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If a scene has a wider range of brightness than your camera can capture in one shot, you can take multiple bracketed exposures and merge them together using the Photo Merge Exposure feature in Elements. This technique can help you get detail in the bright and the darker areas of a scene. Some cameras will bracket exposures for you automatically, or if you have manual exposure controls, you can set your bracketing by hand, by leavening the aperture the same to keep the depth of field from changing across exposures and varying the shutter speed slightly. You'll also want you set your focus to manual so it doesn't change between shots, and if you happen to have a tripod, put your camera on the tripod so that your bracketed exposures are well aligned.
In this case, I have three exposures: this bright exposure, this dark one, and this exposure in between. I'd like to combine these three to get the optimum amount of detail in the highlights in the sky, in the midtone areas of the landscape, and in some of the brighter areas as well. I've opened all three exposures into Expert edit. I'll move down to the Photo Bin at the bottom of Expert edit. If your Photo Bin isn't in showing there then click the Photo Bin button in the Taskbar. I'm going to select all three of these thumbnails. I'll click on the first one, and then I'll hold the Shift key and click on the last one so that there's a white highlight around all three. And then I'll go up to the Enhance menu and I'll choose Photomerge > Photomerge Exposure.
That opens the Photomerge Exposure window with Elements' initial attempt to combine those three exposures to give me this merged image. I think in this case it's done a pretty good job, but I do have the opportunity to fine-tune this initial merge. I can do that over in the column on the right, where there are both Automatic controls and Manual controls. You can see the Automatic controls here. If I click Simple Blending that's the fully automatic result and I really don't have an opportunity to fine-tune this. So I'll usually leave the Automatic controls set to Smart Blending, and then I'll use the Highlight and Shadows sliders to control the darkness and the amount of detail in the highlight and shadow areas of the image.
I'll drag the Highlight slider slightly to the right, and that will darken the sky, bringing in a little more detail in the clouds. To open up the shadows, I'll drag the Shadows slider to the right too, and that will get me a little more detail back here in the hills. Sometimes moving those two sliders can take some color out of the image. In that case I would drag the Saturation slider slightly to the right to bring back some more color intensity. I'm pretty happy with this result, so at this point I might go down and click the Done button. But before I do that I do want to show you the manual controls.
So I'm going to click the Manual button here, and that changes the Photo Merge Exposure interface. In this interface you can just follow the instructions in the column on the right. The instructions say to go down to the Photo Bin and choose one of the exposures to drag and drop into the final preview window. I'm going to do that with the first exposure, the midtone exposure, dragging it from the Photo Bin up to the final preview and releasing my mouse. Then I'm going to choose one of my two remaining exposures as my source file. I'll click on this middle thumbnail, the one with the yellow highlight, that's the darkest of the exposures.
What I'd like to do with this exposure is to bring the dark sky into the final image. So I'll go over to the column on the right and I'll select the Pencil Tool. I'd like to size my Pencil Tool to be relatively small because that gives you more control over the result. I'll come into the Source image and I'm going to click and drag a short line. Now keep your eye on the final image as I release my mouse and you'll see that some of the pixels from the Source image have been copied over into the corresponding area of the Final image. I'll continue doing, that drawing out some short lines on the Source image in order to copy pixels from the Source into the Final image.
I've found that dragging short lines like this gives you more control over the results. I'm trying to be careful not to bring any of the foreground into my Final image, because the foreground is too dark in this exposure. Now if you do go too far and you get some dark pixels over here in the foreground of the Final image, you can try using the Eraser Tool to erase some of the marks or even to reshape the marks. But I think in this case I've got a pretty good result here. I'd like to make this look more realistic by smoothing the edge between the dark pixels and the original pixels in the Final.
So I'm going to go to column on the right, scroll down there, and I'll check Edge Blending. I'm also going to go to the Opacity slider and drag that to the left, which makes the dark pixels that I brought into the final image a little more transparent, so we can see down through to the original final image below, and that gives me a more realistic or convincing result. There's one more thing I want to do, which is to bring in some of the bright detail from my third exposure. I'll go down to the Photo Bin again and I'll click on the third thumbnail, the one with the green highlight around it, to display that brighter image here in the Source preview window.
Then, I'll get my Pencil Tool again in the column on the right, and I'll click and drag some short lines in this Source image, and as I do I'm copying parts of this image over into the Final, brightening and making the detail more visible in the foreground area. And again I'm going to lower that Opacity slider to get a more realistic looking result. There are some advanced alignment options here too, which you can try out if your images aren't well-aligned, one with the other. But in this case I think I've got a pretty good result as is so I'm not going to apply the Alignment Tool. Instead I'm just going to click the Done button at the bottom right of the Photo Merge Exposure window, and that will close that window and take me back out to Expert edit.
Now you can see that I have my original three images here in the document window. And I have this fourth combined exposure, which includes detail in the sky, in the foreground, as well as in the midtone area. At this point I would save this combined image, created for me in Elements' Photo Merge Exposure feature.
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