When one blends images, one thing that one needs to do over and over again, is to load different exposures into Photoshop layers. Depending on what program you use, this can be done in many ways, and here I will show you 4 of them.

1.Copy & Paste

Probably the worst way to do this, is just to load all photos into photoshop, and then one by one select the photo (Ctrl+A), copy the photo (Ctrl+C) and then paste into a single file (Ctrl+V). Of course you can also open the brackets next to each other, and drag and drop. Here I would suggest holding Shift while dragging, as that will center the photo in the new file automatically.

Loading exposuresDrag & Drop in Photoshop
Loading exposuresLoading from Lightroom

2. From Lightroom

It’s already much simpler in Lightroom. Here you can either select the files in the library view, or in the bottom photo list, and just right click on any of the photo and choose Open in Layers into Photoshop. This will export all selected files and open them right away in one in Photoshop.

3. From Bridge

This is similar in Bridge. Here you can also just choose any files you want, and by selecting Tools/Photoshop/Load files into Photoshop layers all the images will be loaded into one file. This is my favorite way of doing this, as I often include also the HDR tonemapped image, which I don’t import into Lightroom at all.

Loading exposuresLoading from Bridge
Loading exposuresUsing Photoshop script

4. Directly from Photoshop

But what to do when you don’t have Lightroom, and cant acces Bridge? There is a way to load files into layers also directly from Photoshop. To do this, you have to go under File/Scripts/Load files into Stack. In the new window that opens, you have to choose Brows and choose which files you want to include. Once this is confimed, all selected files will be loaded into layers of a single file.

If you took the images hand-held, you can also check the option for Photoshop to try and align the exposures.

There are so many ways to sharpen a photo, and it usually is not enough to know only one way. One needs to use the one that is currently available, and provides the best results. So in this post, I will go through some of the sharpening methods I use, or have tried out :)

First thing firs. I really suggest to sharp the photo once it’s in the size you plan to use. If you sharpen a full size photo, and then downsize it, you will lose a lot of the sharpness in the process. So first resize, then sharpen.

1. Lightroom sharpen

Probably the simplest sharpening you can find. And if you are already using Lightroom to organize your photos (as most of you probably do anyway :)) it’s a sharpening thats always on hand. You can find it the Develop module under Detail. You add it just by changing the amount slider. You can of course tweak it more with Radius – only bigger details get sharpened, Detail – how much additional detail is created and Masking – removes the smaller detail and focuses on corners. All there are dependent on the Amount setting, so if that is low, these will also have a small effect.

I personally use this mostly for photos I don’t plan to edit in Photoshop. I use a Amount of around 60 to 70, and leave other settings at their default. Btw. you will also notice, that default value is not 0, as Lightroom adds a little sharpening to all raw photos automatically.

SharpeningLightroom sharpening
SharpeningUnsharp mask

2. Unsharp Mask

The most basic, and still very useful, sharpening in Photoshop. I really don’t know what Unshrap mask means, but it works great anyway. There are two ways you can use this filter. You can use it in two ways. Either by using a high Amount and low Radius, which will give you sharpness, or small Amount and high radius, which will give you more local contrast. It’s always good to try both.

When using this to sharpen for web, it usually best to go with a very small radius (less than 1px) and with a very high amount (more than 200). This will give the best result.

You can find it under Filter/Sharpen/Unsharp Mask in Photoshop.

3. Smart sharpen

This is another filter directly in Photoshop. It works similar to Unsharp mask, but the result can be more refined in some image. I use it the same as Unsharp mask, with a high amount and small radius. But again, only on the already resized photo destined for web, not on the full size. It can also reduce noise, but I would suggest using a dedicated noise reduction plug-in for that, to get better results.

