How to Create a Realistic HDR Image: A Simple and Fun Method to Create a HDR Image, without Photomatix - Digital Photography School
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How to Create a Realistic HDR Image: A Simple and Fun Method to Create a HDR Image, without Photomatix

A Guest post by Jacob Shultz

HDR photography – It has become a term synonymous with overly-saturated, cartoony looking photographs with large halos. This tutorial will explain the benefits of HDR photography, and how you can take your own high quality HDR photos which look amazingly realistic – without the use of Photomatix.

11.jpg

The method I am about to show you is used in many of my photographs. It uses the same principal as normal HDR photography, however there are two large differences. The ‘stereotypical’ HDR photography uses a method called tonemapping, which creates the obnoxious halos and often over saturated look. This tutorial looks at a method which makes use of High Dynamic Range, without tonemapping, and with full manual control.

To start off, you need to take some photos. Choose a suitable location, for me it was the local beach. Just as if you were taking a normal HDR, you will need to ‘bracket’ your photograph. ‘Bracketing’ simply means to take the same photo at differing exposures. This ensures that different elements in the photograph are all exposed correctly in at least one of the images. Take as many photographs as you need to cover all ranges of light in the composition. In my photograph, I used four images. In situations with more extreme levels of light (sun, shadows, etc.) you may need to use more images. However, you can often get away with two images, one exposed for the foreground, and one exposed for the background. Shooting in RAW is also highly recommended.

Once you have downloaded your images to your computer, the first step is to edit them initially in Adobe Camera Raw (select all files and then press CTRL+R). The first step is to apply straightening and/or cropping to every photo (do this by selecting each photo on the left hand sidebar). Next, establish what element each image is going to effect. For example, image number 1 is going to be the foreground. Edit the photo, only paying attention to the foreground.

These were the settings I used:

1.jpg

Image 2 will affect the ocean. My edits:

2.jpg

Image 3 will take care of the top portion of the sky:

3.jpg

And finally image 4 will be the bottom portion of the sky, closest to the horizon:

4.jpg

Once you have finished the rough editing of individual photos, open them all into Photoshop, and then duplicate them into the one document:

5.jpg

The next step is to basically ‘erase’ portions of each image, so that all parts blend together and show a higher dynamic range – HDR. Apply a layer mask to image 1, and use a soft black brush to rub out everything but the general area that this photograph is affecting (we will make more detailed adjustments later). Then continue this for each image:

6.jpg

7.jpg

8.jpg

Great work! You now have a basic idea of how your final image will look. Now, go through each layer and make finer adjustments to improve the quality of the image. Use a white brush to paint back or show the image, and a black brush to rub it out again. This is called non-destructive editing. Note: try to eliminate cloud ‘ghosting’ by making sure clouds blend between images without any abrupt or unnatural shifts.

9.jpg

Once you are satisfied with the image, save the file as a PSD document. The next steps will cover the final edits before the image is finished. Merge all the layers in your document to one layer (if you want, keep a separate group with the individuals layers there, but hidden), then save as a.JPG file. Open Adobe Bridge, then select the .JPG you just saved and press CTRL+R. We are now going to re-edit the HDR photograph. Here are the changes I made:

10.jpg

Open the edited file back up in Photoshop, and apply any final editing that suits your workflow. In my case, I cloned out some sensor dust, added a bit more purple into the photo and applied some sharpening. Finally, save the image, and you have completed the tutorial! This is a great way to enhance the dynamic range of a photograph, without the need of a HDR tonemapping program such as Photomatix. You can apply the same method with differing extremes – using two photos to subtly enhance a minimal image, or use 5 or 6 photos to fine tune every detail of a complex composure. If you struggle to get realistic results, then keep trying! Practice makes perfect. This is a technique I’ve been using for over 6 months, but it has only been recently that I have really started to really finetune my workflow. Above all though – have fun!

Final product:

11.jpg

About the Author: See more of Jacob Shultz’s work at his blog, Facebook page and Flickr account.

