Manual Exposure Blending With Photoshop

June 19th, 2012

Beginning real estate photographers may wonder what people in the PFRE flickr forum are talking about when the talk about “Exposure Blending”. Is this the same as “Exposure Fusion”? No, it’s not. Exposure Fusion is where you combine a number of bracketed images with an automatic algorithm built into software such as Photomatix, Lightroom/Enfuse or other similar applications. Exposure blending is where you combine several bracketed images manually with layers in Photoshop. Since the images are on different Photoshop layers you have exacting control of how the layers are blended together.

This YouTube video by Simon Maxwell, an Architectural photographer working in the UK illustrates how to use exposure blending to carefully control the color balance in an interior shot.

You can also blend images with different exposures as well as different white balances. You may have noticed that Anders Carlson, last month’s PFRE Photographer of the month for May said he created his winning image with Exposure blending of four different exposures.

Exposure blending is something you typically use for project where you have plenty of time for post-processin. Since you could spend 30 minutes or more on a single image so this is not a technique I recommend for a typical real estate shoot where you are under tight time constraints. That said, I hear a surprising number of folks talk about blending images.

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20 Responses to “Manual Exposure Blending With Photoshop”

  • I also work like this to get that effect but use the blending mode for the tungsten layer. First i create a layer mask on the tungsten layer and fill it with black, change the blend mode of the layer to screen and then, using white, i paint in the parts of the tungsten illumination that i want to show up in the image (using 100% opacity on the brush). The effect is pretty much the same but i find this way to be faster.

    To control the saturation of the tungsten light i use the exact same technique described in the video.

    Great video by the way!

  • oops looks like a bit of the text in the first sentence disappeared, it should be the screen blending mode.

  • Hi Larry : I was delighted to see my video featured on your site! I am also a PFRE member. Thanks to Przemek for the layer blending approach : I’ll give it a try : always interested in anything that helps to streamline workflow! I’ve been using this technique a lot recently : I should add as a post script to the video that sometimes the resultant file can look a little “veiled” / low contrast, almost as though one has applied rather too much recovery slider in Lightroom: in this case it’s worth painting over the layer mask with black afterwards to just restore local contrast to the areas that need it (ie confine the effect to the areas of the lamps) : you can use a broad brush and it doesn’t tale long. I agree that for RE work , time spent in post needs to be kept to an absolute minimum : the reason I am using this technique more now is due to Lightroom’s excellent “communication” with Photoshop: being able to open images as perfectly registered layers in Photoshop , apply the blend, and then have the layered PSD file automatically reimported into photoshop, means this technique can be done very quickly. I am big fan of Lightroom for this reason. Thanks again for featuring the video.

  • Excellent video. It is rare to see instructions given so carefully and exactly. Makes it very easy to follow. Like Przemek I do something similar using two layers and then brush in what I want from the hidden layer onto the visible layer. But this technique, where you actually select what you want first is impressive and offers additional control. I will experiment with it too. Thank you!

  • After 20 years, I still learn something new everyday! I added a 3rd exposure to this technique, since I noticed that the video was confined to the room only, but I suspected that f11 @ 2sec 100 iso would completely blow out an outdoor scene, which it does. The third exposure is for the a correct view outside the window, and can be blended in roughly the same way as described in the video using the channels, but in my case, I used the Quick Selection Tool to add to the selection so I got the entire scene outside the window, then feather slightly, and mask in. This also allows you to color correct the outdoor view independent of the incandescent lighting, and the room itself. Still another exposure can be used to separate the fill from the natural room light, giving an infinite range of natural to fill ratio via the opacity sliders. (even though I know the point of the video is to use as few exposures as possible).

    Thanks for this. It’s a constant struggle to record the ambiance of any room, and this technique nails it down pretty well.

  • I agree with Rich – the video is extremely helpful with careful and detailed instructions. I appreciate your sharing this technique with us!

  • Thanks very much all for your comments. @Kelvin: I use the luminance mask technique usually for coping with contrasty situations, eg as you mention, the old problem of blitzed exterior views and poorly illuminated interiors when working without flash fill. By giving preference to the very brightest tones (ie the view of the exterior) and creating an automatic mask, I found it a very quick way to nail shots with a couple of exposures and no fill flash (very useful for windows with multiple panes: manual masking off would take ages!) So yes, I would say a standard approach could consist of one shot for the interior, one for exterior (both with interior lamps off) and a third just for the interior tungsten, and blend by repeating the technique as required. It can be pretty quick vs HDR methods as I always found I needed to go back to the HDR merged file and carry out local adjustments anyway. Hoping to post some more stuff soon: thanks again for the feedback!

