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Blending two images, examples?

Discussion in 'Retouching and Post Processing' started by Richard Peters, Apr 22, 2007.

  1. Afternoon everyone.

    I am still busy researching various ways to get the most from landscape photography for when I go away. So far I've tried HDR which I'm not %100 convinced with as it seems very hard to get realistic results.

    I've also purchased some filters so I can get shots as close to how I want them first time.

    But, I have also been trying to get my head around blending two exposures together - one for the ground and one for the sky.

    Would it be possible for any of you to show some examples of shots you have blended in photoshop with a brief outline of how you did it?

    Before and after shots would be good to show the difference between the start shot(s) and end result.

    Looking forward to seeing some examples if anyone has them :) 
  2. Richard,

    I'm sure not an expert at this, but I do blend exposures frequently. This is about the most simplistic method I know (i.e., the one I understand the best :rolleyes: ) and might be a good way to get started:

    • Open the exposure for the ground and the exposure for the sky in Photoshop.
    • Copy and paste one of the exposures on top of the other to create a two-layered document. I usually drop the exposure for the ground on top, but the general rule is to order the layers so as to require the least or easiest painting.
    • Create a layer mask for the top layer.
    • Press D to load the default colors (black/white) and press X if necessary so that black is the foreground color and white is the background.
    • Press B to load the brush tool. For most situations, a soft edged brush (hardness = 0) and opacity to about 50% is a good place to start.
    • Assuming the ground exposure is on top, target the layer mask and start painting (in black) to conceal the top layer and thereby revealing the sky layer below. I start with a larger brush size with the entire image sized to fit on screen to take care of the larger sky area and then reduce the brush size to and zoom in for more detailed work.
    • I seldom try to paint precisely around fine details like tree branches, but instead reduce the opacity of the brush and "split the difference" on the exposure so that the trees are a little dark in these areas and the sky is a little light. The effect isn't too much different than what you sometimes see from shots made using ND grads.
    • If you make a mistake, hit Ctr-Z to undo, go to the history palette and undo as many steps as necessary, or press X to switch white to the foreground color and paint out the mistake.
    • When your got the exposures blended, make whatever corrections (colors, levels, etc.) are needed before flattening, as you make need to refine some of the exposure painting. In fact, if I think an image is worth the trouble to blend two exposures, I almost always save the multi-layered PSD.

    There are more sophisticated and efficient ways to create the layer mask involved, but the method above works well in many cases.

    In a situation where blended exposures will be helpful, when shooting I usually;
    • Use a tripod, of course
    • Spot meter to get the best exposures for the ground and sky frames.
    • Bracket both exposures. Often underexposing the sky by a stop or even two compared to a realistic exposure is helpful in revealing more cloud detail or making sunrise/sunset colors richer.

    A couple of examples:

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    In the image below, I lightly brushed in the the sky exposure in the water to restore some of the reflections of the clouds. I also created a third layer made by increasing the exposure (in ACR) of the image exposed for the lower part of the frame to reveal more shadow detail in the submerged boat, and painted that in.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    I don't have the original frames that I used to create these posted, but trust me, the sky is blown on the ground exposures and the ground is just about black on the sky exposures.

    Hope this helps. There are many members with Photoshop skill far superior to mine, so maybe some of them will chime in, too.
  3. GBRandy


    Feb 28, 2006
    Green Bay, WI
    Great write up Dave...I just printed it out. Thanks for taking the time to do that!
  4. Thanks, Randy. I hope it's helpful. I hesitated to post this, because, as I said, there are many folks here much more knowledgeable about all things Photoshop than I. But, as all my friend will tell you, not knowing much has never kept me quiet before.:wink:
  5. Robert


    Jul 24, 2005
    Thanks Dave, for taking the time to post the process you use...appreciated! :smile:
  6. bett


    Mar 31, 2007
    New Hampshire

    This is a pretty simple technique, but works fairly well.
    I read it in Scott Kelby's Photoshop "channels" book.
    It's about the same as what Dave does, Only you use
    one RAW image.

