How to combine photos to achieve perfectly balanced exposures

Final tips for exposure blending

Final tips for exposure blending

Final tips for exposure blending

How to set up your camera
To try out exposure blending for yourself you’ll need to take two or more exposures using a tripod. Use Manual mode and vary the exposure for the land and sky. Change shutter speed settings rather than aperture, so that the depth of field stays consistent. Be careful not to move the camera between frames. If possible, use a cable release and set your camera to shoot a range of bracketed exposures to minimise camera movement.

Graduated Filter
Camera Raw’s Graduated Filter is ideal for improving skies. It’s very simple: drag a line between two points to create a blend. Anywhere beyond the first point will be completely affected by the tonal changes made with the sliders on the right, and beyond the second point remains unaffected. For skies, drag down from the sky towards the land, then use the sliders to reduce exposure in the same way as an ND grad filter.

Luminosity blending mode
The Luminosity blending mode lets the brightness of tones on the blend layer to show through while preserving the colour from the layers below. It can be useful when dodging and burning. Selective lightening or darkening with the Dodge and Burn tools can have an adverse effect on colours. But by dodging and burning on a duplicate layer set to Luminosity, colours remain unaffected.

SEE MORE: Blend modes – the 10 best blends for photographers (and how to use them)

Open as Smart Object
Do you process your images in Camera Raw before opening them in Photoshop? It’s often worth opening the file as a smart object, as this gives you the option to go back to Camera Raw by double-clicking the layer thumbnail. And if this is something you do a lot, you can set up Camera Raw to open files as smart objects automatically by clicking the Workflow Options link at the bottom and ticking the Smart Object option.

Add a layer mask
Any active selection can be turned into a mask simply by clicking the Add Layer Mask icon (or by using the Output options in Refine Edge). If isolating the sky is tricky, you can take advantage of selection tools like the Magic Wand to do the hard work for you, then turn the selection into a mask, and finally finish off by fine-tuning the mask with the Brush tool.

SEE MORE: The 6 best Photoshop layers any photographer can use

Try it with 1 raw file!
You don’t necessarily need two separate images to try out exposure blending. You can simply process one file in two ways, then blend the two versions. First open in Camera Raw and process for the sky, then shift-click the Open Object button to open as a smart object. Right-click the layer and choose New Smart Object via Copy, then double-click the layer thumbnail to go back to Camera Raw and process for the land.

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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