Dodge and Burn with Capture One Pro

For a long time, the de facto standard for portrait, beauty or editorial retouching was working at the raster level in an application Adobe Photoshop. As the capabilities of raw processors like Capture One Pro have steadily increased, the lines between raw preparation and retouching have started to blur. So much so that with the recent release of Capture One 20 (13.1), a full retouch can easily be completed without ever leaving the application. 

If you're already a seasoned retoucher, the concept of dodging and burning is no doubt already familiar for you given the ubiquity of the technique within the industry. If this is your first time being exposed to it, the video below will give you a good overview of the steps involved. This is a topic that requires strong fundamentals in lighting and anatomy and so I recommend that you check out some of the additional resources on my YouTube channel along with my dodge and burn course on Retouching Academy. At its most basic, dodging and burning is a well established, non-destructive retouching technique that allows us to dodge (lighten) or burn (darken) certain areas of our image to smooth out transitions and make the skin, or other surfaces look refined, all while preserving texture and detail.

The addition of dodge and burn support isn't new to Capture One Pro, in fact it has been around for nearly three years now thanks to the introduction of layers in version 11. Up until now however, it always felt somewhat cumbersome and a little bit of a compromise to do so within Capture One as opposed to Photoshop. I'm happy to say that with the incremental changes made over the last 2 versions, the roadblocks are now lifted and the process feels completely natural. 

Before we get into the nitty gritty, it's worth discussing why we would retouch an image at the raw level as opposed to a traditional approach in Adobe Photoshop. The reasons are plentiful but the primary advantage is that of flexibility. By avoiding rasterization, we're able to make adjustments at any point within the retouch and doing so with the highest image quality possible. As a bonus, we also benefit from a file size that is a fraction of a typical PSD or TIFF file from Photoshop. 

So now that we know it can be done, how does one actually go about setting up the image to begin the dodge and burn? The first thing we need to do is set up a consistent layer stack for the various levels and types of dodge and burn work that we will be doing. This will consist of 3-7 layers depending on your specific needs for that image. The basic three layer approach includes a corrective dodge (lighten), a corrective burn (darken), and a helper layer to amplify the luminosity shifts and remove color in order to reveal the areas that need our attention. If significant adjustment is needed, I recommend adding a pair of strong corrective dodge and strong corrective burn layers to the stack. These will allow you to make color adjustments to the masked areas in case the strong dodging and burning results in a color shift. Lastly, if you like a more dramatic and dynamic look and have completed the corrective stage of your retouch, you can proceed to contour the image via a pair of contouring dodge and contouring burn layers. With the exception of the helper layer, all remaining layers mirror what is done in Photoshop which is a blank mask that we will paint over to apply the desired effect to the various portions of the image. 

Full Capture One layer stack for dodge and burn 

For each of these layers, you will proceed to the layers panel and add a new adjustment layer and label it accordingly. 

Accelerate your Workflow

No doubt that by now you are thinking about how you can simplify or automate this process given that creating 7 layers manually is quite tedious. The easiest way of doing so is to use our Capture One Dodge and Burn Helper Script which makes the creation a simple three click process as shown below. An alternative to this is to use donor image as we demonstrate in the video below. This approach involves having one image in your session or catalog that you don't do any retouching or adjustments on with the exception of building the aforementioned layer stack. You can then copy the adjustments from that source image to any other images that need the stack and it will be replicated over. 

Using the dodge and burn helper script

Corrective Dodge and Burn

The first thing you will do is create a layer named corrective dodge and on the RGB curve, set your Input value to 124 and your Output value to 146 as shown below. In a similar manner, create the corrective burn layer and make an opposing curves adjustment by setting Input to 146 and Output to 124.

Curves layer settings for dodging and burning layers

Corrective Dodge and Burn (Strong)

The strong layers are much like the above, but as the name suggests, much stronger in their effect. To accomplish this, we will make adjustments to both the RGB curve and the Luma curve. Upon creating a new corrective dodge (strong) layer, proceed to the RGB curve and adjust the Input and Output values to 137 and 153 respectively, and the Luma curve Input and Output values to 141 and 174. For the corrective burn (strong) layer, set the RGB curve Input to 137 and Output to 121 and the Luma curve Input to 142 and Output to 110.

Luma and RGB curve settings for the strong adjustment layers

Contouring Dodge and Burn

For the contouring pair of layers, the settings are the same as the standard dodge and burn layers outlined above but with a slight twist. Upon creating your dodge (contour) and burn (contour) layers, apply the same adjustments as above and then bring down their layer opacity to 50 or 60%. Because contouring is subjective and sometimes down the road we may decide that we want more or less of it, having the opacity set below 100% allows us to both increase or decrease the effect as desired. 

The Helper Layer

To round things off, we need to create the helper layer. The adjustments to be made here are not set in stone as we just need to achieve two things. We want to reduce the luminosity of our image and take color out of the equation. This will allow us to better see the areas within the subject that need our attention. To get started, let's create the Helper layer itself and fill the mask from the […] icon in the top right of the layers pane with the "Fill Mask" option. If we skip the fill step, the effect will not be visible. Given that black and white tools can't be applied to layers, we will remove color by adjusting the Saturation value to -100. Next we set the Exposure to -0.1, and the RGB curve Input and Output to 146 and 115 respectively to darken the image down. To further refine the helper, in the High Dynamic Range section, increase the Shadow value to 15 and the Clarity value to 5. This will prevent the blacks from going completely dark as a result of our exposure and curves adjustment and clarity will further amplify mid tone contrast. 

Dodge and burn helper layer

Brush Settings

Now that are layers are all set up and ready for us to paint, the last thing we have to do is set up our brush. First let's turn on the helper layer to reveal the areas that need work, then select the desired dodge or burn layer. Next proceed to select the brush tool as shown below and right click anywhere on your image. From there, set your flow rate to 5%, opacity to 100% and hardness to 0. The size will of course be adjusted to the size of the imperfection you're working on and you can do so either via this right clicked menu or using the ‘[‘ and ‘]’ keys. 

At this point you are ready to begin painting and will do so in much the same way as you did in Photoshop. At first it's wise to see how much you've painted and verify that your brush size and flow rate are good by toggling the mask on and off as you go. To do this, use the 'm' key once to turn the mask on, then once again to hide it. 

Dodge and burn brush settings

Our focus in this article was to guide you through the setup process for dodging and burning. The actual technique itself is more difficult to explain in words and for that I recommend watching our video below which makes this more clear. If you'd like to skip over the healing explanation you can forward to the 7 minute mark. 

The above video was recorded just before the release of Capture One 20 (13.1) with its brush and healing enhancements so we have made the below video to supplement some of that information. The overall steps for dodging and burning remain the same however.