Beginners ask all the time on Facebook groups or in forums how to diminish their retouching time. The truth is, there aren't any magical technique to cut time, only tricks to help accelerate your workflow. There is one, in particular, to make your dodging and burning process more flawless and thus a bit faster by utilizing a Wacom tablet.
Achieving great results with techniques that rely heavily on the drawing quality of the retoucher usually require a Wacom tablet. Every Wacom tablet comes with a pen that has a few buttons: one eraser on the back and two buttons on the side. When dodging and burning, you usually have two layers: one for lightening and the other for darkening. Two buttons, two layers… you probably see where I am going with this. The geek that I am couldn't do anything else but customize these buttons to make them switch from one layer to the other. Let's see how you can do the same.
Wacom Pen on Steroids With Photoshop Shortcuts
When using a Wacom tablet to retouch, I often feel like using any menu or tool panel disrupt my working process. Particularly for techniques such as dodge and burn, frequency separation, and masking. Having to go from one layer to another requires me to move my cursor away from the area I am working on. However, there is a keyboard shortcut in Photoshop that allows you to change the layer you are working on. There are two shortcuts: one that will select the layer above, another the layer below.
Even though keyboard shortcuts are great, the Wacom pen has two buttons that are set by default to double-click and right-click. Not features that are useful on a pen for retouching. So instead, we can set the lower button to change to the layer below and the other button to change to the layer above. By default the shortcuts are alt/option + ] to select the next layer and alt/option + [ to choose the previous layer (Note: these shortcuts are different for every language version of Photoshop, these particular ones work for the English version and might not if you have Photoshop installed in French, Spanish, or any other language).
To set the buttons on the side of the pen with these shortcuts, open up the Wacom Desktop Center, go to Pen & Button Settings and click Open Pen Settings. Then only change the settings for the two buttons Double Click and Right Click as shown on the screenshot below:
You want to choose Keystroke from the drop-down list, clear the current shortcut if there is anything written in the text area, and then press either of the shortcuts mentioned above. Just make sure to give each button a different shortcut and not twice the same. Once done, you are good to go. No need to restart Photoshop, it should work right away.
Now when you dodge and burn, you don't need to travel half of your screen to change from one layer to another, you can just press the button on the side of your pen to change from the dodge layer to the burn one. But this not limited to the dodging and burning layers. You can quickly go through any layers without having to move your cursor.
Note that if you do a lot of drawing it might be a better idea to use these buttons to change the two colors of your palette or to open the color picker especially if you have an Intuos Pro. While the Bamboo and basic Intuos don't offer a wheel on the tablet, the Intuos Pro does and you could use it to change layers very quickly. This might come in handy if you do a lot of manual HDR or compositing work.
While it will probably not cut your retouching time drastically, it will surely help you have a less disruptive experience while doing your dodging and burning. The only thing that could probably cut your dodging and burning time considerably while making your retouching better would be to improve your drawing skills. But that's a whole another topic that I will leave for a future article.
Do you also rely on a lot of shortcuts? Have you have customized your Wacom tablet and pen shortcuts?