Creating an HDR-like Image From a Single RAW File in Lightroom - Digital Photography School

Creating an HDR-like Image From a Single RAW File in Lightroom

00-before-after-example-image.jpg

Introduction

If you have been anywhere near the photography world in the past couple years, I am sure you have heard of HDR by now as there have been countless tutorials floating around on how to create HDR images using 3 bracketed exposures in programs like Photomatix and Photoshop. However what if you don’t have your tripod or if you are shooting a scene with moving subjects, yet you still want to create an HDR type shot? Well, good news, it is possible.

This tutorial will teach you how correct and produce a single RAW image into an HDR-like masterpiece using only Lightroom! That’s right, Photoshop skills are not even needed for this tutorial.

Image is provided courtesy of Lin and Jirsa Photography.

Shooting the Image

Before we get into the actual post production steps, let me quickly give you a background of the image and how it was shot. I always shoot in RAW format simply because it provides vastly more tonal information than the compressed JPG format. What does this mean? It means that we can do much more to the image in post production before the image quality degrades. Your ability to alter Color Temperature, Exposure, Brightness and Saturation is much more limited with JPG files in comparison to RAW files. Bottom line, if you are trying to create an HDR look from a single image, you MUST SHOOT IN RAW.

What you see below is the RAW file directly from a Canon 5D Mark II. The crucial component for shooting a single shot image that is going to be turned into an HDR shot is to shoot it so that you are not clipping any shadows or blowing any highlights. This typically means that you are going to be anywhere from 1-2 stops under exposed in order to save most of the highlights and still keep detail in the shadows.

When you are getting used to this process, it is wise to take a few different shots of your scene at different levels of exposure in order to get the hang of just what level of exposure you need. If the shot is too bright, you will have no details left in your highlights, where as if you shoot the shot too dark, then you are going to create too much noise brightening the shadows.

01-original-raw-file.jpgImage Metadata (Canon 5D Mark II, EF 17-40mm F/4L USM @ 40mm, 10 seconds, F/11, ISO 100)

RAW files will always look dark and murky from the camera since there is no post production applied to the image. Keep in mind that the camera LCD preview will apply some post processing settings to the image when you are previewing them, so I recommend that you turn on your highlight alert to make sure you didn’t blow your highlights or clip your shadows. You will notice that the shot above is exposed so that we can still see color in the sky, while still seeing most of the detail in the shadows under the dock.

If you haven’t already done so, download the image and load it into Lightroom. The RAW image you see above is “zeroed out” meaning that every Lightroom slider is set to 0. Lightroom will typically apply default settings to each image, so you want to make sure your image is zeroed out as well, otherwise it will look differently.

Processing the Image

Step 1) Brightness +80 - The first thing I typically do when processing an image is to typically dial in an approximate Brightness level so that I can see the correct effect when applying other adjustments. I am going to start with +80 as a baseline, however, I will revisited the Brightness to make sure it’s correct once our Contrast/Black levels are adjusted. During brightening I am paying more attention to the brightness levels of the darker areas than the sky and water since I can burn those down later.

On a side note, I always resort to using Brightness before Exposure. Reason being that Exposure affects highlights more than shadows and mid-tones, while Brightness adjusts all of the tones equally. You should now see something like the image below.

03-Step-1-brightness.jpg

Step 2) Contrast +100 – I love my landscapes to really pop and so I love using a lot of Contrast in my shots. I am always careful to make sure the shot doesn’t look faked, but even at +100, I don’t think it’s too much. You should now see the following.

04-step-2-contrast.jpg

Step 3) Blacks +7 – Now, I am going to dial in my Blacks to make sure the blacks in the scene are truly black versus a dark shade of grey. During this part you want to be careful not to clip (lose detail) too much of the shadows in the scene by taking your Blacks too high. If you press “j” you can see which areas are clipped as they will be highlighted in blue as shown below where blacks are set to +17.

05-step-3-black-clipping.jpg

I find that Blacks right around +7 suits my taste, though yours may differ. Here is what you should see now.

06-step-3-blacks.jpg

Step 4) Brightness +110 – Now that my Blacks and Contrast are dialed in, I am going adjust my Brightness up just a bit more. While this may look very bright on an uncalibrated screen, this level of Brightness will ensure that it comes out correctly from our printers. Again, keep in mind that I am going to do some additional dodging and burning in a moment.

I would encourage everyone to make sure their screens are calibrated to your printing solutions as pictures can often come out much darker on paper.

