April 16, 2010


Digital Blending – Dynamic Range – GIMP

When wanting to combine two or more photographs for a higher dynamic range (HDR) or correcting an overexposed photograph, I mostly use programs like Photomatix, however it is sometimes too difficult or frustrating fiddling with the settings for minutes getting nowhere. So, there is an easier way and in certain cases much better than an HDR especially if you want to avoid those really surreal photographs – Digital Blending is the way to go, you can be much more selective with your increases/decreases in dynamic range and get more realistic results.


Digital Blending - Petronas Towers, Malaysia


  • Open your photos or photo up in GIMP
  • You can do this with a single photograph, but differently exposed photos are better, they will hold more detail

Too dark!

1b. Levels (for a single exposure)

  • For a single photo, duplicate the Original layer
  • On the FIRST layer go, Colors –> Levels
  • Adjust as shown (darken or lighten):

Adjust Levels (click to view larger)

  • If the original or one of the layers is properly exposed and fine, skip this stage!
  • If not, On the SECOND layer go, Colors –> Levels
  • Adjust Levels so it is darker (middle slider –> go right)

2. Layer Mask – Brush Tool (for finer adjustments)

  • On the FIRST layer, Right Click –> Add Layer Mask
  • Select: White Full Opacity
  • Grab the Brush Tool: FG Only Black, Circular Fuzzy Spot (or download my version), lower Opacity ~30%
  • Now stroke where you’d like to lighten things (I followed the steel curves and edges in this photo):

Fine Adjustments - Brush Tool (click to view larger)

2b. Layer Mask – Gradient Tool (for larger adjustments)

  • On the FIRST layer, Right Click –> Add Layer Mask
  • Select: White Full Opacity
  • Grab the Gradient Tool: FG Only Black, Square/Radial/Linear (depends on Photo for the shape)
  • Now apply stroke accordingly for your blown out/underexposed section (the skyline in this photo):

Larger Adjustments - Gradient Tool (click to view larger)

3. Apply Layer Mask and Finish Up!

  • When finished, right click on layer with Mask and select Apply Layer Mask
  • That’s It!

Apply Layer Mask!


Readjusted Skyline, but kept the rich coloured reflections


Before and After - Digital Blending - Uncovered the KL Tower

If you’d like to use these photographs please Contact Me!

Please comment below if you have any questions and I’ll answer them ASAP!

All images on this site are copyrighted© – All Rights Reserved.

Written by Mike

Michael Scott is the publisher and photographer behind Scott Photographics! He is very passionate about his photography and enjoys sharing the best of his experiences for others to enjoy too! Contact Mike via email!
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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aug 16 2010

    Nice work!

  2. Aug 13 2010

    I use a similar technique with my raw photos. I use 3 layers and use the grayscale versions on the photos to generate the masks.


    check it out.

  3. Michael
    Jun 4 2010

    Hi Tiffany,

    using the three differently exposed photographs is best as you have more detail in the highlights and shadows, however processing these images into one is best done using programs like Photomatix or Photoshop to properly merge the details. You could use GIMP and fiddle around with Layer Masks as detailed in this tutorial, but I do recommend Photomatix highly!



  4. Tiffany
    Jun 3 2010

    Hi, I think maybe it is all very detailed. But I am a little confused where the steps are for those who have three different exposure photos for doing HDR. What would be the steps to follow if you have three different sets of exposure, as you said at the beginning someone can do?

  5. May 25 2010

    Hi, I am a design enthusiast and I think your post is helpfull for both rookies and advanced designers. Keep it up!

  6. May 16 2010

    thank you for sharing this tutorial.

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