Photoshop Gradient Tool: Blending Images

This image was created from two separate photos, using Photoshop’s Gradient tool.

Photoshop's Gradient tool may not be on most users' lists of go-to editing options. But it should be. In combination with layer masks, the Gradient tool lets you create natural-looking composite images. In this tutorial I'll show you how to combine a compelling foreground element with an interesting sky to create a seamless, believable landscape image.

In an upcoming article we'll explore how to use the Gradient tool to modify layer mask-enabled adjustments to brightness, contrast and toning. But first things first. Here, I'll show you how to make two separate images blend seamlessly into one.

When two is better than one

If your instinct is to resist the whole notion of composite imagery because it feels like 'cheating', you should know that the idea of combining pictures together has a long photographic tradition. Swedish photographer Oscar Gustave Rejlander pioneered the photomontage a.k.a. 'combination printing' in the 1850s! In addition to solving the problem of capturing both sky and foreground on the low-latitude, blue-insensitive emulsions of the day, many 19th century masters appreciated that combination printing is a wonderful way for photographic artists to realize their personal vision, just as painters do.

Here our goal is to seamlessly blend the two images below into a the single image shown at the start of the article. Since we're combining two images, you may be wondering why I don't just use the Quick Selection tool to cut the sky out of one image and paste it over the existing sky in the other image.

Here I have an interesting foreground: a weathered, abandoned and tiny 19th-century New Mexico homestead. The total living space couldn’t have been more than 100 sq. ft.! The problem here though is that the sky isn’t so exciting. This image has a luminous, dramatic sky, but no real focal point for the eye to rest on. Neither of these images really succeeds on its own – but combined together (as seen above) they’re lovely.

The problem is that masking or silhouetting the horizon line is much harder than you may think. The roofline won’t be a problem, and the soft edges of the mountains at the horizon are do-able, but those tree limbs and leaves will be a source of heartbreak! Chances are, even after hours of careful work using Channels, Image Calculations or the Pen tools, something will still look 'funny' around those trees.

So let’s just skip all that. Using the Gradient tool in a layer mask is fun, effective, and best of all, speedy. Of course, there are some projects that need a complex silhouette, but when you're blending things like sky and clouds, using a gradient is not only easier, but produces better results.

Layer masks and gradients explained

The concept of layer masks can be hard to grasp, even for experienced Photoshop users. So before we go any further, here’s a good, simple way to think about them. Masks have only one job: they hide stuff. A mask on a pixel layer makes it possible to hide parts of that layer without destroying any pixels. By using masks instead of the Eraser or History brushes, you can always change your mind about any edits because you're never deleting pixels, only changing their visibility. Better still, you can restore the visibility of any hidden items even after the image file has been saved, closed, and reopened.

When a layer mask is white, it reveals the layer to which it is attached. A black layer mask does just the opposite. It hides the layer to which it is attached. But of course, a mask does not have to be filled completely with black or white. And that's where gradients come in.

When making a gradient inside a layer mask, the thing to remember is that a black-to-white gradient means 'hidden-to-revealed' or 'invisible-to-visible'. A white-to-black gradient means exactly the opposite: 'revealed-to-hidden' or 'visible-to-invisible'.

Gradient tool options

When you select the Gradient tool there are two options you need to set: the gradient's colors and its shape.

You can set the Gradient options to display as thumbnails or in a list view, at a choice of sizes. You can even opt for a text-only view to save room if you're working on a small monitor.

In this tutorial we'll be using the Black, White option to fill in the layer mask. These are the colors we want to use to hide and reveal parts of the layer. The Black, White option is, by default the third item in the Gradient flyout menu shown above. Note that if you set Photoshop's foreground/background swatches to their defaults, (keyboard shortcut: D), then choosing the Foreground to Background option in the Gradient flyout menu will give the same effect.

You also want to make sure to select a Linear Gradient in the options bar. In a followup article on gradient masking, I’ll be using both the Radial and Reflected Gradients. (If anyone can tell me a practical use for the Angle or Diamond Gradients, I’d love to hear from you.)

Once the Gradient tool is selected you can decide the shape of your gradient. You can apply it as a straight-line (linear), radial or reflected blend (shown here). For this tutorial only the Linear Gradient will be employed.

I'll be honest, it takes a little practice to get the hang of using the Gradient tool and its options, but the idea is pretty straightforward. The Gradient tool (unlike a Gradient Fill or Gradient Map Adjustment Layer) is similar to the Brush tool. As with brushes, the color black in a mask hides stuff; white makes it visible. And as I'll demonstrate later, gray partially hides a layer.

Here's where gradients differ though. You create one by click-dragging. A longer click+drag results in a more gradual transition, a shorter click-drag creates a more abrupt transition. To experiment with the Gradient tool I suggest creating a new, blank canvas (File>New) and drawing different gradients on the white Background layer. It’s a great way to make sense of this very useful tool.

Continue to page 2 of our Photoshop Gradient article...

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
Steve Balcombe
By Steve Balcombe (Mar 11, 2013)

Pity the comments section has been swamped by an irrelevant discussion.

But regarding the technique itself, I'm sorry but using the gradient tool is poor advice. You can just about get away with it in this particular case because there is a conveniently detail-free straight band just above roof height in both images, but in general you won't have this. The wiser and more versatile technique would be to marquee or lassoo the area to be revealed and refine the selection to create a soft edge before filling the selection with black/white as applicable. Or in many cases it's quick and convenient to select first then create the layer mask from the selection. You can then fine-tune by painting with a soft brush, or whatever suits, directly onto the layer mask.