You can find it under Filter/Sharpen/Smart sharpen

SharpeningSmart sharpen
SharpeningHigh pass filter

4. High pass filter

A very popular method in Photoshop, that creates really nice results. What you do, is create a merged copy of the image (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E), on the new layer, choose Filter/Other/High Pass and choose a value at around 2px. Then jsut change the blend mode of the layer to Soft light. The higher value for High pass you use, the less this is about sharpness and more about local contrast. So depending on how big the photo is, you have to experiment to get a value that gives you best results.

I would not use this to sharpen a photo for web. It’s more useful to get a detail and sharpness into a full resolution photo, which you would then sharpen once more with a different method once it is resized.

5. TK Actions

The TK actions are not really a sharpening tool, as they use Unsharp mask as their sharpening method. But what they offer are Web sharepenig actions that do the sharpening settings for you. You only choose the size, and the action will do multiple passes of sharpening on a photo to get your result. This is currently my favorite way to sharpen photos for web.

You can find more about the actions on Tony Kuyper page here.

6. Nik Sharpener Pro

If you had bought the Nik plug-ins suite (which is wroth it just for Color Efex alone), you also get a Nik Sharpener plugin. It can really add a huge amount of sharpness, but I don’t use it so much. I feel that it creates too much small detail, which makes it too easy to over-sharpen the photo. Still I know that this is a favorite way to sharpen for many photographers. If you have Nik, give it a try.

For more info, check out the Nik page.

SharpeningNik Sharpener Pro
SharpeningTopaz Detail

7. Topaz Detail

This plug-in is not just about sharpening, as it can do much much more. It can add sharpness based on the detail size, or brightness. It also can add color or change brightness levels, and include a huge number of presets. This plug-in is less about just making you photo sharp, but more about adding more detail to areas of the photo.

For more info, check out the Topaz page.

And many more

There are of course many more plugins, actions and ways to sharpen. For me currently the most used are high pass, unsharp mask and TK action. What are yours?

There are many techniques one has to know when taking landscape shots, and today I will try to explain focus blending :)

What is Focus blending

Focus blending, or also know as focus stacking, is a technique where you take multiple photos, all focused on a different distance and part of the scene, and put them together in one photo, where everything is in focus. This approach is very popular in Macro photography, where you just can’t get everything into focus in one shot, but is also very useful in landscape photos, where often you want to incorporate a foreground subject, that is just to close to the camera.

Here are two examples where I blended exposures with different focus.

Focus blending
Focus blending


How to take photos with different focus

For focus blending exposures, I really suggest going with full manual. Manual mode and also manual focusing. First of all you need to have the same exposure for all the shots. So setting it up for one, and than just keeping it the same is the simplest way to archive this. Secondly, you want to be 100% sure where the camera is focused, and this is just not possible with autofocus.

The number of needed exposure at different focus, depends on what you are taking photos off. It all depends where the blending transition will be. If it is in the sky, water or any other continuous transition, you will be OK with just two exposures that you can then blend manually. If the transition is much harsher, as the difference between the foreground and the background is bigger, you will need more exposures, and blend them automatically.

To take the shots, just start by focusing either on the background or the foreground, take the shots in full manual mode, and then without changing anything else, refocus on the the next part of the scene. If you are taking more than two shots, do the refocusing just by rotating the focus wheel a little towards infinity, or near focus (based on where you started) and repeat until you have the whole range.

If you want to be exactly precise or are doing macro shots, the best way to go is having a special remote, that can do this for you. For instance the Promote remote can take photos for focus stacking automatically, you set it up for how many shots you want. There are also different software, that can control your camera from a pc or a phone (check out the Helicos Focus), and if you have the Magic lantern firmware, you can do it directly in the camera.

Manual Focus blending

When combining only two exposures, doing it manually is mostly the way to go. Especially when the area of focus is quite different. You will quickly notice, that if someting is in the foreground, and out of focus, it is bigger, than if it is in focus. So blending it just in is not always that simple.

You can see this in this example photo I took in Dubai from Burj Khalifa. The corners of the glass wall, are much thiner when in focus. The only way I was able to manually blend them together was by the use of the sky, as that is same in both photos. On the bottom one, I had to leave a 1-2pixel wide gap, as that was an area for which I had no photo where it was in focus.

