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Blend Frames of an HDR Panorama

Blending allows you to tweak how Photoshop Elements masked the different layers of your HDR panorama and then stitched them to create the composite image. This process is useful if something looks better on one frame of the panorama but that spot has been masked by Elements in favor of the same spot in another frame that doesn’t look as good. This requires some playing around.

Masks in Photoshop Elements (and other image editors) make certain pixels transparent on a layer, allowing what’s on the next layer down to show through. In these figures the black and white blobs are the masks on those layers. The black parts are transparent (so you see through to the layer underneath), and the white parts are “solid.”

The great thing about masks is that you can use grays to make the corresponding parts of that layer partially transparent, which means that you can create smooth blending of the transitions between frames of the panorama.

If you see a strong border where there is a mask, soften it by smoothing the mask edge. Or, if you like something on a layer that’s masked (a tree looks better in one frame than another, for example), unmask the better tree and mask over the tree in the other frames. It takes some practice to get the hang of it because you’re working in three dimensions.

Where layers overlap each other, you can choose which layer you want to see by virtue of layer order and masking — just follow these steps:

  1. Find the areas that don’t look quite right, and click the Eye icon to show and hide the layers to see where the borders are.

    Hint: You can erase or paint black or white onto the mask to enlarge, shrink, or soften it.

    This figure shows a border that looks like trouble. You can see the edge between one frame and the next. This is a prime candidate for blending.

    image0.jpg
  2. Click the layer mask you want to work with in the Layers palette.

    Make sure you select the mask — not the image. The mask has a white highlight around it when you secure it, as shown in the figure.

    image1.jpg
  3. Click the small white-over-black box under the main color swatches to select the default foreground and background colors — then switch them by clicking the color-swap arrows above the background color swatch.

    Oddly enough, Elements 8 swapped these so that the default foreground is black and background is white.

    This sets the foreground color to white and the background color to black — colors you’ll see when you start painting or erasing.

    image2.jpg
  4. Select a tool (such as the Brush tool) to paint the mask. Paint with black (making those parts transparent) or white (making those parts solid).

    You can also use the Eraser tool if you don’t like switching between black and white. This figure shows the Eraser tool with a soft brush tip selected (which is important to keep the edges from being too harsh) to better blend it with the layer beneath. You might find it helpful to reduce the Opacity setting to 50% or so to avoid abrupt changes in tone.

    image3.jpg
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