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  • eland80

    HDR photography

  • Frank

    Very cool tehnique! One other thing about HDR. I was reading an article a week or so ago featuring to 2 iPhone apps. I cannot seem to locate it, and it is driving me crazy. Can someone help me out please? Thanks!

  • http://www.backyardsilver.com Steve Heap

    Wow, what a long and involved set of comments on an interesting article. I’m not sure I want to enter the “is the HDR or not” discussion, but thought I would point the group to a remote control (Promote remote control) that frees Canon shooters of the automated exposure limit of three images with no more than 2 stops between them. For years, I have been taking my HDR/multiple exposures using three exposures at normal, +2 and -2 stops to try to cover the range of the image. Sometimes this is OK, sometimes, it is just not enough, and the resultant HDR images are noisy and harsh. I came across a review of the Promote remote control, that allows a Canon (or any other camera that it supports) to take any number of shots at varying exposures, and also has time lapse control built in as well. It isn’t cheap, but the facility to take a series of 7 exposures 1 stop apart and then repeat that every 5 minutes, say, is a great advantage for me, at any rate.

    I did find the unit pretty complex to start with, and so I wrote my own short explanation about how to use it, and created a table to summarize what works and how. You can find it in my own HDR review of this interesting Promote Remote.

    Steve

    Steve

  • Andrew

    What do you use to soften the lines that are being masked between each layer? If anything? Just wondering how this can be applied to more complex pictures like trees or people.

  • http://www.jacobshultz.com.au Jacob Shultz

    @andrew – if you wanted softer lines, you could quite easily just use a softer brush to mask. However, perhaps what you want is a more detailed method of masking. In this case, I would suggest you do some Googling on how to cut/mask out complex objects from backgrounds. The methods that you use there will be able to be adapted fairly easily into my tutorial. Good luck! :)

  • Yvette

    I love HDR! It is relative; it depends on what one is looking to achieve, for example, some may desire to create a cartoon book for children, etc, etc. What is so wrong with having a real photo turned cartoon? It is all art, and the beauty about art is freedom to express. You cannot please everyone, and should never, ever attempt to! Live life, have fun and enjoy every minute of it! Finally, be free, and stop caring about what others think about you!!

  • Leonardo

    It’s not HDR, ok you can reach the same resoults in this way but HDR has more information per bit. For everyone who say “who need HDR when monitor doesn’t work with them” well they never worked with 3D softwares. To light a scene or achive natural reflection on materials you have to use HDR images, for that pourpuose this image is useless.
    Have a nice day people!

  • http://www.lamdigitaldesign.webs.com lauren marchese

    Thank you so much! I have had quite a hard go of it finding a simple explanation of what to do with my raw images. Almost every other tutorial I’ve found involves some other software that already has an HDR function built into it. THANK YOU! :D

  • http://www.lamdigitaldesign.webs.com lauren marchese

    Leonardo:

    If you’d like to be taken seriously, SPELLCHECK before entering submission.

Some older comments

  • lauren marchese

    January 11, 2013 01:57 am

    Leonardo:

    If you'd like to be taken seriously, SPELLCHECK before entering submission.

  • lauren marchese

    January 11, 2013 01:55 am

    Thank you so much! I have had quite a hard go of it finding a simple explanation of what to do with my raw images. Almost every other tutorial I've found involves some other software that already has an HDR function built into it. THANK YOU! :D

  • Leonardo

    December 16, 2011 10:49 pm

    It's not HDR, ok you can reach the same resoults in this way but HDR has more information per bit. For everyone who say "who need HDR when monitor doesn't work with them" well they never worked with 3D softwares. To light a scene or achive natural reflection on materials you have to use HDR images, for that pourpuose this image is useless.
    Have a nice day people!

