Again, let’s start with the Photoshop description of Color Burn:
Color Burn: Looks at the color information in each channel and darkens the base color to reflect the blend color by increasing the contrast. Blending with white produces no change.
In this example, I started with a blue-to-white gradient layer, then overlaid it with a black-to-white gradient layer. The black-to-white layer was set to the color burn blending mode. (The result shows a strip of the original black-to-white layer for your comparison convenience.)
This example demonstrates the “increasing the contrast” aspect of color burning. The darkness of the black-to-white layer doesn’t do much to the part of the gradient that is pure blue, but it does affect the “faded” part of the blue layer by giving it more contrast – making it “more blue.”
In this example, I took the same blue-to-white base layer and overlaid it with a fuschia-to-white layer set to color burn. While I’m not completely sure what Photoshop means when it talks about “reflecting the blend color,” perhaps this is it: again, the left pure blue area is pretty much untouched, but the fuschia both increases the saturation of the lighter blue areas and also “blends” in a little bit.
This example takes a rainbow layer and overlays it with a black-to-white and rainbow layer set to color burn. The result may be surprising! Looking at where the rainbow overlaps with the greyer parts of the black-and-white gradient “makes sense” to me — the contrast of the rainbow is definitely heightened by the grey gradient. It’s the other parts that may be unexpected. But what I like about this diagram is that it does show me what to expect when I burn colors onto other colors — for example, red is not really affected by any other color (is it a coincidence that red is associated with “hot”?).
Application: Make things pop!
On to my easy practical application. Let’s start with this picture of a dog:
It’s a cute dog, but the picture seems a little bit dull. So, I add a new layer on top, set it to Color Burn, and start painting on it with grey around the dog. (I set the opacity to be a little bit less so that the darkening effect wasn’t so stark.) I use different shades of grey to get the various patches of grass at about the same level of darkness.
And after only two minutes of manipulation, the dog really stands out!