07-step-4-final-brightness.jpg

Step 5) Recovery +100 – Recovery is a great tool for bringing down highlights. So, we are going to max it out to bring down the highlights on the ocean and sky a bit before we get to dodging and burning. The highlights in the sky and water should now look a bit more subtle as you see below.

08-step-5-recovery.jpg

Step 6) Burning the Sky - To get that HDR look, we need to burn (darken) our highlights while dodging (brightening) our shadows in order to balance out the overall exposure. While we used to do this all in Photoshop, Lightroom’s dodging and burning capabilities are quite powerful and can save us a lot of time from having to do this in Photoshop.

We are going to begin with burning the sky by selecting your Adjustment Brush (K). Once selected, you will see the Adjustment Brush panel open up as you see below.

09-step-6-adjustment-brush-panel.jpg

We are going to drop Exposure to -1.80 while using a large brush to softly paint over the sky and the ocean. I like to paint with a brush size of 30, and simply use the edge of the brush to do the painting to keep it subtle. You will need to adjust the size of the brush as you go to fit into the little areas next to the dock and such. To erase any brushing in unwanted areas, simply hold “alt” while brushing.

By mousing over the little adjustment circle on the image, you can see the area that has been affected with your brush as they will be highlighted in red as you see below.

10-step-6-brushed-area.jpg

Your image should now look like this.

11-step-6-burned-sky.jpg

Step 7) Dodging the City – Just as we did with burning the sky, we are going to use the Adjustment Brush (K) to dodge the cityscape in order to bring out the detail in the shadows. To do so, I am going to select the Adjustment Brush and this time move my Exposure to +1.00 and now paint over the docks, city and mountain area. This time I am going to reduce the Flow of the brush to only 50 so that the brush doesn’t come on too strong.
By mousing over the Adjustment Brush marker you can see the painted area in red like below.

12-step-7-brushed-area.jpg

Your image should now look like the following.

13-step-7-dodged-cityscape.jpg

Step 8) Noise Reduction Luminance +100, Color +25 – Since we are doing a lot of exposure adjustment, we are going to be adding a little bit of noise to the picture. While the noise isn’t too significant, as shown by the image below, it is my preference to reduce it. You can see the difference in the comparison below.

14-step-8-noise-reduction.jpg

Step 9) Sharpening Amount +110, Radius +2.0, Detail +70 – The noise reduction that we performed in Step 8 does kill a little bit of the detail in the shot, so we are going to sharpen it to compensate.

Step 10) Lens Correction Amount -35 – Our last step is to add a little artistic edge burn vignette to the image by applying some Lens Correction. When using a vignette, I always use Lens Corrections versus Post-Crop vignettes. Reason being that a Lens Correction will actually just dodge or burn the natural colors on the edges, while a Post-Crop vignette will actually apply a black or white vignetting to the outside of the image.

Now your final image should be similar to the one you see below!

02-final-image.jpg

Congratulations, you have just learned how to color correct and create an HDR effect from a single RAW file!

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Post Production Pye I hate speaking of myself in the third person, haha. I am a Partner and professional photographer with Lin and Jirsa Los Angeles Wedding Photography, and the Senior Editor for SLR Lounge Photography Tutorials. I am passionate about photography as an art as well as my part as an educator in the industry. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel and feel free to hit me up with questions anytime on Facebook.

  • http://www.jasonlloyd.co.uk Jason Lloyd

    Nice tutorial, I will cherry pick bits out of it to use between ACR and Photoshop and see how close I get. I don’t have the budget for Lightroom just yet! However, the more I read the more I think I need it – thanks for that!!!

  • Matt MacDonald

    Wow this is a wonderful column with incredibly useful information. Thank you so much for sharing this with me. Great image also!

  • http://kinovopros.com Rosochka Crotton

    That’s great tutorial. Thanks for sharing this mate it will help me a lot in my photo experiments!

  • Noel

    I like that you used the warf in my town. :)

  • http://www.3097photography.com Austin Photographers

    Great article…helped me tremendously. Thanks for sharing!

  • single image HDRs suck major choad

    Single image HDR lool-alike plugin/generator/tutorial: so easy a choad could do it…and many do haha

  • http://www.urbanartbomb.com urban art

    really handy article, cheers. i’ll give it a go!

  • Brunie306

    Great article! What I really appreciate is how the outcome of the effect appears more ‘real’ than most HDR attempts out there. Nice Job.