There are applications for using gradients on layer masks, but this isn't one of them.

3 upvotes
showmeyourpics
By showmeyourpics (Mar 11, 2013)

Agreed, this technique has the limitations of a split neutral density filter and works best with straight, simple horizons. I most cases, landscapes are more complicated and require the techniques mentioned by Steve.

1 upvote
msamir
By msamir (Mar 11, 2013)

Well I just used this in a project I'm currently working on (I'm a 3D architectural visualization artist) and it works perfectly well, thank you very much for this tutorial.

3 upvotes
Bram de Mooij
By Bram de Mooij (Mar 11, 2013)

So some people call this cheating. And why should I care ?
Nice article.

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

A general question about Photoshop and Photoshop Elements Tutorials on the dpreview Website.

I wonder whether for the dpreview Website, helping/educating via Tutorials Photoshop-Elements (PSE) users can (at least) make as much sense as helping Photoshop users.

On one side, I guess that the dpreview Website attracts more sophisticated semi-professional and professional Photoshop users than it attracts the less sophisticated PSE users.

But on the other side, less sophisticated PSE users could benefit more from tutorials like this one than the sophisticated Photoshop users (who are probably in their majority already well aware of techniques similar to the ones that are described in this Tutorial). Also, there are probably more PSE users than Photoshop users.

I am curious to learn, whether you too think that tutorials for PSE users could make sense on the dpreview Website...and curious to see if we will see in future such tutorials on the dpreview website.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
1 upvote
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Mar 11, 2013)

Dear Robert,
In short, you can use this Tutorial to do the same thing in Photoshop Elements.

In more detail:
I checked with Adobe Online support. ( Hey I could chat to a person and got a meaningful reply instantly, I am impressed! ) Photoshop Elements has Layers, Layer Masks, Gradient Tool and Blending of Layers. This means you can do the exact same thing shown in this Tutorial with your Photoshop Elements. The written documentation I found on PSE was sparse to say the least. Your best bet is to google on Youtube the following:

a) Layers
b) Masks
c) Gradient Tool
d) Blending
Combine these search words with Photoshop Elements and the version number you have. Pick a tutorial that works for you. Once you know how to do these 4 things in your PSE you can download the two images from this tutorial and retrace each step in your PSE copy. Good luck!

( to avoid any confusion, I am not associated with dpreview other than I like it very much. I hope you find my post useful though )

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
4 upvotes
Robert Eckerlin
By Robert Eckerlin (Mar 11, 2013)

Dear Hubert

Thank You very much. Yes, indeed your Post is helpful. I tried a Google Search with the keywords you had recommended and i got useful results (...but I have not yet tried to use the found descriptions - this will come).

I too love very much the dpreview Website. In fact, I bought my photo equpiment based on recommendations or reviews found on the dpreview Website: my beloved Nikon D5000 camera, my 18-200mm Nikkor DX lens, my Lumix LX 5 compact camera and probably soon my future Fujifilm X20 compact camera.

Its a pitty, that Switzerland and China are so far away...

Thanks again

0 upvotes
showmeyourpics
By showmeyourpics (Mar 11, 2013)

Hi Robert, you make a very good point. I am a part-time pro fine-art photographer, quite proficient in PS, and do some teaching. To make a long story short, I do recommend my students to begin with PSE. It has been stated by many experts that you can run many photo businesses with Lightroom (image management) and PSE (image processing) without getting into PS. I would add that, if you learn ACR well, even LR alone would often suffice.

1 upvote
ianp5a
By ianp5a (Mar 11, 2013)

Useful article for most people. But reading some peoples posts here is amusing and also a bit saddening that some people "don't get it"
As long as you are not claiming it is a documentary picture, there is nothing wrong with enjoying producing any picture that pleases you. Using paint or software.
Cheating would include asking someone to pose for a picture or changing the exposure value in the camera. It's all manipulation, and should be stopped!
I recently used the same technique with the Gimp application to move some clouds lower in the frame. As it was taken from the same picture do the "anti-manupilation Nazis" accept that or not?

4 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Mar 11, 2013)

Dear Jean and dpreview,

Thanks so much for a well thought out and concisely explained Article. It promises to solve a problem nagging me since long. I am very much looking forward to part 2.

I live in Guangzhou, south of China. Lovely place except there is smog most of the time, which can render as bad as plain white (non) sky in a shot. Your technique -- if I can get it to work-- promises to be swift enough to make images work which otherwise I would not even try to shoot or trash later on anyways. I can't thank you enough for this inspiration!

Comment edited 6 minutes after posting
5 upvotes
jean miele
By jean miele (Mar 11, 2013)

Thank you for your comments, Hubert. As a landscape photographer, I've always wanted to go shoot in China. In fact, I just saw a beautiful exhibition in New York this week by Chinese photographer Wang Wusheng. (His photographs were made far from where you live, in Northern China.) These are a wonderful example of "straight" photographs that are absolutely transcendent. For me, the question of what makes some photography exceptional is always interesting. Most other dichotomies seem kind of beside the point.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/27/photographer-wang-wusheng_n_2534810.html
I hope you'll find part 2 useful!

0 upvotes
Ugo78
By Ugo78 (Mar 11, 2013)

Cheating or not, I'd prefer the original image... Why the sky shouldn't be interesting? It doesn't sound flat or imbalanced at all!

