For part three of ways to extend your dynamic range, I want to describe a technique called “Luminosity Masks.” When using these masks you choose which parts of the picture to effect based on the luminosity tones, brightness and darkness.
I came across Tony Kuyper around 2006 and he had recently published some instructions about luminosity masks and has been improving them since then. Today he has an action panel you can purchase that can be used for many more adjustments than I have used.
The picture above I created by combining two images. One has the foreground properly exposed with the trees and sky too bright. The second has the trees and sky properly exposed but the foreground is too dark.
By using a luminosity mask, I was able to blend the two images together quickly without getting halos around the tree branches. The mask helped to block anything darker than the lightest tones from being affected. Here are the steps I took:
Loaded both pictures into Photoshop.
Selected the darker picture to copy onto another layer with the lighter image. Simply press Control/Command A to select the entire dark image and then press Control/Command C to copy the image. Go to the lighter image and press Control/Command V to paste the darker image onto an additional layer.
Since I have my Luminosity Masks made into actions, I went to my Actions Panel and ran my “Lights” action with the layer of the dark image selected. This created several different channels of masks based off different bright areas in the dark image.
With the dark image layer selected I added a layers mask filled with black and made sure that it is selected, has brackets around the mask.
Next I went to the Channels Tab and loaded the mask that looked like it showed white where I needed to blend the two images together. I loaded it by pressing Alt + Control + 6.
Clicking back to the Layers Tab, I pressed Control H to hide the selected marching ants.
Next the Brush Tool was picked with the color white as the foreground color and the opacity set to 100%. With the mask selected on the darker image, I simply brushed over the top sky and trees of the image allowing the properly exposed trees and sky to show along with the properly exposed foreground of the lighter image. Brushing around the rocks was easy because the luminosity mask had blocked them perfectly from being affected by my brush.
At this point I pressed Alt + Control + Shift + E to create another layer that is a combination of all the previous layers. With this layer I can tweak and adjust to finish off the picture.
Below is a quick video showing the steps outlined above.
Sounds like a lot of work? This process can be, but after doing it often, the process will get faster. If you want to learn more about Luminosity Masks I would recommend that you start here. Tony Kuyper has a small, limited panel of actions that are free to get you started if you want to play around trying them and you can get that here.
There are more techniques that can be used for extending your dynamic range, but these are the ways I have used depending on the situation to create my pictures. Any comments or questions can be posted in the Comment section below.