  • Verneitta

    I appreciate you doing this tutorial. I have Photoshop Elements 8, and I will be able to do it in RAW.
    I shoot in RAW anyway.
    It will be really cool to know how to do it both ways, 1 photo, or 3 or more photos. HDR effect, or HDR, it is great knowing both ways. Speakling for myself, of course.
    I am wide open to learning new things.

  • Kelly

    I am using Lightroom 1 and I can’t find the adjustment brush. Any suggestions?

  • Garth

    Thanks for posting the tutorial Pye….I’ve already put it to good use.

    I have 2 questions I hope you (or someone on the forum can help me with).

    1. Would you use this technique for all photos you want to publish?
    2. Can you only create HDR (using bracketed exposures) in Photoshop, etc, but not in Lightroom?

  • http://www.linandjirsablog.com Pye

    Hey Garth,

    Here are your answers:

    1) There isn’t a single technique that I would want to use on all photos that I publish. Each photo is its own composition, and there really isn’t a single style of effect that would apply to each of them. In my professional opinion, the most important element to a photograph is your subject and composition, the effect should only enhance what you are saying. Today, so much of the HDR world is plagued with images that have a “cool” HDR effect applied to a very poor piece of photographic art. The image used in this post could have been produced in black and white, duotoned, split toned, cross processed, HDR tone mapped, dodged/burned, and all would have looked great, not because of the effect, but because of the shot. So, there isn’t a single technique I would apply to every photograph, but rather I use the technique that I feel emphasizes what I want my audience to see.

    2) The two most commonly used programs to create bracketed HDR images are Photomatix (my favorite) and Photoshop. Currently, Lightroom does not support bracketed HDR automation. Though, I am sure that future versions will eventually include this feature.

    Hope that helps =)

    – Pye
    Partner of LJP and Co-Founder of SLRLounge

  • rimete

    This is not HDR as others have said and HDR is not tone-mapping. It is an interesting way to get the saturation/over-saturation look of tone-mapping and just an opinion: There is some value in that but in true photography there is no need for this.

    Having said that in the digital era it’s a stage of experiments just as chemical toning was used in film. On the personal side I think that black and white yields the most dramatic photographs and is much more difficult to work with.

    But every technique learned is at the least knowledge that can be used at some point, so in all – good tutorial for those that haven’t tried this in Lightroom.

  • http://www.igorklajo.de Igor Klajo

    This is another nice and detailed HDR tutorial for me to learn from. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Jave

    I guess my question here is for what kinds of pictures or of what composition should I be trying out this style on? Obviously city-scapes, but I usually don’t get that height in my photos. I tried this on a flat out horizon shot with rocks, but that didn’t turn out so well. I’m looking at commenters’ examples and maybe it’s just I need to take “better” composed pictures? Mine aren’t dull, but not from that certain perspective perhaps this HDR-like treatment is better for.

  • http://www.mbakhan.com M B A Khan

    Very nice… elaborative explanation of all the tricks applied…I like it…:D

  • khureem

    I have a question, what software did you exactly use to do all this?

  • http://www.artworkmonger.net flavius

    i think it says right in this article’s title. lightroom.

  • http://www.brettwidmann.com Brett Widmann

    Oh my gosh this is amazing. I just bought a Canon T2I and I can not wait to try this out! Thanks for sharing.

  • rimete

    Actually in Lightroom with brush techniques and the tools available, you can really change a static or boring image. It takes time since you have to brush and change values: vivid – desaturation and the such. More to the program then meets the eye but experimentation. One (never finished it) but example of brush-work and Lightroom

    [eimg url='http://rimete.deviantart.com/gallery/?catpath=/&offset=24#/d2ht3o5' title='d2ht3o5']

  • http://youteck.com friv

    With news techniques you can change a pictures how you want,saturate or desaturate ,shadows etc.Thanks for this HDR tutorial,is very useful.

  • Mark

    Can’t you take a single raw image and in photoshop reproduce three bracketed images from it by adjusting the exposure then plug them into Phomatix?

  • Michael C

    A .jpeg is limited to 8-bit (per color: R-G-B) dynamic range which after allowing for noise means about a 6 stop maximum dynamic range. Canon RAW files (.CR2) are 14-bit which means to ability to show details over a 12 stop range. So a single 14-bit RAW file can contain as much detail as a series of +3, 0, -3 JPEGs! Those who say processing a single RAW file is not “true” HDR are missing the point. HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range”. One way to achieve that is by combining multiple bracketed images with less dynamic range each, and then tone mapping into 8-bit. Another is to start with a single image that contains more dynamic range than your 8-bit (per color) computer monitor can display and tone mapping it so that all the details from highlights to shadows can be rendered on an 8-bit display. Both are doing the same thing- reducing a wider dynamic range into an 8-bit image your monitor can render. And either way, most professionals are going to dodge and burn the result.

