Photoshop Gradient Tool: Blending Images

Tutorial

For this tutorial I've provided moderate-resolution JPEGs of both images you see below so that you can follow along each step of the way. Simply right-click on each to save it to your computer. Throughout the tutorial I'll refer to the image with the foreground homestead as Photo 1 and the image of the dramatic clouds as Photo 2.

Photo 1 Photo 2

These JPEGs are derived from Raw files which I edited so the overall contrast looked good and the color of the two skies was compatible. You'll want similar flexibility when you try this technique on your own images as well, so I highly recommend using Raw files as the basis for any composite work.

Step 1

Bring the two images together as layers in a single file, with Photo 1 on the bottom and Photo 2 on top. An easy way to do this is to open both images in Photoshop in adjacent windows. Select the Move tool and, while holding the Shift key, click-drag Photo 2 onto Photo 1. Tip: Holding the Shift key until after you release the mouse will center align the image you're dragging.

Reduce the layer opacity of Photo 2 (here I chose 74%). Use the Move tool to adjust Photo 2 up and down to see how the two images look in relationship to each other. Once the alignment looks good (no mountains in the sky, and the clouds working together nicely), restore the opacity of the Photo 2 layer back to 100%.

Here the two layers are being aligned, with the opacity of the top layer reduced to 74%, so that Photo 2 can be seen as a semi-transparent overlay atop the bottom layer. This allows you to position it properly.

Step 2

With the Photo 2 layer selected, add a layer mask to it by going to Layer>LayerMask>Reveal All. The resulting layer mask will be filled with white.

A layer mask has been added to the top layer. Because the entire mask is white, the Photo 2 layer is still completely visible.

Step 3

If you’ve used brushes in masks before, using the Gradient tool follows the same idea. First, select the Gradient tool (keyboard shortcut: G) and in the Control panel set it to the Black, White option (see below). If you've skipped the first page of this article and jumped straight to Step 1, make sure you've read my earlier explanation of the Gradient tool.

Choosing the Black, White option (circled above) means that any gradient you draw on a layer mask will first hide, then reveal the contents of the attached layer.

With the Photo 2 layer active (meaning it's highlighted in blue), click-drag in the canvas, from above the house towards the top of the image. This will create a black-to-white gradient inside the mask. Since in a mask, black conceals and white reveals, the bottom of Photo 2 will be hidden and the top will remain visible.

I applied the gradient several times, at slightly different angles, dragging a bit further or a bit less until I created just the right gradient in the Mask. This is something you'll want to experiment with yourself over several attempts. Keep in mind, however, that gradients on a single layer are not cumulative. Drawing a new gradient immediately replaces the previous one.

After the gradient is drawn on the layer mask, the bottom region of Photo 2 (the layer on top), becomes invisible, seamlessly blending with the Photo 1 layer beneath it.

The great thing about using the Gradient tool is that the transition is smooth and gradual. Why? Because the gradient is not only applying black and white areas to the layer mask. It also introduces shades of gray in-between them to feather the blend. Gray values partially hide or reveal areas, allowing for a natural, subtle transition between the two layers.

With the layer mask active, and the Linear Gradient tool set to 'Black, White', click+dragging inside the canvas using the direction and distance indicated by the red arrow, will make a gradient like the one shown in the center image. The gray areas in the mask create a partial transparency. This gradient will transform the appearance of Photo 2 from the leftmost image to the one shown at far right.

Of course, I could have used selections for this job, or brushes, but a Linear Gradient is the perfect tool to mask a more interesting sky onto a great foreground. In fact, Linear and Radial Gradients mimic the makeshift cardboard tools we used for burning & dodging in traditional, chemical black-and-white darkrooms; they provide feathered, believable transitions – especially effective when used in Masks.

And with just three simple steps you can create a seamless blend like you see below. Spend just a little time practicing with the Gradient tool and you'll have a fast, easy technique for making composite images.

Here's our 'combination-print' landscape, before and after.

This is the first of a two-part tutorial so stay tuned for Part 2. We’ll do the 'darkroom' work this picture needs using the gradient tool with Adjustment Layers – and explore some of the Gradient tool’s advanced features.


Jean Miele has been digitally editing images for over 15 years. A working commercial photographer and highly sought after Photoshop instructor, his fine art images and workshop schedule can be seen at jeanmiele.com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.

Comments

Total comments: 223
12
SparkySparkes
By SparkySparkes (3 months ago)

Thank you. This technique is new to me. I can't wait to try it on my own images now.

0 upvotes
Queen Gene
By Queen Gene (6 months ago)

Thank you, thank you, thank you! This has saved me sooo much time and is a technique I will use for all my skies now, you're a diamond! :)

0 upvotes
Byron Walter
By Byron Walter (7 months ago)

Wow! This works in PSE 11 but the interface is different... managed to get it to work anyhow. Great stuff for a neophyte.

0 upvotes
little al
By little al (8 months ago)

I had bookmarked this some months ago. Finally got to it today. Jean, you are a true master. Thanks

0 upvotes
luigibozi
By luigibozi (9 months ago)

For tests with the blending modes, feel free to use this file:
http://luigibozianu.blogspot.ca/2013/07/layer-blend-modes.html
It's a .psd, open source :) You can modify it anyway you want...

0 upvotes
w. coyote
By w. coyote (10 months ago)

brilliant! i spent hours yesterday doing the same thing using techniques that never looked right. following these directions i did it in minutes and it looks perfect! thank you so much jean for sharing!!!!!!!!!!!

0 upvotes
CJ Lan
By CJ Lan (11 months ago)

I still do not think combining two or more pictures into one is a good photography principle and practice to follow or encourage.

Why does the author involve blending two pictures into one with the gradient tool. The gradient tool can be used without. I just do not see the point.

1 upvote
AndreNL
By AndreNL (11 months ago)

Combining two pictures has nothing to do with photography. So it can't be a bad photographic principle. It is postproduction, faking, enhancing, shaping reality.
Image manipulation helps telling the story. It is creativity, NOT photography. A painter does't wait for the perfect sky to come by. He makes one up. He is an artist.

