For this exercise, you’ll add one element from a different image. However, in order to make this less obviously full intervention, the exercise will be in two stages. The aim is to take a conventional landscape view and render the sky so that it appears ideally exposed, with every detail of every cloud visible and textured. With a cloudy or partly cloudy sky this is frequently a problem as you may already have experienced.
You’ll do this in tow ways, the first being more ‘legitimate’ than the second, and for this you should find a location that allows you to make a landscape composition with a significant area of sky (at leas a third of the image area). As you will later be making major changes to the sky, you will find it easier if the horizon line is clean and obvious, without such find details as branches and leaves. A clear blue sky will not do for this shot, as we need for the purposes of the exercise a scene with a high dynamic range. You will have to wait for a cloudy or partly cloudy sky, so that the ideal exposure for the sky alone would be significantly less than for the landscape.
Set up the camera on a tripod so that you can make more than one exposure in perfect register. Make two different exposures, with the camera on either manual settings or using its exposure compensation system if it has one. One exposure should be perfect for the landscape (the sky will then be over-exposed). The second exposure should be perfect for the sky, with no highlight clipping (the landscape will then be under-exposed). The difference between these two exposures is likely to be in the region of two f-stops, possibly more.
Process the two images normally, without trying to make significant compensation – without using whatever highlight recovery or fill light controls your processing software offers. The next step is to combine these two images. If you use Photoshop or another image editing programmes that allow you to make layers, so much the better. If so, do the following procedures. If not, skip to the paragraph after the next.
Copy the lighter image onto the darker image. Then, erase the over exposed sky from the upper layer to reveal the darker sky beneath. Flatten the image and save as a copy. Then return to the original state of two layers, using whatever selection tools you find convenient. Take care to refine the edge of the horizon. Save the selection. Now delete the upper layer’s sky, flatten and save as a copy. Making and saving a selection like this take more time, but give you more control over the erasure.
I found this exercise very time consuming as it took me a couple of hours to achieve the task at hand; this did not included the research I had to conduct, as this is yet another area of post-processing I have never used before. I did start my work using a different set of images, but as the horizon was dotted with lots of peaks and troughs, I found it very fiddly and a strain on both my eyes and patience, so I decided to take a new set of images, which I worked through thus so.
Setting up my tripod, my first image has been exposed for the sky. I achieved this by using a shutter speed of 1/320, an aperture of F13 and ISO125, which as you can see has created a nice dynamic range of pattern and colour within the frame.
Exposure in the next image considers the town. Keeping my setting almost identical I used a shutter speed of 1/80, an aperture of F13 and ISO125, which has brightened the foreground of the shot, making it easier to distinguish between the buildings and goings-on in the town below.
The total difference in exposure is 6 f-stops, which I feel could have been reduced by at least one-stop when exposing for the town, as although my camera gave a reading of the correct exposure, I feel this image is a little too bright.
Next I combined the two photos, putting the lighter image exposed for the town over the darker image exposed for the sky (as suggested in the coursework), I then flattened the new image and made a copy, which was to be my file for working on.
Using the Eraser tool, I set about the task of deleting the details of the light sky, which seemed to take an age and was very time consuming. As I got to the mountain range in the back of the image, I was not happy with the results I was achieving, as the difference in exposure was too great and the image looked false:
This was when I decided to continue editing further down past the sky, to take in the mountains and town in the distance, in the end I continued down to the river, which has produced a much better, more realistic result.
I am not 100% happy with this final image, as some of the work around the buildings edge is sloppy and a dark line has appeared, which I have not been able to rectify. In further research, during my housekeeping before the manipulation began I should have used the layer>align function to ensure that all of the layer edges were on top of each other, something to remember for the next task.
Conducting this exercise, I have once again seen how easy image manipulation is. The course notes state that ‘…there is a strong argument that this is perfectly legitimate, and that the procedure of taking more than one exposure within seconds is simply a way of overcoming the camera’s limitations of capturing a full range of brightness’, but I am not completely sure if I agree with this. Yes, I am seeing more and more that there are times when this kind of manipulation works well, but I have also seen that this can be a time consuming and laborious task, and is it not better to get it right in the field with perhaps the introduction of some filters to make things look more evenly lit? Then, doing that will open a completely new debate on ‘the truth within photography’.
Alternatively, use an exposure-blending programme such as Photomatix to load and blend the two images. A free trial version of this programme is available at www.hdrsoft.com. Use the Exposure Blending procedure rather than the HDR Tonemapping, as the latter involves advanced image processing beyond what we are discussing here. Exposure Blanding offers several choices of methods. The Highlight & Shadows – Adjust option is the default and normally the most useful, as it will give a natural-looking result and a choice of bias towards the darker or lighter images. Save the result to your learning log.
For this second part of the exercise, I used the ‘Merge to HDR Pro’ application in Photoshop.
I was pleasantly surprised with how the image came out when using this app in Photoshop, I usually find that specific software like this within much larger programmes does not generally work well, but here the image looks quiet good.
One area that did not merge as well as my worked image was the sky. I feel that the sky is not quiet as vibrant in this merged image, so in order to make it look more pleasing to my eye, I made slight alterations in Levels, I made a few small tweaks to the saturation and finally increased the exposure just slightly, to produced this final shot.
As I mention above, there are some that think this kind of alteration is legitimate, and I am beginning to see their argument, as there are times when you just can’t quiet get an image to look right without some form of manipulation. I am really beginning to struggle now and the lines are becoming blurred between what I think is right and what I think is wrong within post-processing. As I learn more about Photoshop and the tasks it can perform to assist with my photography, the more I am playing with the programme and the more I like the results. I think the biggest downside to all of this is time and the amount of time consumed and often wasted in front of a computer altering images. Surely, our time could be better spent out in the field, playing with our cameras and practicing the true art of photography.
Bauer, P. (2010) Photoshop® CS5 For Dummies®. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing Inc.
ePhotozine. (2012) How to use Photoshop’s Erase Tool [online article]. Available at: http://www.ephotozine.com/article/how-to-use-photoshop-s-erase-tool-18348 [Accessed 4 October 2013].
Freeman, M. (2008) Mastering Digital Photography. East Sussex: The Ilex Press Limited
Mikel, C. (n.d.) How to combine two photos in Photoshop [online article]. Available at: http://www.ehow.com/how_5886114_combine-two-photos-photoshop.html [Accessed 4 October 2013].