Landscape photography in particular, there is usually too much contrast
between the bright sky and the (usually darker) foreground. Cameras can't cope with this contrast
range like the human eye can. If you leave it to your camera's meter,
it will often expose correctly for the sky, but this means the foreground
will be too dark, or vice versa.
If there's nothing moving fast in the frame (grasses blowing in the wind etc.) you can use a digital camera on a tripod to get the same effect as graduated filters, just correctly expose one frame for the sky, then without moving the camera take another shot correctly exposed for the foreground. Best done with a cable shutter release so you don't move the camera by firing the shutter with your finger
1) Digital Blending Great technique for advanced digital camera users - see below.I use this technique for a lot of my images, it saves carrying filters around but you need to use a tripod
2) Graduated Filters - The best ones are ND (Neutral Density) grads or Grey grads, which don't affect the natural colours in the image. Experiment with bracketing exposures (see below), so that you learn how the filter affects your images.
However, I rarely bother to use grads anymore since I went digital, now I just use digital blending, but if there are moving elements in a scene, or if you're hand-holding, graduated filters may be the best choice
Take two exposures
Take one image correctly exposed for the sky (e.g. 1/250th at f8) , and another correctly exposed for the foreground (e.g. 1/60th at f8) then: - Layer Mask Method - To combine two frames in Photoshop
Open them both, Ctrl A to select the light image, Ctrl C to copy it. Then close this image.
Ctrl V to paste the light image onto the darker image.
Choose Select>Color Range. Then choose Highlights from the drop-down
menu. Make sure the Invert box is checked (see Fig 1) then OK. On the
layers palette click to add a layer mask (see Fig 2) then Filter>Blur>Gaussian
Blur at a radius of 150-200 pixels. This technique works well but can
leave unwanted halos around dark objects against bright skies, so you
may need to manually adjust afterwards using cloning tools, try even more
Gaussian blur, or if all else fails, blend manually.
When you're happy with the results you can Layer>Flatten Image before printing, but it's best to save this image with it's layers intact as a PSD file, then you can always do fine adjustments later if required. This will save you a lot of time if you're new to Photoshop - as your skills develop you can return to the image and improve it further, without starting the whole thing from scratch.
Don't overdo the effect - keep it looking natural
Sometimes, you have to do the blending manually to get a professional look, as in the boat examples at the top. To do this, open both images, Ctrl A to select the light image, Ctrl C to copy it. Then close this image. Ctrl V to paste the light image onto the darker image. Then use the Eraser tool at medium hardness to erase the light image (Layer 1) sky, revealing the darker sky underneath. Doing this properly can take an hour or more for a professional result that won't show on large prints!
More examples of images I created with Digital Blending: -
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