Hey, how’s it going?

Here’s a video which I first posted on youtube a while ago, but never got around to linking it from the blog.

So here it is; a Photoshop image blending tutorial which uses layers and masks:


Steve: Hey, how is it going? Steve here. In the previous video, I’ve introduced you to the very powerful technique of layer masking, which allows you to selectively reveal, or hide, parts of a layer or layer adjustment. I hope you’ve had a chance to experiment with that technique, in between watching that video and this one. If you have, and you’ve managed to get your head around layer masking in this way, then the really good news is that you already know how to blend multiple exposure manually as well.

What I’m going to do, is run you through an example just to show you how you can transfer that knowledge, and that skill, across into image blending. Before I do that, I just want to explain, for folks who haven’t bracketed¬†exposures and blended them together before, what it means and why it’s a good thing.

The short version is that our camera senses can only capture detail within a certain range of light values. When a scene contains a lot of contrast between the darkest and brightest parts. That’s when neither our highlights blow out or our shadows become always black.

In order to capture the full range of light, we need to take two or more shots. One, exposed for that part. One, for the bright part. Depending on how far apart these exposures are, we may need to take a number in between exposures as well.

Now, if it is new to you, this is called bracketing. Your camera is going to have an option to do this. All you need to do is just click the shutter, say, three or five times. It’s going to automatically adjust the exposure each time you click the shutter. Alternatively, if you’re comfortable changing the exposures manually, you can also do it that way.

Coming up, I’ve just got an example where I’ve taken three exposures. I’m going to blend them together, just using the simple layer masking techniques that I’ve shown you in the previous videos. Let’s get on with it now.

For this example, I’ve already pre-loaded three different exposures in to their own layer in photo shop. All I’ve got is this dark exposure on top, where basically the only part of this image I’m interested in is the sky here. That’s the brightest part. I just wanted to make sure that all the detail and color is there, in that bright part of the sky.

If I just hide this top layer now, you’ll see like the middle exposure, which has a little bit more detail around this middle area here. Those are highlights in the sky have started to blow out. If I just hide this middle layer here, then you’ve got really quite substantially brighter exposure, just at the bottom of this stack here. Obviously, this is going to be good for the darkest parts which are this kind of cliff face here, with the mounting behind it. Just the foreground here with the pool.

To start blending these together into one good exposure, what I’m going to do first is just re-enable this middle layer. I’m going to add a layer mask to it. Then invert it. I’m pressing on the mark to commanding total control on the PC. Eye on the keyboard. I’m just going to flip the layer mask. Turn it black, which means it’s covering up that layer completely. Now, presently, what I need to do is just get the white brush. I’m going to go with the two-thirds capacity. That’s about 66%. I’ll just stream out because I find it easier to work on a smaller scale here.

What I’m just going to do with the white brush, and remembering the one 0% hardness. I’m just going to start brushing around these parts of the image here, where it’s all blown out and just looks completely white. As I do that, it starts to come back. All that detail start to come back. What’s actually happening as I do that, is that the white being painted into the layer mask of this middle layer, is causing that image in those areas, to show through. I can just toggle this middle layer off and on. We’ll see the difference that makes.

What we have, is like a semi blended image as a result. Because this image doesn’t have all of that detail in the sky there, it doesn’t matter how much I brush into the layer mask. These colors are never going to come back. They’re not originally there in this exposure. What I need to do, just to bring that detail back in the sky there, is now do the same thing with this darkest exposure. I’m going to … I’ve just clicked the icon there to re-enable that. I’ll add the layer mask. Again, just invert it.

That basically … The layer is active, but it’s completely hidden on the mask. Again, I’m going to go a bit more subtly on the mask now, so around 30%. I’m just going to brush into that brightest white area there. As I do that gradually, you start to see that color come back in to the bright part of the sky there. I’m just going try and even out the brightness of that sky. What we’ll do … I’ll just go below on the capacity. Just come up here. Just maybe use the darker exposure to do the equivalent of dodging and burning. In this case, burning the edges of this poo. Just to bring more focus on to the bright part in the middle.

If I just toggle this off and on, you’ll see the difference that layer makes now. This is without that top layer. This is with. That gives this as like a really nicely blended version of those three different bracketed exposures. To achieve this in camera would’ve been … It was literally impossible. That brightness in the sky was just so bright compared to the darkness of these rocks here and the foreground of the pool. Like I said, this is literally impossible in camera, unless you’ve got one of these cameras that can shoot HDR which are pretty cool. That’s not what we’re going for here.

Just as a call back to the work flow portion of these last few videos, what we have now here is an image that is basically at the end of stage two, which is getting that even down exposure. It’s a starting point for basically making all of the color and contrast adjustments. Then embellishments in the later stages of the work flow. This method of using a simple brush into the layer mask of bracketed exposures, is a really excellent way to get started with manual blending. It’s really going to make such a big difference in your landscape images, if you’re not already doing it.

