As camera’s become better and have more dynamic range we are able to capture more detail then before. But still today the advanced sensors in our camera’s are far away of capturing the incredible richness of color and detail that is hidden within a scene. Our RAW files often do not contain enough pixel information to show that detail when we import our images in photoshop. That is why I use a technique called exposure blending.
Exposure blending is simply explained as blending different exposures from one scene into 1 blended image. When I photograph a landscape I always photograph one correct exposure, one 2-stop under exposed image and one 2-stop over exposed image. In photoshop I then blend those 3 exposures together with gives me much more information in the contrast , shadows, mid-tones and highlights. The result is a very balanced and rich photograph that displays an incredible amount of dynamic range of light. Closer to what we can see with the human eye.
Sometimes I photograph 5 or even 9 different exposures to make sure I have captured the necessary information in the darkest and brightest part of the scene. When bracketing correctly your overexposed images should contain all the information of the darkest part of the scene and your underexposed images should contain all the information of the brightest part of the scene. Your correct exposed images should contain all the information for the mid-tones.
When you have captured the necessary exposures to cover the dynamic range of the scene it is time to take them in to photoshop and blend them together.
In my workflow I not only blend the different exposure of one scene at one time of day but I will blend multiple exposures of multiple times of day to create a very dramatic artistic image. If the sky in the mornings or not good enough I will often stay and wait till the evening to capture that moment and then blend those together. If I don't have the luck of having dramatic skies I will blend skies that I have previously photograph with the current scene.
I use adobe Bridge and phototoshop to blend my exposures together. I will select my images in Adobe bridge, then go to tools, photoshop and select Merge to HDR PRO
Photoshop will start opening your RAW files and come up with a new dialog, make sure you select 32 bit option in the right panel. Then click TONE in ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) and now you can tweak the image like you would a normal RAW file except you are working in 32 bit with contains much more color and contrast information.
When I am done with that I will copy that layer that photoshop just created, I will rasterize it (right click - rasterize) and will then convert my image back to 16 bit. By copying and rasterizing the layer before converting it back to 16 bit, photoshop actually will remain containing almost all the color information from the 32 bit layer and produces a lot cleaner file. After the I will start my edit.
The next step is blending in my sky if I want to and create my image as I visually intended. Below the final result.