Focus blending
Focus blending

To manually blend, just load both images into Photoshop into separate layers. Hide the top one with a black layer mask, take a white soft brush, and start painting on the mask, where you want to reveal the top layer. In this example, it was the top and bottom part.

Focus blendingCombined manually
Focus blendingCombined in Helicon Focus

You can see here also a failed attempt to combine them in Helicon Focus, which didn’t work for the lack of exposures.

Automatic Focus blending

When trying to combine more than two exposures, this becomes a very hard task when doing it manually. But that’s what automated software is for. You of course need more exposures, as you will need a more gradual transition for them to work correctly. If you use bigger steps between exposures, there will be areas that are out of focus on every shot, and the software has nothing to use there.

Let’s look at this example series (please look at them only as an example, as I don’t have a macro lens, and this is not usually what I do :)). This series was taken with the help of the Magic lantern firmware.

Focus blending
Focus blending
Focus blending
Focus blending

One can either just use Photoshop or a specialized software. In Photoshop, you have to load all the images into separate layers, select the layers and then choose Edit->Auto-Blend layers. From there choose Stack images to get what you need. The option for Seamless tones and colors can help you get a better result, but it also can have a opposite effect, so I suggest experimenting and trying both.

For a specializes software, this is Helicon Focus. It does exactly what Photoshop does, just the algorithm is different. From my experiments, the results were better, but it depends quite a lot on the photo. Same as in Photoshop, it’s were easy to work with it, just load all the exposures you want to use, and choose a render method, that it.

In both options, after combining, you still have the possibility to mask out parts of any exposure, to get an even better result. And most of the times, this will be required.

Focus blendingCombined in Photoshop
Focus blendingCombined in Helicon Focus

That’s all for this article, and as always, feel free to ask if you have any questions.

There are so many shortcuts in Photoshop. But not all are equally useful, as if one does something only really rarely, it’s just not worth it to learn the shortcut. But some, are just essential, and once you learn them, you will be using them constantly. This is more for beginners, for those who are only starting in Photoshop, as I hope everyone who worked already longer with Photoshop, knows all of them :)

These are also the ones I use the most while editing my photos in Photoshop. For those of you who use a Mac, you just have to replace Ctrl with Cmd.

Space – pan

I think this is the very first shortcut everyone has to learn. When you hold the space-bar, the cursor will change into a hand, and you can move the image around. This is so much quicker than looking for the pan too in the toolbox, or zooming out and back in into the image.

Passing red buses

Ctrl + Space – zoom in

Another thing that will really help you to move around the photo. Holding Ctrl + Space will switch you to the Zoom in tool. If you only click with the mouse, you will zoom in. But if you hold the left mouse button at the same time, and move the mouse cursor up and down, you will zoom in/zoom out. I also like to click the right mouse button while hoding Ctrl + Space, to open a selection menu, from where I can quickly choose Fit to screen, to see the whole image.

D – reset colors

This one very important shortcut, especially when working with masks and brushes. Pressing D will reset your foreground color to black, and background color to white. Once you know this, you will never ever again need to open the color picker to get these two colors :)

X – switch colors

This one works together with the previous one. When you start using luminance masks and painting into them, you very often need to change from black to white and back. And here where X comes in. Pressing it will switch the foreground and background color. While masking, you will use this very often.

F – full screen

This one is more about the interface, but also very helpful. Pressing F will switch you into the full-screen mode. There are three states for it, that you circle trough. Normal mode, full screen and full screen without the toolbars. If you have a smaller screen, this shortcut is a must.

Shift + Backspace – fill dialog

Fill dialog is normally used when you want to fill a selection or the whole image with a single color, but for me it’s much more useful to use content aware fill on a selection. I just select an area, hit Shift + Backspace, select content aware fill (if you don’t change the selection, Photoshop remembers the last one used) and hit enter. This is probably the quickest way to get rid of unwanted objects in a photo.

