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Merging exposures in Photoshop

During a recent trip to Singapore I used exposure bracketing to take three shots of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, with the intention of combining them in Photoshop.

I used two techniques – the first with layers and the second with PS’ HDR tool. The original two images used are:

I wanted the detail in the sky from the under-exposed image and the shadow detail on the buildings from the  second exposure.

Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 18.09.05

After some experimentation in PS with different blending modes and ‘blend-if’, I settled on using a normal blending mode and a mask on the dark layer to reveal the detail of the buildings and reflections in the water in the underlying layer. I then applied levels and curves adjustments to both layers (with the curves masked from the foreground detail). Finally used high-pass sharpening to bring out the edges within the image and used the healing-brush tool to clean the lights in the bottom-right building, which were distracting my eye. The combined image is here:


Effectively some of the details lost in the exposure that was used to capture the sky details have been recovered using this approach in Photoshop.

The second approach is something new to me, HDR –  as an experiment I created HDR images in 3 tools available to me: Lightroom (recently introduced HDR tool), Photoshop, and the Nik Efex tool. I added my third bracketed exposure into the mix. Results and comments are as follows:



The first image (above) in LR – some quick adjustments were made in the develop module and with further work and local adjustments greater contrast could have easily been created. In short – a very quick why of combining exposures, without the use of layers and masks required in PS.


Next up Photoshop (above) – a very similar, quick and easy process to LR. However, the output seemed somehow sharper than the LR equivalent.


Finally, Nik’s HDR Pro – simply select the images in LR and export/export to Nik Efex HDR Pro. This is the graduated filter preset (one of 28 available for your HDR image) without adjustments. Full manual adjustment is also possible. This was extremely quick – echoing the speed of workflow for Nik’s other tools. The moodiness in the sky is closest to my manually layered PS image.

My preference is for the control obtained through layers that allowed me to create the image in my mind. However, there is some merit in the HDR tools for creating images that can be used as a starting point for further work, especially the Nik tool.


Adobe [website]. How to create HDR images in Photoshop. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/how-to/photoshop-merge-to-hdr.html [accessed 13.12.15]

Adobe [website]. How to create HDR images in Lightroom. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/how-to/hdr-merge-for-high-contrast-scenes.html [accessed 13.12.15]



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