3 Landscape Exposure-Blending Methods from Basic to Advanced (VIDEO)

Most experienced landscape photographers understand why blending bracketed exposures is often the only way to make great images of high-contrast scenes like sunsets, sunrises, or when the sun is high in the sky. That’s because no matter how good your camera is, it can be impossible to capture the wide range of tones from bright highlights to deep shadow with a single image in the camera.

Some photographers who are new to Photoshop ignore this powerful technique because of the misconception that's it's complicated and difficult to accomplish. Today we're going to debunk that notion by demonstrating three levels of exposure blending from very basic to advanced. Then you can choose the method that works best for you and move up the ladder as your skills increase.

Instructor Steve Arnold's instructional YouTube channel has a laudable goal: "To help landscape photographers level up their Photoshop skills to create images they'll be product of." This episode kicks off with the easiest method for accomplishing today's task, which he describes as Automatic Blending.

As Arnold explains, this basic approach is where we give Photoshop, Lightroom, or another image editor two or three images, and then just back while the software does all the work. Sounds great, right? But Arnold notes that "we hand over control of which parts of which exposures get blended." The result may not be exactly what you envision, but in certain situations this works quite well—especially in scenes where there's absolutely no motion.

When landscape scenes contain movement like flowing water, swaying trees, or clouds floating across the sky, it's necessary to retain control over the process so you can determine which portions of the multiple photos you want to blend together to achieve a compelling and realistic final image.

Arnold's Level 2 technique enables you guide the transformation in a number of important ways by employing relatively simple Layer Masking to achieve a more predictable and balanced effect. This involves painting over the areas you want to keep from each exposure you made. Here he demonstrates how to blend two different image to achieve a very impressive result.

If ultimate control is what you want, and you're willing to do a bit more work, take a look at how Arnold demonstrates the third and most advanced technique. This one relies upon Luminosity Masking for the ultimate exposure blend. He puts it like this: "You can  brush in only the bright parts of the sky, only the dark shadows that are underexposed, or be able to precisely brush right up to the edge of an element without going over the line."

Once you're done watching be sure to visit Arnold's instructional YouTube channel where there is much more of interest for landscape photographer who process their images in Photoshop.

We also suggest taking a look at the tutorial we featured recently from another post-processing expert who explains how to save time by using Photoshop's five hidden Undo sliders to dial back adjustments without starting over.