How to Blend Exposures in Photoshop for Landscape and Travel Photographers

Learning how to blend two different
exposures with Adobe Photoshop is one of those key areas of post-processing that
we really should understand. As always with Photoshop there’s many different
ways in which we can carry out the single task. Today is going to be no
exception and I’m going to show you six different ways in which we can use it to
blend two different exposures together. So let’s go from me to the computer and
let’s get going with exposure blending in Adobe Photoshop. Gradient Tool So as I said in the introduction there’s
various ways in which we can blend our images together in Photoshop. What I’m not going to do is show you the process that I’ve gone through in Lightroom before
I’ve gone to Photoshop just because I’ve done other stuff on that before. In any
case each example that I’m going to use has different levels of
complexity that we need to to be aware of so for example this image here this
was taken in Mongolia back in September 2018. You’ll see that the horizon is
pretty straight out there so this is the, if I remember correctly. the Ickh Nart
natural area so we were staying with a ranger that’s our tents that you see in
the foreground there. So then as I said the horizon is pretty straight and this
is a very very straightforward blend that we can do
here in Photoshop. So the easiest thing to do is I always put on the dark image
on top of the layer stack here so I’ve got a dark and then the light one and
what I’m going to do is I’m just going to go to the dark exposure
then I’m going to add on a layer mask I’m going to hit G on my keyboard or if
you go over here you’ve got the gradient tool now the next thing you need to do
when you’re using the gradient tool is just be aware of the foreground and
background colors here. If you press D on your keyboard what this does is it sets
them to the default foreground and background colors. The default foreground
is white. The default background is black. you can swap them over just by pressing
X or just clicking on here so once I’ve got the gradient tool selected you can
draw a line down from top to bottom just like you would if you were inserting
a grad. now if you when you’re doing this if you’ve got basically the best thing
to do is if you’ve got your darks on top and you’re needing to blend this this
sky into the background down here if you set your foreground to white don’t draw
up from the bottom to the top actually draw down from the top to the bottom and
that is a straight horizon there if you hold down shift what this will do is it
will create a very straight line otherwise I’m fighting
to keep the grad straight so basically if you just draw it down top to bottom
it will then create a very simple gradient if you want to see what your
mask actually looks like over here just press down alt click on the mask and
that’s the as you’ll see it’s a soft grad now we’re just going to get rid of
that and I’m going to create another mask now I did start at the top and work
my way down to the bottom what you want to do actually is if you don’t do that
if you start somewhere around here you’ll get a much harder grad but
it’s still going to have a soft edge as I don’t want this to be really soft up
here I really want this sky to come in so let’s just bring this down here just
like this and then you’ll see that we’ve got a very simply blended gradient tool
use in Photoshop so there you go that’s the very first example and if you hold
down alt click on the mask there you’ll see just how hard that grad is there
there you go that’s example number one just using the gradient tool to blend
together an image that’s got a very straight horizon. Let’s go on to the next
one. Color Range the next tool in our arsenal for
exposure blending is going to be the color range tool and it’s probably a tool that a lot of you might not necessarily use at all but it’s
certainly well worth knowing that it’s there and how it works and how it can be
used and it works best really when you’re blending images like this if
you’ve got one solid color now you might be thinking well there’s not certainly
not one solid color there in the sky however right now we are looking at the
dark image we are looking at the sky exposure so if I actually turn off that
layer there then you’ll see underneath I had a really overexposed sky but I
needed to obviously expose for the foreground so let’s look at how the
color range tool works so if we go up to select then go down to color range what
you’ve got is this dialog box that opens up now if I click on reds
you’ll see that it starts trying to select different things down there so if
you look down here you may or may not be able to see on your screens that it’s
starting to do some kind of selection you’ve also got highlights for example
so there you can see it’s been a pretty good selection of the overall sky but
it’s also included part of the van’s down here then we’ve got mid-tones and
then shadows but I don’t want to do that particular option or any of those
options I actually want to stick to sampled colors as I can target a lot
more precisely some of the colors that I’m after so before I do that how does
this actually work well we’ve got two sliders here that interest me most so
fuzziness this controls how wide your selection of tonality is and then the
range controls how wide and how far away the colors are to the ones that you’ve
selected so if for example I was selecting on here you’ll see it’s selected this
