If you have ever worked with Photoshop, you know what blending modes are. One just can’t get around them. If you haven’t, the blending modes are different options how a layer can behave, in the relation to the layers under it. There are many blending modes, varying from very useful, to not so much. And in this post, I will go through some of them, through the ones I think are most useful when editing photos, and what I use them for.

Soft light

Probably the most useful blending mode of them all. Based on the top layer, it either darkens or brightens the bottom layer. There are other that do the same (Overlay, Hard light), but this one creates the softest effect, which blend the most with a photo. It’s very useful when sharpening the photo (using the high pass filter, as 50% grey has no effect), creating glow (just copy layer, blur and choose soft light), dodging and burning (create new layer, set it to soft light, and paint white where you want to dodge and black where you want to burn) and more. Just duplication the layer and setting it to soft light will add you a lot of contrast and color to a photo. Just tweak it with the opacity slider :)

Blend modesSoft light
Blend modesSoft light sharpening

Difference

I don’s use Difference directly as a tool to edit a photo, but it helps in a certain situation. What id does, is to show you the color/brightness difference between two layers. It there is no difference, it is just black. This can be very useful, when trying to align two layers manually. Just set the top layer to difference, and immediately you can see if you are aligned or not. Then just move the top layer with the arrow keys, until you only see a small difference. That will always be there, if you try to align images with different brightness. But you can see on these screenshots, what the difference between aligned and not aligned photos.

Blend modesDifference aligned
Blend modesDifference not aligned

Color/Luminosity

These two are a pair, each doing the opposite of the other. The color will show only the color of the top layer, luminosity only brightness values. This is great when you wan to use only one, but not the other. For instance, in these examples, I applied a strong Color Efex tonal contrast on the duplicate of the bottom layer. Once, set to color, it only added saturation. But the second one is more interesting, just set to luminosity, it will add the detail, but the color will not be affected (of course it will be a little different, as you change the brightness).

This is also very useful, when you apply contrast to a photo. You probably noticed, that adding contrast, will also make a photo more saturated. To correct this, one can change the contrast layer to Luminosity, and then it will only affect the contrast.

Blend modesColor mode
Blend modesLuminosity mode

Multiply/Screen

A second set of inverse modes. What both do, is to multiple the color of the top and bottom layer. The difference is, that screen inverses the colors first. So if you use Multiply, the result will be always darker, if you use screen, it will be lighter. In editing, I tend to use this in two ways. One is if I just want to darken/brighten the image by one exposure stop. I just create a new curves layer, and set it to Multiply/Screen. I of course than also can tweak the curve, to get exactly what I wanted.

The second is in combination with luminosity masks. Just duplicating a layer, putting a brights luminosity mask on it, and setting the blending mode to Multiply. This will very nicely darken all the bright areas, and also add to their color. This can create very nice effects on clouds and the sky. Of course one can also do the opposite with dark’s mask and Screen mode.

Blend modesMultiply
Blend modesScreen

Lighten/Darken

And a last series. Again doing the opposite to each other. Both compare the top and bottom layer. The lighten, will always choose the brigher pixel from each, and use that. The darken, will always choose the darker. In the example, I combined a HDR result with one of the original exposures. This is actually exactly how I use this blending mode. Once you have a HDR, and you want to give it a little more natural feel, you can use this. For instace, if you have white objects in your photos, just use the exposure where they look the best, and use Lighten as the mode. They will be replaced, as in HDR white is usually darker, but other parts of the photo wont be affected.

Blend modesLighten
Blend modesDarken

You can of course tweak all the blend strengths by changing the opacity of the top layer, and also by using layer masks, and painting the effect just where you need it.

Feel free if you have any question about any of this :) And if you can’t find the blend modes in Photoshop, here is a screenshot of where to look for them, and the photo with no modes applied to compare.
Blend modes

One usually only needs to edit a photo, but from time to time it can happen, that one also need to edit the exif data directly. And here I don’t mean stuff like the creator info, or copyright information. I mean the exposure time, aperture, iso and similar. You may be wondering when this is required. The answer is simple. Especially in HDR, there are applications (Oloneo Photoengine, Photomatix Pro, PtGui and more) that need to access this information, so they will be able to blend the images correctly. In some of them, like the Photomatix pro, you can override this information, but in other you are depended on it. And it can easily happen, that you have to use an exposure modified in Lightroom, or you used bad settings on your camera, and you just need to change one of the values in exif.

For me this situation happens mostly, when I create HDR panoramas. If you look through my guide on how to do this, you will see that I use PTgui for this. But if one wants to save the result as blended planes, PTgui had to recognize the set of images as HDR brackets. For this to work, each set has to have the exact same values, especially same exposure time. And for some reason, when I take multiple series with the same settings, sometimes, the time on one or more is off. Like having 15s instead of 16s and similar. Not sure if this is a problem with Magic lantern firmware or Canon firmware, but it happens, and so I need to correct it.

