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How To Create and Blend Multiple Exposures In Photoshop For Stunning Results

Learning how to process multiple exposures to create 1 perfectly exposed image is probably the most valuable Photoshop technique I have ever learnt. It's the basis for a lot of other techniques too, and will simply transform your photography. Let's see how it's done...

Aim: Use Photoshop to create 2 differently exposed versions of 1 photo, before merging them together for a striking effect.

From this: To this:
start image finished image


1. O.K, it all begins before you take the picture itself

Make sure the shooting mode on your camera is set to RAW (it's a total mystery why people think this is painfully technical or just for pros; if you've got Photoshop there is almost literally nothing to learn. Here's a quick Adobe Photoshop tutorial on using a Raw file format).

When setting the exposure for your photo, ensure that all the elements you want to be clear are at least partially visible. Don't sacrifice the clarity of one area for that of another. Get everything in a generally unsatisfactory middle zone, erring on the side of underexposing the shot (because it's easier to rescue dark areas than burnt out ones in Photoshop).


2. Correcting over exposed bits

This Adobe Photoshop Tutorial involves creating 2 JPEG images from your single Raw file, so first up let's produce one with the perfect exposure for the brightest parts.

In Photoshop, open your image to the editing workspace. The 'Camera RAW' dialogue box appears. Don't worry about the scientific looking histogram in the top right, this bit is really easy.

So, the lightest parts of your image have given up some quality to enable the darkest parts to remain visible. Correct this by moving the 'Exposure' slider across to reduce the exposure down to an ideal level for those bright areas. Ignore the 'global' effect this has on the entire image, just deal with the light bits.

correcting over exposed parts

If some areas are so over exposed that this does little to help, move the 'Recovery' slider right up to restore lost highlight detail.

Play around with the other settings, again just looking at the areas you want to apply them to, before clicking 'Open Image' (Adobe Photoshop tutorial on adjusting settings in the Camera Raw dialogue box). In the editing workspace, save this version then return to the original Raw file in 'Organizer'.

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3. Correcting under exposed bits

Now let's get the right exposure for the darkest parts.

The Camera RAW editing dialogue box appears again. In the top right of the main panel, click on the little grid with a down arrow to the left of it. In the drop down menu select 'Camera Raw Defaults'. Otherwise, return each slider to its original position.

The darker areas of your image were probably left slightly under exposed in order not to burn out the highlights in the lighter parts. Correct this by moving the exposure slider across, this time to increase the exposure of those dark sections.

correcting under exposed parts

Play around with the other settings, you probably won't need to use the 'recovery' slider this time. 'Fill light', though, is useful here, bringing up the exposure of the shadows. Remember, just think about how you want the areas that that you are working on to look, ignore any unhelpful changes that result elsewhere.

Click 'Open Image' to bring it up in the editing workspace. Now for the good bit of this Adobe Photoshop tutorial!


4. The fun bit

With both images now open in the editor, click on the one with the correctly exposed lighter areas (the first one). From the 'Select' menu choose 'Select All'. Press Ctrl + C or go to 'Edit' - 'Copy'. Now click on the other image, with correctly exposed darker areas. Press Ctrl + V or go to 'Edit' - 'Paste'.

In the Layers panel you will notice that the image with correctly exposed darker areas (the second version you made) has a layer on top of it, the image with correctly exposed lighter areas.

Now you get to see the results of all this!

All we can see now is the top layer, some of which is well exposed, some of which is too dark. But beneath it is the other image which has the best exposure for the darker sections.

Simply select the 'eraser tool' from the left hand menu, set its opacity to 100%, and choose a brush with a feathered edge by selecting from the drop down menu or pressing Shift + [ .In the areas furthest from the correctly exposed lighter parts, rub out the dark bits of this top layer to bring through your well exposed image beneath.


As you get nearer to the lighter areas that we don't need to change, bring the eraser tool's opacity down to about 30%. Work more carefully towards the edge of the top layer. As you reach the edge, set the opacity of the eraser tool to 10% and increase its size. Sweep the eraser once or twice across the border of the layers, to give a seamless blend between the two sections.

Flatten the image and apply any other Photoshop tricks you know that will improve it further. Finished!

Here's a couple of other shots created by blending multiple exposures:

I hope this technique proves as 'game-changing' for you as it did for me! I blend multiple exposures all the time, especially for landscapes. You've probably realized already that you don't have to stop at 2 exposures, but can actually combine 3, 4, 5 etc into a single image.

If you're really keen on dealing with multiple exposures, this is an excellent HDR course worth taking a look at. It's a fun technique to learn, although, in truth, I'm not a massive fan of the way HDR images look. In fact, even the shot of the boats used in this tutorial (which I took a few years ago now) is pushing it for my taste!!

Kelby Training is probably the best and most trusted source of online Photoshop education.

Learn Photography Online with the Pros Save $10 Now #KTCJQ12

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