say if I bring down the fuzziness let’s just bring it down to 1%
and then the range has bring that down to 1% as well you’ll see that it’s
basically going pixel size pixel selection size you can see the dot
moving around there that we’re not selecting much at all
now of course one of the other things you have to do when you’re doing
selections is you must remember if you hold down the shift key then then you
could start adding so you’ll see there’s a plus that’s appeared there and alt
minuses away from any selection so for example here as I said this is a very
good example of being able to get hold of an exposure and blending two
exposures because we’ve got nearly a whole solid white here so if I click
here and then if I increase the fuzziness so I’m increasing the
range of tonality that’s being selected you’ll start to see that this dot gets
bigger so if I then increase the range which is controlling how far away
we are from that color so we don’t want to go too far but we obviously we want
some so normally find start increasing it and you can see the
horizon starts to appear here because of course obviously the horizon isn’t white
down here this grass isn’t white down here what this is what we’re interested
up here even up here there’s increase of fuzziness again the range and you’ll
start to see our selection appearing now at the moment it’s just basically almost
going around a dot now you can hold down shift and click on
here to start trying to select but I find it’s actually easier to think okay
well I can see where the horizon is down here let’s click here and here
here and you can see I’m adding to the selection just bringing this in and then let’s increase the fuzziness
let’s increase the range let’s bring it up so certainly over here there
seems to be let’s bring that in so you can see that there’s a very hard grad
that’s being created down there let’s just pull that up a bit
so if I now make sure this is on selection and click OK what that’s going
to do is it’s going to load this selection here but then click back over
here and then as the selection is still loaded as soon as I click on the mask
there’s the blend now obviously you’ll see this nice hard grad here we don’t
want it nice and hard we need to feather that a little bit so
if I just hold down alt and click on the mask you’ll see just how hard
that is going along there so let’s click back there make sure you’re on the mask
go to the properties of the mask and then let’s just start feathering it so
normally around 20 30 or so that should make that horrible black line disappear
and there you go a very quick and simple use of the color range tool to blend two
exposures together. Blend If the next example that we’re going to use
to blend two exposures together is an image from Glenfinnan that I took around
this time last year now if you’re not familiar with Glenfinnan directly behind
the camera is a huge railway viaduct that was made famous in about five of
the Harry Potter films so that’s if you go to the visitors center which is
directly below where this image is taken there’s all sorts of paraphernalia from the
Harry Potter films if you’re so inclined in any case this is a classic example of
landscape photography whereby it’s do i or don’t I use a graduated filter in the
field and of course the problem with grads is or can be the problem with
grads if you overuse them and choose the wrong grad is that when you get scenes
such as this is mountainous scene that the grad can cut in to the hillsides or
the mountain sides and it’s very evident that you’ve used a grad and
this is where Photoshop can come into its own whereby we’re blending two
exposures together. Now for this particular example I’m going to use it’s
a destructive process really it’s called blend if and that’s found by
having these two exposures together and you can do this with actually just one
layer itself but obviously we’re expose our blending here if you right-click this
layer 1 here then you go to blending options and then what this does is it
opens up the layer style dialog then you’ve got blend if here so we’re going
to keep it on gray they’ve got this layer and the underlying layer now what
I need to do is blend in the underlying layer to this layer so let’s push this
slider here I’m just going to push this without going to the actual stage that
I’m going to do so you can see roughly what it is that it’s going to do so
you’ll see down the bottom it looks like this really awful pixelization that’s
coming in so if we push this up you’ll see it’s blending the image together but
the problem is of course is there’s not very smooth but how do we overcome that
so let’s bring this back if you hold down the Alt key and then click here it
then splits this little arrow here so let’s push this across now and then see
what happens now you’ll notice as I’m doing that you’ve got black to white the
tonality is the luminosity there’s under the underlying layer and it’s creating a
graduated filter underneath so as I push this across you’ll see that it’s a much
smoother blend between the two images there are still issues here how do we
overcome that well what I’m going to use is the layer here this top layer so
let’s split that again hold down the alt to do that let’s start bringing that in
so you’ll see that this starts to bring in even more I might have to adjust this
you’ll see around here it’s just getting a bit too fuzzy and pixelated so we need
to just bring this across and that’s starting to disappear nicely It’s an okay blend it’s kind of
