Using Masks, Burn & Dodge

This photography class covers the fundamentals of masks and will help you understand and become confident using them. Karl talks you through how, when and why you should be using masks, burning and dodging when retouching images – arguably the two most fundamental and important parts of a photographers workflow in Photoshop.

Working on a wedding image, Karl demonstrates exactly how to use masks, explains why they’re useful and how they can speed up your workflow.

Working with multiple layers, he demonstrates how to use the Transform tool, Move tool, Burn and Dodge tools and various Brush tools. He also shows you useful alternatives to the Burn and Dodge tools, which he uses in upcoming classes in this course.

In this Photoshop class we cover the following:

  • Photoshop techniques for photographers
  • Useful Photoshop tools
  • How to use masks in Photoshop
  • How to use the Burn and Dodge tools in Photoshop
  • Bit Depth
  • Working with Photoshop layers
  • Highlights, shadows and midtones: How to create three dimensionality in an image

If you’re unfamiliar with some of the tools mentioned in this course, watch our Photoshop Interface and Tools class.

If you have any questions about this course please post them in the comments section below ?


  1. Hi Karl,

    I want to say the same as some people already said here: this is one of the most important techniques that I’ve learnt. There is no way back. I was able to achieve ASTONISHING results!

    Thank you very much!

    One question that I have regarding burn and dodge is why do you adjust curve to those specific points?

    I just watched “How to use curves” video and it looks like Photoshop suggests (using presets) to just drag the point down / up. But in your video here you actually drag points diagonally.

    Just want to understand that choice better.

    1. Hi Denis, the curve points are just a good average mid tone up or down without affecting the deepest black or brightest white points, also don’t forget even after you’ve done your B&D and mask you can still go back into the curve and drag it more or less if you need to.

  2. Just finished my first intensive project effort to apply the lessons taught in this excellent tutorial. I think I’ve got it down. It’s really easy and incredibly powerful once you understand layers and masks as you teach them here and THERE IS NO GOING BACK! I can’t think of a more significant contribution to my photo learning, ever. Thank you.

    1. Great stuff Ken, glad to hear it. You will also find useful the method of just making a selection of an area you want to lighten or darken with the lasso tool feathered and then click new curves adjustment layer and pull the curve around as desired. You will see this in the Live Show I did with Viktor where he tweaked members work.

  3. Hi Karl

    This is a superb PS tutorial – I did a few youtube overviews in the past, which helped me get to know what PS does, but I have always struggled to truly understand the role of a mask. Your approach is fabulous – it is very simple and I have an image in my mind now of a Black or White mask sitting over a layer and I am simply revealing or hiding the underlying layer. Brilliant.

    I had one question – your approach for dodge and burn using the curves is very interesting. It definitely feels like there would be more control. Is there a way to “save” those two adjustments (dodge / burn using curves) so they could be used for all of my PS sessions rather than recreating them each time?

    Thanks and loving the PS section.


    1. Hi Derrick, thank you and yes. You can download our ‘Photoshop Dodge and Burn Action’ and then load it into your actions in PS and then anytime you want the dodge and burn layers you just push a button and they appear!

  4. Hi Karl,

    All your classes are so clear and great. I am beginner using Ps and I am having some problems to follow you, because I am using PS 2021 and it seems that your version in these classes is an older one. Do you have any suggestion? Thanks in advance,


    1. Hi, please tell us where or what you are having problems with as all of these methods are still current and we use them with the latest versions of PS too.

  5. Hi Karl, do you have a video that explains why or when, you would use a duplicate layer over a blank layer? When I am editing I never know if I should duplicate the layer or open a blank layer.

    If I am honest, I am not sure if it makes too much of a difference and but there must be a reason why you would choose one over the other, otherwise you would only ever use one of them in your tutorials!

    I always duplicate the layer but in your tutorials you do use blank layers and duplicate layers but I cant work out any logic to why you would use one over the other!! I can’t seem to find any info online that clearly describes the difference.

    I also never know whether I should merge down a layer or do a stamp visible layer! What are the benefits of using one over the other!?

    If you could point me to a video that would help answer my questions above, I would really appreciate it.

    Many thanks,


    1. Hi Nathan, the main reason for putting a blank layer rather than a duplicate is to save data space and the opening and saving time of the file especially with higher resolution files as duplicate layers of the full image quickly build up the file size. Merging down and saving will reduce your size but you may find that you wish you hadn’t incase you wanted to go back and change something so I only do that if I’m absolutely sure.