PhotoMe
PhotoMe

 
The software I use for that is called PhotoMe. It’s a freeware that can be found and dowloaded from http://www.photome.de/. It’s a very handy tool, and it allows to see and to edit all of the information in the exif and then save it back as a raw file. Don’t be scared off that the latest version is from 2009. It still works fine, and from the software itself, you get updated until 2012. It works fine for all the RAW files I tried, but if you have a much newer camera, I would suggest to try  first, if the RAW are supported.

PhotoMe
PhotoMe

 
Using the software is very easy. You just select the file you want to edit, change the values, either by rewriting them, or choosing from the list of available options, and save as new file. It can’t be easier.

I hope this helps you if you ever need to change the exif, and feel free to suggest other software that can do this, if you know any.

When I was writing the 11 tips for Lightroom, I also thought to include how one works with 32-bit files in Lightroom. But as this is a little bigger subject, in the end I decided to give it a separate blog post. So here it is.

Lightroom is a great photo editing too, and since few versions ago, it can also edit 32-bit tiff files. If you remember my What is HDR post, 32-bit files can contain a huge dynamic range, so being able to edit them directly can create some very nice results.

Of course, same as with all the different ways of editing, it’s not perfect, and does not work well for every photo. But it’s an interesting technique and I suggest you give it a try.

So how to do it?

1. Merge the files in Photoshop

Yes, you still need Photoshop (or Photomatix Pro or other program that can create 32-bit files), as Lightroom can edit 32-bit files, but can’t create them. So first, once you select the files you want to merge, I would suggest correcting chromatic aberrations and lens distortions. You can do this also alter, but the results are not so good.

HDR in LightroomChoose merge to HDR Pro
HDR in LightroomMerge to HDR dialog

After that, select all the brackets, right click on one and choose Merge to HDR in Photoshop. Once you do this, all the files will be exported into Photoshop and the Merge to HDR dialog will open. Here you will probably see the 16-bit version, but that’s not what we need. Change to the 32-bit mode and just confirm (in the case you need to remove ghosting, choose also that option).

HDR in Lightroom32-bit file in Photoshop
HDR in LightroomSave as 32-bit

The file will be opened in Photoshop in 32-bit mode, and can be saved as a 32-bit tiff file from there.

2. Merge the files in Photomatix Pro

Another option to create a 32-bit tiff file, is to use Photomatix Pro. Just exporet the files you want to merge from Lightroom, or use RAW, and open them in Photomatix. What you need to do, is check the Show 32-bit image and choose merge. In few seconds, you will see the 32-bit file, which you can save as 32-bit tiff.

HDR in LightroomMerge in Photomatix
HDR in LightroomSave as 32-bit tiff

You can also find a Lightroom plugin from Photomatix, that does this step directly and you never have to leave Lightroom. You can find it here: Merge to 32-bit Plugin

3. Edit the 32-bit file in Lightroom

Once you have the 32-bit tiff file, you can import it back into Lightroom. You will see that nothing changes in the interface, and you can edit it as any other photo. The only change that is there, is that the Exposure slider goes from -10 to +10 instead of -5 to +5.

HDR in LightroomNegative exposure
HDR in LightroomPositive exposure

You will notice, that you can go really to extremes with all the sliders, and still you get a lot of detail and very little noise. That’s because, where Lightroom normally tries to works with information, that is not in a photo. But with the 32-bit file, there is just much more of it there.

HDR in Lightroom32-bit tiff file, with no edits
HDR in LightroomAfter few edits (but could be better :))

So from here you can use any of the tools available in Lightroom, to get the result you want. But before you start, I suggest playing a little with the Exposure, and find a good start in that huge dynamic range. For some photos it can happen, that you will start with a completely dark or white photo, so just move the slider up/down until it’s ok.

There are some problems with HDR photos, and it’s sad that that’s how most of HDR is characterized. And since I think, we all should strive for better results, and showing everyone that HDR can create stunning results if used correctly, here is a list of most common HDR mistakes, that I think one should avoid.

Before I get to the list, two more notes first. I will be using my older photos to illustrate the problems (as I did the mistakes myself at one time or another) so don’t expect any great photos here :). Secondly, if any of the results I describe here, are the results you desire for your photos, that’s doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong, it just mean you are going more towards the artistic HDR and that’s your decision. I would probably not like that, as I go more towards the realistic result, but again, style is very personal and is different for everyone, so keep doing what you like :).