    Unfortunately, many seem to believe that “HDR” means something other than “High Dynamic Range”, regardless of how it is achieved.

  • Kathryn

    I was curious… I am using LR 4, where does one find the “Brightness” adjustment?

  • http://www.joelandamberphotography.com Joel and Amber

    Great tutorial. Not a huge fan of dodging and burning from a time-perspective, but that looks really good!

Some older comments

  • Joel and Amber

    December 1, 2012 05:33 am

    Great tutorial. Not a huge fan of dodging and burning from a time-perspective, but that looks really good!

  • Kathryn

    September 24, 2012 06:11 am

    I was curious... I am using LR 4, where does one find the "Brightness" adjustment?

  • Michael C

    September 19, 2012 10:59 am

    A .jpeg is limited to 8-bit (per color: R-G-B) dynamic range which after allowing for noise means about a 6 stop maximum dynamic range. Canon RAW files (.CR2) are 14-bit which means to ability to show details over a 12 stop range. So a single 14-bit RAW file can contain as much detail as a series of +3, 0, -3 JPEGs! Those who say processing a single RAW file is not "true" HDR are missing the point. HDR stands for "High Dynamic Range". One way to achieve that is by combining multiple bracketed images with less dynamic range each, and then tone mapping into 8-bit. Another is to start with a single image that contains more dynamic range than your 8-bit (per color) computer monitor can display and tone mapping it so that all the details from highlights to shadows can be rendered on an 8-bit display. Both are doing the same thing- reducing a wider dynamic range into an 8-bit image your monitor can render. And either way, most professionals are going to dodge and burn the result.

    Unfortunately, many seem to believe that "HDR" means something other than "High Dynamic Range", regardless of how it is achieved.

  • Mark

    May 26, 2012 05:01 am

    Can't you take a single raw image and in photoshop reproduce three bracketed images from it by adjusting the exposure then plug them into Phomatix?

  • friv

    September 15, 2011 04:22 pm

    With news techniques you can change a pictures how you want,saturate or desaturate ,shadows etc.Thanks for this HDR tutorial,is very useful.

  • rimete

    December 10, 2010 10:32 am

    Actually in Lightroom with brush techniques and the tools available, you can really change a static or boring image. It takes time since you have to brush and change values: vivid - desaturation and the such. More to the program then meets the eye but experimentation. One (never finished it) but example of brush-work and Lightroom

    [eimg url='http://rimete.deviantart.com/gallery/?catpath=/&offset=24#/d2ht3o5' title='d2ht3o5']

  • Brett Widmann

    November 17, 2010 12:11 pm

    Oh my gosh this is amazing. I just bought a Canon T2I and I can not wait to try this out! Thanks for sharing.

  • flavius

    October 17, 2010 10:42 am

    i think it says right in this article's title. lightroom.

  • khureem

    October 16, 2010 06:44 pm

    I have a question, what software did you exactly use to do all this?

  • M B A Khan

    September 22, 2010 11:24 pm

    Very nice... elaborative explanation of all the tricks applied...I like it...:D

  • Jave

    August 7, 2010 04:24 am

    I guess my question here is for what kinds of pictures or of what composition should I be trying out this style on? Obviously city-scapes, but I usually don't get that height in my photos. I tried this on a flat out horizon shot with rocks, but that didn't turn out so well. I'm looking at commenters' examples and maybe it's just I need to take "better" composed pictures? Mine aren't dull, but not from that certain perspective perhaps this HDR-like treatment is better for.

  • Igor Klajo

    April 17, 2010 11:00 am

    This is another nice and detailed HDR tutorial for me to learn from. Thanks for sharing this.

  • rimete

    April 13, 2010 04:57 pm

    This is not HDR as others have said and HDR is not tone-mapping. It is an interesting way to get the saturation/over-saturation look of tone-mapping and just an opinion: There is some value in that but in true photography there is no need for this.

    Having said that in the digital era it's a stage of experiments just as chemical toning was used in film. On the personal side I think that black and white yields the most dramatic photographs and is much more difficult to work with.

    But every technique learned is at the least knowledge that can be used at some point, so in all - good tutorial for those that haven't tried this in Lightroom.

