Soft Light Layer Dodge & Burn
Ok, so I covered MY preferred method to Dodge & Burn in Photoshop in the last entry. But it seems quite a few people use the more widely known “Soft Light” method so I figured I would cover that today. After all, their are many ways to do just about everything in Photoshop. Just pick a favorite that works best for you.
First off, with your image open, create a new layer above any edits to be sure they are included in the dodge/burn effect. Then change that layers blending mode to Soft Light. In my examples shown, I started by filling the layer in with 50% gray to make my adjustments more visible on the screen. This is not necessary to make the effect work.
Depending on how complex you plan on getting with Dodge or Burn, before you start painting you may want to duplicate the layer we just created and name one Dodge and one Burn, but that is completely up to you. (Shortcut: Create an action to do the above steps for you in one click.) Either way, this tutorial works just fine using a single layer for both dodge and burn or with each on their own layer. Personally, I work with multiple layers most often because it leaves me the option of changing the opacity of each independently.
Now that we have the layers set up, to Burn you simply select the paint brush tool, set it to paint black (or some darker shade of gray) and paint directly on the layer. This will cause it to burn in the areas painted without the nasty color shifting that the pre-CS4 Dodge & Burn tools were known to do. And to Dodge, simply press X (assuming your pallet colors are Black and White) and paint with white or a lighter tone of gray. As I suggested above, using a separate layer for each makes it easier to tone down effects.
Alternatively, instead of using the paint brush, you can use the Dodge & Burn tools on the Soft Light layer for the same effect as above. If you use keyboard shortcuts to switch tools, this may save you some time and free up the pallet and paintbrush for other effects. However to make it work you need to fill the Soft Light layer with 50% gray first. (To give the tools something to dodge/burn.) And unless someone wants to show me how I am doing it wrong, I have found that the tool settings (Shadow, Midtones, Highlight) do not function as they would on an image layer when working on the Soft Light layer so I simply use Midtones for everything.
Some of the reasons I prefer the Curves method over the Soft Light method are because I can use the Quick Mask (Q) to quickly toggle on and off what I have dodged or burned while still being able to see the image below. Also with the Curves method, I can easily limit how much I can effectively dodge or burn by limiting how far I drag the curve. Or the other way around, I can drag the curve to have a very strong effect. Or if you want, you can paint in a little bit of contrast by using an S shape curve instead. And lastly, my deep shadows and bright highlight details are protected with the Curves method UNLESS I move those end points up or down on the curve. As for the Soft Light method, it is easier for most people to use because it is easy to understand how it works. Paint white for lighter, paint black for darker. Simple. I use both methods but prefer the Curves method. Try both out, decide what works best for you.