Articles, Blog

Exposure Blending & Luminosity Masks in Photoshop (Ep #119)

November 23, 2019

Hello thanks for joining me now you may
recall a few weeks ago I did a sunset shoot at the lake down in front of the
house I knew is going to be quite complicated because there was going to
be a colossal dynamic range to deal with and it was always gonna need an exposure
blend now I said on that video that if enough people were interested I would do
a post-processing follow-up so this is it firstly let me apologize for taking
so long to getting round to it and secondly what I should say is this is
going to be about the principles that I use it’s not going to be a step-by-step
walkthrough because that would take hours so pull up a chair and let me show
you what I did here we are in Lightroom and I’ve selected from about the 50 or
so exposures that I took a couple that I’m going to use for this blend now this
first one here as you can see on the left hand side
lots of foreground light with the vegetation backlit and of course the Sun
was still pretty high at that point so the highlights are completely blown out
the only bit I’m really interested in this
are these foreground highlights and perhaps part of the sky the other one is
one taken just before the sunset as you can see it’s right on the horizon
now I specifically picked this one because literally just a couple of
seconds later the Sun had gone down and at that point the foreground highlights
that I had in the first exposure would look a bit silly if there has no light
behind them so I did need the Sun in the frame but as you can see because I’ve
got the exposure dialed right down even the Sun and the water reflections in
front of it aren’t clipped and so it doesn’t matter that the rest of the
image is pretty much just silhouette so the first thing I would do with either
of the frames is a quick Lightroom process as you can see this is all I’ve
done just some very slight adjustments on these sliders and in fact I’ve used a
preset that I developed over a period of time which takes advantage of the
characteristics of my particular camera and you could save yourself
I’m doing the same thing for yours so having processed one of them I simply
synchronize it across the other one then select both exposures and go edit in
openers layers in Photoshop now over here in Photoshop as you can see I’ve
got the layers now ignore this one at the top I’ll come on to that shortly but
you start off with just these two layers and then you want to go edit Auto align
layers and what that will do is it will line up the major components of the
exposure that are fixed so things like the fence posts and the boulders
obviously the vegetation will have moved around a little bit between exposures
that doesn’t matter at all in this instance and now we get to the crux of
this video which is how I actually blend the layers and in order to do that we’re
going to use a luminosity mask but let me start by just quickly explaining
about masks if we add a mask to this top layer because the mask is white the
entire layer is visible by then using a black brush and painting on the mask
itself we can hide this layer and make the layer underneath visible now if I
turn this into a great big brush and bring through the sky from the dark
version and then drop my brush down and use the dark version for the water as
well as you can see we’re starting to balance the exposure up the problem with
that of course is that it’s next to impossible to get all those little
details to work together between these two different exposures because they’re
so different so it’s never going to look natural so that’s the very basic
principles of masking now the sort of mask that I’m working with is a special
mask called a luminosity mask and they’re quite complicated to understand
so what I’m going to do is link to a really good article on the petter pixel
website and it’s probably the most concise and easy-to-understand article
I’ve ever come across on luminosity mask so if you don’t know what they are
go have a look at that but by using a luminosity mask and if I show you in my
channels panel these different masks as you can see they start off quite light
and go down to quite dark and then when I select it actually has very little
mask doubt and I’ll show you just the area around the Sun is blackened and the
area in the water where the bright Sun has been reflected is also blackened and
what that means is that those areas on this really bright exposure a hidden and
that means that the areas from the dark exposure underneath are visible through
that so if we go back to here you can see that that’s a really rough blend and
there’s some really bonkers artifact because certain areas of the image below
are showing through that I really don’t want but the easy workaround is to take
this bright layer and reduce the opacity and as that bright layer comes down in
opacity you can see the blend gets closer and closer I actually ended up
with the opacity at just 18 percent of my bright layer that gave me enough of
the bright layer to work with in these foreground areas as you’ll see when we
take it back into Lightroom so we came back into Lightroom from Photoshop with
this version of the image with those layers combined and the first thing that
I did with this particular layer is a graduated filter what I wanted to do
with that is to darken that top layer of sky down a little bit as you can see I
brought it down about 3/4 of a stop and the next thing I did was a series of
radial filters I much prefer those two adjustment brushes because I find the
transitions are much more subtle so the first one is down here and as you can
see from the sliders I’ve warmed it up saturated it I’ve brought the exposure
up in this area by about two-thirds of a stop and then I’ve also quite
significantly boosted the highlights and the shadows now you would think the
pulling that amount out of the shadows from a micro four-thirds frame would
introduce a lot of noise well it hasn’t as you can see but also I deal with that
a little bit later on anyway so I’m really happy with that effect I’ve done
a very similar thing over here but without the increase in exposure and
then a couple of other radial filters where I’ve dropped the exposure on this
one because I don’t like the water being too bright and along here a slight
increase just in exposure just to pull out these real highlights and the
backlighting on those rushes so with all of that done we go back to photoshop so
this is the final run-through in Photoshop now I think I’ve talked about
these particular filters that I use previously so again this is just about
the principles not the detail so the first layer I would apply is a
sharpening layer and this is using frequency separation which I covered in
full detail in my video number 89 so if you don’t know what frequency separation
is pop back there and take a look the next one is using the DxO filters
defined too in particular which is a noise reduction algorithm now I much
prefer this to Lightroom noise reduction because I can target this I can create
different layers and different levels of noise reduction in different areas of
the image in particular in this instance I was keen to reduce the noise in this
gradient in the sky the next layer up is another DxO filter
called color effects Pro 4 and what I do with this is I have a blend of contrast
filters in particular dynamic contrast and this really punches through the
highlights and shadows and I use it on most of my images and I really like to
use this as opposed to using tone curves with in either Lightroom or Photoshop so
with all of those layers applied I’ve then combined them into a merge layer
and then finally for this particular edit
I’ve put in a little bit of red channel boost using a curves adjustment layer
only in the mid-tones and only in this area as you can see we were talking
about masks earlier you see from this mask I’ve masked out the upper area of
the sky and some of the shadows because those are the areas of the image where I
just wanted to pull a little bit more red out of what I’d captured and then I
finally merge all of those together I had an airplane contrail and a load of
mid G’s flying around in this particular area that when I’d added the dynamic
contrast stood out like sore thumbs so I’ve just done a few little brush
repairs to get rid of those and clean them all
out so we’re all done in Photoshop we’re just going to pop back into
Lightroom and a couple of adjustments just to finish it off so all I did to
finish it off is another grad filter with a really subtle adjustment and just
the tiniest little reduction in exposure in this very top area and finally three
more radial filters one over here just to pop the exposure up about half a stop
another one here same sort of thing and finally just on this little edge
here I felt that the water was still a little bit bright so I’ve just brought
that down about two-thirds of a stop so I don’t have a really highlighted area
along the leading edge of the water because I thought that was a little bit
distracting and that’s it that’s how I arrived at the final image
that I shared with you when I made that video a few weeks ago now one thing I
would say is that when I went out to take this image I had a pretty good idea
of what I would need to do in post-processing in order to create a
final artwork and that meant that when I was capturing exposures down by the lake
I knew what I was after and it meant that when I came back I had what I would
need to work with in particular the foreground image with lots of really
nice backlight that was the key image because it’s really easy to wait until
the Suns on the horizon and take your shot the problem is at
that point everything down here is a solid black silhouette so important to
get that initial shot in the bag and if I hadn’t known I was gonna need that for
my blend I wouldn’t have taken it and the Emmys wouldn’t have had the impact
that hopefully you felt that it had anyway I hope you found that really
useful gonna leave it there for this one not sure where I’ll be next time
hopefully I’ll be up a mounted well thank you ever so much for watching I
hope you found it interesting and if you did why not subscribe now and join me
next time Cheers you