I really do want to encourage you to practice. Start experimenting with it right away. The sooner you do, the sooner you’re going to start getting good at it. Seeing for yourself what can be achieved. The impact it’s going to have on your landscapes. I just want a quick word of warning. This simple method is really, really great. It does have some limitations and pitfalls, which is why I’m going to give you a heads-up on what I think is the biggest one, before you get started.

What I’m talking about is, when you have a lot of contrast between the hard edges in your shot. For example, you’re shooting towards a bright sky and there’s a large dark rock right in front of it. Now, when you’re in photo shop with this image, you’re going to want to brighten up that rope, by blending in a brighter exposure. When you do, you’ll notice how difficult it is to brush right up to those edges of that rock, without encroaching into the sky. If you do encroach into the sky, what that’s going to do, is to create a halo effect around the rock.

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re blending it exposures or you’re using adjustment layers here to brighten that rock. The real problem is the inaccuracy of the brush strokes into the mask. To show you exactly what that looks like, I’m going to show you a clip from the first video of my luminosity masking video course. I’ll just quickly flip over to that video now. As you can see, this very dark rock here is against a relatively bright sky.

In the instance that I wanted to brighten up this rock here and bring a bit more detail back into it, using the methods that I’ve shown you previously, we might go about that by adding a cove’s line. Perhaps, increasing the brightness like so. As you can see, the whole image has been affected. I would invert the layer mask to hide the effect. Grab a white rash on a reasonably higher capacity. Basically, start brushing into that area that I want to affect. Now, this is an excellent way to go about this.

If I was to remain a little bit here so it get really up close to those edges. Then, what’s going to happen, is that no matter how accurate I am when I’m doing these strokes, there’s always going to be a risk of not getting all of the detail that I want to, with this brush stroke. For example, there’s absolutely no way that I can get right up to those edges there, without affecting the sky behind it. If I just do this now. I’ll go as close to those edges as I can, just to show you what I mean.

I haven’t been able to go right up close to this edge here that’s still … The rock has got a dark shadow around the outside edge of it, which obviously isn’t what we want. Force him out. That looks okay. If you notice out here, you can see it’s just trying to create a bit of a halo effect, where I’ve actually gone over the edge of the rock. Started to effect the sky with my adjustment layer.

If I just press all toggle option, click on the layer mask there. We can actually see what this mask looks like. All of the white areas, the areas of the image that this layer adjustment is going to effect, and all of the black is a bit where the effect is hidden. As you can see, that’s not really an accurate layer mask. It’s good and it does a decent job. In many ways … In many cases, you can actually be quite happy that this will give you the result that you want.

Let me just show you now, the difference between this and a luminosity mask. I shall hide that layer there. I’ve already created this, before I started the video. I’ve a [current 00:11:50] layer here. Let me just click on this mask now, to show you. This mask has been created using a luminosity selection. All of the white areas in this image here represent the darker portion of the photograph. As you can see, it’s a lot more detailed. It’s a much more intricate mask, which means that when … I deactivate that and just come back into this cove’s layer.

If I was to grab this line here and start to increase the brightness of the adjustment, you can see what’s happening. It’s having the effect on the area. The mask is represented as white. Everything that’s black in the mask is … The current adjustment is having no effect. If I just hide that and re-enable it again. You can see exactly when I do the before and after. You can see exactly what’s happening. As you can imagine, this is a much more accurate way of creating a mask. Gives you that level of detail that you’re never going to get just by stroking with the brush into the image. Okay. Pretty cool. I’m sure you’ll agree.

If you want to jump ahead and check out the luminosity masking course, then just click below this video now. I did just want to say that whilst luminosity masking does sound like a really complicated technique, it’s actually reasonably easy to get to grips with. If you’ve been able to get your head around what I’ve been teaching you in this week’s video about layer masking and why not, then I really think it would be fine. In the course, I’ll teach you luminosity selections and masks from the ground up. Including why and when to use them. Why they’re so powerful.

In the final chapter also, I’ll walk you through how I blended and processed these five original real files into this awesome finished image. If you’re not yet ready to give luminosity masking a go, then you’re still going to see some amazing results using the blending techniques I’ve already shown you in this video. I really want you to drop what you’re doing, and just give it a go. When you do come across that haloing problem, when blending exposures without luminosity masks, then there are two main approaches that you can take to get around it.

The first one is to basically zoom in as close to its edge as possible, and really, really get after it with your mask and with your best strokes. Whereas the other approach, is almost like going in the opposite direction and using just large soft brush strokes. Don’t get too close to those edges. It really doesn’t matter which approach you use. The key really is just to keep an eye on those halos. Over time, you will get good at it.

The key is just to practice hard. Keep an eye on those halos. All right, that’s just about wraps this video up. Thanks very much for watching. I hope you enjoyed this video, and you’re going to take these techniques and start using them, if you haven’t already started to do so. Please remember to leave a comment below this video. If you have any questions, or if you want to give the luminosity masking course a go, then just click the link below the video. Otherwise, thanks again. I’ll speak to you soon.