Read the complete review to the Raya Pro 5 + InstaMask Panels for Digital Blending created by Jimmy McIntyre.
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the number of functions Photoshop offers? Honestly I did. The first time I used Photoshop I thought I’d never learned how to use it. Then I realized that I didn’t have to learn everything.
For me the best approach has been to learn new functions when I need them. Today I’m not an Adobe Guru but I know Photoshop well enough to do what I need to do and that’s the important thing.
There are certain functions, though, that require some time to be performed even if you know Photoshop quite well. In this case a Panel, or a set of commands put together by a developer, is quite useful: at the end of the day it will save you a lot of time and if you just started using Photoshop it’ll save you even more time. Just click one button and you are done.
There are several Panels available for Photoshop but some of the most useful are those that allow you to work with Luminosity Masks and help you to Digital Blend different exposure of the same image.
As I said you can do all these things by yourself, if you are really skilled in Photoshop, but using a Panel will save you a lot of time. Two of these Panels are Raya Pro 5 and InstaMask (both sold part of the same panel).
Introduction to Raya Pro 5 and InstaMask
Raya Pro 5 and InstaMask have been developed by famous Traveler and Photographer Jimmy McIntyre. Jimmy is a really nice guy who has spent about 7 years traveling the world and recently he decided to go back home in beautiful England.
Besides being an expert traveler, He is also a skilled photographer as you can see from his website. What I really like about him is that he is always ready to help out other fellow photographers.
He has an interesting Youtube Channel where he explains in detail how to use his Panels and also how to achieve the same results without them. That’s really neat! Another thing I like about his work is that He invites Photographers to send him the pictures they find particularly challenging to digital blend and He will do it for them.
This being said it’s time to talk about the Panels. I won’t explain how to use them in detail because that will take forever and Jimmy sells a thorough 4.5 hours video tutorial that will teach you how to become a Raya Pro expert. So I will mainly talk about some of the functions these Panels offer and how you can implement them in your workflow.
Getting started with Raya Pro 5 and InstaMask
Installing the Panels is quite easy. Raya Pro 5 is available for both Photoshop CS and Photoshop CC. When you download the zipped file you’ll also get a short video that will walk you through the installation process.
After installing Raya Pro 5 you can activate it by clicking on Window > Extensions > Raya Pro 5. Raya Pro 5 comes with the main panel called Raya Pro 5 Hub from where you can enable and disable the panels that you see in the picture above. Most of the time you’ll use just one though, Instamask.
The main goal of Raya Pro 5 is to help you blend your multi exposures. You can do it using different tools such as Highlights (applies a mask targeting the highlights) Shadows (the same concept but applied to the shadows), Luminosity Masks, Instamask, and the new Quick Blend tool. Sometimes Highlights and Shadows will give you a great result and it will take 2 seconds to edit your images. Other times the result is not that good due to the particular light and you’ll have to spend more time blending the images using other more advanced settings in the panel.
Apart from giving you many options for digital blending, Raya Pro 5 offers also some useful shortcuts do adjust the contrast, to warm the colors, to add an Orton effect, and so on.
You can even record your own actions, like adding your watermark. One of my favorite functions of this Panel is the Stack button that adds all the images you have opened on Photoshop as layers of a single image and aligns them.
What I really like about this Panel is how easy digital blending becomes. I must admit that I’ve never been a big fan of double exposure since I love working with Graduated Filters, but honestly sometimes it’s impossible to get the right exposure with the filters. The picture below is one example.
This is just one example of what you can do with Raya Pro 5. Image © by Jimmy McIntyre
One thing to keep in mind is that it’s extremely important to take good pictures while you are on the field. Photoshop is a great tool and combined with Raya Pro it’s incredible to see what you can do. But you start your workflow with good pictures.
So if you think that Raya Pro 5 is a kind of magic wand that will instantly turn your bad pictures into something great, I’m sorry but that’s not the case. If, on the other hand, you know what you are doing and you go home with good images, then Raya Pro 5 will help you to turn your good images into really stunning shots like this one (taken by Jimmy McIntyre).
What’s new in Raya Pro 5?
The main difference is a new panel called Quick Blend. Basically you can now blend two exposures more easily using the sliders that you see in the picture above.
