Today, we're going to discuss how dodging and burning can improve your photos and show you how easy it is in Capture One 20.
What Is ‘Dodging & Burning’?
If you’re familiar with this, then feel free to skip ahead. This is a primer for those reading who might be unfamiliar with what dodging and burning is. It’s simply a process/technique used during image development to adjust the exposure of specific areas of an image. It is a useful carry-over from print, and in digital, it has much more flexibility and, frankly, power. To "dodge" means to lighten and to "burn" refers to darkening.
As it is a phrase that comes from the printing process and not the point of capture, the terms often seem reversed. To dodge means to decrease exposure of an area to light, and that means it "develops" less and the paper it’s being printed on stays whiter. Burning means exposing the paper more, thus darkening the area on that print. This is different from how we think about exposure at the point of capture, where typically, increasing exposure means making the image brighter and decreasing makes it darker. But simply keep in mind that in post-processing, whether print or digital, "dodging" refers to lightening and "burning" refers to darkening.
Benefits of Dodging and Burning in Capture One
Dodging and burning is most commonly associated with Photoshop, as Photoshop had the most robust brush options and layer functionality (still does), but it’s possible to do dodging and burning in other applications, like Capture One and to some degree, Lightroom, for example.
A major benefit of using Capture One is that unlike Photoshop, it’s a raw processor, so with it, you’re working on a raw file. This means you’re working with the most information possible, whereas with Photoshop, you are working on a lossy file that degrades as you work it. In addition, Photoshop manipulation of those files tends to introduce strange Gamma adjustments.
Also worth noting is that while Lightroom can do local dodging and burning in a manner of speaking, it’s not quite the same as Lightroom doesn’t operate with actual layers. Capture One’s layer functionality is high, especially with 20, and the confluence of the layers, luminosity masking on those layers, and the flexibility of brushes makes Capture One a truly powerful platform for dodging and burning. It’s also nice that you have to do less round-tripping from raw processor to Photoshop, as you can do much more in Capture One.
*If you don’t have Capture One, this is the perfect time to try it, and you can click here for a 30-day full trial of Capture One Pro so you can follow along.
How to Do Dodging and Burning in Capture One
- Click the ‘+’ sign in the layers dialogue box to create a New Empty Layer and name it Dodge/Brighten, and then add another new empty layer and name it Burn/Darken.
- Next, select either of the newly created layers and make the appropriate exposure adjustments for the corresponding layer with any of the tools you like, and then do the same for the other layer. Done this way, you will not be able to see the changes until you brush them in. So, select your Brush tool by either hitting the Brush icon in the layers tab, or hitting B. You can right-click to bring up the brush setting dialogue box and change size, hardness, opacity, and flow. You can also select masking and pen behavior functions here, particularly useful if using a Wacom tablet. (Click here to see how to set up your Wacom for Capture One). The Wacom tablet I use is the Wacom Intuos Pro Med, but honestly, most people don't need it for photo use, and to test the waters and in general, the Wacom Intuos Creative Pen Tablet for $69 is great.
- From here, you simply brush in the adjustment to a point you like best. You can always view your brush strokes/mask by toggling M on your keypad so you can see precisely what you’re doing.
Alternatively, you can click and hold the + icon from above and choose to create New Filled Layers instead of Empty Layers, make the exposure adjustments, and you’ll see the changes as you move the Exposure slider so you know just how much of a change you are making. Then, you can right-click the layer, select Invert Mask so it appears normal, and then brush in the changes.
When dodging and burning, you’ll develop a method of practice you like with your own favorite settings, but for those starting with little to no experience, I suggest using a soft brush, 100% opacity, and a low flow rate around 2-5%, so you can gradually build up your adjustment and be more accurate and nuanced.
Keep in mind you can always go back in and change the level of adjustment made on a layer, and you have added control via the Opacity slider that allows you to quickly and easily adjust the visual strength of a particular layer. And you can also use other tools to adjust the masked areas, whether those are Curve, Levels, or even color alterations.
Check out the video below to see this in action:
Dodging and burning is one of the best ways to really mold your image into what you want it to be, and becoming more familiar with it will serve you well regardless of what you shoot, but it’s particularly well suited to anything with fine detail and gradients, such as portraits, where you can use it to really carve out features and highlights.
If you don’t have Capture One, this is the perfect time to try it, and you can click here for a 30-day full trial of Capture One Pro.
If you're looking for a quick and effective way to learn Capture One, check out The Complete Capture One Editing Guide.