That’s all for this, and lets look at the list :)

1. Lost contrast

The most common problem I see all the time. It’s the result of what HDR is and why you actually using it. Just think about it. If you have a proper exposure for every part of the photo, there are no highlights and now shadows. And that’s actually what a HDR result is. But a photo like this is very bland and boring. Nothing stands out.

So the goal should be, that the shadow areas are still a little darker then the average area of the photo, and the bright areas are still a little brighter. With this, the contrast is still there, but you don’t have extremes. Also the human eye is drawn to the highlight areas, and if you have none, it just moves randomly around the photo. And that’s not what you want.

Close to the lost of contrast, is also the lost of all shadows. There are very few instances when a scene has no shadows in it, and a photo looks just strange without any.

HDR mistakesMissing all the contrast
HDR mistakesJust too much color

2. Too many saturated colors

First of all, I think that you can have saturated colors in photos. There are enough examples of objects , that are just very colorful. But, if the whole photo consists only from strongly saturated colors, this is very tiring for the viewers eyes, and one can’t look at it for a longer time. If you include areas where the saturation is not so high, the eyes can move to them, and rest for a while.

So having a nice balance, between saturated and un-saturated color, is the best way to go.

3. Too much detail

Similar to the colors, one can have also to much detail. Not every part of the photo has to be super detailed, and if one wants to highlight the subject, it’s even better if the remaining areas are a bit less detailed, so they don’t pull the focus away from the main subject.

The human brain does not work in absolutes. It compares stuff. So something looks the sharpest when there is something blurry near by. Something looks detailed, when there is something less detailed near by. And actually same goes for color saturation.

HDR mistakesJust too much detail
HDR mistakesLight inversion

4. Light inversion

Another very often seen effect of HDR. This is when the dark parts of a the scene, are brighter than the light parts of the scene in the finished photo. This looks just strange and very artificial. If you want your photo to look realistic, the shadow areas should be darker than the light areas. Always.

5. Grey whites

This is also a classic result of HDR editing programs. What they do, is, that they try to darken the bright areas of a photo. But if an area is white, it can not be darkened while keeping it white, and from this the ugly grey color is created. Either don’t use HDR when taking photos of white objects, or blend the area back from the non-HDR photo.

HDR mistakesThe clouds should be much whiter
HDR mistakesNo real sense of composition

6. Forgetting about composition

Just making a photo HDR, will not make the composition better. If you are shooting a normal or a HDR photo, the first step should always be to decide the composition. If that’s bad, HDR editing will not make the photo better. Feel free to go over my list of composition tips for more.

7. Bokeh HDR

A place where HDR just looks ugly, is bokeh. The reason is simple. Where bokeh created a soft transition between shapes, HDR usually creates a hard, very defined transition. It’s always better not to create HDR from the out of focus areas of a photo, or blend them manually, not by using any of the HDR tone-mapping software.

HDR mistakesThere is no need for detail in the Bokeh
HDR mistakesThe edit is visible everywhere

8. Processing artifacts

There are many HDR processing software and many techniques how to blend images. Each of them can create really ugly artifacts in a photo, hard transition, strange shadows, out of place outlines and much more. Usually when one sees this, one needs to tone down the settings in the respective software or play more with the masks when manually blending. It’s hard to get rid of them, once they appear, so try to avoid them as much as possible.

Also photography errors, like chromatic aberrations, not properly focused areas and noise, are more visible after HDR processing, and should be dealt with before one even goes into HDR processing.

9. Using HDR when it’s not needed

As with every technique, HDR is not always needed. Don’t force HDR on every photo. Especially photos of people are great example, for when to avoid it. Some photos just look better, when there are strong shadows, overexposed areas and lost detail. Photos, where you just want to show a feeling, or mood, are the ones where you usually just don’t need HDR

HDR mistakesThe mood would be enough without HDR
HDR mistakesOveruse of Topaz Adjust

10. Using HDR filters

A filter named HDR is not the same as a HDR photo. They usually create very grungy, unrealistic looking, a lot of times ugly, results. Even the better ones, can’t really have the best results, if they don’t have the information they need in the image file. And usually when one uses a filter like this, one does not have the brackets required for the dynamic range.

I personally try avoid these, as a real HDR looks always better.

11. Just going overboard

One can use anything while editing photos, but everything should be used sparingly. Just throwing a bunch of filters on a photo, and thinking that that will make it great, never works.

For instance this photo. It’s just so over the top in detail, colors, just everything. I actually still like it, but probably only because it’s old and I’m nostalgic about it :)

 
And that’s all for this post and feel free to ask if you have any questions.

Some time ago I did a post with few tips for Oloneo Photoengine, and today lets look at few features of Lightroom, that you may have missed. Lightroom is for me one a very important software, and I think there isn’t a single photo on this blog that wasn’t edited in it to a certain degree. There are of course many more things in Lightroom, but that’s for next-time. So let’s get started :)

Btw. I’m including a lot of screenshots, as I think that any article about photos should include many of them. And same when talking about a software, one should include screenshots of what I’m talking about. So I hope you don’t mind.