  • Pye

    February 26, 2010 04:02 pm

    Hey Garth,

    Here are your answers:

    1) There isn't a single technique that I would want to use on all photos that I publish. Each photo is its own composition, and there really isn't a single style of effect that would apply to each of them. In my professional opinion, the most important element to a photograph is your subject and composition, the effect should only enhance what you are saying. Today, so much of the HDR world is plagued with images that have a "cool" HDR effect applied to a very poor piece of photographic art. The image used in this post could have been produced in black and white, duotoned, split toned, cross processed, HDR tone mapped, dodged/burned, and all would have looked great, not because of the effect, but because of the shot. So, there isn't a single technique I would apply to every photograph, but rather I use the technique that I feel emphasizes what I want my audience to see.

    2) The two most commonly used programs to create bracketed HDR images are Photomatix (my favorite) and Photoshop. Currently, Lightroom does not support bracketed HDR automation. Though, I am sure that future versions will eventually include this feature.

    Hope that helps =)

    -- Pye
    Partner of LJP and Co-Founder of SLRLounge

  • Garth

    February 25, 2010 05:44 pm

    Thanks for posting the tutorial Pye....I've already put it to good use.

    I have 2 questions I hope you (or someone on the forum can help me with).

    1. Would you use this technique for all photos you want to publish?
    2. Can you only create HDR (using bracketed exposures) in Photoshop, etc, but not in Lightroom?

  • Kelly

    February 20, 2010 11:27 pm

    I am using Lightroom 1 and I can't find the adjustment brush. Any suggestions?

  • Verneitta

    February 20, 2010 06:04 am

    I appreciate you doing this tutorial. I have Photoshop Elements 8, and I will be able to do it in RAW.
    I shoot in RAW anyway.
    It will be really cool to know how to do it both ways, 1 photo, or 3 or more photos. HDR effect, or HDR, it is great knowing both ways. Speakling for myself, of course.
    I am wide open to learning new things.

  • Brunie306

    February 19, 2010 04:48 am

    Great article! What I really appreciate is how the outcome of the effect appears more 'real' than most HDR attempts out there. Nice Job.

  • urban art

    February 17, 2010 09:59 am

    really handy article, cheers. i'll give it a go!

  • single image HDRs suck major choad

    February 16, 2010 01:03 pm

    Single image HDR lool-alike plugin/generator/tutorial: so easy a choad could do it...and many do haha

  • Austin Photographers

    February 15, 2010 09:06 am

    Great article...helped me tremendously. Thanks for sharing!

  • Noel

    February 15, 2010 05:01 am

    I like that you used the warf in my town. :)

  • Rosochka Crotton

    February 14, 2010 02:14 am

    That's great tutorial. Thanks for sharing this mate it will help me a lot in my photo experiments!

  • Matt MacDonald

    February 13, 2010 11:29 pm

    Wow this is a wonderful column with incredibly useful information. Thank you so much for sharing this with me. Great image also!

  • Jason Lloyd

    February 12, 2010 08:05 pm

    Nice tutorial, I will cherry pick bits out of it to use between ACR and Photoshop and see how close I get. I don't have the budget for Lightroom just yet! However, the more I read the more I think I need it - thanks for that!!!

  • flavius

    February 12, 2010 03:16 pm

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/toriqo/4348597224/' title='andrei done' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2789/4348597224_dd766573aa.jpg']

  • flavius

    February 12, 2010 03:15 pm

    thanks Pie, for moderating my comment :)

    also a pretty good use of your technique on a portrait :D

  • Chris

    February 12, 2010 12:12 pm

    Great Tutorial. I can't believe the before and afters look that different. Although, I do believe that it requires the perfect image for this to look good. I tried it on a regular portrait, and it looks pretty strange.

  • Curtis Copeland

    February 12, 2010 02:10 am

    Great tutorial on utilizing Lightroom for HDR like images. Much better for workflow purposes. Also, nice images you posted Thanks for sharing!

    Curtis

  • flavius

    February 10, 2010 09:23 am

    looks like i can't use any html in my comment :)

    here goes another try :)

    [eimg url='http://www.artworkmonger.net/Img0043_small.jpg' title='Img0043_small.jpg']

  • flavius

    February 10, 2010 09:20 am

    a black and white attempt.

  • Jake

    February 9, 2010 02:17 pm

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/jakekidney/4340161342/' title='IMG_4188' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4053/4340161342_522d2ef1cd.jpg']

  • panoramic photo stitching

    February 9, 2010 01:55 pm

    Good and informative tutorial. The instructions shared are really well explained. Keep blogging and thanks.