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
jakPh
By jakPh (Mar 11, 2013)

I liked the original too, certainly didn't find it too terribly uninteresting but, degrees of subtlety and/or need for more drama are subjective things, good with all that too. Always glad to see tutorials on PS, this was a pretty quick read and I am always looking to expand my knowledge, hear how others approach things.

0 upvotes
Michel F
By Michel F (Mar 11, 2013)

Same thing here. I'm not sure the second sky is better. The original has more contrast between light and dark areas and would be a great candidate for selective toning to make it look more dramatic.

0 upvotes
tongki
By tongki (Mar 11, 2013)

Dpreview has EVOLVE to Devian Art !

0 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Mar 11, 2013)

Did you meant: http://www.deviantart.com/ ?
I am curious what you want to say. Can you elaborate?

0 upvotes
ManuelVilardeMacedo
By ManuelVilardeMacedo (Mar 11, 2013)

People seem to confound two different concepts: manipulation and edition aren't necessarily the same thing. One has the potential to alter the perception of reality, the other just enhances the image. The latter can be used freely: it's a matter of taste. The former, however, imposes ethic boundaries. Unless you wanto to make an abstract image and have no pretence to show it as a literal description of a scene, manipulation is OK. If used wrongly, it can become a lie. Moreover, it poses the question whether a given image can still be considered a photograph.

1 upvote
JWest
By JWest (Mar 11, 2013)

While I agree with you to some degree, it isn't as black and white as you make out. Where does "manipulation" end and "editing" begin? Which category does HDR fall under? Photoshopping out a tiny distracting element in the picture? Using a linear gradient filter to bring out a sky? Is the latter okay if the filter is on the camera, but not if it's in Photoshop?

1 upvote
Michel F
By Michel F (Mar 11, 2013)

I agree. I enjoy looking at both kinds of images but I think it would be better if a photographer mentioned when an image is a composite. The boundary between editing and manipulation is getting thinner and thinner though.

0 upvotes
designdef
By designdef (Mar 11, 2013)

It's hillarious to see all these anti-photoshopping comments popping up:) How many of you 'purists' have your cameras set to 'auto-everything'? Isn't that Photoshop (in camera) creating the perfect exposure for you? Are levels and curve adjustments cheating? Is 'manual' the only guilt-free option?

2 upvotes
TWIZEEL
By TWIZEEL (Mar 11, 2013)

As usual those people without grain of fantasy and creativity. they like to measurement dots per mm and non-stop tech talker. I can't blame them. That is all they can do.
Why I should to care about what are you looking for? A lot of people using camera for different aim. Photographer not a fisherman or hunter to FIND something to pleased you. Do what you want. Other people going their way.

And please, if you wedding photographer or reporter that is not yours game. (but how about make up for bride : ))) That is cheating!!

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 12 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Photog74
By Photog74 (Mar 11, 2013)

I believe you've gone a little too far here, Maloy. Sure thing, postprocessing, whether analogue or digital, can be over-the-top sometimes, as has always been the case since photography was invented. The kind of thing you describe would surely be over the top for most of us, as would altering a piece of photojournalism etc. But when it comes to fine art photography, post-processing is part of the creative process. And it can even mean "seamlessly joining" a couple of source images. This has nothing to do with the digital age, by the way. Take a look at this fantastic photograph, for example:

http://fotomuzeum.hu/fotografiak/balogh_rudolf__parbaj_a_pusztan_

This is from 1930. To make the print the photographer used two images - the actual scene and, lo and behold, a picture of a more interesting sky. Just like in the article above. Except he did the "seamless joining" in the darkroom. An actual one. I don't think it makes this image any less valuable or indeed any less "true."

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 8 minutes after posting
5 upvotes
Photog74
By Photog74 (Mar 11, 2013)

For reference, this is an enlargement from the original negative, without the dramatic sky "pasted" in:

http://fotomuzeum.hu/en/photography/balogh_rudolf__parbaj_a_pusztan

A fine shot to be sure, but much less interesting than the final one.

0 upvotes
TheDman
By TheDman (Mar 13, 2013)

Can you not tell the difference between photojournalism and fine art photography?

0 upvotes
TheDman
By TheDman (Mar 14, 2013)

That's pretty sad then.

Comment edited 22 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (Mar 11, 2013)

Whatever floats your boat, but, Photoshop covers a multitude of photographic sins. It is the godsend of the crap, impatient and cheating photographer who can't be bothered to wait until conditions are right to take that genuine shot in one frame.

8 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Mar 11, 2013)

You must be way more brilliant with Photoshop than me. I found it do be faster most of time to do it in camera than to do in Photoshop :-)

4 upvotes
jakPh
By jakPh (Mar 11, 2013)

Yes and no, it will cover some sins but the guy manipulating in PS may spend as much or more time if he is to make his image all that convincing and usually one with a trained eye can still tell. Ultimately the best images will be ones which were good in the camera and very carefully and skillfully tweaked in PS I would think. If one wants fidelity to the actual scene photographed, no lens, sensor, white balance setting, etc combination will likely perfectly yield that anyway. I draw the line at manipulating a photograph for the express purpose of trying to falsify a historical event. Everything else I would label "artistic license", subjective stuff... some like subtly, some need "wow" or high drama... indeed as your comment started, whatever floats one's boat...

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
Ian Leach
By Ian Leach (Mar 11, 2013)

There are purists and artists in many hobbies, for example classic cars and custom cars. The difference between them is that artists generally appreciate both final products but purists think everyone should conform to their self-inflicted rules.

