Dodge and Burn or Airbrush?


Got quite a basic photoshop question here about what peoples favored method of putting highlights/shadows on renders is, between the dodge/burn tool or the airbrush( as well as whether using just a black/white airbrush or lighter/darker variants of the colour you’re rendering?).

Also are there any particular positives or negatives to either method to do with things such as ability to go back and chance level of contrast between shading etc?

Hope that makes sense!!

Thanks for any help

I would play with the tools so you get a better understanding of their exact functionality - especially how the “Shadows/Midtones/Highlight” changes the effect of dodge burn.

I primarily use dodge burn for when I want to modify color, and use the airbrush when I want to be additive to an area.

For example if I was drawing an apple, and I wanted to shade it, I would use dodge burn. If I wanted to draw the shadow cast by the stem, I would use the airbrush.

The airbrush also can be used in ALL of the blending modes (overlay, multiply, screen, etc) so understanding those modes and how they effect your underlying image is important as well.

Thanks for the reply cyberdemon. I see what you mean with the example of rendering an apple.

I currently use dodge/burn at the moment so know a little about the different effects highlights, midtones etc give but will definitely have more of a play around with them.

With dodge and burn is there an easy way of adjusting the level of shading quickly? For example if I do a render with quite subtle shading but at the end decide I want the whole thing to be much bolder with the highlights/shadows is there a quick way to adjust this or does it mean going over each dodge/burn again?


The easiest way to achieve this in photoshop would probably be to either:

  1. Render your shading on a layer on TOP of your color. Use the blending mode that gets you where you want, and then you can adjust the opacity to tweak the desired effect.

  2. Use the levels or contrast settings on the entire image or a selected area to tweak it.

The nice and sometimes overwhelming thing about photoshop is theres a million different ways to do the same thing. It’s just about finding one that works for you.

I just use black and white at 10%. It dulls the color but it’s so quick and easy.

I like to use black and white also, put them on other layers and use the layer modes so that it’s easy to change if you need to without being too destructive.
It doesn’t work on all colors, you just have to pick what works best for each specific situation. Sometimes d+b gives the best result, sometimes it doesn’t.

good call… I used to that, I think I’ll get back into it.

I’ll spray black on a multiply layer and white on another layer. Then spray a bit of sky blue in the upward facing surfaces and yellow in the downward facing surfaces (just a bit, very slight). Flatten it and dodge and burn it to push the contrast… and don’t spend to long futzing with it.

A more flexible/reversible alternative to d&b is to create two curve adjustment layers above what you want to dodge/burn (one made brighter, one darker), fill their respective layer masks with black, then paint in the effect by using a low opacity/flow white brush on the mask.

More of a photo retouching technique, but it could be useful here.

Yet another thing to try and test (as with others, not perfect for every situation) is to create separate layers for shading (black) and highlight (white) airbrushing layers. Then block in your color above the shading layer(s) on a multiply layer and adjust the transparency of your highlight layer(s) as necessary.

I normally do what Yo suggests, but there is also a more complicated but controlled way to handle it.

  1. Spray the area where you want the shadows with the airbrush
  2. use this layer mask to make an adjustment layer (such as levels). you can then adjust the intensity of the shadows easily with more control that changing the opacity of the layer.

there’s also a method I’ve seen that is similar but uses layer masks in combo with adjustment layers or something, but I can’t recall exactly how that works…