photoshop creative

Control HDR with layers

Posted in:
General, by The Photoshop Creative Team
September 23, 2011

Tease out detail from tricky light scenes by using layers to create HDR images

If someone wants to create an HDR image, the obvious solution is to reach for the Merge to HDR function or use a specialised third party product. But as long as you have the different exposure files, you can create an HDR image using layers. Here’s an excerpt from a tutorial in issue 79 that reveals how to do just that…

Producing an HDR image manually using the Layers palette in Photoshop is a great way of getting the maximum impact from a scene where the range of EV stops between the darkest and lightest points is very high. If you can only shoot one frame, a decision has to be made about which area of the scene you are most interested in exposing correctly. So, if you expose purely for the highlights (such as a setting sun), you run the risk of underexposed midtones and very underexposed shadows. On the other hand, if you expose for shadow areas you will probably find that the midtones are too light and the highlights have been almost completely ‘blown out’, which means that the camera could not adequately record them and even the most sophisticated image processing software will be unable to retrieve them.

However, the alternative is to shoot a separate frame for each area of the scene (shadows, midtones and highlights) and then merge them into one single image on your computer later on. This can be done using automated software such as Photomatix Pro or Photoshop’s built-in Merge To HDR option but at times the results can look quite unnatural and almost cartoon-like. To avoid this, you can manually merge the frames yourself using Photoshop’s Layers palette.

In many ways, the Layers palette is the heart of Photoshop and you will learn a lot about how they work by following this tutorial.

  • The sample shot for using HDR layers whilst dramatic look unrealistic, the sky just doea not look at ease with the rest of the photograph. The top left hand corner looks cut out and the edge of the cliffs look too sharp for reality. You really need a bit more blending technique similar to an artist working oils or water colour, blend with a soft edge use a smudge tool. You will need to practice and come to terms with the variety of sizes and strengths you can use but they help merge ellements and cut out nasty clinical cuts from one aspect of a photograph to another.
    View many samples of this under my name; Derek Hattersley in our members on .uk