Mind you the example above is way too easy. Try a correctly exposed foreground but with a blown sky including a tree line.

5 upvotes
Michel F
By Michel F (Mar 11, 2013)

Judging by your rules of what is right and wrong, imagination and creativity are sins. Yes ? (replying to Maloy's post)

Comment edited 46 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
TheDman
By TheDman (Mar 13, 2013)

No, they're produced by me, using Adobe.

0 upvotes
TheDman
By TheDman (Mar 14, 2013)

if thou thinks capturing all of the detail in a scene is faking, then thou aren't a very good photographer.

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

Thank You for that Tutorial, that will surely also be helpful for other not very experienced users of Photoshop or of the "Photoshop Elements Editor".

Comment edited 17 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Corwess
By Corwess (Mar 11, 2013)

I Dont understand why people say its cheating.
Photography is art.. and there arent any rules.. you create a picture.
if you dont like the sky.. change it if you can and have the tools.

now serioussly.. who gives a damn if the sky was a different one.
If the Picture was posted without any explenation of the work.. would have any one noticed?
Most people in here really forget what photography is about..

7 upvotes
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (Mar 11, 2013)

Now, seriously, I do. I look at competition entries and think "how much photoshopping is done here, how fake is this image". Often it is quite obvious with colours not ever seen in real life on this planet.

I have no qualms at all when people say "composite of seven images stitched in (whatever application), or "montage of three images". But when a composite or montage is passed off as a one shot frame, now that is cheating! Now that is fraud!

2 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Mar 11, 2013)

@ Wye
If an Image is fake depends on the Intention and not on Photoshop:
If the intention of the author with his image is to please the viewer and the image is successful to this target, the image is not fake, but simply successful. If the picture would be evidence in court and the content is manipulated in Photoshop to manipulate the evidence, then the result would be a fake picture.

@ Corwess
Blunt, but to the point. :-)

0 upvotes
JWest
By JWest (Mar 11, 2013)

@Wye - part of me agrees with you, but the problem is this: sometimes you genuinely can't tell if an image has been manipulated in some way. If you see an amazing image with an interesting foreground set against a dramatic sky, and you examine it in minute detail, and you can't see any evidence of fakery - what then? It's a great image if it's real, but "just a fake" if it isn't. But you've got no way of knowing.

I'd like to think I keep fakery out of my work. But at the end of the day, a great image is just a great image, isn't it?

0 upvotes
SergioNevermind
By SergioNevermind (Mar 11, 2013)

Photography maybe an art, but not everybody is an artist.

Images can be whatever you like, they are about aesthetics, and feelings they produce.

Photography is only a part of that process. But seems to me the result should not be called a photograph.

I am not able to make an exact definition of what a photograph is. Is there any good enough?

DPreview should be making challenges of the better photoshopped images, where people will send their compositions, art works, call them as you like, and some day a direct, not forged photograph will win. That will be a real "cheater".

0 upvotes
Clive Dickinson
By Clive Dickinson (Mar 11, 2013)

I cannot believe the negativity and cynicism enveloping many of the commentators here. It is for contributors on this site to offer advice on photographic topics (cameras, lenses, editing, software etc) not to moralise about their use. I congratulate Jean Miele for presenting a clear concise explanation of a technique about which I knew nothing. Whether I use it in my photography is up to me.

If other readers do not agree with usage of such techniques they should avert their eyes and spare us their acerbic wit.

15 upvotes
WalterPaisley
By WalterPaisley (Mar 11, 2013)

Funny, I thought the article was about HOW to use gradient layers to modify images, not WHAT kinds of modifications should be allowed.
Photography seems to be turning into one more fundamentalist religion, at least on DPR.

10 upvotes
acidic
By acidic (Mar 11, 2013)

People (photographers) need to learn to differentiate between editorial photography, which must represent reality, and creative works, which don't necessarily have to.

As long as the creative photographer isn't trying to fool anyone with such composite imagery, there's nothing wrong with it. It's basically just another genre of photography/visual art.

2 upvotes
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (Mar 11, 2013)

A third layer with a UFO would really smash it!

Hmm....

Come to think of it... a fourth layer would also be good:

Painted on the roof: "Aliens Go Away!"

.

9 upvotes
Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Mar 11, 2013)

Composite imagery has been a part of the photographic tradition long before pixels. You might find the work of Man Ray and Jerry Uelsmann interesting.

15 upvotes
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (Mar 11, 2013)

Yeah, it has, but YOU trying doing it on a silver gelatin print. Find out how easy it is! Doing composites in the darkroom takes REAL skill and often years of practice. It's not click, click, click, drag, drop, click, click, done. Composites the old fashioned way can only be done on the print, sometimes on a glass plate, generally impossible on the smaller film formats and are often not that realistic either (Alexander Rodchenko for instance), they are also a one-off. The claim of "the old film guys did it" is just a poor excuse for a lack of real skill.

1 upvote
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Mar 11, 2013)

@ Wye
It is true that some work which takes hours in silver gelatin print such as unsharp mask take seconds in Photoshop. But think about it. This is a good thing! Now you have hours of free time to fix issues in your print which you never could fix with traditional methods. I made the transition from silver gelatin print to inkjet print with Photoshop. If 30 years ago I spend maximum 4 hours on a print I really liked, I now spend 4 hours on a print in Photoshop. With two important differences:
a) In the same time I get more done
b) If a friend loves my picture, I can print copies in seconds

As much as I appreciate every comment, I am asking you a favor. When writing in here, please try to choose your words in a way you would discuss a difference of opinion in a friendly manner with your best friend. You will find that you will get more meaningful replies.