The sky-replacement has nothing to do with photography. Any use of gradients (using photoshop) hurts all photographic principles that you can make up. Photography ends as soon as the shutter closes. Everything after (and a LOT before) is pure manipulation.

In some situations postproduction should be avoided or used with care (news etc.). That is my PERSONAL principle and has nothing to do with photography.

I this article I fail to see any problem regarding image manipulation. The image greatly improved.
The article is well written and will help readers (artists) to further improve the story they want to share with the rest of the world.

That is the point.

5 upvotes
RadPhoto
By RadPhoto (10 months ago)

I agree with AndreNL. I am sick of all those people keep saying what CJ Lan says above. Why do professional photographers buy more expensive cameras? Because they "produce" better photos! Period. If I can't afford a high price Pro Nikon or Canon camera to give me high dynamic range, why can't I use a another method to produce the same effect?

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 49 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Sergeg
By Sergeg (8 months ago)

The principle of printing multiple negatives is a technique as old as photography itself, the Photoshop method is the digital equivalent and is as valid as any historical process.

0 upvotes
Stefan Stuart Fletcher
By Stefan Stuart Fletcher (11 months ago)

Thank you for a very informative tutorial, clearly and simply explained.

0 upvotes
contadorfan
By contadorfan (11 months ago)

I got this to work in PaintshopPro x5 with a little help from this tutorial:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXCIiTavAS

Woo hoo! First time I've ever used a mask or a gradient!

0 upvotes
NZ Scott
By NZ Scott (11 months ago)

Fantastic tutorial, thank you. I've been meaning to train myself in the use of the gradient tool for some time now - and this is tremendously helpful.

1 upvote
Peter B Schmidt
By Peter B Schmidt (11 months ago)

Thank you Jean Miele for this splendid article. You make me hungry for some more. When can we expect
"In an upcoming article we'll explore how to use the Gradient tool to modify layer mask-enabled adjustments to brightness, contrast and toning"

0 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (11 months ago)

Thank you so much for acknowledging that making a really convincing mask for sky replacement is not fast or easy. This is an excellent tutorial, made even better by your honesty about the tedious alternative.

0 upvotes
Zvonimir Tosic
By Zvonimir Tosic (Apr 18, 2013)

Light in two pictures above comes from a totally different angle.
But who really cares about that? :)

0 upvotes
letsgofishing
By letsgofishing (Apr 9, 2013)

Many thanks Jean - looking forward to part 2!

Comment edited 20 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Serban Alexandru
By Serban Alexandru (Apr 8, 2013)

Really good, indeed. Thank you.
What do Diamond Gradients serve for? To draw diamonds, I suppose... :)

0 upvotes
zizzle
By zizzle (Mar 29, 2013)

Thanks! Great article - simple and short really good

1 upvote
JonathanFV
By JonathanFV (Mar 20, 2013)

Very nice tutorial, thanks a lot Jean! It worked great with Gimp as well, using the same technique. Also, I've noticed I had to horizontally flip the sky so the shadows of the beams of the house go the same way as the rays of the sun.

0 upvotes
rdc13
By rdc13 (Mar 19, 2013)

I'm guessing that people here who are saying 'this isn't photography' never spent hours and hours dodging and burning in a hot, stuffy darkroom.

Tools change. Art remains.

2 upvotes
martin45
By martin45 (Mar 15, 2013)

Thank you Jean for your useful example of using gradients in a mask. This is an easy method to deal with a common problem.
I preferred the original sky though. What I did was to duplicate the original background layer and then use the Multiply blending mode. This was a little too much so I reduced the opacity to around 65%. Then I used your straightforward example to add a mask with a gradient. For the gradient I reduced the opacity to 30% and applied gradients several times to mask the grass and cabin as well as the clouds on the upper left partially. Then I added an adjustment layer to saturate the dry grass and cabin in the foreground. In the mask for this adjustment layer I used your method again to mask the sky from the top down to just allow the cabin to get saturated. This was way better than using selections or painting in a mask. Thanks again.

0 upvotes
jean miele
By jean miele (Mar 15, 2013)

You are very welcome, Martin45. Thank you. It's fantastic that you were able to integrate using a Gradient in a mask; that was my goal in creating the tutorial. And your "variation on a theme" sounds just great. Jazz improv, right? ; )

0 upvotes
Giuseppe Fallica
By Giuseppe Fallica (Mar 14, 2013)

Improving photographs working on levels, curves, contrast, saturation, filters, lights, shadows, gamma, as well as using HDR techniques, photo stacking, etc.., is deontologically appreciable, because the final result, however, isn't a fake: only a picture improved.
Techniques such as the one here illustrated, however, leave me puzzled because goes beyond the Photography and entering the creative montage. Which often has a great artistic value.
But that's not Photography.

4 upvotes
jamesfrmphilly
By jamesfrmphilly (Mar 14, 2013)

says who?

2 upvotes
jean miele
By jean miele (Mar 14, 2013)

Ciao, Giuseppe. Thanks for commenting. You're not the first one in this thread to say "that's not photography" or some variation on that theme. Personally, I think “photography” is a BIG word. I doubt Sir John Herschel could have imagined that the term would grow to encompass such a vast range of uses, processes, media and intentions when he popularized it in 1839. From the beginning, our beloved "painting with light" was diverse and ever changing, and has grown into a spectrum that spans art, documentary, family snapshots, advertising, pornography, scientific research, and a thousand gradations and variations between. It includes nearly a hundred distinct photographic processes (so far!), ranging from daguerreotype to Hipstamatic, and is presented on an impossibly wide array of media and substrates, including glass, metal, paper, and LCD, to name just a few. *more below*

4 upvotes
jean miele
By jean miele (Mar 14, 2013)

If photomontage isn't a part of photography, that's bad news for me, and a bunch of other people. Pretty sure Jerry N. Uelsmann (as Amadou mentioned earlier) is a photographer. Not to mention Carleton Watkins, Gustave LeGray, Henry Peach Robinson… and W. Eugene Smith. Smith, unarguably one of the icons of photojournalism, wasn't above creating the occasional photomontage, as evidenced in this recent NY Times Lens blog entry: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/w-eugene-smith-i-didnt-write-the-rules-why-should-i-follow-them/

The way I see it, we all love photography, and there's room in that word for all of us, regardless of the kinds of pictures we like to make.

