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Using gradient masks to improve dynamic range

From: Shooting and Processing High Dynamic Range Photographs (HDR)

Video: Using gradient masks to improve dynamic range

When we talk about expanding dynamic range, it's usually the multi-shot tone mapping special software HDR process that gets all the attention, but very often all you need to do to solve the dynamic range problem is a little selective tonal adjustment, which you can achieve through some simple masking. As we discussed earlier, in most cases your camera will expose to protect highlights and that will tend to underexpose darker areas in your scene. However, very often you'll be able to brighten up those darker areas to even out your exposure.

Using gradient masks to improve dynamic range

When we talk about expanding dynamic range, it's usually the multi-shot tone mapping special software HDR process that gets all the attention, but very often all you need to do to solve the dynamic range problem is a little selective tonal adjustment, which you can achieve through some simple masking. As we discussed earlier, in most cases your camera will expose to protect highlights and that will tend to underexpose darker areas in your scene. However, very often you'll be able to brighten up those darker areas to even out your exposure.

We're going to do that right now with a raw file that I shot on a cloudy day. Now, I first took a picture of this scene exposed normally and I got this. Now, there are some bright spots in the clouds up here but because this is a RAW file I could probably recover those. However, it was a very dramatic sk, and I knew that I'd really want to play up the contrast in the clouds and that I would have an easier time of that with a darker exposure. So I dialed in some negative exposure compensation, shot again, and got this.

This is the image we're going to work with and right off the bat you might look at it and say, well, that's too dark. And it is too dark, except look. The sky already is a lot more dramatic than what we were seeing before. So this is working to get us a sky that's a little bit crunchier and got some more drama in it, but we're way outside the dynamic range of the camera here because this ended up too dark, so we're going to have to brighten that up. Now, this is a RAW file, so when I open it up in Photoshop, the first thing that happens is it gives me the Camera RAW dialog box, which you should be familiar with by now. So what I need to do is figure out how to brighten just the foreground and I can do that in Camera RAW with a gradient mask.

Now, this gradient mask may not be the only edit that I need, but it's a good starting place. So if I click up here on the Graduated Filter, and when I do that I get a set of exposure controls over here. I'm not going to worry too much about-- actually I'm not going to worry at all about getting these set properly, because I can't really tell what they're supposed to be until I've got the mask on. So I want to click where I want this adjustment to be strongest in the image, and so I'm brightening. So I'm going to click down here in the grass and I'm going to drag up here and as I do, our brightening gets ramped off.

Now, I don't know that this is the right amount of brightening. I can't tell that for sure until I get the mask in place, so I'm going to put this here. And that's kind of not doing too much, so I'm going to brighten it up some more and there we go. now we're getting somewhere. I am going to dial in some contrast too, and I might as well dial in a little Clarity, just make some of that crunchy grass texture appear more. Now, why is this edit working? Because it really is. I've got a very natural looking image here. I have a bright foreground and I've still got my nice dark sky.

Depth queuing is one of the ways that we see depth in the real world. Very often we expect things to get darker towards the horizon, so the fact that we are brightening up this part of the image and slowly ramping off that brightening until there's not very much up here, this is the original tone of the image, that actually looks very often like something we expect to see. This is not an unreasonable type of lighting to see in a scene like this and our eyes recognize that. So this is a case where just with a single gradient mask, I can make a big change to this image. Now, again, this may not be the only edit that I want to make. If I go back here to my global adjustments, I can see that I probably want to maybe brighten up the whole image a little more and maybe dial in some contrast to the whole image a little more.

I'm watching these areas very carefully on my screen. They're not overexposing and I'm not seeing any clipping over here, so that can work a little bit better. After I print it I may decide that I need even more adjustment, but this is a very simple way of effectively doing the same type of thing that we do in HDR. We have chosen one exposure for one part of the image and another exposure for another part of the image, and in a lot of cases this will be the only type of adjustment that you'll need to get more apparent dynamic range into your image.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Shooting and Processing High Dynamic Range Photographs (HDR)
 
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  1. 6m 46s
    1. Welcome
      2m 0s
    2. What you need for this course
      2m 37s
    3. Using the exercise files
      2m 9s
  2. 24m 55s
    1. Dynamic range defined
      4m 31s
    2. Understanding bit depth
      3m 37s
    3. Image sensor and shadows
      2m 38s
    4. Three methods for capturing more dynamic range
      3m 56s
    5. HDR shooting and processing
      4m 40s
    6. Single-shot HDR
      2m 43s
    7. When to use HDR
      2m 50s
  3. 19m 59s
    1. Finding HDR subject matter
      4m 38s
    2. Shooting HDR
      9m 45s
    3. Workflow and organization
      5m 36s
  4. 17m 52s
    1. Using gradient masks to improve dynamic range
      3m 56s
    2. More dynamic range masking
      8m 57s
    3. Masking with brushes
      4m 59s
  5. 1h 35m
    1. Creating an HDR image in Photoshop
      12m 15s
    2. Creating an HDR image in Photomatix
      22m 5s
    3. Creating an HDR in HDR Efex
      11m 47s
    4. Merging in Photoshop and processing elsewhere
      3m 51s
    5. Using Tone Compressor in Photomatix
      4m 25s
    6. Using Exposure Fusion in Photomatix
      7m 35s
    7. Single-shot HDR images in Photomatix
      4m 18s
    8. Single-shot HDR images in HDR Efex
      1m 3s
    9. Single-shot HDR images in Photoshop
      5m 32s
    10. Ghosting and Photoshop
      2m 51s
    11. Ghosting and HDR Efex
      2m 47s
    12. Ghosting and Photomatix
      6m 36s
    13. Batch processing in Photomatix
      10m 51s
  6. 2h 9m
    1. Reducing noise and correcting chromatic aberrations
      13m 33s
    2. Finishing an image
      8m 42s
    3. Handling HDR images that are "flat"
      13m 37s
    4. Combining HDR and LDR
      19m 40s
    5. Selective editing with HDR Efex Pro
      9m 42s
    6. HDR that doesn't look like HDR
      12m 42s
    7. Tone mapping troubles to watch for
      6m 46s
    8. Why use HDR for black-and-white images?
      5m 26s
    9. Black-and-white HDR
      12m 39s
    10. Panoramic HDR
      12m 3s
    11. HDR time lapse
      4m 24s
    12. Processing the trestle image
      10m 1s
  7. 37s
    1. Goodbye
      37s

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