1. Personalize the header

Ok, this one wont help you to make better photos, but give a little sense of the Litroom being more personal. It’s also great if you plan to share screenshots from Lighroom (like I did in this post :)). To change the header, just go under Edit / Identity plate setup. Btw. you can also make the selection menu in the top right bigger, which I find to be very useful.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

2. Stop scrolling

As all the adjustment panels, are placed in one long list to the side of the photos, it can lead to a lot of scrolling and searching. Luckily, the creator of Lightroom noticed this problem, and you can switch to a so called solo mode. What this does, is, that all the panels are collapsed, and only one can be opened at a certain time. So anytime you open one, all others close automatically. This makes it so much easier to find what you need, with minimum of scrolling. To switch to the Solo mode, just right click on any empty space under the panels, or on a name of a panel and choose Solo mode.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

3. Change the crop grid

Since all cropping in Lightroom is not permanent (you can change it at any time later), its a great tool for that. To make it easier, you can choose different overlays to help you with it. Options like thirds, golden ratio, golden spiral and more are available. To change this, first open a photo and choose Crop (in the Develop mode). After that you can go under Tools / Crop guide overlay to choose what you prefer.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

4. Sync, sync, sync

Sync is the best feature in Lightroom. If you are not using it, you are using it wrong :). What sync does is to copy all the settings from one photo over to another (or to how many one needs). One can copy all, or only some of the settings. This is so useful when one edits HDR brackets, or timelapse series, or any other series of photos where you need to do the same edits. You can sync from the Develop module, but also from the Library one. There you can also sync metadata if you need to. It’s also possible, to just right click any image and choose Settings / Copy settings, and then paste it onto another image.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

5. Stack photos

If you have a huge library of photos, grouping some of them into a stack can really help to get a better overview. At the start I tried to stack HDR series, but that just take too much time, so I setled to stacking timelapse series and HDR panoramas. You know, the 10+ series :). To stack photos, just select the ones you want and press Ctrl + G (Ctrl + Shift + G to unstack) or right click and use the options under Stacking. You will also notice that the highlighted photo (the one with a little whiter background) will be used as cover for the stack.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

6. Create virtual copies

Another great thing that you can do Lightroom is to create Virtual Copies of your photos. What this does, it creates a copy in Lightroom, but you still have only one file on the HDD. So you can create multiple edits of the single photo, without having to duplicate the file. Again, can be very useful in blending, where you want to create a version for the highlights and another one for the shadows.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

7. Double click to reset

Moving around slides can be so time consuming. But to make this faster, there are two things you can do. First is, when you want to reset a setting to default, just Double-click the name and it resets. The second is, when you want to move a slider only a very little, move you cursor above the number value (it will light up) and use the Up / Down keys, to adjust the value.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

8. Hold Alt to see the clipping

This one is similar to how it works in Photoshop. If you hold Alt while draging on sliders, the photo changes, to show you where you are clipping highlights and shadows (change pixels to complete black or white). This is extremely helpful, when you are trying to set the black and the white points for a photo, or are trying to adjust the exposure, without loosing any information.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

9. Export with the watermark

Especially if you need to export many photos at once, it can be very time consuming to add watermarks to all of them. Here is where this option comes in. You just create one (or select a picture to be applied) and use it as many times you want. You can even create presets for you watermarks, to make it even simpler. To get to this, just choose File / Export and look for the Watermarking option. I don’t use this for my landscape photos, but if I’m exporting photos, for instance from a party, this is what I do.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

10. Load into layers in Photoshop

Another one that is great if you want to blend exposures in Photoshop. Just select the ones you need, right click and choose Edit in / Open as layers in Photoshop. This will export and load all the files into a single Photoshop file as layer. You can also merge panoramas, or into Photoshop HDR from here. If you don’t plan to use a program in between Lightroom and Photoshop (like Oloneo) this makes the process more straightforward and you create no exports you don’t need.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

11. Create smart collections

If you have a huge library (like I have) creating smart collection will enable you to select photos from all over the place and have them in one shop. For instance. I like to have a collection of all already edited photos, so I can find them easily for my process posts. For that, each time I finish a photo, a give a 4 star rating to all the brackets. This is then automatically selected for that collection. I also include the year in the selection, as I have a separate one for different years. Of course you can create many different ones, one for photos from a certain location, one for you favorite photos, and many more.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

And that’s all for this post, but don’t forget to check out all the other guides and tips posts. You can find a list in the sidebar. And if you have any question about this post, feel free to ask.

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