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Digital Blending Photography Tips - Open as normal during COVID-19

Learn about combining two or more images - Photography skills explained by Tony Howell

The Problem - One shot, exposed for the foreground (sky burned out)
The Solution - 2 different exposures blended (dramatic sky)

With Landscape photography in particular, there is usually too much contrast between the bright sky and the (usually darker) foreground. Cameras can't cope with this contrast range like the human eye can. If you leave it to your camera's meter, it will often expose correctly for the sky, but this means the foreground will be too dark, or vice versa.

If there's nothing moving fast in the frame (grasses blowing in the wind etc.) you can use a digital camera on a tripod to get the same effect as graduated filters, just correctly expose one frame for the sky, then without moving the camera take another shot correctly exposed for the foreground. Best done with a cable shutter release so you don't move the camera by firing the shutter with your finger

1) Digital Blending Great technique for advanced digital camera users - see below. I used to use this technique for a lot of my images (nowadays I use a Sony A7R4 camera which has such good dynamic range that this technique is rarely needed), it saves carrying filters around but you need to use a tripod

2) Graduated Filters - The best ones are ND (Neutral Density) grads or Grey grads, which don't affect the natural colours in the image. Experiment with bracketing exposures (see below), so that you learn how the filter affects your images.
However, I rarely bother to use grads anymore since I went digital, now I just use digital blending, but if there are moving elements in a scene, or if you're hand-holding, graduated filters may be the best choice

Take two exposures

Take one image correctly exposed for the sky (e.g. 1/250th at f8) , and another correctly exposed for the foreground (e.g. 1/60th at f8) then: - Layer Mask Method - To combine two frames in Photoshop

Open them both, Ctrl A to select the light image, Ctrl C to copy it. Then close this image.

Ctrl V
to paste the light image onto the darker image.

Fig 1

Colour Range

Fig 2

Layer Mask

Choose Select>Color Range. Then choose Highlights from the drop-down menu. Make sure the Invert box is checked (see Fig 1) then OK. On the layers palette click to add a layer mask (see Fig 2) then Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur at a radius of 150-200 pixels. This technique works well but can leave unwanted halos around dark objects against bright skies, so you may need to manually adjust afterwards using cloning tools, try even more Gaussian blur, or if all else fails, blend manually.

When you're happy with the results you can Layer>Flatten Image before printing, but it's best to save this image with it's layers intact as a PSD file, then you can always do fine adjustments later if required. This will save you a lot of time if you're new to Photoshop - as your skills develop you can return to the image and improve it further, without starting the whole thing from scratch.

Don't overdo the effect - keep it looking natural

Manual Method

Sometimes, you have to do the blending manually to get a professional look, as in the boat examples at the top. To do this, open both images, Ctrl A to select the light image, Ctrl C to copy it. Then close this image. Ctrl V to paste the light image onto the darker image. Then use the Eraser tool at medium hardness to erase the light image (Layer 1) sky, revealing the darker sky underneath. Doing this properly can take an hour or more for a professional result that won't show on large prints!

More examples of images I created with Digital Blending: -

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Lake District
Lake District
Lake District
Lake District
Lake District
Lake District
Lake District
Loch Leven
Loch Leven
Weston Beach


‘My compliments on a truly excellent's fantastic to see a professional spending time on his website to provide hints and tips to people like me. Your pictures also provide me with great inspiration to do better.’ M.P, Plymouth, UK