How to use Dodge & Burn on a portrait in Luminar Neo

In this in-depth look at the Dodge & Burn in Luminar Neo, I am going to show you not only how to Dodge & Burn generally on an image, but also how to use specific adjustments to make the most of your portraits.

Dodge & Burn was recently added to Luminar Neo to the applause of many. Here’s what it does:

“Dodge & Burn tools allow fine control when lightening or darkening an image. The Dodge & Burn tool simulates traditional techniques used by photographers in a darkroom to regulate the amount of light on a particular area, which is useful for portrait retouching and object volumizing.”


Edit your image

Edit your image as required. I did a post recently on creating dramatic portraits in Luminar Neo, so check that out first if you wish.

Dodge & Burn, for me, is more of a finishing technique. So get your image pretty much how you want it, then apply a Dodge & Burn.

I am going to start with the final image from my previous portrait post. I do like things a little dramatic, but you can easily scale your Dodge & Burn to your own personal tastes.

What is Dodge & Burn?

Put simply, Dodge & Burn has been around in photography for years, even in the old-school darkroom. I remember it was a little tricky back then. Dodge & Burn allows you to set the right exposure (or enhance your image) by brightening (dodging) or darkening (burning) specific areas in your image. 

Do you have to dodge and burn your image? No, but it does take your images a step further and can give that really polished “Pro” look.

General Dodge & Burn

So if Dodge & Burn are applied to selected areas, why use the term general? Well, I like to apply two different layers. One is for the image as a whole. Things like hair, face, folds in fabric and such. I like to be zoomed out and then I can see and balance the whole image.

See below the red areas where I have roughly dodged over my image to all the highlight areas. Then I zoom in and get very specific.

Dodge Map
Dodge Map

Get up close and personal

I love zooming in and getting very specific with my dodge and burn. Adding extra highlights to folds in fabric, the face and especially the eyes and lips. I also like to do this as a new layer, that way I can adjust the eyes etc separately to the rest of the body.

You can also choose to put Dodge on one layer and Burn on another. That way you can adjust the amount of opacity to each individual layer.

Additional Dodge & Burn on eyes, lips etc
Additional Dodge & Burn on eyes, lips etc

How to use the Dodge & Burn tool in Luminar Neo

The Dodge and Burn tool in Luminar Neo can be found at the bottom of the Edit module, under the Professional panel of Tools.

The tool itself is fairly self-explanatory. There is the brush control to Lighten, Darken or Erase (what you have already done). Then there is brush size, and softness (you really don’t want hard edges on your brush, keep it soft). I like to keep my brush fairly small, a little smaller than the area I wish to paint in either my dodge or burn.

Strength is what you really need to pay attention to. I usually like to keep my Strength down below 10. Too much is way too harsh and unrealistic. You can adjust the Amount (or opacity) of the layer, but keep it at 100 as you work; you can always drop the Amount (or opacity) once finished. How much or how little you use is a personal choice, but subtlety is still key.

Dodge and Burn tool in Luminar Neo
Dodge and Burn tool in Luminar Neo

Pros and cons

Now there are a few cons as well as the obvious pros to using the Dodge & Burn tool. The pro obviously is making your image totally awesome. However, you really do need to be subtle. When starting out, I suggest trying a different layer for just Dodge & Burn so you can get used to it and understand its power.

If you aren’t subtle enough, your image can look completely overdone. Burning in too hard can add strange color casts to your images (often an orange/yellow cast, especially on skin), so be aware of that.

Dodging and burning incorrectly in the wrong areas can also distort facial features and make your model look completely different. Subtlety really is the key.

Are Dodge & Burn just for portraits? No! You can use this method on ANY photo — landscape, still life, macro, flowers, animals … you name it. How do you use it? Sound off in the comments below.

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