Burn Tool / Dodge Tool
Convincing light and deceiving shadows...
Bringing light and shadow into flat images can be a challenging thing to do
convincingly. The burn tool and the dodge tool are both designed to help you accomplish this
task in a realistic and believable way.
As long as you follow some basic guidelines, you'll have no trouble creating images with real depth.
But what are those guidelines? Read on for the simple guide to authentic shadow and light.
The use of the dodge and burn tools is discussed specifically in the second half of the article,
after the information which is essential to using them well!
Light Source and Direction
It doesn't matter whether you're trying to make deceiving shadows to add depth where there was
none, or make a dim day more convincingly bright, you must always consider where the light is
all coming from.
Consider the following image, it's a very flat image, clearly defined in 2D.
|We all know internally that it's true, but putting your finger on the reason why it
looks that way can be tricky. It's all to do with light!
Even if an object is plainly colored, our eye can still gather information on it which gives us
depth perception. Apart from the shape of the object and its perspective, variations in the light
on the object, and the shadows it casts on other objects give us a natural idea of its depth.
These variations in brightness must be sensible to our eye however. Consider the image below now,
after having the dodge and burn tools used on it:
|Because the highlights and lowlights are not structured, there is still no sense of
depth. The surface looks a little shiny if anything, but that was not the desired effect.
Now consider the final image below, with less random highlighting. Exactly the same tools have been
used, but this time in a structured way:
|The dodge and burn tools have been used to pick out the edges of the shapes. The shadows
correlate with one another, they are all on one side, and the lights do the same.
The important thing to note is that you can immediately see where the light source is. In the second
image you can't tell, but in this image it is clearly coming from the top left. Because your eye can
make sense of the light, it can perceive the depth.
Below this is illustrated with a figure. The unlit figure looks flat. The figure on the right has been
enhanced with the dodge tool and the burn tool, to give him light and shadow around his edges. Again you
can quite quickly see that the light is coming from the right of the picture.
|The effect clearly brings out the second image.
So now that you know light and shadow must have clear source and direction, you can go on to learn
about using the dodge and burn tools to achieve this.
Which One's Which?
The first thing to note is which tool does what. The dodge tool lightens an image, and the burn tool
makes it darker. This means that the dodge tool can bring out details in shadowy parts of an image, and
the burn tool can bring out detail in over exposed image parts or highlights.
Basic Usage and Options
The tools function just like the brush tool. Select either of the tools, and a similar option bar
will appear at the top. Firstly select the type of brush shape you wish to use. You can use any shape
brush, but I find mostly the default brushes and sometimes the square ones are most useful.
One thing to consider is how hard or soft you want the brush edge to be. If you want a very gradually
noticeable effect then perhaps a soft brush edge is suitable, to fade in the alteration. On the other
hand sometimes a hard edged shadow can add definition and substance to an image.
Once you have selected the brush shape, and changed the size if necessary, you are left with the two
options specific to the dodge and burn tools, Range and Exposure.
Range is probably the hardest setting to use effectively. Many people just leave it set at Midtones
and forget about it, but the image below shows how it can be useful:
|The three lines were made by the burn tool, set to 100% exposure, but each with a
different range. The top used Shadows, the middle Midtones, and the bottom Highlights. Notice how
only the bottom burn has affected the white part of the image, because this was the only one set
to influence the highlight tones.
The range decides which tones in the image the tool will effect, the darkest, lightest, or most average
parts. For many jobs, leaving the tools set to Midtones will serve you fine, but occasionally it pays
to know how to change this.
Finally the Exposure setting is just like setting the Opacity for a brush. It decides how strong
the effect of the burn tool or the dodge tool is.
It is sometimes a good technique to use low exposures for these tools, and make several strokes. It
gives you more control over exactly how much alteration you apply, and where you apply it. Don't be
afraid to give it several goes, using the undo feature until you're happy it looks natural.
Another good point, less is often more! The human eye can make phenomenally precise distinctions
between colors and shades, so don't make it to obvious! Subtle use of these tools almost always wins.
Many of the examples I've used on this page have been exaggerated, to prove a point, but delicate and
conservative application of these tools often gives the most realistic and believable effect.
Finally I remind you again of the most important point, decide on your light source and direction.
Remember the images below, and the success achieved when we used a consistent light pattern.
|I hope this tutorial has been of use to you. If you want free advice like this
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Robert Redwood - Bio|
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A page about the Burn Tool and the Dodge Tool