quick dirty does it work well it depends on the circumstances let’s just pull
this across more again so it’s blended the two images together very quick very easy. Is it perfect? It’s not perfect but it is another tool in your arsenal for
doing exposure blending. Do I use it? personally it’s not something I use but
I know it’s there I just need to make you aware of it before we move on to
even more complex exposure blending Channels for this next example I’m going to use
the Glenfinnan image again just because it is a great image to use when it comes
to blending images together in Photoshop certainly when you’re dealing with very
bright highlights as there was in the snow up here on the mountain and then
the sky of course and then you’re having to deal with foreground light down here
if I click off this now obviously if your eagle eyed you would have noticed
that between the last segment the blend if and this one I’ve renamed the layers
sky and foreground and there is a very good reason for that and it is
always good practice to rename your layers so you know what it is that
you’ve done on each layer and what each layer represents so for this particular
tutorial on blending two exposures together in Photoshop I’m going to use a
very old-school method called calculations which is found in image
calculations now if I remember correctly a very long time ago they used to use
calculations when they didn’t have layers in Photoshop now that may be the
case it may not be as far as I remember for my history of Photoshop that is the
case now at the moment as I said you’ve seen that I’ve renamed them sky and
foreground and the reason that I’ve done that is because when this dialog box
appears you’ll see that we’ve got if I click in layer sky and then foreground
and that’s why it’s good practice to rename your layers so you know what it
is that you’re dealing with when it comes to a dialog such as calculations
so at the moment I’ve got sky and then foreground channel blue channel blue you
click in there you’ve got gray red green and blue and now again I’ve mentioned in
many tutorials before that every image is made up of red green and blue
channels so your color images are made up so if I just click on red you’ll see
what it does on the sky how it changes the this is grayscale image that’s being
created is the mask that we’re going to be creating now obviously above them
fantastic the grayscale image that’s there we would never be able to paint
this onto a mask ourselves if I just change the blending mode here to normal
and let’s just see what happens not normal so if I click it to multiply or
color burn you’ll see what happens so I’ve created this selection down here
what’s going to be our new mask what we’re going to be putting it out on our
mask but I don’t want to be including the water down here so if I just click
on result of selection then click OK you’ll see that these marching ants
appear and then then if I click on the layer mask what happens
so you’ll see why I didn’t want to include the loch down here the lake
you’ll see there’s a lot of ghosting that has appeared on these trees and
the on the shoreline here and on these trees on this little island here the
ghosting it would be a nightmare to try and paint out so if I remove that layer
mask delete that if I go back up to image and then calculations what I want
to do is try and create a layer mask whereby I avoid all of this this
foreground so if I said click on layer source to create I want the layers sky
instead you’ll then see the mask that’s now starting to be created up here and
again if I click on this you’ll see darken just these just as an example
just so you can see what’s actually happening when you change the blending
mode if i click on darken it looks quite nice black and white but it’s not what I
want I need this removed there’s a click on multiply you’ll see it starts to go
away again starts to remove itself I actually want to color burn and you’ll
see I’ve removed in the loch entirely a little bit down here which we can paint
out if we wish but I’m getting the sky and just that mountain top that was
causing me problems if you remember when I clicked off so if I click OK and make
sure you’ve got results selection just to click in there just to show you it
does create either a new document and channel or new selection a new channel a
new channel that would be created is called an alpha Channel because any
channels outside of red green and blue are known as alpha channels at
this particular moment in time I just want it has a selection so let’s click
on selection let’s click OK gonna see the marching ants appear click on our
layer mask and then you’ll see that it’s blended the two images together pretty
nicely not perfect there are some definite imperfections there and what
you’ll notice here is it looks very blotchy and up here there’s a line up
there what can we do this is where the feather comes in on our mask where we
can start to feather that selection so let’s feather that mask let’s put it
up around 20 or 30 pixels so you’ll see as I’m pushing that up how things start to
come in very nicely if you watch the mountain you’ll see it becomes it’s not
blotchy anymore let’s just tap in 30 so you’ll see the difference there just by
putting the feather up so if I just put it back to zero you’ll see how blotchy
it looks put it back to 30 it starts to come in very nicely however it still
isn’t perfect is there anything else we can do?
