HDR Photography Tip:  Layer Masks

© Heath O'Fee

This is a guest post from fellow photographer Heath O’Fee.

Here’s the situation. You were out all day and night filling your favourite CF cards chock full of hopeful brackets. If you’re like me, you’ve made a conscious effort to make those big, puffy clouds you saw for most of the day a prominent feature in a number of shots. You absolutely can’t wait to see what those amazing clouds are going to look like once you’ve run the images through your favourite HDR tonemapping software. You eagerly load the RAW files onto your computer and send the first set of juicy, cloud-soaked brackets through the tonemapping process and watch the status bar as it processes the image. You open the new image up and look at those beautiful white, puffy……whaaaa???? The clouds that were once a brilliant white have turned the colour of mud on a bad day! What gives??

Well, never fear. While the tonemapping process may have turned your puffy clouds into mush, all is not lost. Just grab yourself the best looking original bracket plus the tonemapped image, and get yourself into Photoshop…layer masks to the rescue!

Layer masks are a great way to mix parts of your original brackets back into your tonemapped image…in this case to replace those nasty, gray clouds with the glorious white ones from your original photos. Just open your tonemapped image as a new layer on top of the original bracket, create a layer mask, and now you can selectively brush in the original sky and clouds from the layer below. Pretty cool, right?

Skies and clouds aren’t the only use for masking in portions of your original brackets. Feel like you lost some of the original colour palette in the tonemapping process? Use a layer mask to bring some of those rich original colours back. Is the view out of the window in the back of your frame a bit overexposed in the tonemapped image? Use a layer mask with an underexposed bracket to bring back the lost detail. Layer masks are a great tool for HDR photographers.

If you’re unfamiliar with how to use a layer mask in Photoshop, a quick Google search will yield a number of helpful links. Hope you enjoyed the post, and thanks for reading!

Photo by Heath O’Fee. View more photos on Heath’s website. Heath can also be found on Twitter @yycofee

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Good job on the guest post Heath, and great advice!

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