Exposure Blending

Exposure blending is another useful skill to have in your photographic toolkit. Whenever I am out with my trusty camera at a location I always try to cover all angles with my results in mind. Shooting a range of exposures can be done in several ways. The easiest way is to bracket your shots, I normally shoot 3 or 5 exposures ranging from -2ev to +2ev. When shooting long exposures a better way to do it is to drop or increase the exposure on your camera by 1 stop at a time with the exposure compensation button. Normally when I’m shooting LE I will expose correctly for the foreground and then take another exposure at a lower value (or shorter time) to expose for the sky. Some might say the correct way to do this is to just use an addition grad which I often do, that’s another debate. Here is a recent example of 2 shots shot 1ev apart.

2 exposures shot 1ev apart 0ev & -1ev

What I’m going to aim for here is to merge the darker sky from the 2nd image with the correctly exposed foreground from the 1st image. So opening both images in Photoshop the first thing to do is to select and copy the darker image and then paste it on top of the lighter image (select/all/edit/copy & then paste onto other image)

Once you have your 2 images stacked with the darker one on top we can then set about merging the darker sky with the correctly exposed foreground. There are a few ways to do this with Photoshop, as we have a nice straight horizon here I am going to use the rectangular marquee tool to select just the sky. Now I want to use the refine tool to create a smooth blend between to 2 images (select/refine edge) You can decide how smooth the blend is by changing the feather setting, for this example I choose a fairly gradual blend amount of 150px.

Here we can see the refined area for the darker sky

The layer mask in action.
Once we have refined the darker sky the next thing to do is to create a layer mask to reveal the correctly exposed foreground underneath. To do this you can click on the add vector mask box next to the fx button. This will then merge to the 2 images together. You can also add or remove the effect from the layer mask by using the paintbrush tool. By either selecting black or white you can paint over the image to change the results (pressing x on your keyboard will switch between the 2) This can useful if something in your foreground has become to dark, by selecting the paintbrush tool you can simply paint out the effect from the desired area. In this example I’ve painted the tip of the groyne back in as it became too dark.

The layer mask in action

This is a pretty simple tactic to help create a more balanced image and very useful for me when creating mono conversions. It really helps you to control how your final results can be achieved. Once you’ve mastered this technique you can start to take it to new levels by merging different mono conversions, for example an overexposed foreground with an under exposed sky, a very popular style within monochrome photography. You can also use different tools to refine sections such as the lasso or pen tool to make more precise selections. As I mentioned before there are a few ways to blend your exposures and it’s always good to experiment.

Please feel free to drop me a note if you have any questions!

Here's one I made earlier...

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