One of the hardest yet most effective photograph is taken directly towards the light or the sun. It gives you that dramatic and theatrical feel to an ordinary scene. However, our camera still can't handle the dynamic range of such a scene unless it is aided by filters. The ND's (Neutral Density) or GND's (Graduated Neutral Density) Filters which helps to balance out the "stops" difference between the lights and shadows. Using filters has its downside, prone to hard-to-removes flares and weird color casts.
So, what do you do? The answer is doing "Multiple Exposures" or "Bracketing". It is taking multiple number of shots from the scene's brightest highlights up to its darkest shadows or vice versa manually OR use the In-camera bracketing: "+5 +4 +3 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5". This is to cover the entire dynamic range of the scene.
I know it sounds easy but the hard part is how do you combine all the exposures to produce a single high dynamic range image with visible details on its darkest shadows and brightest highlights without the funky looking "hdr-ish" and "halos" in an image. This is where "luminosity mask" comes in.
There are a number of Photoshop plug-ins that focuses on exposure blending with the help of luminosity masking. I find that Jimmy Mcntyre's Raya Pro Panel is the "simplest and easiest" panel to use when it comes to multiple exposure blending.
I have been using the Raya Pro Panel for a while now. I love how simple and straight forward the panel works. From stacking all the images as layers in Photoshop, aligning them, using the luminosity selections for blending, orton effects, applying vignettes, full size sharpening for print up to the sharpening for web posting. All of these can be done by just simply clicking on the Panel.
Here is a short edit on how I work with the Raya Pro Panel.
Multiple shots brightest to darkest taken from the top of Dyrholaey in Iceland. 9 Photos
Opened them in Adobe Camera Raw, synced all the settings over the images then proceed to Photoshop. (This is Raya Pro V1.0 Panel).
Stacked all the images in Photoshop just by clicking the "stack" button on the Raya Pro Panel.
Aligned all the images in Photoshop just by clicking the "Auto Align All Layers" button on the Raya Pro Panel.
With the help of Raya Pro Panel's luminosity mask selections, I was able to carefully select my desired brights, darks and midtones across each of the images and combined them to achieve a single high dynamic range image.
High dynamic range image output using the Raya Pro Panel.
Applied color adjustments, contrasts, color saturation and some enhancements to taste.
Clicked on the Raya Pro Panel's "finish tab", this is for sharpening for web. This is 2048px.
That's it! How easy it is to achieve a high dynamic range image with the help of the Raya Pro Panel. So, if you are keen on investing in a Photoshop plugin, I greatly recommend Jimmy Mcintyre's RAYA PRO | The Complete Digital Blending Panel -The panel that makes Photoshop and Exposure Blending simple.