HDR Photography Tip: Avoiding Global Edits

This is a guest post from fellow photographer James Brandon.

This is a tip that I think is crucial to producing images that are pleasing to the viewers eye. I really feel that my work has improved drastically since implementing this into my work flow.

When I’m in photoshop and I add a layer of Topaz Adjust, or any other kind of filter, the first thing I do is place a black mask over that layer. This instantly covers up the results of that layer. It’s now up to me to paint that detail back into the image selectively. I use detail to guide the viewers eye around the image the same way I use leading lines or light. Adding detail globally to an entire image can make it seem flat, and can actually do harm to the overall image. Masking in Photoshop is an art that every HDR photographer should take the time to learn, as it can drastically improve the quality of your images.

Here’s an example of this tip in action:

© James Brandon
There is a LOT going on with this image behind the scenes, and a lot of it has to do with applying filters to only certain parts of the image. First up is the brick wall. This image was taken during civil twilight, when the sun is about 12 degrees below the horizon. The light cast this evening was an incredible shade of pink across the entire horizon, as you can see in the background of the image. What you may not notice until I tell you is that I corrected this pink color balance on the brick wall and left the pink cast in the background. The original image had that same color cast on the brick wall (obviously), and the white paint looked almost pink. If I had applied this color correction to the entire image, I would have lost the beautiful pink tones in the sky.

Next, I added a layer of Topaz Adjust to the image. After placing a black mask over the layer to conceal the results, I selectively painted the Adjust filter back into certain parts of the frame. I added between 80-90% of the detail back into the brick wall, and about 30% into the sky to make the clouds pop just a bit.

Finally, I added a layer of Topaz DeNoise. Again, I only applied the noise reduction filter selectively. I added DeNoise to the sky at 100%, and the foreground at about 40%. The brick wall received 0% noise reduction because I wanted to preserve all the detail.


Hopefully we can all agree that this image would have looked terrible if I had just carelessly applied all those filters to the entire frame. Making global adjustments to any image should be done sparingly, and when you do it there should be a clear reason why. I guarantee that if you take this tip and add it to your work flow, your work will improve instantly. Cheers!

Photo by James Brandon. Photographer residing in Fort Worth, Texas. He’s a staff writer for Digital Photography School and an editor for HDR Spotting. Be sure to follow him on twitter (@jamesdbrandon).

Thanks for reading and happy shooting

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Nice advice! I’ve always felt it was easier to hide the filter results, and mask back into the photo!

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