RECORDING AND APPLYING ACTIONS
Photographer Gee Greenslade explains how to create dodge and burn Actions in Photoshop to speed up workflow and bring photographs to life
‘Actions’ are a way of recording your steps in Photoshop to reuse at a later date. In this example, I will show you how to create two dodge and burn layers, record them into an Action, and attach this to a keyboard shortcut for quick access. Be aware that Actions mostly work for global adjustments (adjustments made to the whole image) and most local adjustments (such as the Brush Tool or Clone and Heal — tools that are applied to smaller parts of your image) will not be as useful to record.
‘Dodge and burn’ refers to darkroom terms for brightening and darkening sections of a photograph to control highlights, mid tones, and shadows in a photograph. Dodge to brighten, and burn to darken. Photoshop does have these tools inbuilt into the Tools panel; however, these are hugely destructive to your image, meaning that you can destroy valuable pixels and lose data.
A good non-destructive workflow means that you can create layers that can be edited, giving you the flexibility of undoing any mistakes you make later.
RECORDING AN ACTION
To begin, open the Actions panel — click Window > Actions.
Click the New Action icon that can be found at the bottom of the Actions panel.
In the dialogue window that opens up, give your Action the name ‘Dodge and Burn’. Then, in the Function Key drop-down menu, give your Action a key to be associated with. This will allow you to quickly recall the Action. I have selected F2. Make sure you remember it for later. When you are ready hit the Record button. Remember that everything you do from this point forward will be put into your Action, so don’t click anything that you don’t need to.
If you do not have the Layers panel open, click Window > Layers. In the Layers panel, click the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon — it is the fourth icon from the right at the bottom. Select Curves from the drop-down menu that appears.
If you have never seen Curves before, it works like a graph; the lower end of the line adjusts shadows, the middle part of the line affects mid tones, and the top part of the line adjusts highlights. Click and drag the middle section of the line up, making your photograph brighter.
At this stage, don’t worry that it is brightening the overall image. We will correct this in a second. Brighten your image until your curve looks like this:
Double-click the text to the right of the Curves layer and give the layer a name. I have called mine ‘Dodge’.
Click on the mask (the white box) next to the Curves layer to select it. Make sure that the background colour in your Tools panel is set to black by tapping ‘D’ for default on your keyboard. Next, hold down Command and Delete if using a Mac, or Ctrl and Delete on a PC. Your image should now return back to normal (not brightened) and the mask should appear black in your Layers panel.
Now repeat Steps Four to Six, except this time darken your image by dragging the curve down, and name your layer ‘Burn’. Your layers should look like the image on the right:
Stop recording your Action by pressing the Stop button at the bottom of the Actions panel.
To test if your Action works, click File > Revert to return your document to the beginning. Then hold down Function and F2 (or the keyboard shortcut you chose). Your Action should run through and repeat everything you just recorded.
You can now simply use that keyboard shortcut to add your dodge and burn layers to your document the moment that you open a photograph. Think creatively about how you might use Actions in the future — if there is something you always do (globally, of course) then speed up your workflow by recording it.
APPLYING THE ACTION
Using your dodge and burn layers once they are set up is very easy. Simply click on the masks (the black boxes) associated with what you want to do (Dodge to brighten, Burn to darken) then draw the lightness or darkness on your image using the brush tool. Painting white will add brightness (Dodge layer) or darkness (Burn layer). If you make a mistake, simply hit ‘X’ on your keyboard and paint black to erase your mistakes.
You can adjust the brush’s opacity using the number keys on your keyboard to get a subtle effect. I usually paint with my brush at 20 per cent and slowly build my dodge and burn up.
Here is a before and after comparison of an image I have worked on. I chose to brighten the eye, add a vignette, even out the light on the chest and torso, and play with some of the highlights and shadows on the hair and face. As you can see, a simple dodge and burn can really bring an image to life.