3 upvotes
lafab
By lafab (Mar 15, 2013)

Thank You so much Jean for the fantastic article .
And all you " anti-photoshop talibans",what about all great wildlife photographers,no fakes at all,or the great guys at Magnum for long,long time ago.like Robert Doisneau with his legendary "Kiss by the Hotel de Ville"; fake or not?
When humans or animals are directed and manipulated by the photographer,is the result then just a poor fake ?

0 upvotes
Giuseppe Fallica
By Giuseppe Fallica (Mar 15, 2013)

Do not get me wrong.
I assumed that creative manipulation has a great artistic value, often even more than in documentary photography.
But it's another thing.
It's therefore necessary to understand what we are talking about: creativity or photojournalism?
In the first case it's ethically permissible to use any tool. No limit.
In the second case, It's ethically allowed the use of calibration tools, but not "manipulation".
It was discovered that some photographers, trying to emphasize the famous tsunami a few years ago, have created photomontages using pieces of Niagara Falls.
This is unethical.
The newspapers, now more than ever, in the digital age, they are very strict in this respect.

0 upvotes
Giuseppe Fallica
By Giuseppe Fallica (Mar 15, 2013)

- continue from -
And I do not mean just photojournalism social or war reportages. Even the landscape photos are discarded without hesitation by newspapers such as National Geographic, if counterfeit beyond what is a simple calibration.
The case of the legendary Robert Doisneau photo "Kiss by the Hotel de Ville" is completely different. We discuss it if the kissing couple is casually on site, or it's a couple in a pose. But even in the latter case, technically, no question of a montage.
Infact, one thing is to create a scene or a situation. Another thing is to remove people with rubber ...

0 upvotes
Giuseppe Fallica
By Giuseppe Fallica (Mar 15, 2013)

P.S.
Jean, It's obvious that my comments were related to the purposes of the technique, not to the the "technique itself". Your tutorial is a masterpiece and I will be the first to use it!

0 upvotes
Jack76
By Jack76 (Mar 14, 2013)

Heck, back in the fifties we took the two negatives and printed what we wanted out of the first negative, and then added the sky from the second negative. You probably had to make maybe a half a dozen prints before you got a good one. But that's the way we did it back then and no one griped.
Also way back beffore they had panchromatic film we used orthochromatic film that was color blind Practically insensitive to red - NOT BLUE.

0 upvotes
aja2
By aja2 (Mar 14, 2013)

Is there anyway to add this to my favorites or bookmark this article within DPR? I don't have time to read the whole thing but am very interested in the subject, since I needed to learn how to do this months ago!

0 upvotes
jean miele
By jean miele (Mar 14, 2013)

Sure, aja2. There are a few possibilities. I use both Evernote and Instapaper to save things for later reading. (There are also many other services like these.) Another possibility is to simply "print" the browser page as a PDF, and save it to your hard drive. Whichever method you choose, you'll need to save page 1 and page 2 of the article individually. Glad you found it helpful enough to want to refer to it again : )

0 upvotes
GSpix60D
By GSpix60D (11 months ago)

You could save it for later using Evernote and its Chrome extension. I do this quite a lot, as I have memory problems.

0 upvotes
QSMcDraw
By QSMcDraw (Mar 13, 2013)

Just had to laugh at the many, many pompous comments about PS being a cheat, or about how many "better" ways this could be done. I remember when these same pompous jerks used to work at camera shops, making beginners walk out, enthusiasts feel stupid...Now most of those shops are out of business. Wonder why?

3 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (11 months ago)

The reason camera shops went out of business was that people had no reason to keep going to camera shops. When was the last time you needed a roll of film, spare (disposable) batteries, a photo album and to pick your prints? And don't forget the stop bath and a spare bulb for your slide projector.

0 upvotes
sm176811
By sm176811 (Mar 13, 2013)

Thanks! Great article - simple and short!

2 upvotes
peacefrog33756
By peacefrog33756 (Mar 13, 2013)

Many thanks for a very helpful and informative article.

2 upvotes
wildplaces
By wildplaces (Mar 13, 2013)

Thank you for explaining the basics of gradients used with masked layers...it is always helpful to see these techniques explained in simple terms using sample images this way.

2 upvotes
Steve Parkin
By Steve Parkin (Mar 12, 2013)

I know more than a few people who I see and hear complaining about Photoshop - who are folks who have not embraced it and therefore, cannot use it to its full advantage. Back in the times when Photoshop didn't really exist and everybody's photos were based on how well they came out of the camera, these guys were kings. Now with post processing and other tools, they have lost that status somewhat. 3 photos layered into 1 to produce a shot that looks better than the single frame. Lets compare.

The guy doing the layered piece of art is making something that looks better (perhaps?), and still requires a camera to create it. Making great images is a lot of fun. Not much complaining from this guy.

The guys doing the single frame shots that I'm referring to get to prattle on about how bad Photoshop is and how if there was a contest like the old days when you had to use a camera and not Photoshop, they'd still be the best.

Ego.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 5 minutes after posting
5 upvotes
TLD
By TLD (Mar 14, 2013)

Steve, your comment puts me in mind of responses encountered in my camera club, and always from old school members with limited computer skills.

One factor has to be intended end use of 'created' images, and if for competition use, if the rules allow radical image manipulation, then a person disadvantages themselves if they refuse to encompass that option in their images.

