blending multiple exposures

A trick I learned while trying to get the perfect cockpit shot. Few places have more dynamic lighting than the cockpit of a plane. Small space, windows everywhere, yet there’s still cool stuff you want to expose properly in the shadows and highlights. So how do you do it?

camera setup

This part will vary per camera but for Sony cameras, set your drive mode to continuous bracket: 3.0EV 3 image. What this will do is, take a bright shot to expose the shadows, a mid shot, and a dark shot to expose the highlights. Just make sure to hold down the shutter long enough for it to capture all three.

A helpful trick here is to be as still as possible. You don’t need a tripod amazingly enough because Photoshop is going to handle the alignment later on. It still needs to be pretty close though. The wider the angle, the more still you need to be. Photoshop tends to struggle with focal lengths wider than about 15mm with a lot of camera shake. I’ll typically take 3 to 4 sequences of shots just for cheap insurance that one of them will work.

You will end up with three separate images like this if you have done it properly

Bringing it all together

The next step is to prep each one. Do this by opening the image in Photoshop and setting the values as seen below.

If you shot them in JPEG, you can access the camera raw filter by going to “filter/camera raw filter”. Ideally you should be shooting these in a RAW format to get the maximum image information though. Once you have all the images open you need to bring them into one image. You can click and drag each image into one image. The end result being three separate layers.

Next highlight all the layers, and go to “edit/auto align layers”. This will open the window shown below.

Leave it on auto and click “OK”

Now we need to add layer masks to our layers. I like to keep my middle exposure as the base layer and the shadow and highlight exposures as the additive layers. Add a layer mask to the shadow and highlight layers by clicking the button circled in red shown above.

Click on each layer mask and invert them. CTRL + I is the keyboard shortcut. Or you can do it through the menus via “image/adjustments/invert”. This is simply turning off the layer mask. You’ll now see that your image is only showing the base layer (middle exposure)

Here comes the magic. Click on that shadows exposure layer, layer mask. Then select the brush tool and set it for 0% hardness and a color of white. Then paint in the shadow areas. If you don’t understand what layer masks do, hopefully you do now. White = on, black = off. By painting white on the layer mask we are choosing what parts of that image we want to show through.

You should now have a result that looks something like this. Do the same thing for the shadows, and done! A helpful tip, don’t go too overboard on the layer opacity. I typically will end up setting the adjustment layers (highlights and shadows) less than 100%. This will make it look more natural and blend together. Happy Photoshopping!

finished examples

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