Yes, there’s another thing that we can do which I came across with some
retouchers if you just go to filter blur and then Gaussian blur what this is
going to do is it’s going to blur the mask even more so if I just put this
back to zero so you can see the effect so if I just start to push this up
you’ll see how around these mountains how this blotchy effect just starts to
disappear and how I can create a very nice complex mask that I would never be
able to paint in myself that’s just but that around 60, 50 or 60 pixels click
OK to that and then there you go that’s our blended image from Glenfinnan
just to show you the mask just to show you how complex that mask actually is if I
hold down alt or on my keyboard or option on a Mac although my Mac does
actually just say alt let’s just click on the mask itself you’ll see just how
complex that mask is so you could roughly paint this in but certainly just
by using calculations we’ve created a mask that’s very nice very nicely
blended together image we could paint it in but it’s quicker and easier just to
use calculations to create a blend and there you go that’s another method for
you to use in your landscape or travel images of blending two exposures
together in the Photoshop Apply Image the fifth method that I
want to show you for blending two images together in Adobe Photoshop is called
Apply Image. Now what I want to do is not just show you the Apply Image process
from steps say one to five however many steps it is I also want to show you how
underneath the hood Adobe Photoshop is actually working to create the final
results of the apply image so that you’ve got a good understanding of what
it’s doing and I’m going to do that because I feel that at times we’re too
reliant on people just saying alright this is what you do steps one to five
and then not actually understanding what is here is that’s really going on so I
want to fully explain the automated method is it were and then I’m going to
show you the manual method of what it’s actually doing so as you can see I’ve
got a foreground image here and then also a sky exposure to and this is
another classic example of why it can be difficult to use graduated filters
and even soft graduated filters where we have this really hilly background and
then in the foreground you’ve got this temple and it is difficult to get the
top of the temple actually there. There is no where if I remember correctly to go up higher to get it so that the top of the temple would not be
obstructing the horizon so how can we use apply image to merge the two images
together it’s very simple so you’ve got your two images here your foreground
your sky click on the sky add a layer mask go to image apply image and then
you’ll see that straightaway the two images are merged together
so what’s it actually doing first of all here in this dialogue box we have our
source image here which is the the actual original image there you can see
the name of the image there the layer what this box is doing here
is it’s saying what do you want me to do so do you want me to merge the sky in
the foreground together or do you want just the sky and the foreground
and then we’ve got our channels so you’ve got red green blue and there’s
transparency then we’ve got a blending mode so at the moment it’s set to
multiply so as I said what it’s basically doing is it’s taking these two
images here then merging the two together so that’s why it merged and
it’s then changing it to multiply so if I just click OK to that and then your
scene is applied down here the calculations to create that blended
image together has placed it on the the layer mask that’s why you need to
be clicked onto the layer mask so if I remove that a minute and I’m going to
show you what it’s doing so I’m going to duplicate this image so if I click OK to
that so we’ve got a duplicate of this and this so what I’m going to do is I’m
going to hold down and you don’t have to remember this command alt or option on
the Mac shift press E what that will do is it will take both of these images
here then merge them into one image so if I click the blending mode and then
change it to multiply and remember underneath as this is Photoshop and
layers that all these layers here are untouched
apart from this layer here which is a merge of these two so I’ve changed it to
multiply now if I just go back here if I take these two images here and then do
apply image and this time I’m not going to add a mask you’ll see it’s still
immersed it’s using all of the RGB channels and blending is multiplied so
if I just click OK to that so you’ll see that between here which I’ve basically
done a destructive change but don’t worry I’m going to undo it and then here
they are exactly the same what’s it then doing with the layer mask if I remove
that change if I undo the apply image if I add on the layer mask what it’s what
Photoshop is actually doing is when it does the apply image and you’ll click on
to the layer mask is taking the merge of
the foreground layer the sky layer and then because you’re on the layer mask is
it is then pasting on top the merged the two merged layers so for example if I go
