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Manual Exposure Blending With Photoshop

Published: 11/07/2016

Last week Andi, a beginning photographer in Australia, asked me to identify what technique one of his competitors was using. It didn't look like an ambient shot, it looked a little like flash but not completely. It was clearly flash and ambient blend. Some call it exposure blending in Photoshop.

Beginning real estate photographers may wonder what people in the PFRE flickr forum are talking about when the talk about "Exposure Blending" or refer to blending an ambient image and one or more flash images together. 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.

As you can see from the tutorial above this is a very powerful technique. You can combine the best aspects of several images into one image.

The YouTube video above is 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. Simon now has 4 chapters in the newest version of Enfuse and Hand Blending in Photoshop For Real Estate Photography that go into detail on this powerful and popular manual blending technique. Controlling color balance is just one aspect of this technique.

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 a project where you have plenty of time for post-processing. 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.

Larry Lohrman

5 comments on “Manual Exposure Blending With Photoshop”

  1. Rich Baum has been doing some short tutorial videos that he's posted on YouTube. Search for "Rich Baum" and he'll probably be the first listing.

    Rich's approach is quick to do in post production if you have a speedy computer and preferably a Solid State Hard Drive (SSD) to move photos rapidly between Lightroom and Photoshop. The tutorials are geared towards RE photography and the issues that come up frequently.

    Getting the image finished in camera or at least close enough that only a few tweaks are needed in LR is the best way to work. There are times where blending multiple exposures in post will be quicker than trying to get the lighting perfect on site. Experience will tell the photographer what approach is going to be best for a given image.

  2. The power of not having to open or move a single lightstand or modifier on a real estate shoot is highly underrated in my estimation. Every single photograph I produce, I use only a single, handheld light. Time in post consists of not much more than laying one layer on top of another, and with some thoughtful use of PS actions you can be rolling through images in less overall time I believe, and attain comparable quality.

    Let's think about it in a different context. A product photographer has a client who wants a very complicated lighting setup to illuminate a cell phone from all sides. What's going to be faster, squeezing 12 lights with grids and lightstands all around a little cell phone, or getting a set of base lighting in there, and compositing in pieces that work accordingly? Not only is my money on the compositing, but the amount of equipment needed for a beginner is going to be quite the advantage as well. Truth is, I don't converse with many high end product photographers, but I'd guess that almost everything they do involves compositing, whether they are in a hurry or not.

    Point being, I think the same is true of real estate photography. Whether you need to move quickly or not, I think the real power lies in compositing when considering the quality vs time spent ratio.

  3. I agree with Andrew that moving through a house with one wireless handheld speedlight to capture all of the fill-ins, windows blinds, dark corners, sensor flare spots, color mixes etc. is an efficient way to go provided you also get the good ambient exposure. It is so important to learn the skills of PS blending which can be very fast at about 5 minutes per photo as you get more proficient.

  4. While I agree with Andrew that it can be very helpful to be more mobile with just a handheld light, I also have found that in some cases I take way more shots than I really need to, which keeps me on site longer. When lighting rooms in pieces, I think it can be very difficult to be sure you've got enough pieces to nail the shot, whereas using lighting to capture shots in a single exposure, you know for sure. Of course, that also makes it easier for the client to preview the image since they won't have to imagine what the final assembled image will look like.

    The biggest advantage I find in manually blending flashed and ambient frames is that I don't have to worry about hiding the lights. I'm always relieved when I find out one of my clients doesn't insist on super-wide compositions, but even when they don't, there are some rooms where it's still impractical to hide lights out of frame. Being able to just brush myself out actually saves time for me in many cases.

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