  6. Hi Karl, I would like to ask what method is used to achieve that very crispy finish to pictures? I’m not sure if it’s dodge and burn?

    1. Hi, that would come down to a lot of things from the camera and lens the image was shot on to the burn and dodge, colour combinations, and finally last stage local contrast/unsharp masking etc. That’s covered in our preparing your images for print and for web in ‘individual photoshop tools’ section.

  7. Hi Karl,
    Considering the 8-bits vs. 16-bits vs. 32-bits modes in Photoshop. I understand that more bits = more information = more quality of the picture (if I can summaries it like this). Now my question is, if my original RAW file out of the camera is 8-bits and I change/convert to 16-bits or 32-bits in Photoshop will that make a positive noticeable difference? is it something I can compensate with to the larger file sizes ? technically speaking from where Photoshop will add those extra bits?

    Thanks & Regards

    1. Hi Mansour, technically speaking yes when you convert to 16bit you will add the ability to create more bit depth information in that file. Imagine your camera file like a book with 100 pages and you were running out of writing space to finish writing your story. When photoshop makes your file a 16bit it just added a 100 more blank pages to help you finish your story in more detail. The detail hasn’t been added yet but the space is there for you to do so.

  8. Congratulations Karl!
    I have been trying to understand Photoshop for a couple of years now and it is the first time it really makes sense to me. Thank you!

  9. Congratulations Karl!
    I have been trying to understand Photoshop for a couple of years now and it is the first time it really makes sense to me. You are indeed a good and generous person, which are important qualities for a great teacher. Thank you!

  10. This course was amazing!!! I have been practicing both methods and I must say, that in doing so, it really helps me with understanding the burn and dodge process and also, the use of masks. Even getting better at doing the processes. Thank you so much!!!!

    1. Ha Ha very good. I think the use of masks is going to be mandatory in a whole range of things going forwards!

  11. I always come back for these courses for refreshing my skills. And I love your self humor when you kick yourself (“So, Why don’t I get on with it???”). It’s no less refreshing than the skills themselves.

  12. How can I see two pictures I have the two on top but can see just I single I mean one a time so how can I put one on top of the other one like you!!!!

    1. Hi, if you have put one layer above the other you can reduce the opacity of the image on top using the opacity slider above the layers or you put a layer mask and you invert the layer mask to black

  13. I have just learned more in an hour than I have done since subscribing to Photoshop a year ago!
    I now have a certain cat strolling into the interior image, just as if it lived there! Thank you.

  14. Hi Karl,

    I’m looking for a course on here that covers the different ways of cutting out an image using either the lassoo tools or the alpha channels, and then how to refine the selection where the ‘marching ants’ haven’t quite gone closely enough to the product. For example, I photograph images of quartz crystals I sell. I cut out the image using the lasssoo tool, but then I have difficulties following and correcting the edges. I use the plus and minus options, but that can be very difficult.

    Is there a tutorial on here covering best ways for cutting out an image?

    Many thanks


    1. Hi George, you will find it later in this course. Also think about using masks as a better way of cutting out. You can also see further in the Advanced Photoshop course too.

  15. This use of curve is new to me. It looks good.
    We used the technique of overlay to get the same result.
    But curves gives a bit more gradual and smooth results.

    But still, if you go back to the original dodge and burn command, there was control over highlights, mid-tones and shadows separately.

  16. Thank you, it’s right there in the video indeed. I even hastily tried to use other file formats at first, which made matters more complicated, but with two TIFF files it does work just fine. Back to basics… ; )

  17. Hi Karl,

    Sorry to tell there’s something I cannot get working properly in Photoshop. Like in your example of the wedding couple and cat, I just cannot manage getting two files opened as layers within the same project – instead, any file I try to open within an existing photo, gets opened under its own separate tab and not appearing in the Layers list at all. I can then switch between these two “separate projects” each under its own tab to view them, each with their own Layers list, but not stack or fuse them to combine into a single photo.

    Is there something fundamentally wrong with some of my initial settings of Photoshop CC, and how can I correct them?

    Thanks for the advice,


    1. Hi Hannu, as shown in the video you will need to ‘drag’ the layer from one image and ‘drop’ it ontop of the other image and then you will see both layers.

  18. Hi Karl

    You mentioned in this video you cover the feathering and cutting out of the cats fur later. Which session shows how to feather around a difficult object like the cats fur?