back here so this was my two merged layers with my multiply blend mode if I take
the copy of that layer so if I’m just just turn off those two just to make
sure it’s doing what it is that I want to so if I select all copy that I go
back to my original if I hold down alt and then click onto the layer mask. You’ll see it turns white. I paste that on top so you’ll see now what I’ve done is I’ve
created a layer mask and this is basically what the apply image is doing. If I
click off there you will see remove the selection there you will see exactly the
same image that was created except that is the manual method so
apply image is kind of automated in what it is that it’s doing and it saves you
doing all of those steps but I wanted to show you what it is that it’s doing so
you understand how it’s working instead of just blindly saying oh I’m
going to follow those steps that he’s told me and hey presto I’ve got a really
nice blended image now one final thing that you can do to make this look even
nicer again bring back a little bit more the sky if we hold down alt while
clicking onto the layer mask as you’ll see it selects the layer mask I’m going
to remove a little bit of the sky here so it brings back some more of the color
but I don’t want to affect this selection here I don’t want to affect it
too much so if I just click back here if I click back onto the layer mask if I
hold down command you’ll see that there’s a box that appears and what
that’s going to do is it’s going to load this selection that is the layer mask so
there are the marching ants if I want to if I press command H what this does is
it hides the selection and it is good to remember all of these
keyboard shortcuts it really does help a lot if you can remember things like
command H hides the selection command D it deselects any selection there all of
these kind of things are very useful so if I go back onto my image if I press B
that activates my brush or you can of course click over here I need to make
sure that my foreground color is set to white what I’m then going to do is start
painting over the sky now the other thing that I just quickly forgot to
mention is make sure your opacity is around 70% and the reason you set it
around 70% is so that your ever-so-slightly brushing the sky back
in from the layer underneath so let’s do that
and let’s see what it does so you’ll see as I go over the pagoda that it’s not
really being affected at all and there’s a little bit coming back on those
mountains in the background just there ever so slightly so I get it just a
little bit more definition it doesn’t look so washed out as it did just go
over that and there we go a really nicely blended image now I could as the
opacity is set to 70% go over it again but I don’t want to overdo it so as
you’ll see there’s a beautiful image from Japan of that beautiful temple that
overlooks the city of Kyoto. the last method that I want to show you
when it comes to blending two exposures together in Adobe Photoshop is of course
the famous luminosity masks now you can either create these manually or you can
use a panel such as I have which is the TK actions panel which generates them
for you automatically now there are obvious advantages to knowing how to do
them manually because you have a better understanding of the technique and how
Photoshop works but just to quickly show you the automated way so for example
I’ve got my two images here and if I for example click on a light one what this
does is it generates a luminosity mask based on that the layer that I’m clicked
on down here so this is actually creating quite a lot of a luminosity
mask I’m not really sure that would work for what it is that I want to do so if I
remove that let’s just click on the X there what I want to do now is just
quickly explain to you how those that luminosity mask is being generated and
all these other masks here how it’s actually working now it is a whole other
tutorial there’s many other tutorials on the internet on how to do it but just I
wanted to explain a couple of things as to how the selection process is working
when it comes to those luminosity masks so you understand what it’s actually
doing so if I go to my channels panel and then I hold down command or control
if you’re using windows click on the RGB Channel
you will see that I’m selecting part of this image there is a selection being
created what I then need to do is click on here to save the selection as a new
channel so any new channel outside of RGB is known as an alpha Channel so
let’s create that this is created what is commonly known as a light one
luminosity mask so let’s just change that to lights one
so as you can see I still got a selection there now what I need to do is
not actually add or subtract to the selection I actually need to to
intersect this selection into itself so to then create the lights
– what’s intersecting I’ll just show you so if I select my rectangular marquee
tool over here and then draw out a box so it’s got rounded corners because
there’s a feather on there of around 40 to 40 pixels or so there are some things
to remember when it comes to selections as I said we can either add to a
selection so if I hold down shift you’ll see by the crosshair appears a plus so