The PSNZ (Photographic Society on New Zealand) uses this flickr stream to host winning exhibition and salon entries, and the images show a slight predominance of heavy Photoshop use, but there are still enough straight photographs to satisfy the conservative shooter.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/psnz/

Our professional body the NZIPP shows an even greater percentage of heavily manipulated images in its annual Iris Awards

http://www.nzipp.org.nz/nzippweb/Default.aspx?tabid=422

It seems to me that you ignore these image manipulation tools at your peril!

0 upvotes
Steve Parkin
By Steve Parkin (Mar 12, 2013)

Quite a bit of narrow minded thinking from people who feel that their way is the only way to be a photographer.

Really, I think the biggest issue at play is EGO. Thats a hard thing for people to admit to. The point of photography? I always thought it was to create images. A camera records reality the way a camera sees reality. Not the way it really is. We override the camera in such a way that the camera produces things closer to OUR vision. How is that different than Photoshop?
You can use white balance on board the camera to produce a total lie as easily as a layer mask can.

I do not condone dishonesty in image making; I do condone interpretation and artistic license. It seems that there are too many ego driven people stuck on the idea that the best image makers are the ones who can do the best using just a camera. The point of this game is to make great images, right?. Why limit yourself to just a camera in the art-making process? When so much more is out there to use?

3 upvotes
M DeNero
By M DeNero (Mar 12, 2013)

Jean Miele is a great photographer known for highly artistic images. So, I would know to look at this with some suspicion of license. Personally I draw the line on composites. Composites compromise the power of photography, shifting the emphasis from a photographer's reaction to the subject to mere artistry. As for the subject example? The final may be marginally better than the original graphically, but in terms of meaning it adds nothing. In fact, knowing it a composite of separate scenes diminishes the image.

2 upvotes
QSMcDraw
By QSMcDraw (Mar 13, 2013)

I agree that there is a certain purity of viewing experience when we know that a photographer caught a special confluence of elements and did not alter reality. If this is the type of photography you most admire, enjoy! However, to disparage other types of approaches, in this case composites, and sniff that such are, as you bizarrely state, "mere artistry," paints you as pompous, rather than embracing. Photography appeals to so many because it is offers so many ways of expressing oneself. Embracing some does not require us to belittle others!

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 15 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
M DeNero
By M DeNero (Mar 14, 2013)

Yes, I enjoy a "confluence of elements". I also enjoy abstract photography and accept some well done composites in that realm. I have no problem with composites for advertisements, illustrations, or art, but almost all have absolutely no place in photography that includes documentary intent. It is important that general perceptions are considered. Viewers in general are very receptive to photographic illusions, abstractions, exaggerations, etc created in an artful way. Viewers even tolerate outright manipulation when it makes a point, or when it is meaningless. But show somebody a photo of something they care about and you better watch out! You better be sensitive and not twist it to meet your ego. Or you won't be trusted.

0 upvotes
jeep
By jeep (Mar 12, 2013)

One of the best uses of layer masks is selectively combining different exposures of the same scene to achieve a natural looking HDR image, without the overblown look of HDR software and tone mapping.

1 upvote
Dvlee
By Dvlee (Mar 12, 2013)

If done proerly, HDR can yield pefectly natural results. And an image properly tonemapped for a natural look appear more natural than an image pieced together in layers.

It's a matter of skill, and a matter of intent. And very much a matter of opinion.

There are times to strive for a natural look and a time for a more surrealistic look. This has been true not only as long as photography has been around, but as long as art in any form has been around!

Unskilled artists tend to be a bit heavy handed when applying special effects. But in the right hands, heavily tone mapped images may bring a beauty and interest to a scene that would otherwise be dull and boring. It takes as much skill to apply a heavy special effect without over doing it as it does to apply the effect to make it appear natural.

I revisited some of the images I had pieced together from bracketed shots and layers, and tonemapped them in HDR. They look more natural via HDRI than through layers.

Comment edited 50 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
TheDman
By TheDman (Mar 13, 2013)

"an image properly tonemapped for a natural look appear more natural than an image pieced together in layers"

I couldn't disagree more with this.

1 upvote
TLD
By TLD (Mar 14, 2013)

You can't possibly make that statement and maintain credibility. You might have admired any number of pictures without realising they were tone-mapped. One of the biggest problems with HDR is that the worst examples are the easiest to spot. Apps like Photomatix have advanced enormously over the years, and it is much easier to photorealistic HDR nowadays - even if you are not very good at it.

0 upvotes
TheDman
By TheDman (Mar 15, 2013)

I certainly can. How can you get more photorealistic than an actual photo? The image in this example is just two photos pieced together in layers... are you saying it's LESS realistic than a tonemapped image of the two? That's ridiculous.

0 upvotes
madeinlisboa
By madeinlisboa (Mar 12, 2013)

The more Photoshop you use the less photographer you are... I use Photoshop only for creativity and extreme problems. I still use Capture NX for 99% of my photos.
It's sad to reach a point when you don't know if it is a photograph anymore...

3 upvotes
Dvlee
By Dvlee (Mar 12, 2013)

That sounds very much like what they were saying about Eduard Steichen 115 years ago!

The painters said it wasn't art and the photographers said it wasn't photography.

Your opinion on Photoshop simply defines how you prefer to approach photography and is not an accurate description of all photographers.

Long before digital photography existed, we used to say that clicking the shutter is only the start of the photographic process. There's alot that takes place after the exposure is made that must be done for the photographers vision to be realized.

I could argue that if all one is doing is making a few tweaks in tone and color, that it's really no different than a snapshooter who drops the film off at the minilab and lets someone else finish the process. That would be an inaccurate statement but no less accurate than saying that using more photoshop makes one less a photographer.

Photography is a two step process, one is what happens before you take the shot, and one after.

2 upvotes
TheDman
By TheDman (Mar 13, 2013)

So you use Photoshop correctly, and everyone else uses it incorrectly. Got it.

