Blog - How Exposure Blending Works in Photoshop
In this article, I show you how to use Exposures Blending in Photoshop to increase the dynamic range of your photos.
Many years ago, I used Enfuse GUI for exposure blending. The results I could achieve using that software looked more natural than what other HDR software delivered. But ever since learning about luminosity masks, I switched from automatic to manual blending. Manual exposure blending using masks in Photoshop provides the best control over the results.
Over the years, I further refined my workflow, and with proper preparation, even luminosity masks are often no longer required to create a perfect blend. Below, I share two workflows for exposure blending. The first workflow relies heavily on luminosity masks, while the second uses mostly normal masks. Knowing both workflows will provide you with all the techniques you need for even the most challenging exposure blending tasks.
Exposure Blending with Luminosity Masks
As a requirement to follow along in the video below, it helps to understand what luminosity masks are and how to create them. On my photo editing basics homepage, I share two videos about creating advanced masks in Photoshop. These provide a good foundation for exposure blending. In the video below, I use Lumenzia by Greg Benz*, a Photoshop plugin that makes working with luminosity masks easy.
As you see in the video, capturing the complete dynamic range of a scene on location is essential for clean results. You can do this manually or by using the automatic exposure bracketing functionality of your camera. For most scenes, using -2, 0, and +2 as setting for the automatic bracketing is sufficient. But there might be situations, where you need to add additional exposures. That’s why you should always check the photos you captured while still on location. Activate the histogram in the preview and ensure that you don’t loose shadows in the brightest and no highlights in the darkest exposure. You should also activate the automatic highlight warning if your camera supports it.
Improved Workflow with Lightroom and Photoshop
The blending workflow with luminosity masks works great. But it reaches its limitations once you have movement in your images. You achieve the best results by combining different types of masks, and with the right preparation in Lightroom, you have to rely less and less on luminosity masks.
In the video below, I show how you can equalize exposures in Lightroom to provide the best starting material for exposure blending in Photoshop. As example, I use a photo from the Seychelles, where I photographed a sunrise behind a set of palm trees and granite rocks. This scene had a very high dynamic range and contained slight movement in the palm trees – not a problem with the technique from the video as I can use a 100% brush without any special selections to blend those areas.
This workflow also works for architecture photos taken at night or blue hour. Especially for high-contrast areas, equalizing exposures in Lightroom makes the blending task much less difficult.
The Need for Exposure Blending
You might ask why to use exposure blending when modern cameras allow you to boost the shadows of a photo without introducing a lot of noise. And it’s true that over the years, exposure blending has become less important due to technology advancements. But there are still situations where the dynamic range of even the best cameras is not enough to capture noise-free, high dynamic range photos.
And even if you can pull up the shadows in a RAW photo to show sufficient detail, blending in those details from a brighter exposure will still give you better results, if you use the equalizing technique and do a 100% blend.
In this article I shared how I blend exposures in Photoshop. You learned how luminosity masks help to restrict the blending to shadow and highlight areas, how the combination with other masks can create better results, and how equalizing exposures in Lightroom gives you the best starting material for exposure blending.
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