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High Dynamic Range - HDR - In Photoshop Elements 8 Tutorial
Adapted from "Adobe Photoshop Elements 8.0 Maximum Performance" by Mark Galer
Contrary to popular opinion, what you see is not always what you get. You may be able to see the detail in those dark shadows and bright highlights when the sun is shining – but can your image sensor? Contrast in a scene is often a photographer’s worst enemy.
Contrast is a sneak thief that steals away the detail in the highlights or shadows (sometimes both). Wedding photographers will deal with the problem of contrast by using fill flash to lower the subject contrast; commercial photographers diffuse their own light source or use additional fill lighting and check for missing detail using the Histogram.
Landscape photographers, however, have drawn the short straw when it comes to solving the contrast problem. For the landscape photographer there is no ‘quick fix’. A reflector that can fill the shadows of the Grand Canyon has yet to be made and diffusing the sun’s light is only going to happen if the clouds are prepared to play ball.
If we can’t fit all the goodies in one exposure, then we’ll just have to take two or more. The idea is to montage, or blend, the best of both worlds (the light and dark sides of the camera’s not-quite all-seeing eye). To make the post-production easier we need to take a little care in the pre-production, i.e. mount the camera securely on a sturdy tripod. Take two exposures – one overexposing from the auto reading and the other underexposing from the auto reading. One or two stops either side of the meter-indicated exposure should cover most high-contrast situations.
Setting your camera to ‘auto bracket exposure mode’ and using a remote release means that you don’t have to touch the camera between the two exposures, thereby ensuring the first and second exposures can be exactly aligned with the minimum of fuss. The camera will bracket using the shutter speed rather than the aperture to avoid capturing images that have a different ‘depth-of-field’ of focus. The only other movement to be aware of is something beyond your control. If there is a gale blowing (or even a moderate gust) you are not going to get the leaves on the trees to align perfectly in post-production. This also goes for fast-moving clouds and anything else that is likely to be zooming around in the fraction of a second between the first and second exposures.
The files used in this tutorial have been optimized from the original Raw files to enhance the shadow and highlight detail. Many HDR workflows use more than two exposures but the two captured for this project provide good shadow and highlight detail without the need for additional files (the advantage of shooting Raw). Go to File > New > Photomerge Exposure (new for Photoshop Elements 8*). In the Photomerge Exposure dialog go to the Automatic tab and then select the Smart Blending option. For this project I have dragged both the Highlights and Shadows slider to 100 to achieve maximum detail from both exposures. I have then selected Done at the base of the Photomerge Exposure dialog to merge the exposures.
*Note > An alternative to Photomerge Exposure for Elements 7 users is EnfuseGUI which is currently available as a free download (show your appreciation with a donation) or the budget ‘Bracketeer’ for Mac users which uses the Enfuse engine. Enfuse is every bit as good as Photomerge Exposure.
In the Layers panel choose Flatten Image from the fly out menu (we no longer have any need for the original exposure on the background layer). Right-click on the new background layer after the file has been flattened and choose Duplicate Layer.
Go to Enhance > Adjust Color > Remove Color. This will ensure the color saturation does not increase when we take the next action. In the Layers panel set the mode of the copy layer to Soft Light. This is one of the contrast blend modes so the visual outcome will be to raise the contrast of the image.
Go to Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Shadows/Highlights. In the Shadows/Highlights dialog raise all three sliders to 100%. These very aggressive adjustments will give your image a HDR post-produced appearance that is often referred to as ‘Tonal Mapping’.
Note > If bright halos appear around the edges of your subject you may like to back off the ‘Darken Highlights’ slider slightly.
The next few steps will help resolve any remaining halos that may be apparent in the sky of your HDR image. Switch off the visibility of the Background copy layer and click on the background layer to select it. Select the Quick Selection Tool in the Tools panel and check the Auto Enhance option in the Options bar (this will help to refine the edge of the selection). Click and drag the Quick Selection Tool over your sky to select it.
From the Edit menu choose Copy and again from the Edit menu choose Paste. The sky will be copied to a new layer. In the Layers panel set the mode of this layer to Multiply. This action will darken the sky. A small halo will appear above the dark rocks. We will reduce this halo in the following couple of steps.
Hold down the Ctrl key (PC) or Command key (Mac) and click on the sky layer to load the pixels as a selection once again (alternatively you can go to Select > Reselect). Then go to Select > Modify > Border. This will allow you to turn the edges of the current selection into a new selection. Enter in a value of 200 pixels in the width field (the maximum possible) and then select OK. If you are working with lower resolution images you may need to lower this amount. If you need to increase the width of the border selection go to Select > Modify > Expand. We are trying to cover the width of the halo with this selection so be generous with the width rather than conservative.
Go to Select > Feather and choose a Feather Radius that is about 25% of the amount you used for the Border Selection. In this project we have used a value of 50 pixels. Select OK. The feathering process will ensure that when we darken this region of the image it will occur gradually.
From the Edit menu choose Copy and then again from the Edit menu choose Paste. This will place a border of sky pixels on a new layer. Set the mode of this border layer to Multiply to darken the sky and remove the halo in this region.
Lower the opacity of this layer until the darkening process is subtle (no dark band should be visible). Go to Layer > Create Clipping mask so that the darkening process does not spill over into the rocks. Select the Eraser Tool from the Tools panel and choose a larger soft edged brush in the options bar. Remove any unwanted darkening from the sides and the top of the image and the process of halo reduction is complete.
Switch on the visibility of the Background copy layer (the Soft Light layer with the Shadows/Highlights adjustment applied). The halo will appear so we need to mask this aspect of this tonal mapping layer. Ctrl/Command+click the Layer 1 sky layer to load this as a selection. Go to Select > Inverse to flip the selection so that it is the foreground rocks that are selected.
Select Layer 2 in the Layers panel (the border sky layer in Multiply mode). Then add a Levels adjustment layer (go to the Create new fill or adjustment layer icon at the base of the Layers panel and choose Levels from the pull-down menu). The selection will be turned into an adjustment layer mask. Select the Background copy layer above the Levels adjustment layer and then from the Layer menu choose Create Clipping Mask. We will now see the sky below and the halo will again be under control.
We will now add a vignette to the image. Stamp the Visible layers into a new layer (use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E on a PC or Command+Option+Shift+E on a Mac). Choose the Rectangular Marquee Tool and choose a 250 pixel feather in the Options bar. Select the central portion of the image. Then hit the delete or Backspace key to remove the selected area.
Set the mode of this Stamp Visible layer to Multiply to create the Vignette effect. Lower the opacity until you achieve a subtler vignette effect.
This is an Extract from Adobe Photoshop Elements 8.0 Maximum Performance. Learn more tips and tricks from Photoshop expert Mark Galer.
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Mark Galer is a Senior Lecturer in photography at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia. He has written numerous top-selling books, including Elements 8.0 Maximum Performance, and is an Official Adobe Ambassador for Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.
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