    Open a NEF in camera raw (or whatever converter your using),
    and tweak it for only the highlights. Then open it in Photoshop, and
    and work it till your happy. don't worry about the shadows .

    Go back and reopen the same NEF in Camera raw. This time,
    tweak it for the lower values, don't worry about what happens to
    the highlights.

    Open that image in photoshop, then cut and Paste it over the first.
    Again, work it till your happy with the shadows, and lower values.
    Then, using the history brush, "paint" away The blown highlights
    to reveal the highlights in the first image. I find several passes with
    a lower opacity brush seems to blend better.

    Sorry I don't have an example handy to post.

    I did use it once on a photo of my daughter. She was asleep, curled up in a
    cream colored afagan. (SP?) Of course, the flash wiped out most of the
    detail in that blanket. but I was able to salvage it using the above process.

    Enjoy your trip! looking forward to seeing some photos.
  7. Dave - thanks for the good tutorial. I'm saving it too.
  8. Last edited by a moderator: Mar 15, 2017
  9. Nicely done Dave and a great simple technique. The second photo looks familiar. I think I've been there a time or two. :485:
  10. Thanks, Mike. I think I set up my tripod in the holes yours left. That was the best single day of shooting I had last year. Thanks again for being such a great host. :smile:
  11. Thanks for the replies :) 

    I'm not too keen on the whole idea of using one exposure because I feel you would need to bring way too much shadow detail back out which no doubt introduces noise etc, and if your there at the scene it doesn't take much effort to fire off a second shot.

    Thanks again :) 
  12. Richard, don't underestimate the value of using a single frame processed at different exposures. You can often get surprisingly good results with this technique within reasonable limits. No doubt bracketed exposures shot off a tripod are the safest approach when feasible, but the single frame approach is still a good tool to have in the box.
  13. This week's Phototip at Earthboundlight.com contains a good discussion of blended exposures. Bob Johnson, who runs the site, has a knack for explaining techniques clearly, and I've found the entire series of Phototips very helpful.
  14. minouuupak

    minouuupak Guest

    that was a nice writeup, I'm actually going to try that tonight
  15. Huff09


    Feb 25, 2007
    Carmichael, CA
    Followed Terri's link to Roman's technique and gave it a try. In the original two photos, the ground was completely black on the sky photo and the sky was blown out on the ground photo. All in all it turned out alright and took me about five minutes.

    I also tried this technique with another photo and didn't have as much luck. It seems to work best when you have a well definied horizon to keep the light and dark separate.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
  16. I've never been able to make HDR work myself, but there are other ways to blend images.

    I'm pretty good at blending DOF myself. This one is five images.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
  17. Oh I'm sure it can produce good results in some situations where the difference in exposure isn't that big but to maintain a high resolution, colourful and noise free image I don't mind taking a couple of shots - I've got enough storage space so its no problem :) 

    Good link by the way :) 
  18. rlacy


    Apr 22, 2007
    San Diego
    I have blended different exposures and had some luck. However, I have not blended images to achieve DOF like your flower shot--beautiful b the way. How different is the process? Would you mind sharing how you blended the images to achieve such sharpness throughout the image? It would be much appreciated. Thanks
  19. The process involved getting an idea what DOF was possible by taking a few test shots, then shooting the images with the thought I would be blending them later in mind. Mostly this was about edges as they can be difficult to blend well.

    Then the 5 images are set up as layers in Photoshop, and each layer is resized to match the scale of the "anchor," or base layer. I chose the foreground most image to be the anchor of the others.

    Then one at time I used masks and brushes to slowly blend in the other 4 layers to replace out of focus portions of the anchor with sharp detail. This was difficult and took hours for this image.

    And to be honest, I did that one flower about half a dozen times, learning as I went. Was a lot of fun.

    There are other ways to do these. There's a photographer I've seen here, forget his name, that shoots beetles and other insects. He does amazing high DOF work on a very very small scale. And ends up with images of bugs that are completely sharp. He uses some automated software to do it. You might search around and try to find his work.
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