It’s no secret that Photoshop can be quite overwhelming and time-consuming. Post-processing is a big part of landscape photography (regardless of the degree of adjustments you make) but not all of us have the time, or interest, to spend hours upon hours in Photoshop.
Raya Pro, a third-party plug-in, addresses that: it not only saves you time and improves the workflow but also comes with a bunch of professional techniques which you can easily apply to your images.
We’ve previously done a walkthrough of Raya 3.0 where we looked at its interface and panels but in this article, we’ll focus on the most relevant actions within them, such as Exposure Blending, Luminosity Masks, Dodging & Burning, Color Enhancements and more.
Exposure Blending with Raya Pro
Blending multiple exposures is one of the most time-consuming techniques of post-processing. It not only takes a lot of time but also is a technique that even experienced Photoshop users find tricky.
Luckily, Raya Pro makes it easy. Whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced editor, there are methods customized for you.
After opening your images in Adobe Photoshop (it’s OK that they’re in separate tabs), click the Stack button in either the Raya Pro HUB or Quick Blend panel. All the files are automatically stacked as layers in one tab.
Now, click Align and you’re ready to blend. Even though these steps are relatively straightforward without the panel, we just saved a minute.
InstaMask vs. Quick Blending
The easiest and quickest way to blend multiple exposures in Raya Pro is through the Quick Blending panel. Though more restricted in possibilities than the more advanced InstaMask, it automates the process of blending multiple images making it perfect for beginning and intermediate users.
First, follow Stack and Align steps explained above. When all the exposures are gathered as layers in one tab, and been aligned, blend the images by clicking the Start button for either Blend Dark Exposure or Blend Bright Exposure. Which one you choose depends on which exposure is at the top. If you’ve selected the darker exposure, choose the first option.
Raya Pro will now create a mask and automatically blend the layers. Use the 1-6 buttons to make the blend more or less refined.
InstaMask is a more advanced but flexible option. With this panel you’ll have to manually apply the mask to a layer, and while the result is similar to what’s created with the Quick Blending panel, you’ll see that you’re less restricted and it will do a slightly better job.
The purpose of InstaMask is to easily create and apply Luminosity Masks. It can be used to do more than exposure blending (such as selectively adding contrast, color or sharpening) but it’s also the best panel for that purpose.
All you have to do is to select the Brights (B), Midtones (M) or Darks (D) mask that will do the best job although typically, you’ll use either a Brights or Darks mask for this purpose. Clicking on a 1-6 number will generate a preview of that mask, and you can further refine it by adjusting the panel’s sliders. Once the mask looks OK, click Apply to add it as a mask to the active layer and you’ve blended an image.
Creating, previewing and refining Luminosity Masks is one of Raya Pro’s main features. While there are other 3rd-party panels and actions that also do this, I’ve found it the easiest and most straightforward to use, even for Photoshop beginners (though having a basic knowledge is recommended).
Luminosity Masks can be created in either the InstaMask or Precision Mask panels.
Beginners might find the Precision Mask panel to be an easier option, but it’s also more limited. The InstaMask panel looks more confusing at first sight but it’s more flexible and will give you more control over the masks you create.
The good news is that creating Luminosity Masks in the InstaMask panel isn’t nearly as difficult as it seems at first glance:
- Click a number between 1-6 on either the B (Brights), D (Darks) or M (Midtones) section to create a mask preview
- Find the mask that suits your need
- Use the sliders to add/subtract masks and/or further refine your selection
- Click Apply to add the mask to your selected layer or click another button to add it to an adjustment layer
Let’s look at an example. The image above is a little flat and lacks contrast, so I want to add some to the midtones. My go-to method of doing so is by using a curves adjustment layer with a midtones mask applied. From experience, I know that the Midtones 3 mask is closest to what I need, but with Raya Pro I can easily look through the others as well:
- Select the Midtones 3 Mask
- The mask looks ok as it is so I don’t need to refine it. Select the Curves button in the fourth section
- The mask is now applied to a curves adjustment layer and I’ll make a normal S-Curve
Not that hard, is it?
I’ll add that Jimmy McIntyre (the person behind Raya Pro) does a great job simplifying the panels through his free and premium tutorials.
The Dodge & Burn, Color Centre and Filters & Finish panels are where you can enhance the images and give them life. You can still combine any of these adjustments with the masks created in the InstaMask or Precision Mask panel but this does require some manual work and takes some time to learn.
We won’t look at each individual action/adjustment within the panels in this article but let’s look at the ones you’re most likely to use on a regular basis.
It’s not uncommon that an image suffers from a significant color cast, especially if you’re using certain Neutral Density Filters. Adjusting the Temperature and Tint in Camera RAW/Lightroom is one way of fixing this but it’s even easier to do in Raya Pro.
All you need to do is click on Correct 1, Correct 2 or Correct 3 in the Color Center panel. Each of these will remove color cast in a different way and the result will look slightly different in each image. I recommend trying all of them (apply, undo, then try the next) and see which one works best.
For this image I used Correct 1:
If none of the three automatic alternatives does a good job, you can use the Manual Correct button instead. This is slightly more advanced and requires a few steps from you but it does a great job:
- Click the Manual Cor button
- Double click the adjustment layer icon from the active Threshold layer and pull the slider far left. Then pull it slightly towards the right until you see black appear.
- Select the Color Picker Tool (I) and click inside a black spot
- Delete the Threshold and 50% Grey mask
- Create a curves layer
- Select the “Sample in Image to Set Grey Point” and click on the mark you made previously
By following these few steps you’ve manually removed the color cast by setting the grey point.
Dodge & Burn
My most used action in Raya Pro Panel is creating Dodge & Burn layers. Though the Dodge & Burn panel consists of several actions and options, I normally only use the 50% Grey action.
However, the Highlights, Midtones and Shadows options are also some you’ll find useful as they allow you to Dodge & Burn selectively to these areas. Again, you’re able to refine the mask by using the Levels Adjustment Layer that appears.
It’s not hard to create Dodge & Burn layers and I use that feature for the majority of my images. Using the Raya Pro actions to make them has saved me a lot of time these last few years.
I don’t use many of the other actions found in the Dodge & Burn panel but I highly recommend playing around with them to see if they fit in your workflow. In my opinion, the majority of them can have a positive impact on your images, especially if you tweak them a little to suit your style.
Your Actions & Web Sharpening
In the Filter & Finish panel, you find five buttons named Your Action. This is where you can add your own actions, such as web sharpening in other dimensions than what’s available in the panel or other adjustments you normally add to your images.
Another example of an action you can add is the Orton Effect. While Raya Pro offers four methods of creating this technique, I prefer to do it my own way – so adding an action for it is a time-saving option.
Lastly, Raya Pro’s web sharpening is among the best auto sharpeners I’ve tried (and I’ve tried quite a few). It produces a sharp and clean result which you have the option to adjust afterward.
I’ve used the web sharpening tool for more or less all images I’ve saved for web the last couple of years.
Over to You!
Do you have a workflow you use for most images? I would love to hear what your favorite features of Raya Pro are if you’re already a user. Share it with us in a comment!
If you’re not yet a user but want some more information you can find all the details and purchase Raya Pro on ShutterEvolve. At $44.99, this is amongst the better investments I’ve had and, in my eyes, it’s an absolutely essential tool for photographers.
Disclaimer: CaptureLandscapes is an affiliate with Raya Pro but all opinions are based on my experience using it over the past years. As an affiliate, I earn a small percentage of each sale made through my affiliate link (at no extra cost to you). If you want to purchase Raya Pro but, for some reason, not support CaptureLandscapes go through this link.