Hello my friends!

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to merge your bracketed images. Since watching the drone photography settings video, you are hopefully now shooting in AEB mode. We’ll go through how to do that in Lightroom (easy peasy) and in Photoshop (a little less easy, but more powerful).

In the video, I go through the Photoshop section quite fast as I was desperately trying to stop the video from getting too long, but if you find it hard to follow, I’m putting the steps to steps here. Let me know if I’ve missed anything!

Lightroom

Lightroom is where I do most of my blending when the scene isn’t too challenging. It’s super easy and fast.

Why is it important to blend your images? In some instances, like this sunset image, the drone cannot capture both the details in the sky and sun (the brightest part of your image) and the foreground (the darkest part of your image). This is why we use bracketing. We take 5 pictures, from dark to bright, each picture will have a different range of information available. But what you want is one picture with all that information available. This is why you want to merge your images into a ‘super’ image.

So for example, if I take the brightest image, the foreground is great, but the sky is blown out. Even if I reduce the Highlight, I still end up with a big white circle instead of a beautiful sun.

Similarly, if I take the darkest image, and try to make it brighter by increasing the shadows and exposure, I end up with a very noisy image and poor details.

So, let’s get started:

First, select your images, right click on them, go to photo merge and then HDR.

You will be greeted with this new screen here. I always leave ‘Auto-align’ done. I never leave ‘auto tone’ on, it means Lightroom tries to edit your image the way it thinks it should, and that should be you doing that.

‘Deghost amount’ is helpful if you have movement in your image. By movement I mean, things that could have moved while it was taking the 5 images, like cars, or other fast moving objects. If you are not careful, you may end up with blurry objects or weird things happening where the objects are moving. In this scenario, you may want to try the different amounts provided, starting from low.  Click on ‘show deghost overlay’ so you see where it applies the deghosting amount. In this instance, nothing was moving, so I leave it at None and click ok.

And hop, magic, I have a beautifully blended image, a super image if you will, that have all the information in the highlights, you can easily recover the sky with the Highlights slider and make the image brighter with the Shadows slider. You have a lot more room to manoeuvre than if you had started with only one image.

There are some things to watch out with Lightroom HDR. It sometimes can create halos on edges, like the edge of the mountain and the sky. It can add some strange contrast in places. What you see is what you get, you have no control over how the blending is done.

Overall it’s a great tool which I use a lot for it’s simplicity and is still does a great job 8 times out of f 10. However, I sometimes want to control how I do the blending myself. And here we go into Photoshop (shock horror).

There are lots of ways to do this in Photoshop, here’s a technique that I use often because it’s still fairly simple. A technique I first came across thanks to Jimmy McIntyre, who’s got a great website. http://www.throughstrangelenses.com/

Let me walk you through how I do it.

First, from Lightroom, select all your images, right click, go to ‘Edit in’, then ‘open as Layers in Photoshop.

Once in Photoshop, select all your layers, go to the edit menu, then click on ‘Auto-Align Layers’.

Leave the settings on auto. This will make sure all your layers are aligned properly as the drone will move even so slightly between each picture. It’s a critical step that needs to be done if you want the blending to work properly.

Now we have aligned layers, the next step will be to put your images in the right order. First, find your base image. I like to start with the middle image. So find it and put it at the bottom. **I should have renamed my layers in the video, but got carried away and forgot Sorry! So I’ve renamed them here for clarity.**

Let’s rename your middle image, the base,  and call it 0.

Then I put on top of it the next brightest image (which is your +1EV) and the next brightest image on top of that. (+2EV).

Then put the less dark image of the two left on top of them (-1EV) and the darkest image available on top of them all (-2EV).  we can start the process. Select only the base and your first bright image (+1EV).

We can now start the process. Select only the base and your first bright image (+1EV).

Create a layer mask on the bright image.

Then go to the ‘Image’ menu,  and click on Apply image.

A new menu appears. You want to make sure the settings are like mine below, and then click on ‘invert’.

You have now created your first mask, which means only the foreground of this bright image is kept (the white part of your mask), but it doesn’t use any of the sky, which is exactly what we want. Now we want to continue the same step with the brightest image and get add even more details on the foreground.

You can now select also the second brightest image (your +2EV) and create a layer mask.

We follow the same step, Image menu > Apply image. Make sure ‘Invert’ is still on.

Great, you have now made your second mask. However in this situation, I found that the foreground was a bit too bright, so by decreasing the opacity of the layer, I reduced the brightness of my image to a more balanced state.

Ok, we are now half-way trough, we have a great foreground, but no sky. So let’s get the sky back from the darkest images. It’s still the same process. Select your first dark image (the -1EV).

Click on Image > Apply image. But this time you want to untick ‘Invert’.

Then click on ok.

We have now recovered a good part of the sky. And the for the final part, we will select our last image, -2, click on Image > Apply image and do the same process again making sure ‘Invert’ is not ticked in.

Et voila, a perfect blend, very natural looking.

I will create a new layer, based on all my layers below by doing Shift + ALT + Command + E. I have merged all my bracketed images properly. And start my editing from there.

Which version do you prefer to merge your images? Lightroom for it’s simplicity? Do you have other favourite methods to blend your drone images in Photoshop?  DJI phantoms are getting better every year and this might not be as necessary in a couple of years from now!

If you have any questions, please let me know!

Jerome.

jerome@masterdronephotography.com

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About Me

I'm Jerome, a French photographer based in London. I love drone photography, but know this can be challenging. My drone work last year was published in countless publications and website, and you can do too if you know the basis of photography and have decent editing skills. I wanted to create this website to teach you what I've learned to make your drone photos from meh to wow.