Thursday, September 9, 2010

Photo Thursdays - Mastering the Burn Tool in Photoshop

The transition from film photography to digital photography has made so many of the quirky and difficult things about film processing a piece of cake in programs like Photoshop. One of these things is burning.

Have you ever had a photo that looked great, except for one small area that looked a little too light? Unless you never take pictures under any sort of direct light source (doubtful), you probably have. Fixing this problem is fairly easy when you use the Burn Tool.

For instance, when I captured this photo of my daughter discovering her shadow, I loved it but always felt like the shadow needed to be a little bit darker. Enter Burn Tool.
The burn tool works kind of like holding a marshmallow over an open fire when you're making S'Mores. You just want to lightly toast the marshmallow to give some color and depth to the otherwise pasty white pudgy shape. Same thing with photos. Burning adds a bit of color and depth to key areas of a photo.

To get started...
1. Open the photo you want to edit in Photoshop.

2. Select the Burn Tool on your toolbar. The burn tool looks like a hand that's holding a pencil. It's located in a multiple-selection menu along with the dodge tool (looks like a pin) and the sponge tool (bet you can't guess what that tool looks like...).

3. In the tool selection toolbar, at the top of the screen, you can change the brush diameter and brush hardness, much like the eraser and paintbrush tools. Find a brush that's right for the area you're working on. A tip with brush sizes is to not go too big or you may do more damage than good.

4. Next to the brush size, you can also select the Range you want to edit. Look at the area you want to add some color and depth to. Is it a shadow, midtone or highlight? For most pictures, you'll use either shadow or midtones. On most pictures, I'd recommend starting with the midtones.

5. The last tool option is the Exposure. This basically means how much of a burn is going to be added to the picture as you burn (are you holding the marshmallow away from the flames or right in the middle of the fire?).

6. Now you're ready to burn. Zoom in on the area you would like to burn. Click and drag to apply the burn. Do NOT simply click or this will create a weird effect. Click and drag, even if it's just a tiny drag. Don't do too much or hold it down for too long. The burn tool works much like a can of spray paint. It will keep going and going the longer you hold it down. Most pictures just need a quick squeeze. Stop, step back and look at your work and then apply more if needed. A little goes a LONG way with the burn tool.

The burn tool is one that can be difficult to master at first because it's honestly temperamental, but its uses outweigh its hassle. ( I really dramatized the shadow in the photo below so you could see the effect better.)

In this picture below, the sunspot is a cool effect, but it really washes out the faces. Solution? You guessed it, apply a burn.
I applied a burn to his face, suit and a bit of her face and hair.

Another good use of the burn tool is filling in the bright spots on people's faces when you have taken a picture in the middle of the day. The burn tool can even this out. The burn tool can also be used to give a bit of a tan, but once again, I advise to be careful with how much you apply. Good burning. Now I'm off to find me a marshmallow.
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