  • Pye

    February 8, 2010 03:09 pm

    There are several different methods of sharpening, some more complicated than others. Like using sharpening layers and overlaying them on the original image, as well as a bunch of third party sharpen filters.

    I find that in general though a simple Unsharp Mask does the trick just fine.

    -- Pye
    Partner of LJP and Co-Founder of SLR Lounge

  • flavius

    February 8, 2010 02:10 pm

    well, photoshop's unsharp mask is what i use too, except the noise removal. i rather avoid low light photos. since i'm kind of a rookie i thought there's much more to sharpening than i was doing :P

    thanks a lot for your tips.

  • Pye

    February 8, 2010 02:05 pm

    Flavius,

    You can definitely achieve an HDR from a single RAW file that's processed with 3 - 5 different exposure levels. However, in my opinion it is a lot more work =). The entire process shown in the tutorial above takes me about 30 - 45 seconds per photo.

    In addition, I like using Photomatix and Photoshop HDR tonemapping, however, you have much more control with the method above as you can apply it to only portions of the scene, rather than applying an entire effect over the whole image. If I want to burn a certain highlight, I have that option when manually tonemapping vs using a program. If you really want to go crazy on the HDR effect though, you are better off creating different exposures from your single RAW.

    Also, regarding sharpening, that is really a matter of personal preference. When I know I am going to be doing a lot of sharpening on an image, I will take the tonemapped image into Photoshop without noise correction. Then I will use my Noiseware plugin to reduce noise, and then use an Unsharp Mask to bump the sharpness to my desired level of sharpness.

    If the sharpening is only minor, I will do my noise reduction and sharpening straight from Lightroom. I would consider the image in this tutorial only needing minor sharpening which can be done in Lightroom. It all depends on how well the image was shot to begin with.

    Hope this helps =)

    -- Pye
    Partner of LJP and Co-Founder of SLRLounge

  • flavius

    February 8, 2010 01:09 pm

    i also tried it and worked like a charm :) didn't realize that Recovery can do so much good when pumped up to max.

    anyway, my previous comment should have been a question "off topic". isn't it possible to achieve the HDR from a single RAW file by saving 3 (or 5) different exposed JPGs from it? i mean, isn't it that the exact purpose of the RAW file? to process the final outcome by hand? so why would i need 3 bracketed RAWs? (i understand why i need 3, 5 or more bracketed JPGs).

    btw, there's a TONEMAP HDR that Photomatix can render and comes out almost pretty nice as your turorial here, so i think you can safely say you really create tonemapped HDRs not "HDR like" photos :P

    about the particular technique you wanted us to let you know and write about it... i have an idea. how would sharpening should be applied? (how much radius, detail etc.) when should be applied regarding resize of a photo? before resizing, or after? things like that :)

    best regards,
    Flavius

  • Holly Goddyn

    February 8, 2010 11:34 am

    Tried it! I love it!! Thanks!

  • Pye

    February 8, 2010 10:10 am

    Seems like there is a lot of debate about what this technique is and what it should be called. ICS is correct in that any of us that have shot back in the film days will recognize this process simply as dodging and burning to balance and "tonemap" the image. However, most photographers are not familiar with that process but rather the HDR process which is similar in many ways. However it is simply achieved by bracketing 3 or 5 shots to achieve your desired effect. Hence, for ease of readability I called the technique "HDR-like"

    Flavius, the point to using this technique is stated at the beginning of the article in that you may not be in a situation where you can take 3 or 5 bracketed shots. Perhaps you don't have a tripod, or you have moving subjects in your scene that would require a lot of Photoshop work. This method teaches you how to get a tonemapped "HDR-like" effect from a single RAW exposure.

    Now, regardless of whether I am creating an HDR image or simply dodging/burning an image, I like to keep my post production clean and natural. I realize you could "hack" the crap out of this, or any picture and make it look even more crazy, but I feel like that is a disservice to an image that was already good in it's own right. All of my post production technique is designed to bring focus to the image. If I hear someone looking at my image say, "that is a nice post production effect" I have failed at my job.

    Whether we call it tonemapping, dodging/burning, or whatever, hopefully you all benefit from the technique itself. Let me know if there is a particular technique you guys would like to learn about and I will do my best to write another article for DPS.

  • LCS

    February 8, 2010 02:28 am

    I must be getting old, because this looks more like traditional darkroom work than HDR.

    calling it anything HDR is a disservice to the author's final image.

