Three Mistakes to Avoid with Exposure Blending

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Natural-looking high dynamic range (HDR) photos like these make a viewer feel like they are looking out of a window at some exotic location. It is little wonder that these photos take your breath away and make you dream about quitting your daytime job and go travelling.

  • Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

  • Photoshop Manual Blending Workflow Examples

However, the experienced landscape photographer knows that it is not easy to capture high dynamic range photos like these. Not only do you have to bracket your exposure, but you also must be able to process these bracketed images to make them look natural. Most professional landscape photographers rely on manual exposure blending techniques to create stunning natural-looking images.

If you are just getting started with exposure blending, here are few mistakes to avoid.

Unbalanced Exposure

Because most manual exposure blending techniques use layers and masks in Photoshop, it is easy to end up with an unbalanced image where the exposure for parts of it does not match the light conditions you are trying to capture. One of the more common areas of this unbalanced exposure is around highlights.

  • Unbalanced highlights in HDR Photo example

    Image 1: Unbalanced Highlights – Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

  • Balanced highlights in HDR Photo example

    Image 2: Balanced Highlights – Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

Image 1 shows how this unbalanced exposure can appear in an HDR photo. You can see that the highlights around the sun are much darker than what was visible with the naked eye. When you are looking directly at the sun, it’s almost impossible to see the all the detail and colors in the immediate vicinity of the setting sun. Image 2 shows a balanced exposure blending where the highlights show the bare minimum.

Over-processed HDR look

We have all seen the over-cooked look where the photographer desperately tries to restore the contrast in a flat-looking HDR photo. It is easy to find examples of over-processed HDR photos generated with automated HDR tools. But, if you’re not careful, you can also over-process an image with manual exposure blending techniques.

  • Over-processed HDR Photo - Glen Eilt, Scotland

    Over-processed HDR Photo – Glen Eilt, Scotland

  • Natural Looking Exposure Blending Example - Glen Eilt, Scotland

    Natural Looking Exposure Blending Example – Glen Eilt, Scotland

There is nothing wrong with producing an artistic image with the over-processed HDR look. However, if you want your HDR photos to look natural, it is best to avoid adding too much contrast in the automated HDR tools.

Edge Artifacts

Both manual exposure blending as well as automated HDR tools are prone to halos and edge artifacts. These artifacts can be easily seen around high contrast edges or with back-lit scenes with small details (such as back -lit trees). Here are few example of undesirable edge artifacts found in HDR photos:

  • High contrast edge articfacts – Kirkjufoss, Snæfellsnes, Iceland

  • Artifacts in tree branches – Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming (WY), USA

  • Halos around objects – Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming (WY), USA

Professional landscape photographers use luminosity masking and smooth edge transitions to avoid these halos. In our Blending with Light Photoshop tutorials, I used smooth high contrast edge transitions to avoid edge artifacts in the following Kirkjufoss photo.

  • Exposure Blending example with Smooth High Contrast Edge Transition

    Smooth High Contrast Edge Transition – Kirkjufoss, Snæfellsnes, Iceland

  • Exposure Blending Example - Kirkjufoss, Snæfellsnes, Iceland

    Exposure Blending Example – Kirkjufoss, Snæfellsnes, Iceland

This is exactly the type of information you will find in our Blending with Light Photoshop tutorials. In just under an hour, you will learn to create natural-looking, blended images free of halos and artifacts. Our Blending with Light Photoshop tutorials avoid complicated, long-winded explanations and feature our simple, step-by-step process that we follow every time we blend.

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About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams