Exposure Fusion – Best Way To Blend Images

Exposure Fusion

This week I am going to talk about a topic that confuses a lot of people. The subject of blending images together from separate images is a tough one. There are a few ways but the main ones are manual blending images together in Photoshop through and the second option is using a third party plug-in to blend images automatically. The latest concept is called Exposure Fusion which can be found within the program Photomatix Pro.

Exposure Fusion is not HDR but is a new concept of processing a series of bracketed images, which result in a low dynamic range image. To summarize it takes the best tonalities from each image in the sequence and combines them to create a single image. To be more specific what is actually happening is that the fusing process assigns weights to the pixels of image in the sequence according to luminosity, saturation, and contrast, and then carefully balances the three to make a single image. In layman’s terms what is happening that the best part of each image gets recorded and fused together to combine all of the best elements in final image.

How is Exposure Fusion Different Then HDR?

Exposure Fusion is quite different in many ways then HDR. The only resemblance the two have are that they combine a sequence of bracketed images together. That is where the similarities end. First of all Exposure Fusion is a low dynamic range result rather then a high dynamic range. This means that the final product looks more realistic to how the scene really would like. This means that the shadows maintain a certain amount of shadows and the highlights remain brighter in higher tonalities then a high contrast scene. HDR takes the sequence of images and blends the images seamlessly but does its best to even the tonalities in the extreme tonalities of shadows and highlights. This is what gives HDR the appearance of artificiality and unnaturalness. Exposure Fusion after fusing the images together keeps the tonalities how they would appear if one was to be looking at the actual scene being photographed. When one views a HDR image a keen photography eye can spot the uneven transition between the luminance and can therefore lose the appeal of realism. Now I am not saying that one is better then the other in terms of an artistic point of view but that Exposure Fusion produces results that are truer to the scene that the photographer is trying to capture.

Exposure Fusion Advantages Over HDR

Exposure Fusion processing times takes much less due to a absence of a intermediate HDR image that must be created before one can tone map a HDR image. Thus, processing times are twice as fast when transferring back into Photoshop. The most important advantage in Exposure Fusion is the lack of halos that appear around objects that occur with HDR. Often when combining images HDR produces a very three-dimensional image that looks very impactful but when viewed closer the halos become more evident. As a side note eliminating those halos in HDR can be quite difficult and time consuming. To get around the problem of halos in HDR layer masks and careful brushing is essential.

One very important advantage of Exposure Fusion is that it can combine a series of bracketed images with different depths of field that extend the Depth Of Field in an image and give the perception of more three-dimensional qualities in the image. This presents an advantage to many obstacles when it comes to nature photography. For example, shooting a wide perspective of a scene with wildflowers and a mountain in the distance would normally require a f/16 at least to get everything in focus. The problem arises if there is strong wind or low light and a faster shutter speed is needed to freeze the detail in the foreground wildflowers. It is then necessary to shoot at f/8 for the foreground and combine it with the rest of the images which can be shoot at f/16 to capture the background mountains. Before Exposure Fusion combining a series of images with different Depths Of Fields was limited to only those with the best of Photoshop skills.

Where Can I Find Exposure Fusion?

Exposure Fusion is still fairly new and shows so much promise already that I cannot wait to see what comes next. Presently, Exposure Fusion comes in a few third party programs but not as a plug-in for Photoshop. It presently can be found with PTgui and the preferred Photomatix Pro. If you own a copy of Photomatix Pro, Exposure Fusion comes free with the update to the software. To see more information on Photomatix Pro see above notes to website.

How Do I Get Started With Exposure Fusion
Often the hardest part to any new software is where to begin and how to work it into one’s already present workflow. The good news is that Exposure Fusion is much more straightforward then most third party plug-ins for Photoshop. There are a variety of ways to get started but the easiest way is to choose the series of images in your Photo Media browser and drag onto the Photomatix icon in the dock. I use Adobe Bridge that comes with Photoshop so the two work seamlessly for me. I choose the first image of the series and Shift-Click on the last to include the complete series of bracketed images.

From there, you can right click to open a series of options that ask you how you would like to open these images (then choosing Photomatix Pro) or dragging the set of images on top of the Photomatix Pro icon. Both ways work well and lead you to a very simple dialog box that asks you to choose either: Generate an HDR image, Fuse exposures, or open files only.

For Exposure Fusion choose : Fuse exposures and this leads you to an option box that asks you to confirm that these are the images you would like to use. Within that confirmation box you are also asked if you would like the sources images aligned whether you want them to match features or horizontal and vertical shifts. This is very important to leave on the default of matching features and not the latter.

Exposure Fusion does what it does best and merges the series of images into one single image and Press OK
You are brought to one final dialog box that gives you a variety of options in terms of luminance, saturation, and contrast. I encourage you to leave it on the default and leave Photoshop to make these adjustments, as this is what Photoshop does best. One last option at the top of the page is how you would like things to merge and again leave on the default of Highlight & Shadows – Adjust. And click Process.

Once this occurs the final adjustments are made and you are asked if you would like to save and where would you like it saved. I automatically bring into Photoshop from here and doing my major adjustments in Photoshop.

All of the above seems quite daunting but let to its defaults the whole time from start to finish is less then a minute. Not bad compared to processing times of an HDR image. I am often asked why not make adjustments in Exposure Fusion and the reason is that the adjustments are permanent lacking the flexibility of layer masks and opacity with Photoshop. Always when processing include within a workflow a way to always avoid permanent adjustments and allow a way to go back and make changes without harming the pixels of an image.

Future Of Exposure Fusion
As mentioned earlier the concept of Exposure Fusion is in its early stages and there is great strides made from the days of HDR. I look forward to the advancements of this software and predict that cameras will one day strive to do what Exposure Fusion does but in the camera.


~ by kevinmcneal on February 7, 2010.

32 Responses to “Exposure Fusion – Best Way To Blend Images”

  1. Good explanation of the new fuse option in Photomatix. I have began using it on occasion but I must admit that generally i still prefer the HDR output. I do usually re-adjust the contrast in my images to bring back some of the shadow and am not a fan of the illustrative look. thanks and I’m glad i found you site (via FB).

  2. Awesome post Kevin … I never knew about this type of blending but will be sure to try it out. Thanks Neal

  3. Fantastic article, nicely written and fairly easy to follow. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for the great review Kevin. I was looking for an alternative to doing it “by hand” in Photoshop, which I have been doing for quite some time now. I never got used to the look of HDR images, this looks like it really simplifies the steps that are so time consuming when blending images in Photoshop – I wonder how it would work blending exposures and using them in a pano?

  5. Thanks for this article, Kevin. This finally pushed me to buying Photomatix since this manages to avoid the halo artifact of Photomatix output. Two questions-

    On the last dialog (prior to clicking “process”), you have a variety of values set. Do you adjust these values on an image by image basis or use these as standard adjustments?

    Also, I’ve just begun to play with this but I’m using multiple exposures extracted from a single RAW file. I’m noticing a fair amounr of noise that’s being introduced into the finished file. Have you noticed this in your experiences? It’s possible that the file I used to test with is just too underexposed to begin with..

    Thanks again!


  6. Very nice kewin. HDR‌ images are really fake specially when overdone which is the case for most of the people I suppose. This is a very good tutorial from you.
    This one is also quite informative:

  7. In the past I’ve played with the photo blending in PHotomatix. Looks to me that the Fusing is the upgraded version of Photo Blending, and that it gives more control for making adjustments. Thank you for the explanation. Maybe I’ll upgrade. Take care!

  8. I read about this technique, but never practiced. This post works as an excellent tutorial. Thanks Kevin.

  9. I used to process a lot of HDR’s with Photomatix but was disappointed with the inconsistency. Recently I have been processing composite images (usually 3 exposures) in Photoshop using layer masks. I didn’t know Exposure Fusion existed, so this opens up a lot of new doors. I will definitely check it out. Thanks!

  10. Great post Kevin. Always good to find new ways of getting the most from bracketed shots. Big fan of LDR but not HDR for the reasons you stated. more realism.

  11. I have been using the Exposure Fusion method for a few months and was considering posting about it on my own blog. I read your blog this afternoon and decided to post about it on my blog tonight. I feel that my post may add a little more insight into the technique as I do a few things a little different. I did mention your blog and give a link to it. My own blog is at http://bit.ly/c47921

  12. If you use Lightroom you can get a plug-in called Enfuse that’s been around a while and does the same thing.

  13. Very interesting. I have been doing HDR but I try to keep it as realistic as possible. I never quite undertsood what exposure fusion is all about (ok I’m a noob). Your article is great.

  14. […] I read a good blog post by Kevin McNeal describing a relatively new technique called Exposure Fusion.  In essence, Exposure Fusion is an […]

  15. For some time I have followed his work through Flickr and I’m really fascinated by it.
    It’s a great opportunity to enjoy their power in this blog post, I will do everything possible to practice his advice, although it is not easy for me because I have to translate each word with the Google translator.
    Kevin thank you very much and my most sincere congratulations on your outstanding work.

    From Europe, Spain.


  16. […] you want a tutorial on how to do Exposure Fusion. Then visit Kevin McNeals Blog for a neat tutorial Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Photographers, Choose Your […]

  17. I’ve seen HDR work and, while I like it, I’m intrigued by this other option. I do sometimes feel there is an unnatural quality to some HDR images I’ve seen. I’d like to try this in comparison. Thanks for the post about it.

  18. Brilliant post, thanks so much! So far this looks better than HDR for the work I do.

  19. Your work is amazing, and so I hesitate to argue with a master. Nevertheless, I disagree with your explanation.

    You write, “Exposure Fusion is a low dynamic range result rather then a high dynamic range. This means that the final product looks more realistic to how the scene really would like.”

    But whenever we’re seeing an “HDR” image we’re inevitably looking at a low dynamic range (LDR) rendering of the scene produced via some tonemapping algorithm. The explanation that “Exposure Fusion is more realistic because it’s LDR” can’t be right, because anything displayed on a computer monitor is necessarily LDR!

    (And as a side note, I can assure you that in my inept hands it’s possible to use Exposure Fusion produce results that are truly awful.)

  20. Hey Kevin,

    Are you using any of your filters when doing these exposure blends?

  21. Nice explanation!

  22. I find the fusion images pretty flat and generally noisier than the original raw file, so I blend the original files over the composite. Am I missing a step in my shooting? Do you import the raw files or convert to tiff first?

  23. […] (ik wil het zo (voor/op mijn scherm) natuurlijk als mogelijk houden) IK had daar over gelezen op deze site Ik heb eigenlijk nooit in PS gekeken hoe dit daarin te doen want ik doe ook dit nog steeds met […]

  24. Amazing use of Exposure Fusion! Your work here has inspired me to move into a new direction! Excellent article, I’ll be sure to post it on my blog.

  25. […] you want a tutorial on how to do Exposure Fusion using PhotoMatix. Then visit Kevin McNeals Blog for a neat […]

  26. […] Exposure Fusion – Best Way To Blend Images В« Kevin McNeal Photography Feb 7, 2010 … HDR takes the sequence of images and blends the images seamlessly but does its best to even the … […]

  27. Thank you very much,
    very informative. 🙂

  28. Quote: ‘I am often asked why not make adjustments in Exposure Fusion and the reason is that the adjustments are permanent lacking……’

    Kevin, the default settings are applied to the created image anyway changing these or not you new file is altered anyway. These options certainly, IMO, can improve the quality of the final image as your starting point (post EF) can be achieved by utilising these sliders.

  29. […] Exposure Fusion – Best Way To Blend Images […]

  30. […] country photos!  I’ve been experimenting lately with the difference between tonemapped and fused photos, which both involve a series of bracketed photos.  There’s a really great article […]

  31. […] Exposure Fusion – Best Way To Blend Images […]

  32. Howdy! This article couldn’t be written much better! Going through this
    article reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept preaching about this.
    I am going to forward this post to him. Fairly certain he’ll
    have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

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