    Many thanks!

    1. Hi George, I think it’s in chapter 8 but don’t miss out the chapters inbetween or you might miss something relevant.

  19. Karl:
    I love your course and am excited about the growth I am going to experience as a photographer. Thank You for all the work, time and expense you have committed to creating this course. This is truly what I need.

    I currently have a headshot photo of a lady with beautiful bronze skin but my lighting, (Broncolor Beauty Box w/Nikon SB5000 Speed Light) has put a ball of bright light on the tip of her nose, forehead and cheeks. To fix that should I use the burn tool, the Healing Brush, or a different tool? Also, did I most likely have the light too low, not being raised to a 45 degree angle above her?


    1. Hi Owen, the reason for the ball of light on the nose may be that the softbox was too small and/or too far away meaning shiny reflections overexpose. However this is a relatively easy fix in photoshop as you will discover in other parts of this course.

  20. Hi Karl

    Do you have any videos that deal with cutting out images on to a new background and creating shadows for objects on the background image?

    Many thanks

  21. Hi Karl

    Do you have any videos that deal with cutting out images on to a new background and creating shadows for objects on the background image?

    I can’t seem to find any videos that deal with this.

    Many thanks

    1. Hi George, there is a significant tutorial on cutting images out in this particular course including creating new layers from those selections. Creating a shadow for an object is fairly simple. Once you have cut it out let me know what type of shadow you want to create and I will give you instructions.

  22. This is very enlightening to use a word! I like how much more flexibility the adjustment layers and masks work for dodging and burning. I’ll be looking forward to the part where it’s used in practice on e.g. a portrait. ?

  23. It’s at 14.30 into the tutorial. I have changed the colour from red to green, but this is perplexing!
    Thanks so much, Sue

    1. Hi Sue, are you saying you have figured out how to change the mask colour? If not you press the ‘control’ key (on a mac) while clicking or holding on the layer mask icon on the layers palette, you should then see the mask options dialouge to change the mask colour to whatever colour you prefer. The backward slash key turns the ‘show mask’ colour on and off.

  24. Please advise how to get the green screen – you mentioned backward slash key, is this in combination with a command/alt/control or other key?

  25. This was definitely great to watch. I learned quite a few new things! Karl has a great way of teaching and explaining which made it so much easier to understand.

  26. Hi Karl,

    I suspect I maybe missing something obvious but have downloaded the files to work along with ( to my desktop) and tried to open them in photoshop . However have been given the error message saying it is “..not the right type of document”. Apologies in advance I know I am probably doing something obvious wrong , but your help would be appreciated

    1. Hi Jonathan, you need to have photoshop open and in the ‘actions’ palette from the menu choose ‘load actions’ then navigate to the actions that you downloaded and choose ‘load’ or ‘open’. Then you may have to restart photoshop but then they will be there in your ‘actions’ palette list.

  27. In the video you were able to move the cat picture around using the move tool but when I try it, I cannot move the cat picture around. Why is this? What can I do to fix it?

    1. Hi Jesse, after you cut it out did you put it on a new layer (Layer via cut or Layer via copy command?) Then select the move tool and you will be able to move it around. Or alternatively hold the ‘command’ key down ontop of the cat once you’ve completed your selection and then the scissors will appear showing that you can cut and move it.

  28. Amazing Karl!! This helped me so much understand Dodge and Burn and how I haven’t used it correctly until now :)) 😀

  29. Still going thru the videos but wanted to ask – while retouching an image how do you know what to dodge from what to burn…

    I know experience tells but pretty sure there’s a trick there 🙂

    Many thanks!

    1. Hi Souhayel, often it’s a case of accentuating what is already there but your knowledge on this gets easier as you understand what makes good lighting so it is something that grows with experience.

  30. Great training! This is where it juts got very confusing. So many steps for something so simple,I will watch it over and over. Lol

  31. The statement you made of changing the way you edit by thinking of the pixels when you edit made a big difference in my editing…thank you so much!!!

  32. Hi Emma/Karl,
    I am trying to retouch a photo, I would love if you guys can point out the improvements needed. How can I send you the jpeg image? Thx

    1. Hi Yogendra, unfortunately we don’t offer the service to submit your images for review otherwise we would be swamped with these requests and unable to work. Our forum will be up and running soon and members will be able to submit images there and discuss techniques with each other. We will also be doing members critiques and select suitable images to critique on our live talk shows. Thank you.

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