HDR, Photography

HDR – Advanced

The advanced HDR tutorial will basically focus on layers and masking in Photoshop.  If you downloaded Gimp from the link in the intermediate tutorial you will still be able to follow along using its version of the same tools.

Now that I think about it there is no such thing as “advanced” when it comes to using software. For example, if you want to be an advanced guitar player you are going to have to put in a few years of practice to attain the musical knowledge, experience and dexterity/strength in your fingers. When it comes to software, you can look up the order in which to press the buttons required to get the result you need.  Anyone can do that in a few minutes without any previous practice or experience.  Granted, the more of these functions you know the quicker and more creative you can be with your design but that’s about it. My point is, worry not, this is easy. It is simply a way to get you thinking about the possibilities of what you can do with your images.

Layers and Masking

Photoshop has a lot of tools and immense flexibility. There are a million ways to do things in Photoshop but one of the most important tools that you absolutely must learn is layers and masking.  This will open up so many possibilities for your photo editing and design that it would be impossible to list all the applications.  Have you ever seen an amazing composite photograph of a person holding the moon in their hands or an amazing movie poster with fantastic gradient fades and transparencies?  All of these amazing effects can be achieved by knowing how to work with layers and masking.

For the purpose of this tutorial I will try to keep things as straightforward as possible.  I have created 2 copies of the same HDR image.  Both have elements I want and compliment each others weaknesses.  Using layers and masking, I will add the elements I require from one photo to the next.

The base photo:

HDR, Photography

The photo below has a much nicer clarity in the water:

HDR, PhotographyNow that you have both the HDR photographs processed, open up Photoshop (I am using CS6 for this tutorial).

Once you have Photoshop open, import both photos as layers (I have mini bridge enabled so I have quick access to all the images in the folder I’m working on):

HDR, PhotographyFrom the mini bridge window above, select both images you wish to work with, right click and select “Photoshop” then “Load Files into Photoshop Layers…” from the followup menu.

Once you have done this, you will see both images appear in your layers panel to the right like this:

HDR, Photography


As you can see, my base image is called normal.tif and the image that has the water element I like has been named water.tif. They have been inserted in this position automatically, but it is important to note that the image on top has to be the image you wish to import new elements into.  Think of the image, normal.tif, as a sheet of bounty paper. Now you want the water.tif to bleed/be absorbed into the bounty paper so you are placing the paper on top of the water :).

Next you will want to left click on the normal.tif layer and then select the button that looks like a tiny Japanese flag (see below):

HDR, Photography


After you do that you will see the white layer mask appear beside the normal.tif. Once you see the layer there, you can select the brush tool by pressing “B” on your keyboard or simply clicking on it from the menu.

Once you have your brush selected there are a few things you need to be aware of (circled in the image below):

  • Brush Size and Hardness: For the purpose of this tutorial I selected a brush with 100% hardness in order to display the full effect of the layer mask. If you are looking for a smoother transition between the layers select a brush with less hardness and also lower the opacity and flow:
  • Opacity: For the purpose of this this tutorial I have set the opacity at 100%.  Opacity refers to how much of the previous layer will become visible when you paint with your brush on the base layer.  If you do not want the base layer to absorb the full effect of the second layer make sure to reduce this to whatever percentage is suitable for your photograph.
  • Flow: Flow represents the number of strokes your brush requires before allowing 100% of your opacity setting to flow through into the image.  For example, if you have your opacity set at 100% and your flow at 100% a single click will allow the layer underneath to fully come through to the base layer.  If you change the flow to 20%, you will need 5 clicks to get the same effect.  This is to allow you to control the intensity of the layer merge which you definitely want to take advantage off.  Again, for the purpose of this tutorial I have left everything at 100%.
  • Color Pallet: Black reveals and white conceals.  This is very important. If you want to let the layer beneath the base layer come forth you need to select black.  If you make a mistake, you can switch to white to revert the changes.  To do this quickly, press the “X” key to switch between the two colors.  If you have different colors selected from a previous project, press the “D” key to reset the colors back to black and white. Alternatively you can click on the manual controls immediately above the color pallet to switch between the two colors or reset them.

HDR, PhotographyIn the image above you can see that I only painted 40% of the water so you can see the difference between the old water effect and the new.  Now, if you wanted to add a white stork, a beach ball or anything else in the water, you can easily do that by adding another layer and masking it to the base image.  Using various blending options (which I will explain in a later tutorial) you can integrate the changes so that the images will blend together seamlessly.

See how easy that was? Those are the basics of using layers and masks but already you can probably imagine the possibilities. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment and I will answer any questions you may have.


Thank you for reading!




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