Photoshop can be a mystifying environment, where despite a user’s best intentions sometimes things can go awry and make a mess out of a photo. Or, the results may be dazzling and exactly as intended, but the means to the end could have been painfully time consuming. In this YouTube video from Jimmy McIntyre’s “Challenge Jimmy” series where viewers send in files for him to perfect, he walks us through a quick, non destructive way to blend exposures in Photoshop, leaving no trace of digital manipulation – both using the Raya Pro plugin and manually.
Three exposures are used – one for the highlights, one for the shadows, and a middle exposure to act as a bridge between the more extreme exposures. In Adobe Camera Raw, the exposures containing the data for the highlight and shadow areas for the final image are tweaked to further expand their dynamic range, bringing out more detail in both. The middle exposure is left untouched, and all three are selected to apply adjustments not pertaining to tones that must match in all three photos for a successful blend – lens correction by profile and chromatic aberration removal. By holding the shift key with all three exposures selected, all can be opened in individual Photoshop windows as Smart Objects.
After bringing all the exposures together into the same Photoshop file, Raya Pro is demonstrated first. Have a look at that process in the video – if you frequently make HDR landscape photos you may want to look into this plugin. It automates the process while letting you make manual tweaks and creates great results very simply.
If you are not a Raya Pro user, there’ll just be more steps for you to achieve the same results. (See our review of Raya Pro here) Stack the exposures in the order shown in the video and apply a mask to the middle layer using “apply image” with Jimmy’s specific settings. Use a levels adjustment to bring out detail from the highlights and shadows. Make the same mask again on the top layer, which should be the darkest image meant for highlight data and lower opacity to taste.
That’s the recipe for the basic, clean blend, but Jimmy has more to teach you about creating a mood for your blended landscape in Photoshop. Have a watch and learn the rest below!