  • flavius

    February 7, 2010 04:15 pm

    hi, though your technique described is awesome and i can barely wait to get my brand new Nikon out :D to test it, why not just save 3 JPGs from the RAW/NEF (1 under exposed, 1 normally exposed and 1 over exposed) and merge them in a HDR image?

  • Amanda

    February 7, 2010 04:22 am

    Thank you so much for this!! Even if it isn't as effective as a true HDR image, my photographs are now brighter and clearer taking these steps rather than what I have done in the past. Although, I must have an older version of Lightroom because it doesn't seem like I can dodge and burn with it. It has still helped a lot and I can see a huge improvement in the color of my images. Thank You!!!!!

  • Stefan Petersen

    February 6, 2010 06:47 pm

    Great writeup. I have a processing technique very similar to this but you've gone much more in depth than I ever have. Nice work!

  • Javaslinger

    February 5, 2010 05:46 am

    Where can we find the original file to work with mentioned in the article??

  • vi54

    February 5, 2010 03:21 am

    Dear site owner,

    I strongly recommend to use better titles for your articles here.
    Its been a while since i visited here, and out of the 5 articles i've read so far, the title + actual subject is quite misleading.

    Eric posted a good name for this article.
    see this as constructive feedback.

  • Yolanda

    February 4, 2010 11:06 pm

    Pye, nice tutorial! I enjoyed experimenting the process with a few of my own shots. It also gave me a chance to improve on my Lightroom skills.

  • jesse

    February 4, 2010 03:41 pm

    Amazing techniques, will have to give it a shoot. Good thing that Adobe Lightroom was use, I been meaning to find some good tutorials on HD and I got one here, also the links provided on here was great too.

  • GANGSTA G

    February 4, 2010 01:07 pm

    ahha this is in santa barbara ! i live there WOOT GO SANTA BARBARA!

  • Dan Milham

    February 4, 2010 11:15 am

    It's a good tutorial. Another very nice technique for a certain type of result. I don't care if you call it HDR or Tone Mapping. I've seen too many ugly overworked images presented as HDR lately anyway. I, too, prefer to take a few images and blend the "best of" but it's not unusual to further apply some of the adjustments above even before blending.

  • Dzhonny

    February 4, 2010 09:30 am

    HDR should lower contrast of the scene....the original photo has pretty low contrast by itself....

  • Pye

    February 4, 2010 05:44 am

    For those interested, this picture was shot from Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf at the very tip of the wharf looking back towards the city.

  • Igor Ivankovic

    February 4, 2010 05:16 am

    Hey, pretty darn good effect! I was very interested in HDR photos but this is somewhat correcting and adjusting the parts of the picture to create beautifull effect, and HDR looks awsome on this photo! Bravo!

    This is something I did with cellphone quality! So you can imagine, making a process like this on a big res image :)
    [eimg url='http://designerscouch.org/show_design/5484/city-angel.html' title='city-angel.html']

  • GkP

    February 4, 2010 04:54 am

    what program is this that you are using?

  • Mike T.

    February 4, 2010 01:32 am

    First of all, great article -- I definitely want to try out some of these techniques. I'm fairly new to HDR and Lightroom overall so this may be a dumb question, but as a general rule how do I know which areas to brighten and which to darken (steps 6 and 7)? I assume the sky would always be a good starting place for burning, but what else should I look for?

  • Kate Gass

    February 4, 2010 01:16 am

    wow! That looks great! and really has pop. Thanks for sharing.

  • Gaurav S.

    February 4, 2010 12:49 am

    Excellent Tutorial.. I'd been wanting to experiment with this for a while & now I've finally run out of excuses not to! Thanks for sharing this mate!

  • Bluenoser

    February 4, 2010 12:33 am

    Sorry, I don't understand the criticism from some people. It clearly states in the title and text "HDR-Like". No where does it claim to be HDR.

    Thanks for the article, much appreciated. Will be sure to give it a try.

  • Zack Jones

    February 3, 2010 11:23 pm

    This is an excellent article. I love the step-by-step approach. I would like to be able to download the original RAW file but will use the JPG posted at the top of the article instead.