let’s just draw out another box so I’ve added to my initial selection I can also
take away from selections so if I hold down alt or option on a Mac or my Mac is
alt still then you’ll see there’s a minus so if I want to – off this corner
in this corner here and it is – is off those two corners plus the feather of 40
pixels however I don’t want to do that I actually want to intersect one selection
into another now what’s that doing what I want to do is actually keep this
corner here keep this corner here but remove everything else intersecting so
what you do is and it’s slightly different in when it comes to the
luminosity mask but it’s still relevant so you can see how they’re actually
working you hold down shift alt and then you’ll see you have a crosshair now in
with us instead of a plus or a minus we’ve got a multiplication sign or for
this instance it’s actually the intersecting sign if I now draw my box
so I want to keep this corner here in this corner here the intersecting will
take care of that so you’ll see I’ve now intersected one selection into another
so that’s how intersecting works as we move that if I now command or control click on my
lights one to get my selection back again I need to now create lights too
so how do I do that I hold down command alt and shift and you’ll see is I run
through them so for example the command and alt is – command and shift is plus
if I then put alt in as well then I’ve got the X again that’s the intersecting
let’s click on that what you will see is the marching ants divided into one
another again so there we go there’s another selection being created now save
that off as a new alpha Channel and that’s lights to black and spell it
there we go lights – so you’ll see if I just click between the two we’ve got a
very bright selection here not very targeted and then we have lights to
selection here and so it goes on creating lights 1 to 6 the darks are
there just the reverse so you can for example get hold of a lights one if I
command click there if I press command shift and I it then
swaps around the selection so basically invert the selection was the word I’m
trying to think of right now invert the selection and then create a new channel
which would become the darks one channel so it’s a complete reverse of the lights
one there we go so that’s how luminosity masks are created in any case let’s do
the automated method and as I said there is a free version you can find instead
of having to create these luminosity masks yourself so if you go to Tony
Kuiper’s website you will find a free version of the luminosity masks for the
purpose of this exercise so let’s just remove these alpha channels as I don’t
need them more so now I have to think I need to
blend these two images together and I’ve got my sky image and I’ve got my
foreground if I click on my sky image and believe the layer style I don’t need
that if I then pick a light one I believe that might give me what it is
that I want so the good thing about this is the the TK actions panel that it this
certain well this particular panels the TK rapid bars to is when I click on
lights one is it will show me the exact mask that is being generated and I can
go yes this is what I need no it’s not what I need at all so for example what
this is going to do is it’s going to hide the light part below while
revealing the sky so remember that always black conceals and white reveals
so if I just then click on selection and then apply that will then give me a mask
with the lights one on it and there we go very simply that’s how luminosity
masks work in so far as creating blended images in Adobe Photoshop now just as I
did with the the apply image technique you can of course click on the layer
mask if you hold down command or control we will then reactivate the selection if
I press B or if I go over here to get my brush make sure my foreground is white
opacity 70% I can brush back in again that sky just to make it just a little
bit darker from the exposure that sat underneath while not affecting the
pagoda which you would have if you had used a grad you would be having all
sorts of trouble trying to create this image and there we go very simply that’s how
you can use luminosity masks to blend two images together in a daily Photoshop
there are many many more things that you can do with luminosity masks not just
blending you can actually use luminosity masks to target certain areas of your
image to dodge and burn to hide in or punch of with vibrance or saturation all
those kind of things they are very versatile very useful and it’s
definitely worth getting to know how luminosity masks work and how they will
help your workflow in Adobe Photoshop now hopefully you’ve got a good insight
now as to how you can blend images quickly and cleanly in Adobe Photoshop
hopefully you’ve enjoyed it please comment below and if you’ve got any
questions I’ll try my best to answer them until the next time see you later
thanks for subscribing and thanks again to all my old subscribers it’s very
appreciated that you’re all out there and you all follow me and I’ll see you
again soon


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