3 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Mar 11, 2013)

@ Amadou Diallo,
Jerry Uelsmann was new to me and I am enjoying his images. Thanks for your References. Very appreciated!

1 upvote
JWest
By JWest (Mar 11, 2013)

@Wye - you seem to be saying that how genuine something is depends on how difficult it is. Perhaps you should create all your future images using only a stick to draw with ink on tissue paper.

3 upvotes
Michel F
By Michel F (Mar 11, 2013)

There you have it. The best reply yet. :)

1 upvote
AluKd
By AluKd (Mar 12, 2013)

JWest - and by stick you mean a stick he actually cut himself from a tree, by ink you mean pigments he mixed himself from egg whites and rocks. Because that's how real artists do it, and if you're doing it differently, you're WRONG!

1 upvote
Efner
By Efner (Mar 10, 2013)

Every Image is manipulated!
Be it film or digital!
In fact what your eyes take in is manipulated before it reaches your brain.
So my feeling is:The image as you the viewer sees it IS the end product.

9 upvotes
oscarvdvelde
By oscarvdvelde (Mar 11, 2013)

not everybody sees an image as being an image. Most of us appreciate the contents of the image as if it is the real thing.

Just because we never see a direct translation of the real world doesn't mean we should start to fool others actively. Your argument is too often used as an excuse for altering the interpretation (not just mildly the esthetic) of the image.

Comment edited 32 seconds after posting
3 upvotes
jean miele
By jean miele (Mar 11, 2013)

“Every photograph is a fake from start to finish, a purely impersonal, unmanipulated photograph being practically impossible.” - Edward Steichen, 1903
Why we need to see all this as a black-and-white issue ;-) is a little puzzling to me. In any other genre, the idea that some work is art, and some is informational wouldn't be considered a challenging proposition. All of us have our favorite novels and nonfiction. Nobody has a hard time with the idea that painting includes allegory and portraiture, realism and cubism. Because we all agree painting is art, though, nobody feels a painter is obliged to capture the exact pose of a sitter, or accurately depict the precise shade of a particular sunset. Indeed, some photography is art – and at this point everyone pretty much agrees it is – then isn't it time we recognized that "photography" encompasses a wide range of magic?

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

And that's a great point about the disconnect between what our eyes actually take in and what we "see!" Biologically, we get two one-dimensional, upside-down, monochrome images from our eyes. Our brains turn them rightside-up and overlay color, dimensionality… and meaning. In fact, many neuroscientists (Rodolfo Llinás, for example) think it's possible that more than 50% of what we think we "see" is what our brains fill-in based on what we expect to see, rather than what we're looking at. This is one of the many reasons that eyewitness testimony is being challenged more and more as a less than reliable source of objective information.

0 upvotes
akophoto
By akophoto (Mar 10, 2013)

I teach the same method all the time. Have done for last three years.
Adding a sky is cheating in my eyes as the scene never existed.
The correct use for this method is for blending bracketed exposures when the cameras dynamic range cannot expose a whole scene. For example a sunrise.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Mar 11, 2013)

Wasn't aware that there was a "correct" use for Photoshop tools, let alone that the standard was determined by one of our forum members ;-)

26 upvotes
oscarvdvelde
By oscarvdvelde (Mar 11, 2013)

depends if you use Photoshop for photographic tweaks, versus artistic cheats.

1 upvote
Mystery Gardener
By Mystery Gardener (Mar 11, 2013)

The final image is the only thing that counts as far as artistic merit goes not how you got there. Cheers :-)

Caveman 1: Lookit Ugh, he usem plant dye to create wall drawing.
Caveman 2 (Ugh): It not real, he must use charcoal like me do...

5 upvotes
MarkInSF
By MarkInSF (Mar 11, 2013)

Artistry is cheating. Good to know. Thousands of years of artistic output is no better than fraud. I have a degree in cheating from a major university.

As long as the purpose is the making of attractive images and not the recording of a place and time, you can do whatever works best. I'm not too fond of this particular image because it isn't all that special. There's nothing wrong with the original sky and the improvement does not do much to improve it.

3 upvotes
Tom_A
By Tom_A (Mar 11, 2013)

MarkInSF, we're not talking about journalistic photography here, but about creative expressions. In my opinion, as long as the final image is good, who cares if it is realistic or the truth? Also, it doesn't really matter how much effort or which equipment was involved. The end result is what is important.
Back in my film days I often used orange and red filters on my b&w films to add drama (indeed, these don't replace parts of the image, but change them drastically nevertheless).
I do agree that this sample isn't the best one. The original sky was quite ok. But in the end, when I look at a picture I don't really care if it was the real sky, as long as I like the picture.
What I often do in PS is remove an irritating detail, like a traffic sign, or a distracting poster on a wall. I don't feel the need to make excuses for that.
As a entry level tutorial this article was quite ok I thought.

1 upvote
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Mar 11, 2013)

@ Amadou & MarkInSF,

your posts are the first ones made me lough while I am wading through all this. Thanks.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
TWIZEEL
By TWIZEEL (Mar 10, 2013)

I can't understand a people who says it is cheating. That is Visual Art, not a sport competition, not a court evidence. Artists (photographer) could use any mean to transfer his impression to audience. Only we can arguing is about technics itself.