0 upvotes
Michael Wilkinson
By Michael Wilkinson (Mar 14, 2013)

I started life as a photographer in 1965 and have been cheating ever since.hot water on part of a B+W print to bring up detail,a dab of fix to stop development in one spot,shading,printing from multiple negatives.
I love what Photoshop lets me achieve.I no longer worry about how to prop something up in the studio,blemishes on products can be removed etc.
Photoshop is the perfect tool to compliment digital images.

0 upvotes
Timmbits
By Timmbits (Mar 12, 2013)

Why not invert from left to right (mirror) the dark sky image, so that it works with the direction of the shadows on the structure? The main problem I see with this, is that to me, it is not a believable composite, because first, the building is so bright it looks like it's in broad daylight, but there's this dark sky over it, and second, the point where the skies may be lightening up is on the left, while the shadows imply a light source from the right.
I understand it's just an example and the point of the article is otherwise, but I feel that while we're on the topic of making "believable" composites, light source, light intensity and contrast, and direction of shadows still have to be all taken into account, to make it work. And this is part of the job with such an undertaking.

1 upvote
jean miele
By jean miele (Mar 12, 2013)

Feel free to download the jpegs from page 2, and try it yourself. That's why we're providing the practice images :-)

2 upvotes
Da99ve
By Da99ve (Mar 12, 2013)

The original dramatic sky is great, too. Leave it alone, as well. ;) No big foreground focal point is required other than the gentle arid nodule already there.

If this was all just a hypothetical test, fine. But I hope people don't over-think their original visions/moments, which is the heart of photography.

0 upvotes
Dvlee
By Dvlee (Mar 12, 2013)

The brighteness on the right side of the sky makes the image seem less ominous. That might have been fixed with just a tonal adjustment, but since the point of the article is about blending images, that would have defeated the purpose of the article!

0 upvotes
Da99ve
By Da99ve (Mar 12, 2013)

I haven't scrolled through all the comments below, but the combined photo is a bit silly-looking, because the sun is now behind the dark clouds (as evidenced by the original foreground), yet we still have the strong-lined shadows on the building from the original sun high and to the right.

The homestead's original sky is great. Leave it alone.

Over-processing turns a photo into a painting or at least 'photo art'. Label it as such.

Comment edited 11 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
jeep
By jeep (Mar 12, 2013)

I've used layer masks for blending for some time now, but have always used feathered brushes set to 10% of black or gradients of black to transparent, so the introduction of white is new to me, will give it a go.

Thanks for an interesting article.

0 upvotes
Wildbegonia
By Wildbegonia (Mar 12, 2013)

Thank you so much for sharing, nicely explained. Hope you will be posting some more.

1 upvote
Neodp
By Neodp (Mar 12, 2013)

Gimp has an excellent youtube channel to help the Gimp user accomplish almost anything.

2 upvotes
sickdog1674
By sickdog1674 (Mar 12, 2013)

Photoshop Elements has an excellent youtube channel to help the elements user accomplish almost anything the program is capable of doing. Excellent article though helping me expand my knowledge of a seemingly endless learning process with Photoshop. I do what makes me and the customer happy and that is all that counts in my photography, everybody is an artist in their own way

2 upvotes
Alejandro del Pielago
By Alejandro del Pielago (Mar 11, 2013)

Who says "blending images is a sin"???

Light up the darkroom: since the first 'camera oscura' to paint with perspective, even before, painting the walls inside a cavern, man are "cheating" "the real world" again and again...

2 upvotes
Easycass
By Easycass (Mar 11, 2013)

A good article. There will always be various ways to achieve better results; explaining the technique was the point.

And ‘cheating’? Even purist photographers are never able to fully represent reality. Would that mean everyone ‘cheats’?

In camera we: crop, rotate, use focal length, DOF, compression, distortion, shutter speed, expression, props, shadows, viewpoint, film, exposure, blockers, lighting, reflectors, masks, filters, etc.

In the darkroom we: dodge, burn, mask, filter, diffuse, solarize, graduate, spot, colour balance, vignette, bleach, and even do composites (you know, a house and a different sky) by multiple exposures and sandwiching negatives.

In Photoshop we: do all of the above and more.

All the above distort what is reality. Am I to believe that those ‘photographers’ here who accuse people of ‘cheating’ do none of the above?

Photography - Painting with light - You do not have to like what is created, but love that we have the ability and freedom to create...

1 upvote
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (Mar 11, 2013)

Have you actually ever tried doing composites in the darkroom?

I don't think you have. Because you'll know how bl00dy hard it is and how much skill it takes to do it successfully. And it's usually a one-off. You can't repeat exactly what you have done previously..

In Photoshop its click, click, click, drag, drop, click, click, click. Done. In minutes. In the darkroom you can work for MUCH longer than that.

You say in the camera we... In the darkroom we.. Yeah, sure, but those things actually exist. You are confined by physical and chemical realities. Not so in your fake photoshopped world.

Have you tried, say, removing that small annoying seagull that just happen you fly into your shot ruining your sky. On a colour RA4 print it's impossible (apart from actually 'airbrushing' over it). In a B&W silver gelatine print, well, give it a go! All you digital freaks get off your ar5e and give it a go with a real B&W print.

Photoshopography: Painting with pixels that don't exist!

2 upvotes
Easycass
By Easycass (Mar 11, 2013)

Hi there Wye,

Your opinions are strong. It is good to find someone with such passion, and nothing wrong with it, especially if it really is what you believe. I looked at your website too, and I have to say you have some wonderful photos.

I especially noted your section that included, "Photos of Wales taken on the iPhone 4S and processed on the iPad2."...

I guess you don't mind heavily processed photos afterall, but maybe only if done on an iPhone...? But I must say, a bit of a disappointment after you showed such passion against such things...

