Double Process Your RAW Files

Bring out your shadows and highlights by using two versions of the same image
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Many photographers double process RAW files to create images with detail in both the shadows and highlights where otherwise, a single capture would sacrifice one or the other. A bright version is optimized for shadow details and a dark version for the highlights. The result is two photos, each with a different exposure. With both files open in Photoshop, one is dragged on top of the other using the move tool. A layer mask gets added to the top layer and the "bad" part of the top layer gets erased which reveals the "good" part from the bottom layer. Here's how to do it.


Original

Step 1

Step 2

Step 1: Open the original in Camera RAW and process the file so the shadow areas look great. Then open the file in Photoshop and leave it on the desktop.

Step 2: Re-open the same file in Camera RAW but this time process it so the highlight areas look great. Open that file in Photoshop so you have both the good shadow and highlight files ready to blend.


Steps 3 & 4

Step 3: Select the Move tool. Hold down the Shift key and drag the bright image over the dark one. Holding the shift key places the two images in register - very important for alignment purposes. (It really doesn't matter if the light gets dragged over the dark or visa versa)

Step 4: In the layers palette, you'll see the brighter version appear on top and the darker version disappears from view, but it's still there.


Step 5

Step 5: Add a layer mask to "hide" the bad bright sky area and "reveal" the darker version from the layer below. To do this, click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette.


Step 6

Step 6: Click on the Brush tool. Make sure the layer mask is active - it will have a thin black line around it. Be sure your foreground color is set to black and the opacity is set to 50%. Begin to paint across the sky in the photo and as if by magic, the dark portion from the layer below becomes part of the image. Continue to make


Final

additional passes until you achieve the density you desire. With each pass, the layer mask gets darker and darker. Use a soft brush so the transition between the sky and foreground is smooth.

If by accident you paint into the sand and it's too dark, change the foreground color to white and paint over the area that needs correcting. Be sure to use a very soft edge brush if you want the effect to look gradual.

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7 Comments

    This sounds like an alternative approach to HDR. What, if anything, is lost or gained by using this approach? Can the same be accomplished with Photoshop Elements?

    Neil – HDR requires multiple captures at varying densities – in other words, bracketing. The technique explained above is based on a SINGLE capture that gets processed for different exposures. HDR offers more control, but if you fail to remember to bracket the original scene, this method offers an alternative. With regards to Elements, if the version you own supports layers, then it can be used. Hope this helps – Russ

    Can’t you just process it in lightroom, open it in photoshop from within lightroom, and use the dodge/burn tool to toucn up on the shadows and hightlights how you’d like without having to mess with blending layers?

    Nic – working with RAW data in ACR or Lightroom has less of a negative effect than if you were to bring the image into PS and then use the D/B tool which degrades the pixels. There’s more info in the RAW data from which to open the shadows or tone down highlights. Messing with layers adds an extra step, but the end result is purer. Hope this helps.

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