush to Screen.  
  8. Now paint on your photo and watch the magic.  
  9. Adjust your opacity and flow and softness/hardness of you brush to your desired amount.  It is incredible, no?

To burn an area set the History Brush Blend Mode to Multiply.

Different blend modes with the History Brush create different results.  Want to burn a medium to dark color? Choose Color Burn.  To lighten a color, change to Color Dodge.

Try working on eyes and teeth with it.  It works fantastic.



Give it a try.  Amaze your clients.  Be awesome.

To see more of Greg’s work, check out his portfolio and follow him on Twitter.

Disclaimer: This is just one way to work with Dodging & Burning in Photoshop.


This Post Sponsored by: Learn photography anytime, anywhere, and at your own pace—from bite-sized tutorials to comprehensive courses. Try free for 10 days by visiting Photofocus.

Mosaic A complete solution for photographers using Lightroom who want to manage and share their photos. You can easily view images with their iOS app or web service. Plus your photos are backed up to the cloud with several plans to match your needs.

Adobe Photoshop CC and Lightroom for US$9.99/mo. Limited-time offer for Photoshop CS3 and later customers. Get it here.

500px Join the world’s premier photo community. 500px lets you discover, share, buy and sell inspiring photographs.

Drobo Not only is Drobo 5D fast, but it’s easy-to-use, expandable, flexible, and protected.

The Topaz Labs Image Enhancement bundle. Open up a world of creative possibilities with a seamless, integrated workflow. You don’t need to be a Photoshop wizard to look like one. Click here and use the code photofocus to get a 15% discount.

Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. Ive been wondering about that brush, but I felt it was something you had to be initiated to use! Thanks for the introduction!

  2. Thanks for that! I will have to try it!!

  3. Reblogged this on Life 365 Photo Project and commented:
    Can’t wait to give it a go.

  4. Dumb question, but how is this an advantage over dodge and burn? There is a difference, but I can’t put my finger on it.

  5. […] Best Kept Photoshop Secret Alternative to Dodging & Burning ( […]


Let us know your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Adobe, Technique & Tutorials


, , , , ,