1 upvote
AluKd
By AluKd (Mar 12, 2013)

"Have you tried, say, removing that small annoying seagull that just happen you fly into your shot ruining your sky. On a colour RA4 print it's impossible (apart from actually 'airbrushing' over it). In a B&W silver gelatine print, well, give it a go! All you digital freaks get off your ar5e and give it a go with a real B&W print. "

That's actually patently false, as part of my film photography classes was exactly replicating digital darkroom techniques in an actual darkroom - and yeah, we did actually remove stuff and composite photographs, both B&W and RA4 through frame splicing and clever use of masks. Is it easy? Nope. But it's doable - and, furthermore, people have been doing these very things since forever.

2 upvotes
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (Mar 12, 2013)

To Easycass

Thank you for your comments. My iPhone 'stuff' is peculiar and exclusive to the iPhone. I do enjoy working with the iPhone and iPad and do it in such a way as to make it obvious that the images have been modified. It's fun and a tonic for the jaded. It's blatant iPhoneography as they call it. I would NEVER pass it off as 'authentic', not that I possibly can. As the iphone 'work' is in its own pigeon hole, I may remove that gallery. Is it really 'photography'?

I don''t actually mind people modifying images, making panoramas, montages, blends, composites etc. IF they make it clear that this is the case. My whole point is passing such work off as an original one frame shot when in actuality it isn't.

That, my friend, is my whole issue.

I totally respect people who say things like "this image is a composite made from three frames" or "I removed...", "Changed..."

It is a question of honesty and integrity.

0 upvotes
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (Mar 12, 2013)

To AluKd

If I wasn't in such a hurry I would have chosen better words. I should have said "largely impossible", for some workers, it is because they can't achieve the level of skill required.

Tell me, removing said hypothetical seagull from an 10x8 inch RA4 print, how long? Chances of success on first go? How much space and equipment required? How much time would you have to put in to pull it off convincingly?

I can teach one of the office girls (most of whom do not like IT) where I work to remove said seagull from a .jpg in 15minutes maximum.

As you say, it's doable, but with what kind of skill and effort?

Before digital, Newspapers had teams of guys who whose sole job it was to touch-up photographs from film. Airbrushing was an art using real airbrushes not the photoshop tool. They were highly skilled people made redundant by a bit of software that anybody can use.

Photoshop can do much, much more, much quicker, with much less skill. You have never had it so good (or bad)!

0 upvotes
Irata
By Irata (Mar 12, 2013)

@Wye Photography:

Sounds to me like you're mixing two different things in your rather passionate posts, so:
What is your issue? "Authenticity" or "too easy in Photoshop these days"?

I don't care if the seagull's removed in Photoshop, or if it's removed on a "real" print. The later takes longer & more skill, but the result will be the same: seagull removed.

As for authenticity: there is no such thing. Take, for example, Robert Capa's "Death of a Loyalist Soldier". People still argue today whether the image was staged or not.

PS: Keep your iPhone pictures up. They're nice – and after, all iPhone photos ARE "photography", which is "painting with light" in a black light-tight box. Doesn't matter if it's film or a sensor involved ;)

0 upvotes
JakeB
By JakeB (Mar 12, 2013)

@Wye

You're whining because a faster, more accurate procedure has supplanted the darkroom where results were difficult to achieve and hit and miss?

You have no idea how to use Photoshop and like most of the old duffers on here are reacting out of fear of what you don't understand.

Click, click, click. indeed.

0 upvotes
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (Mar 12, 2013)

@JakeB

Sorry laddie, but I have been using photoshop PROFESSIONALLY as a Graphic Designer since version 2.5 Currently I run CS5.5

Old duffer eh! Well, this one being ex-Army is probably more fit than your are.

I think when this computer/gadget fetish runs it's course people will want to return to a simpler, unfiltered, humble way of making images.

You rely on a plethora of software engineers and programmers for your images. I don't. When I think about it, you don't actually make your images, Abobe's code-heads do.

Comment edited 11 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
AluKd
By AluKd (Mar 12, 2013)

"You rely on a plethora of software engineers and programmers for your images. I don't."

Unless you built your camera from the ground up, you do too.

0 upvotes
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (Mar 12, 2013)

@Irata

My issue is expressed in my comment above yours (I hope it was clear). The ease of it doesn't bother me per se, I was making the comparison that in the 'old days' faking, composites etc took really skill and a lot of hard work. Photoshop isn't hard work, it's easy.

Perhaps I have been using PS for too long. I went through all the stuff like I see and read here. There comes a point when you become sick of it all. Sick of all the computer generated un-reality. Perhaps you'll come to that point one day.

Like you, once I didn't care how the seagull was removed. Now I do. I suppose I've around digital media too long.

For me, authenticity is important, as is honesty, integrity and being genuine. Personally, I think Capa staged it, Alexander Rodchenko faked it a lot. That's not genuine. It's lying. Some people are like that. I am not.

Thanks for your comment about my iPhone pictures. I don't know where that sits with me yet. I'll take your comments aboard. Take care.

0 upvotes
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (Mar 12, 2013)

@Alukd

That's true. I could build my own camera though, it's not that hard. I have given it some thought actually. Building my own camera one day. I have already mixed my own developer, made Cyanotypes, that's a little start.

I like to see you write your own version of Photoshop! LOL.

0 upvotes
AluKd
By AluKd (Mar 12, 2013)

Not that hard, actually. I mean, that's pretty much what Knoll did with PS 1.0. It's certainly doable.

Making your own digital camera from scratch, though, that's much harder ;)

On the other hand, I've built my own film camera, already. It's a cakewalk.

0 upvotes
Easycass
By Easycass (Mar 12, 2013)

Hello again Wye,

I do understand your desire for a personal authenticity, but as you say, I think as long as people do not try to pass any modified image as something it is not, then we are happy.

Believe it or not, I am with you, and prefer unaltered images as much as possible. I used to think the only image that came close to be straight fromn the camera at least, was a positive slide, no printing, no cropping, only the film, ASA, aperture and shutter to get it right. I do allow myself a bit more latitude these days... Though sometimes I still can't bring myself to straighten a horizon in PS!

