Double process, stunning photo edits in Photoshop and Lightroom

Get stunning sky and shadow detail in Photoshop without HDR, using the double trick.

In this Photoshop tutorial, I’ll show you how to process the same image twice, then combine shadow and highlight detail for a clean, detailed photo blend. We’ll also be using Lightroom Classic in this tutorial, but I’ll include instructions for Camera Raw if you don’t have Lightroom. This is adapted from an older technique that was used to create faux HDR. As far as an HDR technique, it never delivered what people expected, but it’s absolutely perfect for this updated technique that I call the Double Trick or Double Process.

What is that?

Basically we are going to duplicate a raw image. We will process one to bring out the details in the highlights, this will give us a dark image. We will process the 2nd image to bring out the detail in the shadows.

The reason we do this in Lightroom/Camera Raw rather than luminosity masks or other techniques in Photoshop is that there is more dynamic range (sky detail) in a raw file.

Even if you open as a smart object, you can’t access the full dynamic range without opening in Camera Raw. If you have bracketed shots, use them instead (or do an HDR) but you don’t need them for this technique.

For me, this process produces more realistic images than HDR, but HDR still has its place and I use it often. This photofusion technique works well when there are bright areas such as clouds that you want to aggressively grab without making the rest of the image muddy or noisy. It also works great for exposure to good shooters.

Could you use sky masking in Lightroom for a similar result? Sure, as long as the mask is good, but it often struggles with detailed hair like in this picture. This shows how to fix it when masking isn’t working properly and it’s much faster than trying to fix the Lightroom mask.

Here is the before image. See how the sky lacks detail and is blown out. Also, the shadows on the side of the building are very dark. We’re going to get the original sky back rather than using the sky override.

The after photo uses the salvaged sky, but the shadows are also brightened on the rest of the images and the colors are nice, bright and clean. Let’s see how I do this.

Photo editing in Photoshop and Lightroom

Start in Lightroom or Lightroom Classic (If you don’t have Lightroom, use Camera Raw, instructions below and on video)

Press Ctrl/Cmd+’ to make a virtual copy (duplicate).

On one of the images, adjust the highlights and exposure to pick up detail in the sky (or other bright objects, this works for many types of photography).

Select the second image

Open up the shadows a bit. Reduce the highlights to make sure there are no “flowers” around the edges, otherwise the mask will have halos. The video above shows it.

Here are the 2 images side by side. We will combine them.

Select both images and right click on one of them.

Choose Edit In > Open As Layers In Photoshop.

If you did it in Lightroom, skip the next 2 steps in the blending section.

Using Camera Raw to Prepare Images

If you don’t use Lightroom, that’s what you do.

Open the image in Bridge.

Right-click and choose Duplicate.

Choose both images and right click, choose Open in Camera Raw

Now you can do the exact same edits in Camera Raw that we did in Lightroom (processing in ACR and LR is identical).

Choose to open both images and combine them in Photoshop.

Step 2 Merge Photos in Photoshop

We now have the 2 images in the same Photoshop document. The darkest is at the bottom and the lightest at the top. Let’s use the sky from the darkest image.

Choose the top layer


Photoshop AI Sky Select will select the sky,

It’s pretty good, but there are a few holes in the foliage that aren’t selected.

Choose Select > Similar

(A gentleman asked me on youtube why I didn’t “just” use sky selection in Lightroom.) That’s why Photoshop has better selection tools. However, sky select in Lightroom is amazing when it works well and I use it often.

Now all the bright areas are selected, looks like we have a bit more in the building.

Grab the lasso, hold down the Alt/Option key, and deselect the areas you don’t want to crop.

It’s time to apply the layer mask. Normally you would click the mask button, but we want to mask the selected area and keep the rest.

Hold down the Alt/Option key and click the New Mask button.

Now the lower layer sky shows through and it’s impactful.

If the effect is too strong, lower the mask density in the properties panel. Mask density is like opacity, but for layer masks.

And we’re all done

There’s a bit of blue sky in the top right of the image, it’s actually from the original, the clouds ended right there. I fixed it on the final image below. You can see exactly how I fixed it in the short video above.


And there we have it. As always, remember the value of showing you the technique and adapting it and using it on your own images. When you’re ready to really learn Photoshop, check out my flagship training course, Photoshop 2022 for Digital Photographers, (it’s highly rated and I’m pretty proud of it).

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