Double Processing Images in Photoshop

The picture is too dark indoors, and too bright outdoors, but there's plenty of information to get the details out of both

Our eyes are an amazing thing. They adjust so quickly to changing parameters. Unfortunately our cameras, as good as they are, just aren’t up to it. For example, trying to take a shot of a room and the view out the window. Impossible. So what to do? Simple. Double process the picture.

The following apply only to Photoshop CS3 and newer.

First open the image in Adobe Camera Raw that has a wide range of tones and brightness. Set the right exposure for the interior (or the foreground).

Adjust ACR settings to bring out the foreground elements, disregarding the background

Hold the Shift key and the “Open Image” button turns into “Open Object”. That will open the image in Photoshop as a Smart Object Layer. This is the first version. The image is set right for the foreground.

Now if you just duplicate this Smart Object as a new layer both are linked so a change to one changes the other. If you right click and choose “New Smart Object via Copy” that link is broken. Now we can edit this layer in Camera Raw and not change the first layer. More importantly, the two layers are in register.

Double click directly on the second layer’s thumbnail and the image opens in Camera Raw. Now set your exposure adjustments for the exterior (or the background). Don’t worry about what the interior or foreground looks like. Just lower the exposure slider until all the details come back outside/background.

Adjust ACR settings to bring out the background elements, disregarding the foreground

Now hide that second layer. On the original layer, select all the blown out areas. Hold the shift key to keep adding to the selection until all the areas are selected. You can use any tools that you need to actually select all the areas. Maybe enter quick mask mode and use the paintbrush tools.

Now make the top layer visible again. (Don’t deselect) Then click on the layer mask icon at the bottom of the layers panel and that builds a mask that only lets the outside area show through from the second layer.

The two images combined, with the foreground and background elements showing all their detail

You’re almost done. You can paint directly on the layer mask with black, white or any shade in between to increase or decrease the effect.

Once you’ve blended it all together and it looks good press Shift-Alt-Ctrl E to create a merged layer on top. Now use levels to increase the highlight and shadows (bring the sliders in a little from each end) to give the photo a little snap.

Our final image, cropped and processed