But I guess I have learned to appreciate there are many forms of photography these days, many ways to poduce 'the image', and so long as 'it works', I try not to judge 'how' they made it work...

Ps...
I too think you should keep the iPhone shots on your website. I really liked them. Whether they are photo-like or painterly, for me it only mattered that I enjoyed looking at them...

0 upvotes
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (Mar 13, 2013)

To Easycass and AluKd

Many thanks for your comments, I appreciate them.

It will be very interesting to see how the technology, software and the direction photography takes actually pans out in the next five or so years.

AluKd, when I said 'build my own camera', I did actually mean a film camera (I do shoot film, and more recently). If you feel so inclined, please send me details of your self-made-camera, I will be very interested in that.

May your Light always be wonderful!

0 upvotes
Irata
By Irata (Mar 13, 2013)

@Wye Photography,

I'm still a little confused... The first paragraph in your last reply to my post is contraticting in itself I think. ("The ease doesn't bother me..." <--> "Photoshop is easy").

Anyway... more importantly, about the seagull being removed: I hear what you're saying, but my point is: apart from your very own photographs you'll never know if there was a seagull in the first place – both with analogue or digital.

Personally, I keep retouching to a minimum: colours, contrast, maybe a little d&b. All those things could also be done in the analogue world (I used to work as a C-Type printer): different film stock (Kodak Portra vs Agfa Ultra for example), printing on different papers (Fuji negs on Kodak paper or vice versa),...

So, unless I took the image myself and/or porcessed it myself, I'll never be able to tell if it has been manipulated – and besides that: manipulation starts with focal length, camera position and angle, and the moment we press the shutter.

0 upvotes
Neodp
By Neodp (Mar 11, 2013)

How to merge three images together; using Gimp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXVaEQbzKyc

1 upvote
Sunburned
By Sunburned (Mar 11, 2013)

I bought a fish yesterday. So i'm a fisherman, the expert one who can take any fish he wants!
I'm not a photographer and i don't say it's cheating. But i prefer to differentiate Editing and Designing from Photographing.
Thanks for useful article. It can help my terrible photos seem better.

0 upvotes
sanjja
By sanjja (Mar 11, 2013)

A well-written and helpful tutorial on how to use the gradient tool, but I agree with the comment that for the images used, that tool might not be the best choice. Here, it might be simpler to paint the mask with a 100%-opaque black brush in most of the area above the subject of photo 1. The only area requiring something less than 100% opacity is the area immediately above the subject. Because both photos have sky in this area, a seamless blending can be achieved in this area by feathering the brush and playing with its size and opacity. Once this is done, photo 1 can be moved around to achieve the most desired look. Still, the purpose of the tutorial was to illustrate how the gradient tool works, and in this regard, it well succeeds. Thanks.

0 upvotes
jean miele
By jean miele (Mar 11, 2013)

Thanks for the kind words, and the feedback. A friend of mine, Brian Reed (from Hawaii and Sweden) is a great photographer and a musician. He once told me he thinks Photoshop is like Jazz Improv. Within the form there's room for a vast range of approaches, styles, and interpretation. And the analogy extends further: Photoshop is - literally - a keyboard ; ) instrument. It seems like there are almost always three ways to do the same thing in Photoshop, and this case is no different. Masking with brushes, feathered selections, Gradients - or a combination of all three… these are just variations on a theme.

9 upvotes
gsum
By gsum (Mar 11, 2013)

Well done for producing a good result and for sticking your head over the parapet.
I would liken Photo$hop to a jazz improvisation played by a pub jazz band on plastic instruments with half the keys missing. Capture NX and the Gimp are far more effective and lower priced tools (gimp is free) for the sort of manipulations that you're doing.

3 upvotes
showmeyourpics
By showmeyourpics (Mar 11, 2013)

Hi, I already commented on this technique but want to add my contribution to the issue of photographic realism. There is plenty of scientific evidence about the amazingly complicated way the eye-brain system "perceives" images, a personal mix of physiology, neurology and psychology influenced by the other senses, and how profoundly different it is from any technological means. It varies significantly from person to person or with the same person at different times. The conclusion is that there is no "realism" between the subject and the print no matter what we do. "Pure" b&w is even more abstract than color. From the camera side, we have the choice of letting the processing engine turn out an arbitrarily developed jpeg or processing the raw image ourselves. I am safe from this mess because (my) fine art photography, by definition, has no practical application but beauty and enjoyment. The only fundamental rule to follow is to be honest about what we are doing.

3 upvotes
QuarterToDoom
By QuarterToDoom (Mar 11, 2013)

Totally cheating as you're creating something new out of two separate images so its not photography and more in line with art/graphic design. Whats next on DPR, how to design sales flyers?

1 upvote
Dan Nikon
By Dan Nikon (Mar 11, 2013)

Actually, I am glad it is being done. More and more people who have the money to invest in art such as wealthy second home owners, luxury real estate developers and interior designers are coming to me for real hand made prints done in a real darkroom to meet these needs. Less and less people want photoshopped garbage because it is not hand made and is worthless from the outset.

0 upvotes
Steve and the dogs
By Steve and the dogs (Mar 11, 2013)

Except of course, this sort of stuff was done in the old darkroom days.

1 upvote
TheDman
By TheDman (Mar 13, 2013)

Oh it's definitely handmade. And my sales of "Photoshopped garbage" aren't going down at all.

0 upvotes
pkincy
By pkincy (Mar 11, 2013)

I have owned Elements 9 for 3 years and don't use it at all because of the steep learning curve. And this seems to offer the same problems. I can follow every step of the tutorial, but again the author assumes that we know what we are doing and leaves us with 3 images; a Photo 1, a Photo 2 and a Gradiant mask. Then he quits! I suppose to many it is trivial how to then combine the 3 but to someone new to Photoshop it isn't.

