How to Blend Layers in Affinity Photo
How to Blend Layers in Affinity Photo
Being able to blend layers together in Affinity Photo is an important skill for photographers. Once learned, there are many ways you can apply this skill. In this tutorial I’ll explain how you can blend layers in Affinity to produce a landscape photo capturing a greater dynamic range than a single shot. This is a typical technique in landscape photography. It could even replace the need to use Neutral Density Graduated filters or be used in conjunction.
Preparing the Images to Blend
The two images we will blend in this tutorial are shown below.
These images were captured at the same time using the exposure bracketing feature of the camera. This ensures they have the same ISO setting, focal length and aperture which is important. The only difference between the two is the shutter speed. The image on the left is exposed to produce a good sky whilst the sky in the right-hand image is too light and suffers from clipping in the sky. But the right-hand image is well exposed to capture detail in the ground where the left-hand image has shadow clipping. These problems persisted even though I was using a Neutral Density Graduated filter on the sky.
Both images were captured as RAW files and need to be converted to regular images before we can blend them as layers in Affinity Photo. Whilst it’s possible to make the RAW conversion in Affinity Photo, I used Capture One which is my RAW converter of choice for Fuji XTrans RAW files.
When processing the RAW files, I start with one of the images and adjust settings like Lens Distortion, sharpness, Temp and Tint. I then apply the same settings to the other image as this will help with the layer blending. After making these initial adjustments to both images, I apply minor changes to settings like Contrast, Highlights and Shadows. This is to optimise each image for its intended purpose.
With the RAW adjustments applied you can export the images as 16-Bit TIFF files to Affinity Photo.
Combining Images as Layers in Affinity Photo
After opening the TIFF files in Affinity Photo, they appear as two separate images. The next step is to combine the two images as separate layers. The easiest way to do this is using copy and paste from the Affinity Photo Edit menu. It’s also worth taking a moment to rename the layers to make their purpose obvious.
Here you can see the two images appearing on separate layers in the Affinity Photo Layers Studio Panel.
It doesn’t matter which layer is on top, although I prefer to work with the darker image as the top layer. Because I always work in this way it means there’s less thinking for me to do and I can concentrate on the layer blending.
Aligning Layers in Affinity Photo
My next step is to check the two images align and if not, manually align them. Typically, I like to shoot multiple exposures using a tripod. This minimises any movement between the two exposures, but there can still be movement so it’s always worth checking.
To check for alignment problems, change the blending mode of the top layer to “Difference” using the dropdown list in the Layers Studio Panel.
When I zoom in to the view the edge between the sky and land, I can see where the mountains in the two layers don’t align. The misaligned pixels are displayed in white.
If I select the Affinity Photo Move Tool from the tools palette (arrow icon) I can use it to nudge the top layer into position. I just need to click on the top layer in the Layers Studio Panel and then press the arrow keys on my keyboard to move it a pixel at a time.
After aligning the two layers, I can set the blending mode of the top layer back to “Normal”.
Hide the Top Layer with a Layer Mask
The next step is to hide the top layer using a layer mask. This will allow me to selectively blend the two layers by painting on the layer mask.
I want to add the mask layer to the top layer in my image. I can do this in the Layers Studio Panel by clicking to select that layer and then clicking the Mask Layer icon at the bottom of the panel.
After adding the new mask layer to the top layer in the image I can invert the mask to hide the layer it’s attached to. To do this I will use the keyboard shortcut Cmd + I on my Mac. If you’re using a Windows PC press Ctrl + I. This should hide the darker sky layer to reveal the lighter “Ground” layer below it.
Select the Sky to Replace
Now I’m going to select the area of sky in the lighter layer that I want to replace. I will do this using one of the colour channels in the lighter (ground) layer.
I can use the Channels Studio Panel to inspect each of the three colour channels of the layer.
In the Channels Studio Panel, I can see the three colour channels of the image. These are Red, Green and Blue because the image is in the RGB format. If I click each of these channels, I can view it as a black and white image in the main preview. What I’m looking for is a black and white image where the ground is dark, and the sky is light. This will help me paint on the mask in the areas where I want to reveal the top layer.
In this example I decide to select the Red channel. I can then right click on the Red channel in the Channels Panel and select “Load to Pixel Selection” in the popup menu. When I do this, I can see marching ants appear around the light areas of the image indicating they are selected.
Having made my selection, I can return to viewing the colour image by clicking the curved arrow icon in the top right of the Channels Studio Panel.
Painting in the Sky Layer
Now it’s time to selectively paint in the sky using the top layer to create the blended image. This is achieved by painting through the selection which restricts the brush stroke to the lightest areas.
For the painting, we will use the Paint Brush Tool from the Tools palette. Set this to a Hardness of 0% in the Context Sensitive Toolbar and an Opacity of 60-80%. The Brush is also set to paint with white as this will reveal the top layer when we paint on the black Mask Layer.
Now with the selection still active, paint on the black mask in the areas where you want to blend in the sky from the top layer. As you paint, you paint you will see the top layer appear in those areas. You may need to make a few brush strokes to complete the blending, but your blended image should appear natural.
When you are satisfied with the layer blending you can clear the selection by clicking “Select | Deselect” in the Affinity Photo menu.
Now watch this video to see this demonstrated and learn some additional tips.
How to Blend Layers in Affinity Photo Video
Having covered the basic process of layer blending in Affinity Photo, please watch the video below. The video demonstrates the process using a similar image to this tutorial.
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This tutorial has looked at one way you can use to blend layers in Affinity Photo. This method benefits from being quick and easy to understand. It also produces a very natural looking blended image which is well suited to landscape photography. Often image blending technique will produce a better result than trying to recover shadows or highlights from a single RAW file. It’s well worth learning how to do this and remembering to bracket exposures when photographing in high contrast conditions.
More Affinity Photo Tutorials
You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Affinity Photo Tutorials page.
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