Photoshop is an image editing program that offers an array of functions to enhance or modify your images. Additionally, it’s used to create graphics, collages, web templates and a multitude of other multimedia designs. If you know what you’re doing, Photoshop can pretty much accomplish anything you need it to do. However, if you don’t know much about the program, it can seem daunting and confusing as there are a ton of toolbars, panels, and buttons to push. Don’t be deterred. In this tutorial we’re going to cover the dodge tool and we’ll briefly touch on the burn and sponge tools as well. Learn the fundamentals of Photoshop in the course Photoshop Essentials.
The dodge tool allows you to lighten certain parts of your image. It’s a great tool for fine tuning a photograph or for touching up an image. You can also use it for more specific purposes like lightening teeth, eye color, hair – which is what we’ll focus on here. We’ll also use the dodge tool coupled with the burn and sponge tool to increase the effects of an image.
The dodge tool can be found on your toolbar in Photoshop. Its icon is a magnifying glass. You can also access it via a Photoshop shortcut by hitting O and then use SHIFT+O to rotate between the other tools under dodge (burn and sponge). Before we get started it’s important to mention that using dodge, burn or sponge does not require you to create a new layer like using filters, masks or other tools. (If the terms layers, masks or filters means nothing to you – that’s okay! Learn what they are in the course Photoshop Foundation.) Because you aren’t using layers it’s important to remember to save your original image before you begin editing or you may end up the image altogether. When you find an image to edit, open it by going to File>Open and then save it by going to File>Save As. This basically just creates a copy of the photo and saves it under a new name so you can play around all you want without worrying.
Example 1 – Lighten Your Photo
In the first example, we will take a photo and lighten half of it to produce and sunny effect. This is just the overview so you can see, generally speaking, what the dodge tool does. We’ll get more specific in a minute. I’m using this photo of Joe:
With your photo open (and saved as a new image) activate your dodge tool from the tool bar by clicking on the magnifying glass or using the shortcut O. The dodge tool acts like a paint brush which means you can adjust the size and hardness of the brush. To do so, go to the top left corner of your screen where you should see a circle with a number in it. Click there and adjust your brush setting appropriately. For more detailed work you would want a smaller brush, for this example, I used a 200px brush (pretty big).
The rule of thumb with the dodge tool is, the longer you hold it over a spot the lighter the spot will get. So keep moving your brush unless you really want to highlight a section of the image. This is also why I chose such a large brush for lightening half of this photo, it makes it easier to give it an even appearance.
Now obviously, we wouldn’t want our picture to look like this, so let’s move on to a more specific use of the dodge tool: hair lightening.
Example 2 – Hair Lightening
We can give him the appearance of having a super light blond mustache and hair without making his skin look ghostly. Are you a photographer? Use Photoshop to touch up your photos. Learn more in the course Photoshop for Professional Photographers.
So, with your photo open you should activate the dodge tool again. Instead of using a big sized brush, adjust the brush to a smaller size. You need to zoom in on the photo so you can get a clearer view of what you are lightening. To do this use CTRL and the plus sign. To zoom out use CTRL and the minus sign. Paint over the sections of hair you want lightened. I’ve done his whole head and mustache.
I applied the dodge very heavy so you could see the difference in color, however, because of this the picture looks really unnatural and some red streaks have appeared in his hair (where it was darker). We don’t want him looking so “photoshopped” so let’s use the sponge tool to balance out the color a little bit. The sponge tool is packaged under the dodge tool, and rightfully so because they do wonders when used together.
To activate the sponge tool, go back to the magnifying glass on your tool bar and right-click it. You’ll see the option for dodge tool, burn tool and sponge tool. Select the sponge. You can also use the shortcut O and use SHIFT+O to rotate between these three tools. The sponge icon is… a sponge.
The sponge tool strips color from a photo. It’s used a lot to create highlighted images in a photo like this one:
So now let’s use it on Joe.
I’m painting over all the parts I used the dodge tool on, however, I’m focusing more on the red streaks than anything else. I blew these up so you can see the difference better. The differences are very subtle, but noticeable.
Dodged and Sponged
Example 2 – Reverse Dodge Effects Using The Burn Tool
Now, to reverse the effects of the dodge tool, you can use the burn tool. This does just the opposite – it darkens images. The longer you hold the mouse down with the burn tool active, the closer to black the image will get. It’s like the dodge tool in that it is super sensitive so use this with caution. As always, if you need to undo something you can hit CTRL+Z to undo the last move, or go to Edit>Step backward and keep using that until everything you want to be gone disappears. Speaking of disappearing, if you’re interested in making the background of an image disappear – use this article on changing or eliminating the background in Photoshop as your guide. It’s a good skill to have and it comes in handy more often than you’d think!
Okay, we’re going to take “dodged and sponged” Joe and try to darken the hair a little bit to make it a tad more natural looking, but not quite as dark as the original.
With your dodged and sponged photo open, select the burn tool from under the dodge tool on the tool bar. You’ll do the same thing you did with the sponge and dodge tool, zoom in and being painting. Adjust your brush size as needed.
See the difference below between the dodged and sponged, and the burned, dodged and sponged. Notice how the sheen of the blond is toned down a bit which gives it a more natural appearance.
Dodged and Sponged Burned, Dodged and Sponged
So there you have it, the crash-course to the dodge tool – and how it can be used with the burn and sponge tools. Photoshop has an array of other tools that can make your life even easier when trying to enhance or change aspects of your photo. Learn about all of the tools available in the course Photoshop Tools.