18 upvotes
oscarvdvelde
By oscarvdvelde (Mar 11, 2013)

well, as a stormchaser, I like to see a scene as it was. And a good photographer can get such scene, if he persists. Not like oh, I got this supercell with ugly powerlines here and last summer a nice farm with boring blue sky, let's merge it and voilà the shot of my life. How proud could someone be of that...

That being said, if your job depends on selling a shot with those characteristics of two separate scenes then go for it. Just don't pretend to others that it's real.

3 upvotes
TWIZEEL
By TWIZEEL (Mar 11, 2013)

if you using photo just for science don't do that and you don't need to read that article. As simple as it is. Just have a meeting with your storm chasers.

3 upvotes
Piciul
By Piciul (Mar 11, 2013)

Take and process one photograph in whatever way you desire and I'll call you a photograph.
Take TWO and combine them and I'll call the one who used the camera photograph and the one who combined whatever you want - artist.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
TWIZEEL
By TWIZEEL (Mar 12, 2013)

we not talking here about terms and jargon. this is article about using photoshop

0 upvotes
crossingmind
By crossingmind (Mar 14, 2013)

explaining the very basics of PS ( ... practiced since 1990 ), what about the " very basics " of light (and shadow ) ?

your footage doesn't even correspond to be merged ?!

people get used to fix their botched "photographies" by further messing up their offcut adding and merging footage, resulting in surreality that was never intended to be created, a bad montage, not even a bad photo anymore.

manipulation, besides documentation, is a foundation of photography, covering composition/scene/crop, lighting, camera/format/film ,optics, know how ( and why ) and ever since the darkroom. but there has to be a concept to be motivated to bent "reality" not just the intention to make a bad photograph acceptable or, in some eyes even great … ?!

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
designdef
By designdef (Mar 10, 2013)

Thank's for the example, this is not a negative comment:)
I think the final comp is flawed for two resons, the new sky is overcast and dark so the foreground should be the same, the original building shows harsh shadows from the bright sun which is not there in the comp. I also think there's a danger of over-complicating these things. Two conversions of the original raw file, one for foreground and one for sky, comped together by a simple layer mask, would have done it for me. Also... some chopping out of the white buildings on the horizon would give it a more serene look.

2 upvotes
Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Mar 11, 2013)

There is a follow up article on the way that continues use of the gradient tool for tonal adjustments. It will use this same image.

0 upvotes
Deutsch
By Deutsch (Mar 11, 2013)

It's all perspective. I've stood in bright sunshine while it was raining on me. Same thing for this photo. Heavy clouds can be gathering while the foreground still has light from another part of the sky. As mentioned before, it is an artist rendering. I'm sure you've seen many paintings and wonder why it was done that way. It's the artist's, or in this example, the photographer's rendering.

2 upvotes
TWIZEEL
By TWIZEEL (Mar 10, 2013)

A real file image, straight from the camera, is very often far from an ideal picture, as you seen it in time of shooting. I used to use my own technics and calling it "Layers and holes". Actually only you need is layers and eraser tool. You can use any photoshop with that, even ancient PhotoShop 3
Short description with sample I put here www.traveltonz.co.nz/drama-in-the-sky/

0 upvotes
Y Hafting
By Y Hafting (Mar 10, 2013)

Now while this is relatively powerful, and "cheating" (the image is no longer a photo but a compound image), the more typical situation for beginners would be to mask bad exposure by pulling out two different brightness settings from one raw file, and then combining to get a decent looking picture. Compared to using HDR or shadow-highlight tools, there is a good chance that using blending with a gradient layer mask will turn out much more natural.

1 upvote
Deutsch
By Deutsch (Mar 11, 2013)

Don't agree it's "cheating". I remember doing darkroom work some 40+ years ago and you'd be dodging, burning, changing filters, etc to get the best possible image. That wasn't cheating. If it was, then Ansel Adams' photos, and many others renowned photographers can be considered cheats too.

10 upvotes
Pat Cullinan Jr
By Pat Cullinan Jr (Mar 11, 2013)

Dear Deutsch,

That's processing, not forging.

2 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Mar 11, 2013)

Dear Pat,

Do I understand you correctly ?

a) Dodging & Burning in Gelatin Print: Processing
b) Dodging & Burning in Photoshop: Forging

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Pat Cullinan Jr
By Pat Cullinan Jr (Mar 11, 2013)

Sorry, I must've expressed myself poorly. Dodging, burning and the like, however executed, is processing. Digital (or other) transmogrification that goes beyond this might be called forging, unless the customer or target vidience* is informed about it, in which case you wouldn't call it forging, but working over. Or not?

I have at times, without making it known, shamelessly worked over some of my photos in order to straighten out my nose. But no one cares anyway.
_____
* For instances of this monster-word "vidience" going back to 1875, see www.google.com/search?tbo=p&tbm=bks&q=vidience&num=50.

