Take your landscape photography to the next level by using a variety of advanced dodge and burn techniques to selectively lighten and darken areas.
When it comes to finishing off your landscape images, dodging and burning is an art form in itself. The process has long been an integral part of photography, but it’s far easier to lighten or darken areas of images with precision these days than it ever was in the darkroom.
We’ll explore a whole range of dodging and burning techniques here, but it’s not just a case of knowing how to selectively adjust brightness: deciding which areas of an image need attention is much more important.
When someone views an image, their eyes are naturally drawn to the lighter areas first, so take this into account when dodging and burning. Imagine you’re taking the eyes on a journey around the frame: emphasize leading lines and draw the eye towards the subject.
01 Separate the land and sky
Paint over the sky with the Quick Selection Tool to select it, then press Cmd/Ctrl+J to copy the area to a new layer. Add a Levels adjustment layer. Set the Blend Mode to Multiply to darken the image. Press Cmd/Ctrl+I to invert the layer mask to black and hide the effect.
02 Darken the sky
Cmd/Ctrl-click the cut-out sky layer’s thumbnail to load the outline as a selection. Click the Levels layer’s mask. Select the Brush Tool. Set the foreground color to white and the brush opacity to 20%, then paint over the sky to darken areas. When you’re done, press Cmd/Ctrl+D to deselect.
03 Lift the foreground
Add another Levels adjustment layer. Set its Blend Mode to Screen to lighten the image. Cmd/Ctrl-click the sky layer to load a selection and invert it with Select>Inverse. Invert the new Levels layer mask, paint white to lighten the foreground, then deselect it.
04 Boost the rocks
Press Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E to create a merged layer. Right-click it and choose ‘Convert to Smart Object’. Go to Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask and set Amount to 120, Radius to 45 and Threshold to 4 to add definition to the rocks. Invert the layer mask that appears, and paint white over the rocks.
05 Draw the eye
Alt-click the New Layer icon in the Layers Panel. In the New Layer options set Mode: Overlay, check the ‘Fill with…’ box and click OK. Set the Brush Tool opacity to 10%, then paint with white to lighten and with black to darken; use this layer to subtly draw the eye to the subject.
06 Highlights and shadows
Press Cmd/Ctrl+Shift +Alt+E to create a new merged layer. Take the Dodge Tool, and set Exposure to 10% and Range to Highlights. Pick out edges and highlights to emphasize. Use the Burn tool, setting Exposure to 10% and Range to Shadows, to add depth to shadows.
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