Slot canyons feel like a nightmare to photograph. Even the most perfectly captured RAW files will show dynamic range that goes from extremely black shadows to blown highlights. Tools like HDR (automatic blending of multiple exposures) tend to produce very flat results and possibly strange artifacts. Thankfully, there’s a simple way to restore all that beautiful color and detail: exposure blending with luminosity masks.
I originally posted an edit of this image 5 years ago (coincidentally to the day) using Lumenzia v1 (!!!). So I thought it was time to update it and show how to fully take advantage of several improvements in Lumenzia since then. If you want to see just how far things have come since then, you can still see the original video. Some of the key new functionality used in this updated tutorial includes: PreBlend to align and prep the layers, sliders to quickly get customized luminosity previews for better results, split-screen mask views for better quality, BlendIf masks to get targeted adjustments that are more flexible and do not increase file size, BlendIf visualizations, BlendIf sliders for quick and easy customization, and automatic gray working space optimization for higher quality shadow detail.
I am also making the RAW files used in this tutorial available in my Exposure Blending Master Course. If you have the course, please see section 1.2 to download them.
Here’s a quick summary of the workflow demonstrated:
- Process the RAW images and open then open them in Photoshop. The goal here isn’t just brighter and darker exposures, but to optimize each for the parts of the image where they will be used. And you do not need multiple RAW files, you can create virtual copies and process the same file different ways to blend with itself using the same techniques that follow.
- Click “PreBlend” in Lumenzia to stack and align the handheld images to get them ready for blending. This adds black layer mask to the top layer and locks it to prevent accidental painting on the image.
- Click L and use the slider as needed to get the desired luminosity preview (in this case L1.5 ). You should see gray or white in target areas for blending, and black in the areas to protect.
- Click “Sel” to convert the preview into a luminosity selection.
- Paint with a white brush onto the layer mask (through the luminosity selection) to reveal the darker exposure in the highlights.
- Click “Split” to see the mask and image at the same time to help find any holes in the mask that should be filled.
- When the exposure blending is done, you may put the blended layers into a group. This has no effect on the image, but is a nice way to stay organized.
- Click “Dodge” to add a transparent dodge/burn layer. Create an L1.5 luminosity selection to dodge (paint white) just the highlights of the main subject.
- <ctrl/cmd>-click for Solid Fill in color blend mode, sample red color, and then paint white onto a black layer mask over purple/yellow areas to simplify colors.
- Add a Vibrance layer with L1 BlendIf to improve highlight color. The contribution here is slight, this is an optional step.
- Use lasso tool and then click “Vignette” for inner vignette to bring attention to the main subject. <shift>-click and slide as needed for L0 BlendIf, which helps keep the vignette from making shadows too dark.