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

About the "cheating" debate, check out this quote, and try guess what year it was written. “The doctrine once set forth… that anything beyond mechanical copying or dull map-making was heresy in photography… the impropriety of using any other sky in a photograph… than that which was actually presented at the moment of taking the rest of the picture [is] of so little importance as to be scarcely worthy of notice, yet demands a few words, as it may have a detrimental effect on the unthinking, or those whose faith is not quite confirmed in photography as an art. That this doctrine is utterly wrong – a pestilent error, without even a figment of truth to support it… is, indeed, so absurd, the wonder is that it should have ever found its way to the light.” That's Henry Peach Robinson. In 1869!
[Pictorial Effect In Photography: Being Hints On Composition And Chiaroscuro For Photographers. To Which Is Added A Chapter On Combination Printing. London: Piper and Carter; Marion and Company, 1869]

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

In terms of increasing the tonal range of an image by processing the same RAW file twice, I'm with you. That's a great technique. In fact, now that there are Gradient tools in both ACR and LightRoom, it's possible to retain detail in a bright sky and a dark foreground without resorting to the "old-school" technique of exporting the file twice (once for highlight detail and once for shadow detail) then masking the two together in Photoshop. @akophoto

0 upvotes
backayonder
By backayonder (Mar 10, 2013)

I think the picture would look better if you removed the weathered old house and replaced it with a Holiday Inn or maybe the Eiffel Tower.

14 upvotes
Pat Cullinan Jr
By Pat Cullinan Jr (Mar 11, 2013)

The shanty doesn't even have nice aluminum door trim.

1 upvote
Piciul
By Piciul (Mar 11, 2013)

LOL... Best comment. The Eiffel tower rules.

Those days we can obtain computer-generated images and put whatever we want in them. So, why bother to buy gear and move into nature?

0 upvotes
happypoppeye
By happypoppeye (Mar 10, 2013)

Now ...what would be the disadvantage of just using another layer of the same photo and erase what you would want from there ...instead of the gradient layer ...I guess just using a different layer type...

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

What you're suggesting would certainly work. Rather than adjusting pixels and erasing (if I understand you correctly), making the desired adjustments to the RAW file or using masked Adjustment layers (we'll cover that in part 2) is a better way to go for one simple reason: this kind of non-destructive editing allows you to more easily experiment and change your mind. A few commenters have suggested processing the RAW file of Picture 1 to darken the sky. Some have even suggested processing Picture 1 twice (once for the sky, once for the foreground), and then masking the two together in Photoshop. These are both viable possibilities. I'd suggest taking a second look at the "Layer Masks and Gradients Explained" on page one of the article. Hope this helps.

0 upvotes
Ingloryon
By Ingloryon (Mar 10, 2013)

wow... this is a real specific article. I do use the gradient tool for a hundred of situations, and the guy give us just only one.

Nice, I'm sure this helps a lot of people. NOT.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
1 upvote
KodaChrome25
By KodaChrome25 (Mar 10, 2013)

First sentence: "Photoshop's Gradient tool may not be on most users' lists of go-to editing options."

Operative word for you: most

Guess you're not the target audience.

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

You’re right. The Gradient is incredibly useful and versatile. Part 1 of the article, published here, is to introduce the Gradient tool for those who aren’t familiar with it, so I kept it pretty simple. Part two, to follow in a few weeks, will go deeper into the tool, and some the intricacies: combining multiple Gradients, using Gradients to mask Adjustment layers, etc.

0 upvotes
paqman
By paqman (Mar 11, 2013)

it's easier to be a critic than an author.

0 upvotes
paqman
By paqman (Mar 11, 2013)

oh and very nice article jean, thank you. even though i use photoshop ever day, this was helpful.

0 upvotes
Dalius
By Dalius (Mar 10, 2013)

The first photo is much better than the second one.
So where is the point of this manipulation?

4 upvotes
Cane
By Cane (Mar 10, 2013)

It's just an example for God sake. I swear, nobody can ever share anything on here without some jack wad showing why the human race sucks. Get a life.

38 upvotes
Paul_B Midlands UK
By Paul_B Midlands UK (Mar 10, 2013)

I have to agree with Kane ... Beautifully explained article, clearer compared to most books I looked at and embedded with some nice tips or pointers. Ok smart arses who rip it, where are your contributions. Bloody whingers on these forums are so pretentious.

11 upvotes
Rick Knepper
By Rick Knepper (Mar 12, 2013)

So Dalius, did you at least hear a whistling sound over your head?

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 49 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
rockjano
By rockjano (Mar 10, 2013)

The best in these situation is to paint the layer mask with a large brush, the gradient tool is usually too even

1 upvote
jean miele
By jean miele (Mar 11, 2013)

I agree that this could easily have been accomplished with a large, soft brush in a mask. I wrote the article, though, because I’m surprised at how many of my students are unfamiliar with the Gradient tool. It doesn’t replace brushes or selections. It’s just another tool that should be a part of every power-Photoshop user’s repertoire.

0 upvotes
KodaChrome25
By KodaChrome25 (Mar 10, 2013)

I agree with Atlien991.... too many negative people commenting. If it's not your thing, move along. Create your own photoblog.

24 upvotes
Piciul
By Piciul (Mar 11, 2013)

Wouldn't have been more simple if you just posted a positive comment? Along with 20 users who like your comment?

0 upvotes
Jordan Norris
By Jordan Norris (Mar 10, 2013)

Dsnoir I think the negative commenters' point is, that on a photography site we don't need/want these kind of slice and dice techniques... I'm sure there's plenty of photoshop forums out there for that. I'm also sure the majority of photographers on this site would appreciate more articles on photographic technique, basic PP or physics behind photography and cameras and lenses.

3 upvotes
Pat Cullinan Jr
By Pat Cullinan Jr (Mar 11, 2013)

The example is simplistic.

I'd like to see a piece on correcting a really nasty, intractable color problem.

1 upvote
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Mar 11, 2013)

@ Pat
So if there is a simple technique which works for some pictures with simple shapes, not a bad thing. Nobody claimed this can be used for all pictures.