  • Very helpful. Thanks. I wish I knew the length of the video before going into it so I could decide to listen now or later. Great info, the key now for me is retaining the steps in CS5.

  • I have been using these techniques a lot lately.

    Once you get quick with a stylus and simple selections, whether they are luminosity, quick selections, etc, you can stack 2 or 3 exposures and blend them together by hand using adjustment masks, low opacity soft brushes, and layer opacity. Honestly often faster than waiting for an HDR program to load the files, adjust settings, process, reimport, then further processing in LR.

    Need to brighten one last area? Throw an adjustment curve, raise the mid tones, and gently brush it in to taste. Instant HDR without the sickly halos and colors.

    By the way Simon, you referred to the recovery slider in Lightroom. Are you still on version 3? If so, get to 4 asap! The shadows/highlights are leaps and bounds beyond LR3, and the midtone contrast problems are cured well with the clarity slider, especially using an adjustment brush.

  • @Geoff- In Simon’s defense, the reason he referred to the recovery slider is that this video was recorded in April of 2010 so ya he was using LR 3… the latest and greatest at the time:)

  • …forgot to mention. If you’re starting with RAW files in LR, adjust WB there before you move into PS. Far faster than dicking around with HSL adjustments.

  • Geoff : thanks : great to know that using adjustment/ blended layers with Lightroom and Photoshop working in combination, is a doable option for RE work: yes I have upgraded to LR4 and one of the main pluses for me is to be able to apply highlights adjustments locally rather than globally (as one had to do with the recovery slider in LR3). I agree that setting correct white balance for all RAW files prior to editing in Photoshop is the way to go: but Lightroom’s White balance tools will do their job and convert the tungsten-on shot to neutral white : the point of the hue saturation adjustment in Photoshop is to allow for a little variation in the white balance of those tungsten sources after the event: sometimes it just feels better to give the tungsten a hint of warmth rather than the so-called “correct” white balance that’s brought in on external edit . The beautiful ‘Venice Canals” sequence on your website, particularly the opening kitchen shot with the hanging chandelier-type light, has a warmth to the interior tungsten that seems entirely appropriate to the setting: this could of course be set in Lightroom by manually shifting the white balance sliders at the start but the above method just allows for a little extra control after all the blending etc has been carried out. Your images are an inspiration by the way!

  • Thanks Simon. The seamless integration between LR & PS is absolutely key too, as you first mentioned.
    Regarding WB in LR, I sometimes halfway neutralize the tungsten, which leaves me with less difficulty adjusting it further in PS with HSL or curves. Yes, completely neutralizing it looks unnatural for RE work (but often done for Architectural work).
    I just wanted to mention doing at least some of it with RAW in LR, which is global and a function of RAW, making it easier for me later. Perhaps I’m just not as good in PS?

    Good to see you’re on LR4. I have seen a number of people on various forums still referring to the recovery slider, which is a tell that they’re on 3 still, and I feel the improvements to the ACR engine were so great with LR4 / CS6, one must upgrade if working in RAW. Especially since Adobe halved the price.

  • oops, so sorry to spam this thread, I keep forgetting you can’t edit these posts (feel free to do so for me Larry).

    But I had to mention, here’s an invaluable resource I’ve found for luminosity masks and manual HDR:

  • Fantastic! This will save me a lot of time! 🙂

  • Thanks, great technique! Looks like this could simplify my exposure blending AND wb blending all in one!

  • I would pay a lot of money to watch a few hours of this quality video.
    Thank You,


  • Just watched the tutorial and tried a shot of my own. It was easy peasy! Thanks for the great tutorial! I’m going to play around with this technique in other realms of photography for fun 🙂

  • Wow, how useful was that! Crystal clear instructional videos, you’ve gotta love them!

    I shoot a lot of interiors for estate agents and have been backing away from the hdr route as it is so costly with my time and not been entirely happy with the fill-flash route. This method looks like it will be my new best friend!

    Just did a quick test with a similar set up and it worked a treat; I now need to add the window exposure (as mentioned above) and have a go with that. I presume I do another luminance selection of the correctly exposed window detail shot in the RGB channel?

    Thank you for sharing.


  • That was a very good video and clear instruction. I think the key is getting it right in your camera the first time to avoid having to spend all this time in PP. Set your shutter for the outside ambient light, use your flash and adjust your ISO and apeture accordingly and you can get that shot. Need more help, use your ND filter or even a polorizer if the outside light is just to much to adjust too.
    If you can’t do that, then PP is for you. Nice video

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