How to combine photos to achieve perfectly balanced exposures

Final tips for exposure blending

How to combine photos for perfect exposures (steps 10-18)

How to combine photos for perfect exposures: step 10

10 Tweak mask with Levels
Zoom back out to assess the sky. If it doesn’t look quite right, we can adjust the mask with a quick levels trick. Press Ctrl/Cmd+L for Levels, then drag the midpoint slider to the left or right to change the opacity of the layer mask. We set it to 1.41 here. Press OK to apply the change.

 

How to combine photos for perfect exposures: step 11

11 Adjust the water
The bright areas in the water are a little blown out, so double-click the layer thumbnail on the Blend_Before01 image to go back to Camera Raw. Grab the Adjustment brush from the Toolbar and paint over the bright water, then go to the sliders on the right and set Exposure to -1.15, Highlights to -22 and Clarity to +37.

 

How to combine photos for perfect exposures: step 12

12 Reduce the colours
Next, we’ll add a couple of adjustment layers to tweak the tones, which can help the two images to gel together. Click the Create Adjustment Layer icon in the Layers panel and choose Vibrance. Increase Vibrance to +29 and lower Saturation to -25 to give the image a moody desaturated feel.

 SEE MORE: 101 Photoshop tips you really have to know

How to combine photos for perfect exposures: step 13

13 Add punch with curves
Click the Create Adjustment Layer icon again and choose Photo Filter. Select the Cooling Filter (80) from the drop-down list, then set Density to 13%. Next, add a Curves adjustment layer. Plot two points on the curve line to make a shallow S shape that adds punch to the tones.

 

How to combine photos for perfect exposures: step 14

14 Merge a new layer
Click the Create New Layer icon in the Layers panel, then press Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+Alt+E to merge a copy of all the layers into one. Double-click the layer name and call it ‘Dodge Burn’. Go to the blending mode drop-down in the Layers panel and choose Luminosity, so that any dodging and burning won’t alter colours.

 

How to combine photos for perfect exposures: step 15

15 Dodge the highlights
Grab the Dodge tool from the Tools panel, then go to the options and set Range to Highlights and Exposure to 8%. Zoom in closer to the rocks and water, then paint to emphasise the lighter areas and pick out some of the hightlights. Paint over the grass too, and emphasise some of the lighter cloud formations.

 SEE MORE: Unsharp Mask – how to ensure the sharpest images possible every time

How to combine photos for perfect exposures: step 16

16 Burn the shadows
Switch to the Burn tool and set Range to Shadows and Exposure to 8%. Paint over some of the darker cloud formations and the texture of the rocks to add depth to the tones. Change Range to Midtones, then paint over the corners with a large brush to add a subtle vignette.

 

How to combine photos for perfect exposures: step 17

17 Apply High Pass Sharpening
Make a new layer, then create another merged copy with Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+Alt+E. Rename the layer ‘High Pass’, then right-click it and choose Convert to Smart Object. Change the blending mode to Overlay, then go to Filter>Other>High Pass. Use the slider to change the sharpening strength to 2.3.

 

How to combine photos for perfect exposures: step 18

18 Assess the sharpening
Double-click the Zoom tool to zoom to 100%, then toggle the High Pass layer on and off to assess the sharpening strength. If you need to adjust the sharpening strength, double-click the Smart Filter in the Layers panel below the High Pass layer. Double-click the Hand tool to fit the whole image on-screen.

PAGE 1: How to combine photos for perfect exposures (steps 1-9)
PAGE 2: How to combine photos for perfect exposures (steps 10-18)
PAGE 3: Final tips on exposure blending

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