So I have 3 images with no know way to combine them. Frustrating and precisely why I won't take the time to learn the software, it is completely counterintuitive. Likely a great tool but only for those that have the hundreds of hours needed to learn it properly.

2 upvotes
Thorbard
By Thorbard (Mar 11, 2013)

Following the instructions on page 2 of the article will give you the two images combined. If you can't do it because you've not followed the article correctly, not learning it is just laziness.

On the other hand, if you don't want to learn, no-one can blame you for that. But there are plenty of beginner level articles out there.

0 upvotes
Robert Eckerlin
By Robert Eckerlin (Mar 11, 2013)

Thorbard

I am not sure that you are right. I am myself also a PSE user (and not a Photoshop user), and for me too it is not evident how to do the job with PSE....But of course, this is not at all a critics towards the tutorial,....which never claimed to be an Elements tutorial.

Comment edited 24 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Ken Croft
By Ken Croft (Mar 12, 2013)

I have owned and used CS3 for several years for basic operations and I thought I would like to know more about the clever stuff and that this piece would be useful. I worked through it concientiously but I did find it difficult to follow. My guess is that if you found it easy to follow, you didn't need the instruction in the first place because you already know your way around pretty well. In the end I too was left wondering how to end up with a combined image because what I did end up with was not very good to look at. I guess I will just stick to the relatively simple stuff that I know how to do, until intructions are produced for those of us who need guidance, not for those who already understand but are just looking for something to criticise, or to show that they know an even better way.

1 upvote
Dennis
By Dennis (Mar 11, 2013)

It's a great technique - I'm not hung up on issues of "cheating". But I also don't like techniques that result in images that look fake. When I look at the composite, I see strong shadows on the building from an overhead sun that obviously isn't there (yes it would be out of the frame, but couldn't be there with those clouds). Still a useful article, but it would be better with a photo that shows why you would want to do it, not just how you do it.
I think the author has some fascinating stuff on his own website, very different from anything I've done and very different from the landscape shot used in this article.

1 upvote
Da99ve
By Da99ve (Mar 12, 2013)

I fully agree - an <exercise only> is fine. (The original shots can stand on their own.)

0 upvotes
jpdenk
By jpdenk (Mar 11, 2013)

Thanks! I've been wanting to learn more about the gradient tool, and you've done a really nice job of explaining its potential and how to get using it for more stuff.

I just read some of the comments about this, and apparently there are a lot of people who don't realize that many people use Photoshop for stuff other than photo optimization. The technique in this article can come in very handy when one is making composite illustrations for publications and other creative endeavors. Nothing wrong with photo manipulation either, as long as it isn't presented as being out-of-camera results. The article is of potential use to many people, and I thank the author for it.

Comment edited 8 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
l_d_allan
By l_d_allan (Mar 11, 2013)

Very helpful article. Thanks!

I am not at all a "purist" as far as the "composites are not art mindset / camp". YMMV and my 2¢

I've been struggling with getting decent composites with winter trees in the foreground. As the author points out, that's a difficult compositing task. "Refine Edge" and "Color Range" haven't been coming out all that well. Neither has the Fluid Mask plug-in.

While this could be a case of "a poor craftsman blames his tools", I'm hoping that the Gradient mask approach you describe will not only be simpler, but work better.

4 upvotes
jean miele
By jean miele (Mar 11, 2013)

It's not you. We've all been led to believe that silhouetting two pictures together in Photoshop is easy. In fact, it's one of the hardest things to do, especially when there's fine detail, like tree limbs. For some reason, maybe it's just human nature, I notice that even photographers with lots of darkroom experience reach for a selection tool first when they're in Photoshop - even though that's an approach that wasn't really available to most of us in a traditional wet-darkroom. (I actually tried using litho film and pin-registration a few times, but I think most people just stuck with the old fallback: cardboard.) Counter-intuitively, I think it's possible to get much better results by blending images together, rather than trying to cut them out. This approach emulates the way we used to approach burning & dodging in the darkroom: feathered and blended edges, created by moving the cardboard as we exposed the paper. The Gradient tool seems made for this.

1 upvote
AluKd
By AluKd (Mar 12, 2013)

Complex composites are a matter of mixing techniques. Gradient masks are awesome as a rough starter - you can get most stuff out of the way with a few clicks, with very good results.

You can then focus on the foreground elements - I usually go about it by painting on the same mask with a digitizer, what gives you a lot of control and precision. You can reduce the Flow and achieve semi-transparency of borders, what helps mixing the layers. Takes time and a lot of effort, sure, but the results are top notch.

You can do something similar with Poly Lasso, painting with the mouse and a lot of elbow grease, as well.

One of the things most people tend to miss, though, is the value of applying global effects to all the layers. Whenever you apply the same effect to all the layers of a composite, you make them aesthetically closer. For instance, something I usually do is apply small hue shifts and grain.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Cane
By Cane (Mar 11, 2013)

This thread is full of miserable people.

13 upvotes
AlexBakerPhotoz
By AlexBakerPhotoz (Mar 11, 2013)

Thanks very much for this, I have done the same thing a variety of ways but this is nice and quick and smooth, much easier to do with the right image. As a landscape photographer I meet this challenge often. Here you are in this great place with a wonderful foreground and a drab, dreary sky, but today is the day you are here and tomorrow you have to move on. I keep a file I call "Big Sky" with just images of different types of skies that I use for just this occasion. Fake? Don't be silly, were Van Gogh's landscapes fake? Marshall McLuhan said: "Art is whatever you can get away with." I have lived by that maxim for a long time now. If I made it, it's my work, and stands on it's own.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
8 upvotes
Robert Eckerlin
By Robert Eckerlin (Mar 11, 2013)

Alex, I love your "were Van Gogh's landscapes fake?".

I really believe that both sides have valid arguments....It really depends on what one is interested in when looking at photographies.

And I really believe that the Tutorial will be useful for a lot (of course: not all) dpreview Website users.

2 upvotes
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