Ctrl + E – merge layer

Merge layer will take the layer you are currently on and merge it with the layer under it. I use this mostly, when doing small retouching edits on a photo, and I just create a new copy to do the edit, or do it on an empty layer. Once I’m done, I just hit the shortcut to merge the edit back into the layer.
London City hall

Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E – merge visible into new layer

This one is not so easily to press, but doubly useful for that. What it does, it will create a new layer for you, which will include a merged copy of all the layers under it. This is very usefull if you need to do an edit that requires a pixel layer, or you want to use a filter effect on the whole image, including all the adjustment layers.

Ctrl + D – deselect

This shortcut any selection you currently have. It very useful as if one uses masking, and luminosity masks, one tends to work with the selection hidden. So it can often happen that you sill have a selection and don’t know about it. Just hitting this shortcut will get rid of it immediately.

Ctrl + Shift + I – invert selection

Knowing this one is will help mostly when using masks. Knowing how to quickly invert a selection can streamline the editing process greatly. Most of the times, if you don’t have to open the Photoshop menus, the more efficiently you work.

Ctrl + Alt + Z – step backward

The undo does not work exactly the same in Photoshop as in other programs. In Photoshop, just hitting Ctlr + Z will let you go back only one step. If you hit it again, you will just redo that one step. If you want to go more back, you have to use this longer shortcut. With this you can go back through the whole available history of your edits.

And thats all for this list :)

One of the basic photo editing techniques is, using dodge and burn to brighten, respectively darken and area of a photo. Photoshop of course has specific tools for that, but using them has few downsides. The biggest one, is that you have to apply it directly of a pixels of a photo, and so the effect can not be tweaked or reversed (only undo helps :))

So as I mentioned in my most useful blending modes in Photoshop, you can also use the Soft light blending mode, as a way to do Dodge and Burn in a more control way. Btw. I used a little stronger effects on the sample images, to illustrate the effect.

Soft light

As stated before, Soft light blending mode will either darken or brighten the layer underneath, based on the layer it has been used on. So everything that is 50% grey (#808080) has no effect at all, everything that is darker, will darker the bottom layer, everything that is brighter, will brighten the bottom layer.

Dodge&BurnOriginal photo
Dodge&BurnDodged the foreground threes

Dodge & Burn

Once you know how soft light works, it’s easy to figure out how to use it to Dodge and Burn. What you do is:

  • Create a new empty layer
  • Set it’s blending mode to soft light
  • Take a soft brush, at around 30% opacity
  • Paint with white color on the new layer to dodge
  • Paint with black color on the layer to burn
  • Paint with 50% grey or use erase at a lower opacity, to undo what you have changed

You can also use shift-backspace, if you want to fill the whole layer with 50% grey. Just choose it from the option in the small window that will open.

Dodge&BurnBurned the top part of the photo
Dodge&Burn50% grey has no effect

Adding color

When you are using only white, black and shades of grey, you will only dodge and burn. But if you are using a colour instead of them, you will not only affect the brightness, but also the color of the area. This can help in a lot of situations. For instance, if you to paint more yellow into a sunset, or more green into autumn grass and similar. By using soft light, and a low opacity brush, you can create a very nice transition for most cases. You can of course also change the opacity of the soft light layer, to further tweak the strength of the effect.

Dodge&BurnDodged with yellow color the trees
Dodge&BurnBurned with blue color the sky

Using with luminance and color selections

One thing that works great with this approach, is combining it with different selections. Especial luminance selection work great with Dodging and Burning, and color selections (select/color range) with color painting. Just create yourself a Light selection and paint with black to make the areas darker, or opposite, create a darks selection and paint the area with white to make it brighter. With the selection active, you will only effect the selected bright/dark areas and nothing else.

Dodge&BurnBurnig with a luminance mask
Dodge&BurnColor selection to restrict the are affected

And that’t it. Feel free to ask any questions.

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