Sun shot through heavy smoke

Mar 16, 2005
In 2004 we had over 6 million acres burn in forest fires in Alaska. For much of the summer, heavy smoke blanketed large areas of the interior; people with health problems were told to leave Fairbanks as particulate levels were unsafe for any outdoor activity. In the Alaska Range, where we live, the smoke got so heavy at times we could not see more than about 1/2 mile. One morning, I aimed my 600mm at the sun, and was surprised to be able to see sunspots on the sun's surface. I shot a few digital photos, but when I processed them, the sun was too dark, and I could barely see the hills. So, I processed the images first for the highlights, then for the background, and combined the two images through a technique I found on a PDF tutorial that came with an earlier version of PS.

Gordon (Greyflash) asked me to post these photos to show the benefits of this technique.

First, here's the technique:

1.Combine the 2 images and crop.
Open both underexposed and overexposed images into Photoshop. Click and drag (using the Move Tool while holding down the Shift Key) the underexposed image on top of the overexposed image. This puts the underexposure on a layer on top of the overexposure (which becomes the Background). In the Layers palette, select Layer 1 and set the Blending Mode to Difference and align the 2 images with the Move Tool, if necessary.

Crop the images here. (Cropping the image here at the first step keeps the images aligned if you have moved Layer 1 even the slightest amount). Save the image (File > Save As) as Combo and close the 2 original images without saving them. Return to Normal Blending Mode.

2.Make a Layer Mask and paste the background layer into it.
On Combo make a Layer Mask (Layer > Add Layer Mask > Reveal All) on Layer 1. Select the Background Layer
(Select > All) and Copy (Edit > Copy). Hold down the Option/Alt key and click on the Layer Mask (the document window should turn white). Paste the Background Layer (Edit > Paste) into the Layer Mask (it will be pasted as a Black & White mask).

3.Make a new window.
Go to Window > Arrange > New Window for Combo.psd to see the effects of the mask. You will not be able to see the actual picture because you will be working on the mask. This is the reason for making the New Window.

4.Blur the mask.
Click on the Layer Mask and Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) the mask to a 5–50 pixel Radius. You want to blur enough to get rid of all texture and detail.

5.Adjust the mask contrast with curves.
Select Image > Adjustments > Curves and adjust contrast and brightness of the mask until the image looks correct in the New Window. You do not want to use a Curves Adjustment Layer here because you are still working on the Layer Mask. Close the New Window after you’ve finished adjusting with Curves.

Here's the shots, the second one showing just the sun (please disregard the background noise on second shot)

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May 24, 2006
Cougar Country
that is a cool shot...thanks for the tutorial, I am always trying to improve my ps skills, and tutorials like this are great for my learning.
Jan 26, 2005
Viera Fl
Very nice Steve
thank you
I have a sun in the morning that looks very similar.
Really neat

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