Photoshop: Technique for Manual Blending

Here is a quick and easy Photoshop technique for creating a layer mask to separate the sea and sky from the ground in landscape photos. This technique involves two basic steps:

  1. Create an initial layer mask.
  2. Refine the layer mask.

In shooting this scene, I was drawn to a cool stack of rocks that somebody had put together on a beach. Because I wanted to make it stand out against the sea and the sky, I used an ND filter to lengthen the exposure and smooth out the otherwise distracting waves. I liked the idea of using contrasting textures and colors to make the foreground pop against the background.

My first version, obtained by doing some global adjustments in Lightroom, was pretty nice, but I wanted the texture of the rocks to be more evident.

Base Version

Base Version

My first attempt involved pumping up the Clarity slider in Lightroom. This gave me the necessary detail in the rocks but added too much contrast in the sky and the sea. What’s worse, it generated some nasty halos around the darkest rocks.

Enhanced Clarity

Enhanced Clarity

At this point, it was necessary to make a virtual copy of the base version, enhance the clarity on the copy, and then open both versions as layers in Photoshop. There I created a layer mask that would reveal the sea and the sky from the base image and the rocks from the enhanced image. I owe my introduction to the basics of using channels to create layer masks to Robin Griggs Wood, to whom goes my gratitude.

I then used the dodge and burn tools to refine the layer mask and cloned out some distracting elements. Finally, I brought the image back into Lightroom to add some finishing touches such as cropping and a bit of vignette.

Final Version

Final Version

Because I only had to blend in detail, replacing the sky didn’t require a high degree of precision. If I wanted a neat sky replacement, I would have to be far more precise in my selection.

You can watch the video below to see all the necessary steps as I apply them. Enjoy!

About Author Ugo Cei

Ugo Cei is a fine-art travel and landscape photographer from Italy. If you were to ask him what he does, he would say that he is an educator who helps photography enthusiasts sharpen their skills, so that they can take amazing pictures.

He does this in various ways. First of all, by providing a wealth of free content here on Visual Wilderness and on his own website.

He lead photography tours and workshop via Mediterranean Photo Tours, a company offering photography holidays in the most inspiring locations of the Mediterranean.

He co-hosts and publishes a weekly podcast about travel photography, The Traveling Image Makers. Every week, they pick the brains of famous and not-so-famous travel photographers to learn what it means to travel for the love of photography and photograph for the love of travel.