  • Reply Alan Coles November 20, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    I do always enjoy watching tutorials and was interested when I saw exposure blending in the title. I have tried to work with luminosity masks on numerous occasions and have always failed – infact I don't do any layer masks either as I have always managed to make the image worse rather than better – especially around edges n stuff. I think knowing or having some idea of what you want to achieve is another reason that I don't get consistant end results.. my workflow is very hit n miss. One day the blending might just fall into place with me… until then I will do the lightroom hdr option and play about. I will though have a look at the peta pixel link, who knows this is the one that might be the key.. all good as always Mr G.. thumbs up n all that 🙂

  • Reply Graham Thompson November 20, 2019 at 8:29 pm

    Fascinating to see the level of detail you go to, the end result makes it all worthwhile. Thanks for sharing 🙏

  • Reply Brian Horsey November 20, 2019 at 8:49 pm

    Lovely concise tutorial again, David, easily followed even in my jetlagged state. Hope some of my holiday snaps will justify that level of treatment! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply David Black November 20, 2019 at 9:22 pm

    Great video. It is very useful .

  • Reply Michael McLean November 20, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    Great tutorial David. Intrigued by the luminosity blending mode technique. Thanks

  • Reply Philip Culbertson November 21, 2019 at 11:19 am

    Thanks for doing this and for the article link. This helped a lot.

  • Reply Gary S November 21, 2019 at 11:59 am


  • Reply Nikon36 November 21, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    I really enjoy videos' like this as they are very educational. The post processing is so important to the final image, and you don't hold back in explaining how this was achieved. Keep up the good work.

  • Reply Nurb 2Kea November 21, 2019 at 2:15 pm

    Try Lumenzia Photoshop Panel for professional Luminosity Masks. You save imense amounts of time and get professional Exposure blending.
    With a normal Luminosity mask action you're limited to preset luminosityu masks, that definetly not match every shot.
    Lumenzia is the advanced version of Luminosity Masking Panels out there, and not limited to only Luminosity. It got infinet masks, color masks,exposure blending, saturation mask, ….etc…
    ++ all the tools to apply the masks and workflows for every bit you're doing with the Panel and more.
    Google it and find out.

  • Reply Graeme Cave November 21, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    As always, a Pleasure to watch and Listen to, and to top it all Very Informative.

  • Reply Markus' Kochstudio November 21, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    I really like this tutorial. I wasn't aware that there is such a lot of switching between LR and PS and back involved… but as you explain it, it makes absolutely sense.
    I didn't use luminosity masks up to now, but used the PS sliders in the layer-mixing-options (don't know if this is the correct title for that) instead. Is there a substantial difference between these two approaches?
    Thanks again David!

  • Reply Mike Page November 21, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    Did you use the auto-bracket function, or do you manually expose everything?

  • Reply Podgy Snapper November 21, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    Good God David you lost me after two minutes. Think I need to watch this about 20 times and watch your other vlog you referred to. Anyway I get the drift and you certainly know your stuff. Your images never stop to amaze me, Regards Podgy

  • Reply Fabrizio Zago - Photography and Media November 22, 2019 at 7:47 pm

    Interesting video, thanks for sharing with us your process. Knowing how you're going to process an image is really helping you on the field.

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