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A few years ago, I came across photographer Jimmy McIntyre’s video course “The Art of Digital Blending.” The course completely changed the way I take and edit photos. For my review of the course and how it changed my photography, take a look at the article “The Art of Digital Blending Video Course by Jimmy McIntyre” on my website.
The course introduced me to digital blending with luminosity masks, which quickly became one of my favorite techniques in my editing toolkit.
Digital blending is a great alternative to the standard HDR processing. Instead of relying on a program’s algorithm to merge multiple photos together, you can manually blend with the help of luminosity masks in Photoshop. This is an advanced technique the can sometimes be overwhelming, but it gives you an enormous amount of control over the entire blending process.
When McIntyre realized the steep initial learning curve that prevented the mass adoption of his digital blending technique, he came up with a brilliant solution. He created a new plugin for Photoshop called the Raya Pro that allows photographers to take advantage of luminosity blending and bypass the intimidation factor of Photoshop.
Raya Pro is a tool that helps photographers simplify their editing workflow in Photoshop.
Let me explain.
Photoshop is an enormously powerful tool but, at the same time, it is also a complex program. When I worked as a graphic designer, I used a certain set of tools and techniques in Photoshop. When I switched to web design, those tools changed. Now working as a photographer, I have a new set of tools and face a variety of unique Photoshop challenges. My point is that it can be difficult to choose and find the right tools and techniques in the vastness of Photoshop.
Raya Pro addresses those challenges. The plugin creates multiple panels in Photoshop that only display the tools and actions specific to digital blending and the photography workflow.
I can now complete 90% of my photo editing using only the Raya Pro panel.
I do not use the Raya Pro on a daily basis but, in extreme cases when everything else has failed, I know I can always rely on luminosity blending.
In total, the latest version of the Raya Pro 3 has 7 panels. Let’s quickly go through them.
1. Raya Pro HUB
The HUB panel serves two main purposes.
First, it is a launch pad for the other panels. Depending on the type of editing you plan to do, you will launch one of the six panels from the HUB: Insta Mask, Precision Masks, Quick Blend, Colors, Dodge & Burn, and Filters/Finish.
Second, the HUB provides you with some basic functionalities like Undo, Delete, Layer, or Delete Mask. My favorite option is Stack, which enables you to combine all the images currently open in Photoshop into a new PSD file on separate layers. This is a huge time saver.
The Highlights and Shadows option lets you create a basic luminosity mask for fast blending.
The top row of the Raya Pro HUB gives you access to three blending panels.
If you start with image blending, I suggest exploring the Quick Blend Panel first. This is the simplest panel with fewer options and far less complexity.
If you feel like you need more options to refine the luminosity masks, try the Precision Masks panel. This panel offers a nice balance of semiautomatic and manual options.
The InstaMask is the most powerful and complex of all the blending panels. If you manage to master this panel, you likely do not need the Precision Masks or Quick Blending panels. The InstaMask panel rules them all.
2. Quick Blending
The Quick Blend Panel is designed for photographers who are just starting out in digital blending. The panel offers a simplified semiautomated approach to digital blending.
You start the process by hitting the Start button. The plugin automatically creates six different blending versions. You go through each version by clicking buttons one through six. When you find the version you like the best, you press the Select button and you are done. The process is fast and uncomplicated.
3. Precision Masks
The Precision Masks Panel offers a more sophisticated, three-step blending approach. It combines a mix of both manual and semiautomatic editing.
First, you create a Dark or Bright luminosity mask, which is similar to the Quick Blend approach.
Next, you refine the mask by adding or subtracting based on the color values. For example, if you want to exclude an area of sky from the editing effects, you select the blue color and subtract it from the mask.
In the final step, if you are not happy with the blending result, you can attempt to repair it by using the Fix Dark Blend section of the panel.
4. InstaMask Panel
The InstaMask Panel is the most feature-rich panel of all seven panels. It strips down all the automatic and semiautomatic adjustments and gives you complete manual control over the digital blending process.
The panel consists of 4 main areas.
The top section gives you access to general controls like Undo, Create White Mask, Create Black Mask, Align Layers, Delete Mask, etc.
The second section from the top gives you all the necessary tools to create luminosity masks based on luminance or color.
The next section allows you to refine the mask you created in step one by using the adjustment sliders.
Finally, you have a myriad of options to apply the created and adjusted mask to the image.
In my case, I never use the Quick Blend or the Precision Mask panels because their functionalities are incorporated into the InstaMask panel.
5. Color Center
The Color Panel is designed for color adjustments and color manipulation. Every button in the panel is a shortcut to the existing tool in Photoshop.
For example, if you press the Warm button, the Raya Pro creates a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer with the yellow color selected with the predefined density value. You can fine-tune the effect by manually adjusting the density or by reducing the opacity of the layer.
Another example is the Saturate All button. With one click, you can create a new folder in the Layer Panel with two adjustment layers: Hue/Saturation and Vibrance. If you are not happy with the results, you can manually adjust the Vibrance and Saturation.
Another useful option is the ability to saturate or desaturate individual colors. I often use this to tone down the oversaturated sky when editing landscapes.
6. Dodge & Burn
The Dodge & Burn panel is where you will find a wide selection of tools and options to control image contrast.
Dodge & Burn refers to a technique used in film photography when a photographer in a darkroom could selectively make certain areas of the photo darker or lighter.
Related: Topaz Photo Editing Plugins Review
When you press the Midtone button, for example, the plugin creates an empty layer that is set to a Soft Light blending mode with a transparency mask that reveals the midtones by concealing the highlights and shadows. Next, you can use the Brush tool to start painting the empty layer. If you select the Black Color, you can make the image underneath the adjustment layer darker. If you select the White Color, you can make the image brighter. This is the new Dodge & Burn technique of the digital age.
7. Actions and Filters
The Actions and Filters panel gives you access to the tools that are similar to presets in Lightroom. Each filter creates a unique, artistic look. For example, the Autumn Colors shifts the green hues toward red and orange to simulate a fall-like atmosphere.
You also have the option to add your own actions—up to six—to the panel. If you develop actions in Photoshop, this can be a useful option to customize the Raya Pro. But, since I do not use actions in Photoshop, this feature goes unused.
The Finish section of the panel is probably the most useful area of the Raya Pro. It gives you quick access to these tools—Reduce Noise, Sharpening, Vignette, and Clean Chromatic Aberration.
You can also select the file format, color space, and dimensions of your final image before you export it.
First of all, if you only use Lightroom and do not feel the need to learn Photoshop, that is absolutely fine. You probably do not need Raya Pro.
If you want to start learning Photoshop but are intimidated by its complexity, the Raya Pro will make your Photoshop experience much simpler and less stressful. With the Raya Pro, you only learn the tools and commands that are relevant to photography. You can simply ignore the rest.
If you are comfortable with Photoshop but have never used luminosity blending, you will be amazed by how much control Raya Pro gives you. Plus, it saves a lot of time!