Most of the time the result is good enough and you won’t have to spend more time using other tools within the panel, which means that it will save you even more time.
Another new feature is an option called Manual Vignette which allows you to selectively darken parts of the image via an adjustment layer.
What about Instamask
Raya Pro 5 is just one of the Panels you’ll get (for the price of one). Another very important one is called Instamask and I had the pleasure to be the first one to test it when it was first released a few years ago.
The main difference between the two Panels is that Instamask is a Panel dedicated to creating masks. It’s divided into three main sections:
- one to create the masks
- another to refine them
- and the last one to apply the masks to the image.
You can for example apply a mask to a curve level or an Orton effect. As you can see this is a really powerful Panel that simplifies a lot of your work, if you regularly use masks.
InstaMask also allows you to test a mask before applying it to the image and you can create Luminosity Masks based on Color Channels.
It sounds more complicated than it is but when you purchase it you’ll also get a video tutorial that explains all you need to know. If you think it’s too complicated don’t give up. Mastering the Luminosity Masks is very important if you want to take your pictures to the next level.
While Instamask provides a series of tools to help you speed up the work of selecting and creating luminosity masks, its main limitation is that the math behind the creation of those masks is done by Photoshop and it’s far from being perfect. If you want to use a way more advanced plugin specialized in creating luminosity masks check out Lumi32 (here my review).
It’s been created by Jimmy as well, together with a software developer. Its main advantage is that it uses a proprietary algorithm to select and fine-tune the masks. If you read my review you’ll understand what I mean. Just for the sake of clarity if you are an average user Instamask will be more than enough, but if you are a pro you might want to consider using Raya Pro together with Lumi32.
One of the pitures I edited using Raya Pro
These are some of the Pros and Cons I found after using Raya Pro 5 and InstaMask:
- Digital Blending your images becomes easy
- Installing the Panels is not difficult
- If you purchase Raya Pro you get free future updates (this is a great thing!)
- The customer care could be improved a bit
- There are probably way too many options and settings and sometimes you might feel lost
Are Raya Pro 5 and InstaMask the best panels for Photoshop? I honestly don’t know because I didn’t try all the panels available but so far they are my favorite. As I said you can achieve the same results manually but these panels will save you a huge amount of time and are also more fun.
Since the day I tried them for the first time, I’ve included these panels in my workflow and I use them every time I have to digital blend two or more images. I still have a long way to go before I can master all the options but I’m really happy and would recommend them to my friends. I personally also recommend the video course because it will teach all you need to know to use Raya Pro. It’s easy to follow and Jimmy makes it really interesting.
Jimmy also released a new in-depth tutorial called The Art of Photography. It’s a thorough video course (more than 6 hours) that covers this information:
- Introduction (3.26 minutes)
- 23 Tips For Better Composition (43.41 minutes)
- My Camera Gear (9.30 minutes)
- How I Set Up A Standard Shot (6.44 minutes)
- How To Bracket Correctly (11.07 minutes)
- How To Choose Images For Exposure Blending (13.12 minutes)
- Post-Processing – What You Need To Know (4.34 minutes)
- Luminosity Mask and Apply Image in Exposure Blending (37.25 minutes)
- How To Shoot Interiors (7.04 minutes)
- How To Process Interiors (22.59 minutes)
- How To Shoot and Process Sun Spikes (30.54 minutes)
- How To Shoot Long Exposures With ND Filters (12.33 minutes)
- How To Process Long Exposures (39.16 minutes)
- How To Plan And Shoot The Milky Way (16.22 minutes)
- How To Process A Milky Way Vertical Panorama (21.59 minutes)
- How I Shot The Lavender Fields (6.21 minutes)
- How To Process A Golden Hour Vertical Panorama Landscape (31.38 minutes)
- How To Plan And Process A Seascape Shot – Exposure Blending With A Single RAW File (26.49 minutes)
- How To Exposure Blend Cityscape Panoramas (13.54 minutes)
- How To Exposure Blend Landscape Panoramas (24.26 minutes)
Don’t miss my review of Photographing the World – Landscape Photography by Elia Locardi. Here you can find the review to the Tonality Masks Panel, the first one that allows you to make selections based on the Tonality. Here my guide on how to take better travel pictures.