Using Masks, Burn and 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.

Download the work-along files:

In this class:

  • 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.

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Hi Karl,

    I’m attempting to achieve the 50% green transparency mode. From what I gather, you suggest pressing the backslash key, which is located on the number 7. The shortcut is Alt + Shift + 7, but I don’t see you pressing this key in the video. Could you please share your technique? 🙂 In my case it’s not working.

    Cheers, Wolfgang

    1. Hi, on an English keyboard the backslash key is next to the enter/return key on the far right of the key board. You will need to be already clicked on the mask once with your mouse so it is the active part of the layer and then when you press the backslash key it reveals the mask in either red or green, you can go into the options to change the colour the mask shows up.

  2. Karl,

    Echoing all the other comments… loving the workshops so far.

    At the 36:58 min mark you hover your mouse over the layer and mention that you are going to ‘hide the layer’. At that point, the rectangular box changes from black to white. What was the key stroke that you did there? I ask because I have tried to replicate it a number of times with to no avail.



    1. Hi Dave, thank you for pointing out the time in the video! What I did was ‘invert the layer mask’ from white to black or black to white. To do this from the menu then you would go to the ‘Image’ menu, then to ‘Adjustments’ then you use the command ‘Invert’ but the keyboard shortcut that I use on a mac is ‘Command’ and the letter ‘I’ at the same time.

  3. Hello Karl,
    I am relatively new to Lightroom Classic and Photoshop. I have the most recent versions.
    At least to me, they are not intuitive in my learning curve. I have watched your videos specifically about masking and it still has not “clicked” to me.
    I recently did a photo session with a rock band. Great session. They asked that I produce a few images with an all white background. I have not been able to accomplish this in either program. Could I please get some specific step by step help so I can deliver their request.
    Thanks, Mark

    1. Hi, on a mac the keyboard short cut is the ‘square bracket keys’ on next to the ‘return’ key on the right side.

  4. Hi Karl,

    Is there any reasoning behind why you invert the mask to black as your starting point – past methods I’ve been shown always leave the mask white and paint out using black. Curious as too which is the better method for starting with mask going forward.

    Thanks Fiona

    1. Hi Fiona, a black mask hides everything so you use this if that is the layer you have at the top of the layer stack as then you paint white and it just reveals part of that layer. If you do it the other way round then you are painting black on a white layer which means you are hiding part of that layer. It really just depends on which order you want to put your layers in the stack but there is no difference in quality or anything. Sometimes it easier to hide the whole layer or a series of layers and then just use white on the bits you need.

  5. Not being snarky – but my engineering brain is tingling. Halfway between 0 and 255 is 128. 0 is a number and that means there are 256 numbers in the set. 256/2=128.
    I feel better now.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 🙂

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. derrick_connell

    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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

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