Layering Workflow


Today’s Question: As a follow-up question, what if the intent is not to make an HDR [high dynamic range] image, but rather to “hand blend” different exposures with layers and masks in Photoshop? What would your advice be about capture sharpening in Lightroom prior to opening as layers in Photoshop to blend multiple exposures?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When you send raw captures from Lightroom to Photoshop I recommend that you apply capture sharpening first within Lightroom, since the individual raw captures will be rendered to pixel values as part of this process.

More Detail: When assembling an HDR (high dynamic range) image from multiple raw captures, I prefer to minimize the amount of processing performed, as noted in an Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter last week:

When you are processing individual images to be assembled into a layered document in Photoshop, I recommend performing your initial processing in Lightroom (or Adobe Camera Raw) before creating the layered document.

In other words, I prefer to fully leverage the raw capture to ensure optimal image quality before rendering the raw captures to pixel values for the final composite.

The difference here relates to how the pixel values are being processed. When you assemble an HDR image you aren’t simply using a layer mask to combine different tonal values from different exposure. Rather, you are essentially combining all of the exposure information into a single file with tremendous tonal range, and then processing that HDR result via tone-mapping to produce a “normal” photographic image with greater detail than could be accomplished with a single exposure.

When creating a layered image in Photoshop you will actually render the pixel values and then blend the images based on visibility defined by a layer mask. The individual pixels are assembled in a way that is quite different from HDR processing. As a result, with a layered document I prefer to process the images to an optimal appearance before assembling.

So, for HDR images I prefer to minimize processing applied before assembly of the HDR image, while for composite layered images I prefer to process (including the application of capture sharpening) to create optimized images to be assembled into a layered image.