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Best Kept Photoshop Secret Alternative to Dodging & Burning

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:

Its 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.

History-brush-screenshotEditor: 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 .

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


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