home Computers HDR Photoshop Tutorial – Creating High Dynamic Range Images

HDR Photoshop Tutorial – Creating High Dynamic Range Images

I just made my first high dynamic range photo today. It is most commonly referred to as an HDR photo or HDR image.

What Is An HDR Photo

Basically, it a single image that is made from multiple images to offer a greater range of photographic detail. The different images are usually taken with different exposure settings so that more detail may be captured in light or dark areas.

Why Would You Want HDR

It can complete a scene by filling in areas that are too dark or too light. You can also use it to make a photo look unrealistically cool by blowing out colors and making it look surreal.

The example I will show you is for filling in a scene with more details. It is a photo taken from within a house that also wants to capture scenery outside that is a lot brighter.

How To Create An HDR Photo

These are the steps I took to make my HDR image. I used Adobe Photoshop CS2.

  1. You need multiple photos of the exact same scene taken at different exposure settings.

    My example photos are from the lobby of a bed and breakfast I was staying at. I wanted to capture the atmosphere of the lobby, but also show the view of the mountains in the distance.

    You can see in each of the 3 photos below, that I would either capture the mountain detail and the inside would be too dark or I would have the lobby detail and the mountains would be to bright.

    Note: You need to take these from a tri-pod and not have any other subjects in your photo moving. For the photos to be merged for and HDR photo, they images should be as exact as possible. A lot of cameras have a bracketing feature which helps to take different exposure levels without changing any settings between shots. Check the user guide for you camera.

    Inside Details Visible but Outside is Washed Out
    HDR Photo 1

    In Between Shot – Still Not Very Good
    HDR Photo 2

    Mountain Details Visible but Inside is Too Dark
    HDR Photo 3

  2. Open up Photoshop
  3. Drag and drop all 3 photos into Photoshop
  4. Select File -> Automate -> Merge to HDR….
  5. In the Use dropdown, select Open Files. The files you have in Photoshop should be listed. Click OK.
  6. You will see a preview screen called Merge to HDR, just click OK.
  7. You will now have a new file open in Photoshop that doesn’t really look any better. Just save it for backup purposes. Please note, the file size will be fairly large. This is a 32 bit image with a lot of data being stored in it.
  8. Select Image -> Mode -> 16 bits/channel. You will be presented with a new pop up window called HDR Conversion.
  9. In the HDR Conversion window, in the Method picklist, select Local Adaptation. Click the Toning Curve and Histogram arrows to open up the Histogram if it is not showing already.
  10. Manipulate the histogram.

    Move the bottom left and top right control points on the line in the histogram to the edges where the shadows are. You can also add more control points inside to manipulate the image for a more realistic look. For more on histogram techniques, just Google or look it up. Click OK when you are finished. It will take a few moments to do the conversion. You now have your new image and it should look a lot better.

    The Final Image
    HDR Photo

  11. The final step (so that I could save it as a JPEG) was to select Image -> Mode -> 8 bits/channel. When you select File -> Save As you will then have the option to select the JPG or JPEG file type in the file type picklist.

This photo could have been done better, but this is a quick and dirty way of getting it done.


Creating an HDR image in this fashion takes a bit more time, but sometimes it is the only way to show the correct amount of detail in a picture. Remember, if you think you want an HDR image. Fix you camera in place, take multiple exposure shots of a scene, and then find an applcation like Photoshop to do the HDR prcoessing.

For more examples of what HDR can do, do an HDR tutorial Google search for other tutorials and search for HDR on Flickr to see some really coold examples.

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