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Digital Photo Blending

"Starting with the Camera then to the Software"

Tips & Tricks to Achieve Professional Results
 by Ricardo Da Cunha

Digital photo blending, or exposure blending as it is also known, is a very effective way of combining two or more photos of the same scene for special effect - movement and sharpness for example.

Digital Photo Blending

This image was shot at a secluded surf break known as Honeycombs in Western Australia’s South West near the famous Margaret River region. The image you see below is composed of two blended exposures; one slower one to convey motion and the other taken using a fast shutter speed to freeze the wave hitting the rock. Here’s how the image was put together:

Behind the camera:
digital photo blending

1. After pre-visualising the shoot that I was after and finding the right composition, I started off by taking my base exposure which would be the prolonged one.

2. To achieve a prolonged exposure during the mid afternoon when there was so much light around I used a 10 stop Neutral Density (ND) filter which is almost black! ND filters work like sunglasses to reduce the amount of light

3. After capturing a number of separate exposures to try and capture the optimum water movement (I found about 1-2 seconds produced good results), I removed the ND filter and put the camera into burst mode which then allowed me to take successive shots instantaneously. Doing this allowed me to select from a number of exposures that best represented the wave crashing against the rock and how I had pre-visualised it.

4. Unfortunately though I found that the exposure was not quick enough to freeze the movement of the wave so to achieve a quicker shutter speed (i.e. 1/1000 second) I increased the ISO from 100 to approximately 800 which resulted in achieving a shutter speed that was 3 times quicker than my previous shutter speed at an ISO of 100. Still shooting in burst mode, I fired off a number of exposures until I got the shot of the frozen wave hitting the rock I was after.

5. It’s important to modify only the ISO when wanting to achieve quicker shutter speeds instead of changing the Aperture as an alternative. Changing the Aperture to compensate would have altered the depth of field which would have subsequently caused issues later when blending the exposures together.

At the computer:
digital photo blending

1. With the best exposures selected; one to represent slow motion and the other to freeze, I then opened up each image in Photoshop and dragged and dropped the faster shutter speed image on top of the other. Holding down the Shift key here will ensure that both images are perfectly aligned.

2. Next I then added a layer mask to the top image and changed the mask to black to hide it and reveal the layer/image below it.

3. Finally it was then just a case of using my brush tool with my foreground colour set to white and brush in the frozen wave action to reveal it over the top of my base image containing the longer exposure. A good tip here is to use a feathered brush and lower the opacity of the brush in order to disguise the blending of the two images.

And that’s it!

digital photo blending

In all of the images that Ricardo captures he aims to represent scenes with no evidence of human intervention. As such, he hopes to demonstrate how awe inspiring our unblemished natural world is and endeavours to motivate us to join him in helping to preserve our remaining wild places.

More of Ricardo's stunning landscapes can be seen in the Gallery of Better Photographs, on his website  www.ricardodacunha.com.au and his FaceBook page at www.facebook.com/NaturalAustralianLandscapeImages

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