Are you fed up of seeing a wonderfully bright and colourful sunrise or sunset in front of you, but when you click the shutter and look on the back of your camera either the sky is completely white, or the foreground is so dark it’s virtually black?

Well if so, then worry no longer!

I’m about to show you a super easy way to plan for and handle this situation so that you can be confident of making your shot even when the sky is burning brightly.

To do this you’re going to use what I call the Fake Grad Filter Technique.

A bit of background

A real grad filter is a sheet of glass or resin that attaches to the front of your lens and acts as a shade on the top portion of the image. This has the effect of darkening the sky before it reaches your cameras sensor allowing it to record a more even exposure. That’s it in a nutshell, but for a more detailed description you can check out my previous post on grad filters.

The Fake Grad Filter Technique essentially mimics the effect of having a graduated neutral density filter on the front of the lens, but instead of having the physical filter attached this technique teaches you to use photoshop to blend a darker sky from one shot with a brighter foreground from another.


When will you need this technique?

The Fake Grad Filter Technique is the ideal trick to have up your sleeve under either of the following situations:

  • the sky is far brighter than the foreground and you don’t have any grad filters with you
  • you do have a grad filter but the sky is STILL too bright to contain the whole dynamic range in one shot

The quick description of the fake grad filter technique is that it’s a super simple exposure blending method that allows you to combine the sky from one photo with the foreground of another.

Many people automatically think “HDR” when they hear “exposure blending” but the Fake Grad Filter Technique produces a much more natural looking photo than you would get if you were to use any HDR software or plugins.


But before I continue, I need you to do two things for me:

  1. If you absolutely LOVE this simple technique and it teaches you something that can help you make better photos, once you get to the end of the tutorial just send an email to three of your friends telling them about the Fake Grad Filter Technique and show them this page.
  2. After you’ve had a chance to try the Fake Grad Filter Technique out for yourself and had great success with it, send me an email telling me about how it helped you – I’m always thrilled to see your results!


That said, lets get on with the tutorial…

There are to parts to the overall technique:

  1. shooting two separate exposures for the sky and foreground
  2. blending the two exposures together in photoshop
I have covered point number 1 in my previous post: How To Shoot 2 Exposures For Blending In Photoshop so if you haven’t read that yet, go check it out now before continuing on below…


Back? Ok, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and show you the nuts and bolts of the Fake Grad Filter Technique….


To begin with, we’re going to need to start off with two differently exposed images, one that is correctly exposed for the sky and one for the foreground. In the previous tutorial I used the following photos as an example, so I’ll carry on here with the same ones.


ISO 100 | f8.0 | 6.0 sec


ISO 100 | f8.0 | 2.0 sec


From this point, it’s going to be much easier to demonstrate the technique via video – so just hit play below and see how easy this whole thing is.


How To Use The Fake Grad Filter Technique



And hey presto! After I blended these shots using the Fake Grad Filter Technique and gave myself a nice even exposure across the image it was a cinch to add a couple of levels layers to adjust the contrast in the colours to create the final image below:


Download my original demo files here

If you are keen on trying this technique out right now but you don’t have any bracketed photo’s that you’ve already taken, then you can download the files I used in the video demo.



It must be said that there are more advanced ways to blend multiple images in Photoshop and I will cover some of these in some advanced training that I have planned in the future.

However, if you are new to the idea of manually blending images together in Photoshop then this is a great way to get started and once you learn this technique you will notice an improvement immediately.


What’s next?

So, now you know the steps to this simple photoshop technique, you have the demo files from above – it’s time to open up Photoshop and give it a go!

Remember, if you love my Fake Grad Filter Technique tutorial and you know that it will help you make better photographs, send an email to three of your closest buddies and let them know about it too.

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