Blending Double RAW Exposures in Photoshop

In this tutorial we look at how to blend double RAW exposures in Photoshop using a single RAW file. Whilst this example uses a single RAW file, you can apply the same technique to blend multiple RAW files into one image. Also, whilst this technique is known as double exposure blending, you don’t necessarily have to blend only exposure changes. You can use it to blend any changes that you like. In fact, the example in this tutorial will make changes to the exposure, contrast, and colour of the RAW file before blending these together.

This tutorial uses Smart Objects in Photoshop. If you aren’t familiar with Smart Objects please see my Photoshop Smart Filters tutorial first. This will give you a good introduction to the subject.

Create Your Base RAW File Conversion

The first step in the process is to create your base conversion from the RAW file. You can an example below which I created in Lightroom.

Base RAW file Conversion

The base RAW conversion covers most of the finished image, except for the brighter areas of the sky. Double RAW processing then allows us to create a second version to replace those areas which we can blend into the final image.

After creating the first image in Lightroom, open it as a Smart Object in Photoshop. This makes it possible to continue to adjust the RAW file conversion settings if necessary. To reopen the RAW file adjustments, double click the Smart Object in the Photoshop Layers window.

If you’re using Adobe Camera RAW as your RAW converter rather than Lightroom, you can still do the same. Rather than open the converted image in Photoshop, use the dropdown on the “Open” button to select “Open as Object”.

You should also rename the Smart Object layer in the Photoshop Layers window to be “Exposure Base” to help you recognise it.

Create a Copy Smart Object in Photoshop

To create the second version of the RAW conversion, copy the first Smart Object layer in the Layers window. Do this by right clicking the layer and selecting “New Smart Object via Copy”. You should then rename this layer to be “Sky Exposure”.

Do not use the option to “Duplicate Layer” to create the copy Smart Object. This will create a linked duplicate of the first Smart Object layer. This means that any change you make to one layer updates the other. Using the “New Smart Object via Copy” allows you to adjust each layer independently.

Double click on the new Smart Object layer to open it in Camera RAW and apply your changes. In this example we will:

  1. Increase the Contrast.
  2. Reduce the Exposure.
  3. Increase the Temperature.
  4. Apply Dehaze.

These adjustments are to create a version of the image which improves the appearance of the sky in the lighter areas. When you are making these changes ignore the rest of the image.

You can see the two versions of the image side by side below.

Base and sky RAW file Conversions

Because these are both Smart Objects, we can continue to refine and change each, even once we’ve blended them together.

Blending the Double RAW Exposure

For the blending of the two RAW file exposures we will use Luminosity Masking. Although we could create the luminosity masks manually, we will use an excellent free tool called Interactive Luminosity Masks. We will use this to select the areas of the sky from the first version of the RAW file to merge it with the second.

Start by adding a layer mask to the “Sky Exposure” layer.

Click on the new layer mask in the Layers window to select it.

Then in the Properties window click the “Invert” button. When you do this, you will see the layer mask turn black, hiding the “Sky Exposure” layer.

You can now use the Interactive Luminosity Masks tool to create a Highlights Luminosity Mask.

interactive luminosity mask selecting the highlights

Convert the Highlights Luminosity Mask into a selection. We will use this selection to paint white onto the black layer mask. This will reveal the Sky Exposure layer in the areas where we paint.

You can see the layer mask this created below. Notice that I’ve painted over areas of the sky and the sky reflection in the water.

Layer Mask after paiting through the highlights luminosity selection

After this you can refine your double exposure blending by adjusting the Smart Objects and changing the Opacity of the Sky Exposure layer.

Here’s the double RAW exposure image after blending.

double raw exposure blended

This has created an image that would be difficult to produce using a single RAW file conversion.

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Summary of Double RAW Exposure Blending in Photoshop

In this tutorial we looked at how to create two exposures from a single RAW file and realistically blend them in Photoshop. Whilst we have used a single RAW file for this double exposure blending, you can use the same approach to blending two different RAW files. The key to making this work is to apply the changes using Luminosity Masks.

If you would like to further develop your skills in the areas covered in this tutorial, I have a produced a comprehensive video course “The Photographers Guide to Using Luminosity Masks”.

More Photoshop Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Photoshop Tutorials page.

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