  • Robin Ryan

    February 3, 2010 07:38 pm

    I find it can be very useful. Here are my results using this technique:

    brazil
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/robinryan/4285745428/in/set-72157603329594706/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/robinryan/4257714452/in/set-72157603329594706/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/robinryan/4288590540/in/set-72157603329594706/

    galapagos
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/robinryan/3989390251/in/set-72157603329594706/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/robinryan/3876164203/in/set-72157603329594706/

  • Victor Augusteo

    February 3, 2010 06:59 pm

    nice trick that everybody can do in 10 minutes!

    commenter, notice that he said "HDR like" not true HDR. of course u need multiple exposure for true HDR.

    that being said, i did similar tutorial quite a while back using one of Lightroom preset, check it out here

    HDR video tutorial

  • hfng

    February 3, 2010 06:43 pm

    Great post. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ellie

    February 3, 2010 04:02 pm

    Was this photo taken in Santa Barbara?

    Very cool tutorial; thanks!

  • Zeus

    February 3, 2010 03:54 pm

    This is a great article. Many thanks.
    Can we have these steps for Gimp also?

  • Momoc HDR Photography

    February 3, 2010 02:22 pm

    I think some of the setting we can use after processed the photo in Photomatix fro bracketing multiple exposure....and for single Raw..can follow each of the steps explained in this article..thanks

  • Forrest

    February 3, 2010 12:24 pm

    I agree with everyone, especially marly. Post the Raw file so we can hack at it ourselves ;-) . Then when we are all done, we can share our results!

    Here is my latest HDR with a stupid little point n shoot with +/-1 bracketing...no RAW :-(

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/forrestjr/4298226119/sizes/o/in/set-72157600281060593/

  • SusanG

    February 3, 2010 12:19 pm

    Call it what you like Pye! I like the way you laid this out and as a corrective process you've vastly improved the tonal colour, contrast and yes, dynamics of the scene. FYI there are ways to achieve similar results with JPEG originals using layer blends and local adaption in either 16 or 32 bit modes. But it's complex and easy to screw up if not done with a subtle touch.

    As you mentioned, it is important to calibrate your monitor to a print environment if that's where you want to output the image. HDR (or almost any major adjustment in digital processing) is infamous for causing out of gamut colours and disappointing results without that all important soft proofing step.

    Good post!

  • Khürt Williams

    February 3, 2010 12:14 pm

    I've been experimenting with HDR photography using Lightroom 3 beta and Photomatix. I've had good results, though not to the extent detailed here.

  • Forrest

    February 3, 2010 11:48 am

    I agree with everyone, especially marly. Post the Raw file so we can hack at it ourselves ;-) . Then when we are all done, we can share our results!

    Here is my latest HDR with a stupid little point n shoot with +/-1 bracketing...

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/forrestjr/4298226119/' title='Quito Old Town HDR' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4042/4298226119_cfb09e19c0.jpg']

  • Pye

    February 3, 2010 09:02 am

    I am the author, the title was actually supposed to be "Correcting and Creating HDR-Like Images in Lightroom" hehe, my bad. I think I explained through the article though that this was an HDR-like effect from a single shot achieved through tonemapping, rather than an actual bracketed and tonemapped HDR shot. Hope you all enjoy it!

  • ChrisC

    February 3, 2010 07:39 am

    Well, HDR is largely tonemapping, it's just using a wider dynamic range than you'd get with a single RAW file. Yeah bracketing gets you more dynamic range, but a RAW file has more dynamic range than a jpg, and it's not like there's a specific dynamic range threshold you need to cross to qualify for "HDR".

    Also, I don't see anything clickable to get at the RAW file used in this demo. Missing link?

  • Marly

    February 3, 2010 07:39 am

    hi, is it me or is there no link to click on to download the original RAW File?

  • megan v

    February 3, 2010 07:31 am

    This is a fantastic tutorial!! I've been learning Lightroom over the past month or so and have got an ok handle on most of the tools, but reading this tutorial helped me put the tools to much better use and everything makes so much more sense now. Thank you!! Beautiful image, as well!
    I'm definitely going to see if I can achieve this same effect.

  • Jonathan

    February 3, 2010 07:29 am

    I agree its not HDR, it's tonemapping, but nice process and good outcome all the same!

  • dmolavi

    February 3, 2010 07:24 am

    Good to see the word "effect" in the closing there. For true HDR, it's best to have a variety of exposures of the same scene. See http://blogs.adobe.com/jnack/2006/12/32bithdr_improv.html and http://backingwinds.blogspot.com/2006/10/how-to-create-professional-hdr-images.html . While a little old, the techniques hold true.

  • Eric

    February 3, 2010 07:16 am

    I think you meant to name the article, "How to artificially tone map an image in lightroom".

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