0 upvotes
Pat Cullinan Jr
By Pat Cullinan Jr (Mar 11, 2013)

What I was trying to say was that I thought the example was too simple. But now I'm thinking maybe I was being too snooty or too pat-centric. I let my sub to Photoshop User lapse because I thought the examples were too simple. I mean, one writer used some 75 layers and I'm saying it's too simple. Plus, the sub was too expensive anyway. Heh.

Comment edited 14 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
atlien991
By atlien991 (Mar 10, 2013)

Why are so many commenters negative on this site? If it's not for you just move on.

25 upvotes
Nordstjernen
By Nordstjernen (Mar 10, 2013)

Many might confuse photographs with reality.

1 upvote
KodaChrome25
By KodaChrome25 (Mar 10, 2013)

If it's artistic, who cares? No one suggested using this technique to manipulate news photos. When I did B&W and color from negative in a darkroom I made dozens of small decisions that affected the outcome of the final image. No one said "Hey! That's not real!"

5 upvotes
Piciul
By Piciul (Mar 11, 2013)

Perhaps because we live in a (almost) free world and this is democracy.
The question is why are you commenting comments instead of commenting the article?

0 upvotes
JohnyP
By JohnyP (Mar 10, 2013)

another reason why photography is getting all the bad rep - chopped images that do not show the actual scene.

In the next article - How to photo-chop celebrities into your pictures and sell them to the media!

5 upvotes
Tom_A
By Tom_A (Mar 11, 2013)

JohnnyP, I will copy here a reply I wrote above in this thread as it also applies in my opinion:

We're not talking about journalistic photography here, but about creative expressions. In my opinion, as long as the final image is good, who cares if it is realistic or the truth? Also, it doesn't really matter how much effort or which equipment was involved. The end result is what is important.
Back in my film days I often used orange and red filters on my b&w films to add drama (indeed, these don't replace parts of the image, but change them drastically nevertheless).
I do agree that this sample isn't the best one. The original sky was quite ok. But in the end, when I look at a picture I don't really care if it was the real sky, as long as I like the picture.
What I often do in PS is remove an irritating detail, like a traffic sign, or a distracting poster on a wall. I don't feel the need to make excuses for that.
As a entry level tutorial this article was quite ok I thought.

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

Actually, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City mounted a fantastic photography exhibition last year dedicated to exploring these very issues. The show was called “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop.” Long story short, the show illustrated that ‘Photoshopped’ may be a new adjective, but combining pictures together, retouching – and photo-manipulation in general are all hallowed photographic traditions.

http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/press-room/exhibitions/2012/faking-it

0 upvotes
Dsnoir
By Dsnoir (Mar 10, 2013)

surely you are missing the point, the article is about technique, not about an individual image. If contributers get an unending stream of negativity, then a source of instruction will lost.

26 upvotes
AZBlue
By AZBlue (Mar 10, 2013)

The "before" picture looked much better than the "after" version. The lighting is totally wrong in the "after" version. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should.

7 upvotes
designdef
By designdef (Mar 10, 2013)

Absolutely agree, this guy is supposed to be a Photoshop Professional and that dreadful word 'Educator'. So why is the final image not that good? That's why there are so many negatives on here:)

0 upvotes
Photomonkey
By Photomonkey (Mar 10, 2013)

You guys can put up a tutorial and show us how its done I suppose, but I am not sure you would survive the trolls.

11 upvotes
Scorpius1
By Scorpius1 (Mar 11, 2013)

Your missing the point completely,the image was used as an example in how to carry out a certain type of manipulation.. Who care's whether of not it looks good before or after..

2 upvotes
mma173
By mma173 (Mar 10, 2013)

This is quite basic blending technique. Using luminosity mask + gradients and 'other tricks' produces far superior results. Moreover, the sky on the final picture in this tutorial doesn't look natural.

3 upvotes
mojorisn
By mojorisn (Mar 10, 2013)

Jean, excellent tutorial, thank you!
Les

10 upvotes
Jordan Norris
By Jordan Norris (Mar 10, 2013)

I don't get it, the sky in the first photos looks equally "exciting". Some simple lightroom/darkroom work on the first photo would do the trick. Doesn't seem like photography to me, seems more like arts and crafts.

5 upvotes
eli2k
By eli2k (Mar 10, 2013)

Same thought. The best I can figure out why they think the composite is better is the bright sky in the top-right and the bright building versus the more dominantly dark sky and only one focal region of brightness. :/

3 upvotes
Tee1up
By Tee1up (Mar 10, 2013)

When I look at the two, the first image with a bit more brightness in the sky gives me the impression they have weathered a storm. The second image suggest to me that things are about to get nasty. (My 2c.)

0 upvotes
Steve Bingham
By Steve Bingham (Mar 11, 2013)

These two images are rather poor for identifying the technique (too similar) - and they also hide the weakness of this technique (they hide the blending). I would have used masking. If I was a novice I would use something like Topaz Remask or Vertus Fluid Mask 3. Lastly, lighting is everything! See a problem?

0 upvotes
bill hansen
By bill hansen (Mar 11, 2013)

The gradient tool does work if the "horizon" is relatively straight, and of course masking works in most situations too. The other, and I think simpler, way of blending is to paint your new layer on. That way, if there's a big mountain or something similar in the foreground, your transition can easily come along that curved line.

0 upvotes
Keith
By Keith (Mar 11, 2013)

Nice to see you here Jean!

0 upvotes
Total comments: 223
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