07-01-18 Update: I’ve created a page about exposure blending with luminosity masks where you can find more tutorials.
Antelope Canyon is an incredible mind-blowing experience, and at the same time a blood-booling crush of humanity. If you can get past the super expensive hotels, tour costs, and the photographer’s version of “Fight Club” that is Antelope canyon at midday – you are in for an unbelievable trip to a place that is truly magical. There are few places on earth that I find as beautiful as the SouthWest United States, and the slot canyons are among the most impressive sites I’ve ever seen. I literally took thousands of photos during my two days there. The light is constantly changing. The top of the canyon is lit by the orange glow of the sun hitting the sandstone, while only the blue tones reflected by the sky above reach the bottom. This mix of light creates an incredible mix of blues, purples, orange, and yellow colors. – all along the sensual flowing lines of rock that has been carved by untold years of the flood waters that occasionally rip through these canyons as fast as cars on the highway.
Of course, capturing such an incredibly wide dynamic range of light and dark tones with a camera is next to impossible. While HDR (automatic blending of multiple exposures) could be used here, I strongly prefer to use a manual approach to blend the exposures with luminosity masking techniques in Photoshop. While I do use HDR for some other situations, I find that HDR tends to create a lot of halos when I have large areas of light and dark, such as in this image. Below is a before and after comparison showing the image straight out of the camera, compared to the final image I created using two exposures and Lumenzia (my interactive luminosity masking panel for Photoshop).
Note that I wanted to keep this video brief, so it mostly just shows the exposure blending process. Subsequent to this video, I spent a few more minutes with Lumenzia/Photoshop to complete the following steps in order to finalize the image:
- Saturation mask + group: to reduce orange saturation on brightest parts of the left side of the image.
- Vibrance mask + group: to increase the peach tones in the middle/top of the image.
- Solid color adjustment layer with peach-color restricted through L4 and group mask to tone down the powerful yellows.
- Sharpen: (increased radius to ~80, increased threshold to ~20, and dropped opacity of the sharpening layer to ~30%)
These color adjustments help to keep the focus on my main subject (the rock formation in the middle/top), and sharpening added some additional texture to the rock.