This tutorial will cover digital blending in Photoshop CS3 using layer masks and transparency gradients. It is aimed at those who are interested in seeking alternatives to HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing.
I would consider the usage of these techniques as digital graduated neutral density filters and although it can take some time to implement, I find the benefits to be:
- Preservation of intended colour and tone
- Complete control over contrast gradients
- Elimination of halo effects
- Elimination of fringing
I will use one of my photographs, The Heart, to illustrate the method.
1. Download this zipped folder containing the two images to be used for blending and open IMG_1166 in Photoshop.
2. Press Ctrl+Shift+N and click OK to add a new layer. To place IMG_1164 on this layer go to File > Place and locate it. Click the tick to commit the transform.
3. To create a mask, click the New Layer Mask (grey square with white circle inside) button in the Layers palette. To create a transparency gradient on this mask, first hit G to bring up the gradient toolbar and select a linear gradient. Then click and drag as shown in the following picture.
4. The next layer will be a photo filter so click Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter and hit OK. Push the density slider to 100% and select a custom colour with properties as shown in the following picture.
5. Now apply another layer mask and gradient, as done previously, to restrict the photo filter to the sky. Change the blend mode to Linear Burn and opacity to 70% for the following picture. The Linear Burn blend mode is similar to Color Burn, but instead of increasing contrast, it decreases brightness to darken the base color and reflect the blend color.
Now add curves layers to the foreground and then the sky.
6. For the foreground, click Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and hit OK. Then modify each of the RGB channels to reflect something like the following picture.
7. Change the blend mode to soft light and add a layer mask and gradient (this time in reverse) to restrict the curves layer to the foreground. This will produce the following result.
The curves layer that targets the sky looks like this.
8. Change the blend mode again to soft light, opacity to 75% and create a layer mask and gradient to achieve the following result.
9. The final step involves adding a levels layer and changing its blend mode to screen to boost the lighter areas. An opacity of 90% will achieve the picture shown below.
Straightening the horizon and correcting the barrel distortion yields The Heart as displayed at the top of this page. Serena Ho attempted the tutorial and her result is posted here. It would be great to see some other results as well.