In previous versions of Photoshop, when we wanted to dodge and burn, we had to jump through a bunch of hoops (creating special layers, and using blend modes and such), because the Dodge and Burn tools were...well...let’s just say they weren’t the best. Luckily, Adobe greatly updated these tools, which totally fixed the problem, and now it’s safe to use the Dodge and Burn tools for lightening and darkening different parts of your image.
In the photo shown here, we want to highlight the store at the top of the staircase (and the staircase itself), but the light simply didn’t fall where we wish it had, so first we’re going to dodge (lighten) the staircase and the store (so they’re the brightest things in the photo, and draw the eye). Then, we’re going to burn (darken) the areas that we wish were darker (like the walls on either side, and the area above the store at the top of the stairs). Basically, we’re just going to rearrange how the light is falling on our photo. Now, I don’t dodge and burn directly on the photo. Instead, press Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J) to duplicate the layer. That way, if we don’t like what we’ve done, we can lessen the effect (by lowering the layer’s opacity) or undo it altogether by throwing the layer away.
Get the Dodge tool (O) from the Toolbox (as shown here), and begin painting over the area you want to lighten (in our case, we’ll start by painting over the center of the staircase—you can see the brush cursor near the bottom of the stairs in the example shown here). Keep holding the mouse button down as you paint, because the Dodge and Burn tools have a build-up effect—each time you release the mouse button and start painting again, the amount of Dodge (or Burn) builds up.
Release the mouse button, and paint over that same area again, and you’ll see how it gets another level brighter. Remember—while the mouse button is held down, you’re painting one level of brightness. Release the mouse button, then click-and-paint over that area, and you’re painting over the original brightness with more brightness, and so on (it’s kind of like polishing a silver platter—the more times you polish it, the brighter it gets). Now look at how much brighter the staircase is here, compared with the original image in Step One.
Now, let’s work on the store’s front at the top of the stairs. Start painting over it to dodge (brighten), release the mouse button, paint it again, and repeat, until it really stands out (like you see here) Now, before we switch to burning in the background, take a look up in the Options Bar for this tool, and you can see that we’ve been dodging just the Midtones (and that’s generally where I do my dodging and burning), but if you wanted the tool to just affect the Highlight or Shadow areas, you can choose that from that Range popup menu. Also, the 50% Exposure amount is fine for something like this, but if I were doing this on a portrait, I’d usually want something much more subtle, and I’d lower the amount to around 10%–15%.
Now let’s switch to burning: first start by pressing Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J) to duplicate your top layer (so, at this point, you’ve got the original untouched image as your Background layer, the brightened Dodge layer in the middle (I renamed it “Dodge layer” just to make it easier to see), and a copy of the brightened layer on top, which is the one we’re going to burn on (I named it “Burn layer”). By keeping everything on separate layers, if you don’t like the burning effect, you can reduce it by lowering the opacity, or delete it altogether and you won’t lose the dodging you did on the layer below it. Now get the Burn tool (as shown here), and paint over the walls on either side of the staircase. By darkening those areas, it puts the focus on the staircase even more, which leads the eye. (Whether you realize it or not, you’re painting with light. Cool!)
Now, paint over the wall area above the store, and then I’d go over the walls on the side of the staircase one more time, because they’re still pretty bright, and still drawing the eye a bit too much. One more thing: up in the Options Bar you’ll see a checkbox for Protect Tones. That’s the checkbox that helps to keep the color of what you’re dodging and burning intact, so things just get brighter or darker, and not sunburned and color saturated. I leave this on all the time, even when I’m not dodging and burning portraits (which is when it’s most useful). Below is a before/after, and while I’m usually fairly subtle with my dodging and burning, here I took things a little farther than I normally would, just to show a clear example of the power of dodging and burning.