During my recent road trip to photograph the California Missions, I used blending techniques to handle a lot of situations. For years, I've created high dynamic range (HDR) photographs which use multiple exposures to handle a wide range of lighting within the frame. Now, I've expanded my blending techniques:
#1: High Dynamic Range: This is the one I use most often. It helps to address wide ranges of light within a scene to better control exposing for both the shadows and the highlights.
#2: Focus Points: Sometimes subjects are positioned both very close and very far from the lens. It's makes it almost impossible to have everything in the frame in tack sharp focus even when selecting a narrow aperture setting. Narrow aperture settings also diminish image quality due to diffraction and reveal any sensor spots that might exist. So, I'll select my f/8 aperture for optimal lens performance and make multiple exposures--with various segments of the frame in focus for each exposure. Later, I blend them in Photoshop.
#3: Polarization: Using a circular polarizer can help bring out the colors in a scene by removing glare. Typically, skies go dark blue and the white clouds pop as well. While shooting in the mountains of California, applying a polarizer usually makes the sky look unnatural--the sky gets way too dark. Yet, I wanted the full effect of the polarizer on the foreground (i.e., foliage, rusty cars at the Bodie Ghost Town, etc.). So, I captured two exposures--one polarized for the foreground and one without the filter for the sky. Then, the two get blended in Photoshop for the best of both worlds.
#4: People Eraser: While shooting the interior of several Las Vegas hotels, I wanted to capture the scenes without people in the frame. This is nearly impossible given how crowded these locations get. By waiting for a relatively slow time, and capturing several exposures in which people are positioned in different portions of the frames, I'm able to eliminate everyone during processing by stacking the pictures into layers and using masks to select the appropriate portion of each exposure for the final image. This method was a savior throughout my last photography trip!
#5: Exposure Times: I've been experimenting with long exposure photography. I like the effect that very long exposures can have on moving water and clouds. However, sometimes I want the water to blur but to freeze the clouds. So, I'll take two exposures and blend them later to isolate the long exposure effect to just one portion of the frame.
#6: Moments in Time: Lately, I've been locking my camera down on a tripod for extended periods of time--such as an hour or two. That way, I can capture various points of time for later blending. For example, while I was in San Diego I captured a picture of the skyline a twilight. But, the windows of the buildings weren't lit brightly until the sky went completely black about 45 minutes later. So, I captured that as well. Later, I can blend in the office lights with the twilight shot to effectively turn the lights on! This approach came in handy in other situations as well--such as capturing exposures of a landscape from just before sunset (for foreground detail) in addition to a "blue hour" sky for later blending. While shooting the fountains of Bellagio, I blended water positions from various segments of two different water shows into one frame!
After a while, I started combining the various blending approaches. For example, I might shoot exposures to account for expanded focus (#2) as well as selective polarization (#3). Or, I might expand the dynamic range by using HDR (#1) while removing people from the scene (#4). The possibilities are endless. Having these tools available helps me revolve many of the challenges that I face in the field.
I will expand upon each of these blending approaches in future blog entries. But, here's an example of an image where I combined HDR with the People Eraser. The Grand Entrance of the Venetian Hotel is a busy place, but you wouldn't know it by viewing this image: