Sunset Curtain Call at Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

Tutorial: Blending Two Images

Due to the heavily debated preference between users of HDR software and On Camera Grad Filters, a third very useful option is often overlooked. Whatever your current preference, the blending option described below is easy to use, effective and can produce images that portray a very accurate rendition of the actual scene. This method was used (in Photoshop) to create the image featured above; “Sunset Curtain Call at Seljalandsfoss.”

The Scenario: Attempting to capture this scene from behind the waterfall, was extremely difficult, due to the heavy spray shooting straight back to where I had my tripod set up. All I could do was take several different exposures, quickly replacing the lens cap in-between each shot. I was honestly amazed to find that there was not one drop of water on my lens after completing the shoot.

Blending the Images: Choosing not to use my preferred method of an On Camera Grad Filter, I discovered that I was left with captured images that were either well overexposed or underexposed. The following workflow was used to make the final image of the falls.

1. First, open both the overexposed and underexposed images in Photoshop. Viewing the images side by side you will see that one image is lighter, displaying a well exposed foreground; however the highlights in the sky are too bright. The second image retains good detail in the sky; however the foreground is too dark.

2. The next step is to place one image directly on top of the other. To do this, click on one of the images. For this example, I selected the darker image. In Photoshop, go to Select>All then Edit>Copy. Then click on the lighter image to make it active, and go to Edit>Paste. You will notice that the two images now appear in the Layers Palette. The images should be perfectly aligned which can be verified by setting the top layer to about 50%, so the lower image is visible.

3. Once you are satisfied with image alignment, look at the tools palette to confirm that the front layer box is black, and the back layer box is white. If not, simply click on each box to set the color.

4. Now you will add a Layer Mask to the top layer. To do this, click on the top layer to highlight it, and then click the New Layer Mask Icon found at the bottom of the Layers Palette. The highlighted top layer will now have a white Layer Mask next to the image icon in the Layers Palette.

5. This is where you will begin to paint on the mask, using the Brush Tool. Select the Brush Tool, and set the Brush Diameter. Choose a large brush for areas with no defined lines, such as horizons to quickly paint areas of light in. Use a small Brush for areas where better control and care is needed. With black selected as the front layer box, you will be simply painting light in. By clicking X on your keyboard or the double arrow in the Tools window, you can switch between the white and black layer boxes, which can be useful if you need to remove areas of light.

Using the Paintbrush, you are literally revealing the lighter bottom layer with each Brush stroke. By setting the Brush Opacity command located in the toolbar above your image, you can modify the strength of the effect. This is a great way to experiment, giving the effect of using lighter brush strokes. Using a lower Brush Opacity is also a good way to fine tune your strokes in areas that require more accuracy.

As with any method you choose to process an image with, the technical aspect can take a back seat to an individuals artistic impression. Using the image blending mode, one can choose to produce images that are very natural, or to add individual artistic impression. One other thing about the image blending mode is unlike HDR or On Camera Filters, it is not an extra expense. This process can be completed with almost any software program that facilitates the use of layers.


10 thoughts on “Photoshop Tutorial: Blending Two Images

  1. Michael Henasey

    David, excellent image and post on the technique. I tend to use one of these techniques based on the subject matter and which one I think will lend itself well to one technique or another. E.g. if there is a lot of movement somewhere in the frame, such as moving water, I tend to shy away from using the manual blending technique with two exposures. There I usually try for a grad. Blending multiple exposures with waves for example doesn’t always give me the outcome I was hoping for. Again, a good post and a great reminder that you must take these techniques with you in the field and shoot with them in mind because you can’t always “fix” it later as they say 🙂

    1. davidshieldphotography Post author

      Thank you so much for your comment, Michael. I totally agree with you; I actually would not of initially thought to use the blend technique for this shot. I planned to use a grad filter, until I realized the power of the water spray, and the fact that I needed to protect the front of my lens and capture this shot quickly.

      1. Michael Henasey

        You’re welcome, David. I don’t know how many times I’ve just given up when it comes to wind and spray on my lens. When are the Adobe guys going to come up with a filter that “fixes” water droplets on the lens? LOL I could use that instead of another selective-focus filter or sharpening algorithm. Next time I’m faced with wind and rain, I’ll remember your post and try to persevere!

  2. Dave Morrow

    Good write up, I always find teaching to be fun and fulfilling! Helps me to hone my writing skills as well. Looking through your blog now. Great content! How awesome is Iceland? Im itching to get back there asap:)

    1. davidshieldphotography Post author

      Thank you, Dave; I really appreciate your visit. I completely agree that tutorials help that way, and I take great pleasure in sharing any knowledge I can. Oh yea, and returning to Iceland is always on my mind!


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