Double Processing and Layer Masks for Exposure

Tuolumne Meadows (before)
Tuolumne Meadows (before)

Drab photo, no?

Today’s going to be some fun and games in PhotoShop coaxing a good result out of this.

There are fundamentally 2 things I’m going to use

  • Smart Object copies of the image, made into layers
  • Layer masks, to expose and hide the parts I do and don’t want.

First, to open the RAW file: bring into camera RAW, and while holding shift, click “open image.”  This brings it in as a Smart Object.

Then in your layers palette, right-click the layer and select “new smart object via copy” to make as many more layers as you think you need.  I went with three layers, one each for the foreground, trees, and mountains/sky.  This technically makes what I’m about to do triple-processing.

For each layer, right click the layer and select “edit contents” – this will bring you back into RAW, where you can expose the layer correctly for whichever part you want to use it for.

A good idea: name each layer after what it’s supposed to be for, e.g. “trees.”

Once edited, then create a layer mask using the “reveal all” option on each layer.  Then select the brush tool on black.  In the mask on the lowest layer, proceed to paint over the area(s) you want to use the higher layers for.  Then moving up 1 layer at a time, do likewise – hide the areas that layer is not supposed to show.

This can get dodgy so expect a few cases where you have to delete the layer mask and do it again (you’ll probably end up with several cases where you hide too much and have gaps in the final image).

Once done, save, and voila!

Tuolumne Meadows (after)
Tuolumne Meadows (after)

Not bad for a bland boring POS, right??  And much better than what I could have coaxed out with things like levels, curves and so on.  In some ways it’s a highly selective, area-specific HDR process.

Happy shooting!

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