Using The Dodge & Burn Tool Non-Destructively in Photoshop

Using The Dodge & Burn Tool Non-Destructively in Photoshop

A powerful, yet easily destructive set of tools in Photoshop, are the dodge & burn tools. With just a few whisks of your mouse or tablet pen, you can deepen shadows and extend highlights thanks to these great options. They can be one of the best tools for selective contrast adjustments, intensifying the mood within your photos. And you can equally increase mood through using the Burn tool to create a vignette.

What is the best way of using the dodge & burn tool non-destructively in Photoshop?

When we first start using Photoshop, we’re tempted to duplicate the layer on which we’re working and apply the tools directly. Or worse, we don’t even duplicate our base layer, and end up with a completely destructive workflow.

However, one of the cleanest, least destructive ways of using the Dodge & Burn tools is through a new layer filled with 50% gray. In this way we can still make specific contrast adjustments with minimal colour degradation.

Photoshop Steps

1. Open your image in Photoshop. Duplicate the layer (this isn’t necessary but it is always good practice). Make sure the duplicated layer is selected.

2. Go to Layer>New>Layer. A new layer will be created. You can also do this by pressing the Create New Layer option at the bottom of the layers panel.

3. Now go to Edit>Fill. A dialogue box will appear like the one below. Make sure your settings are the same as the one below and press OK. This is where we fill the new layer with 50% gray.


4. The new layer will now be gray. Just above the new layer, you will see the word Normal. This is the blend mode. Click on this and scroll down to Soft Light or Overlay. For this image we’re using Soft Light, which has a softer effect.

5. Now you’re ready to dodge and burn. Simply select either the dodge or burn tool, as you normally would. And with the gray layer selected, you apply the dodge or burn tool on that layer.

That’s it! By dodging & burning on this new layer, we create the same changes we would have otherwise, but we do it completely non-destructively.

Before Dodge & Burning


After Dodge & Burn


You can also see exactly where you’ve applied the dodge and burn, and how intensely, by making the new gray the only layer visible.

Dodge and Burn applied to image above


Alternative Dodge & Burn Tutorials Elsewhere On The Web

Video by Elena Jasic

Dodge & Burn in Elements

Enter your email below and join our community of more than 100,000 photographers who have also
Subscribed to our newsletter.
Downloaded our FREE Photoshop Course.
Got our FREE Easy Panel for Photoshop.
And, have our FREE Essential Guide To Luminosity Masks E-Book.

To go directly to any of our products, simply click on the image below.

Raya Pro
Art of Photography
Art of Digital Blending
Exposure Blend Like an Expert
Mastering Lumi32
Jimmy’s Big 5 Photos

Shutter Evolve Complete Product Range

Using The Dodge & Burn Tool Non-Destructively in Photoshop

4 thoughts on “Using The Dodge & Burn Tool Non-Destructively in Photoshop

  1. I use a similar process with a couple of tweaks that give you a few advantages to the technique shown here..(Works best with your selective masks, Jimmy Mac!) – With your image open, make two new layers and fill both with 50% gray as shown in your example. Name the first layer “Burn” and set blending to “Soft light” Name the second layer “Dodge” and set its blending mode to “Overlay” – Now instead of using the Dodge/Burn Brushes, use a regular soft edge brush and set Flow and Opacity to 20% or so. When you want to burn, set brush color to black and paint on the “Burn” layer. When you want to “Dodge” change to the color to white, and paint on the “Dodge” layer. I find the two different blending settings work better for the specific type of work being done. You can reverse any of the painting 50% gray (See example below) on ether layer..Magic! The technique works fantastic with JM’s Luminosity masks! Try it you will never go back!

    mark pedersen- Photo-electric pixel management engineer

  2. Great article and discussion. I do have one question (please excuse my shallow understanding of dodge/burn tools). One thing I live about these tools is the ability to easily dodge and burn specific ranges (highlights/midtones/shadows). When we dodge and burn on a gray layer instead of a duplicate layer, don’t we lose this feature because the layer being affected is all midtone (50% gray)? Maybe this is how luminosity masking a great layer could come in? Getting lost in the options… Thanks for any clarification!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to top