f-exposure-bracketing

Using Photoshop with Exposure bracketing

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With the new trend for High Dynamic Range (HDR) images, it is becoming quite popular to bracket your exposures. In my experience though not everything looks great with exposure spread evenly throughout the image making it look highly unnatural and often quite fussy.

tattooed man in shiney american airstream

tattooed man in shiny American airstream – Brighton – click to buy this image

Unnatural I can cope with but I sometimes long for some moody areas of blackness, or even the occasional burnt out mass of white. When I used film, I would use the grainiest film and the hardest papers and I miss all that drama. So I am going to show you how you can use bracketed exposures to get even more drama rather than less. This is especially effective for images with difficult light/exposure conditions as it allows you to get the details back where you want it or to loose it – you stay in control.

Exposure bracketing means that you take one correctly exposed image and two more pictures: one slightly under-exposed (usually by dialing in a negative exposure compensation, say -1/3EV), and the second one slightly over-exposed (usually by dialing in a positive exposure compensation, say +1/3EV), again according to your camera’s light meter. But if you have an image that has various parts of the image under or over exposed you can export three images using Camera RAW or Adobe Lightroom and import them into Photoshop. You could use the vomitty Merge to HDR technique (I know it can sometimes look good and I have used it myself!) or you can use masks to get back the detail in the highlights and put some depth in the shadows.

The image above started out like this:

original exposure

original exposure

Now I’ve gone to quite a lot of trouble here – first I asked if I could take his picture in his hoodie reflected in the bus, than I said “Yes Please”, and kept a serious face on when he offered to strip. I like the picture but it has no drama, there’s detail in the sky but you can’t see it, his face is too dark and the background is too fussy, some of the detail has been lost in the strong highlight on his back. So I have used Lightroom here to underexpose the image (you could use Camera Raw) until I see what I want in the sky. I then opened the image up in Photoshop.

expose for the sky

expose for the sky

I then exposed the original image for his back and opened up the image in a new layer in the Photoshop document.

expose for the back

expose for the back

Then I exposed the original image for his face and opened that up in Photoshop too so that I have three layers all exposed differently.

expose for the face

expose for the face

  1. I put the over exposed one at the bottom of the layers and left that one alone
  2. Then I added masks to the top two layers by clicking on the quick mask icon when I have the layer selected
  3. Turn off the top layer by clicking on the eye icon next to that layer.
  4. Select the middle layer and make sure you have the mask and not the layer selected and brush black where you want the underlying image to show through and white where you don’t want it
  5. You can use the selection tools for sharper lines and fill with black but you may need to soften the selection using refine selection or by painting the edge afterward with a soft brush
  6. You can also play with the opacity of the brush strokes so you can have some of the underlying image showing through
  7. Do the same with the top layer
  8. Play around until you have the effect you want and save your image.
  9. I have done my final overall effects in Lightroom as I find it the most versatile. I have increased the clarity using the “Punch” effect and converted to Black and White.

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2 replies
  1. Evan
    Evan says:

    I haven’t seen too many photos of HDR b&w. This is really interesting, perfect choice for HDR too.

    Thanks for the tips on processing, I’ve been having problems with people and HDR..

  2. Crystel
    Crystel says:

    Have you ever wondered if an image was altered with Photoshop? This tool can show you whether an image is Photoshopped through content level image analysis: Photoshopped Image Killer. It seems that Jpeg Exif data is also used there to enhance the results.

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