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Tips & Tricks

How To Cure Age Spots With The Dodge & Burn Reverse Time Machine!

By Dennis Dunbar on May 16th 2019

Portraits of seniors can serve as great examples of celebrating the experience of those folks who have lived life well. As it turns out, the experience of living life well can show up as dark age spots that can distract viewers from seeing the better side of senior life. Fortunately, we have a “time machine” inside of Photoshop & Lightroom at our disposal that can help turn back the effects of too much sun; Dodge & Burn.

©Joe Pearl

[Related Reading: Photoshop Skin Retouching | How to Micro Dodge & Burn with Curves]

Dodge & Burn In Photoshop

Age spots typically show up as darker spots on a person’s face, hands, and arms. In the photo above, the woman’s face shows several of these age spots; luckily, lessening the appearance of these spots is a pretty simple task and can be accomplished by some careful dodging, where we use a Curves Adjustment Layer to lighten them.

Using a Curves Adjustment Layer to lighten, or dodge, parts of the image gives you a great deal of control over the strength of the effect as well as minimizing any color shifting that sometimes happens when you over dodge parts of the image. To create a dodge Curves layer just go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves. With the new Layer created, pull up on the middle part of the RGB Curve as shown in the image below. Then click on the Layer mask in the Layers palette and fill the mask with Black. Pull up on the RGB Curve to lighten the image.

With this Dodge Curve Adjustment Layer made all you need to do is use the Brush tool to paint White into the Layer mask wherever you need to lighten the image.

Using the Brush tool with a low Flow setting will give you the control you need to blend the lightening effect in seamlessly. Depending on how steep you make the Curve you may want to try using between 1% to 10% Flow.


What If It’s Not Enough?

Experienced retouchers know that often it helps to use more than one Curve Adjustment Layer to get the effect needed. The easy way to add more of these Curves Layers is to simply duplicate the Layer, fill the layer mask on the copy with Black and use the Brush tool to continue working on the image.

The images below shows how in working on this image I used 3 Curves Adjustment Layers to dodge the age spots. The Red, Yellow, and Green colors show the brush strokes for each of these Adjustment Layers.

Dennis used 3 Curves Adjustment Layers to dodge the age spots.

After dodging the age spots blend into the rest of her skin tones.

Next It’s Time To Fix The Highlights

Once the areas that need to be lightened have been addressed it’s also common to see some areas that need to be darkened, or burned. The technique to do this is simply to make another Curves Adjustment Layer, only instead of pulling up on the Curve you pull down as seen in the image below.

Pull down on the RGB Curve to darken the image.

Again, using the Brush tool set to a low Flow rate, and adjusting the size of the brush so it’s just a little smaller than the spots that need to be burned, it’s a pretty simple task to darken those areas to get them to blend in as well. The Blue in the image below shows where the Burn Adjustment Curves have been painted in.

The Blue indicates where the Burn Curves were applied.

In Conclusion

With the dark spots lightened and the light spots darkened we now have an image that shows our subject in a much more balanced and complimentary light. The degree to which one might want to reduce these age spots depends a great deal on many factors. As a retoucher I always defer to my clients when it comes to determining how far to go with such adjustments, and this is also where using more than one Layer to accomplish the task makes it far easier to adjust the strength of the effect. If the clients wants the level of retouching pulled back a little you simply need to turn one or two of the Layers off, or perhaps even just lower the opacity a touch.

Below is the image with the age spots removed with the Dodge and Burn Layers.

The age spots on her face have been retouched using the Dodge and Burn Curves Layers.

**All images shared with permission from the owner/retoucher. Do not share or reuse images without direct permission.


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Terms: #Dodging

Dennis Dunbar’s work as a Digital Artist/Retoucher is all about collaboration. For over 25 years he has been working with top Photographers and Art Directors to create compelling images for the Advertising and Entertainment industries. With projects ranging from One Sheet Posters for top movies to National Ad Campaigns for major clients his approach as a collaborator is to make it easy for his clients to realize their vision in creating the finished art.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. David J. Crewe

    Dennis Dunbar, i’ve read a lot about Micro vs Macro Dodge & Burn for skin retouching (lets say for beauty work) and i’m really intrigued. Beauty retouching is truly my weak point, do you think that this micro/macro is a good thing to train on to maintain good skin texture? Or do we need to still dive into the world of Frequency Separation?

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    • Dennis Dunbar

      Very good question!
      For those who aren’t familiar with the terms, Micro vs Macro Dodge & Burn refers to dodging & burning small details vs larger tonality issues, like adding a little light and shadow enhancement to the image. 
      I use both and very rarely use Frequency Separation on skin. (Basically I use F/S on skin only if I have issues that would take way longer to address normally.)
      With careful dodging & burning you have a great deal of control and the ability to keep the texture of the skin and shape of the face more natural looking. 
      The reason why so many don’t like F/S on skin is that it’s so easy to go too far, or to re-shape the face etc winding up with a result that looks unnatural. 

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