  • Yvette

    November 19, 2011 01:38 am

    I love HDR! It is relative; it depends on what one is looking to achieve, for example, some may desire to create a cartoon book for children, etc, etc. What is so wrong with having a real photo turned cartoon? It is all art, and the beauty about art is freedom to express. You cannot please everyone, and should never, ever attempt to! Live life, have fun and enjoy every minute of it! Finally, be free, and stop caring about what others think about you!!

  • Jacob Shultz

    September 21, 2011 01:21 pm

    @andrew - if you wanted softer lines, you could quite easily just use a softer brush to mask. However, perhaps what you want is a more detailed method of masking. In this case, I would suggest you do some Googling on how to cut/mask out complex objects from backgrounds. The methods that you use there will be able to be adapted fairly easily into my tutorial. Good luck! :)

  • Andrew

    September 15, 2011 12:19 am

    What do you use to soften the lines that are being masked between each layer? If anything? Just wondering how this can be applied to more complex pictures like trees or people.

  • Steve Heap

    June 15, 2011 04:50 am

    Wow, what a long and involved set of comments on an interesting article. I'm not sure I want to enter the "is the HDR or not" discussion, but thought I would point the group to a remote control (Promote remote control) that frees Canon shooters of the automated exposure limit of three images with no more than 2 stops between them. For years, I have been taking my HDR/multiple exposures using three exposures at normal, +2 and -2 stops to try to cover the range of the image. Sometimes this is OK, sometimes, it is just not enough, and the resultant HDR images are noisy and harsh. I came across a review of the Promote remote control, that allows a Canon (or any other camera that it supports) to take any number of shots at varying exposures, and also has time lapse control built in as well. It isn't cheap, but the facility to take a series of 7 exposures 1 stop apart and then repeat that every 5 minutes, say, is a great advantage for me, at any rate.

    I did find the unit pretty complex to start with, and so I wrote my own short explanation about how to use it, and created a table to summarize what works and how. You can find it in my own HDR review of this interesting Promote Remote.

    Steve

    Steve

  • Frank

    June 4, 2011 01:41 pm

    Very cool tehnique! One other thing about HDR. I was reading an article a week or so ago featuring to 2 iPhone apps. I cannot seem to locate it, and it is driving me crazy. Can someone help me out please? Thanks!

  • eland80

    June 1, 2011 04:45 pm

    HDR photography

  • Anna

    May 23, 2011 03:53 am

    Very cool! I will have to try this sometime. :)

  • damien

    May 18, 2011 11:23 am

    Bugger, there goes half an hour I will never get back.
    It's like Geeks vs Artists.
    Would make a great computer game. But it does get a little draining.
    Now let's kiss make up and go and take some pictures.
    Then you can Photoshop them, Photomatix them or Hugin's them to death.

    No... I haven't been sniffing chemicals. I haven't done this in years...unfortunately!

  • mlawin

    May 18, 2011 01:57 am

    with all this expensive camera and lenses we still tweak our pic. why dont we just leave our pic just the way "you and our equipment take". its beautifull out there.

  • Sybren

    May 15, 2011 10:44 pm

    Hugin is the HDR tool for me. It can not only do HDR, but also align images very well. It works both on regular HDR stacks, as well as cylindrical and spherical panoramas. For some examples on what can be achieved, check my blog.

  • Dave Marcus

    May 7, 2011 12:55 am

    Daniel - you've been breathing too many fumes in the darkroom. Suggest you actually read and think about the article and the comments - you will find thinking both critical and supportive of the article and almost certainly learn more about HDR tools and techniques than you know. Unless you are already and HDR pro, using a variety of techniques to produce natural and dramatic images that require HDR processing.

    On the other hand, you could just go take some pictures and not pretend you read and understood the comments in any detail.

  • Daniel Winter

    May 6, 2011 11:49 pm

    Silly discussions. You folks don't want to add anything to the (very good, as I see it) topic, just want to be right. Go out take some pics and be happy.

  • Bjarte

    May 4, 2011 06:25 am

    I don't follow any part of the discussion. Either you're using PS or Photomatix, you try to manipulate the result made by the camera (a result of both hardware and software). When you press the button your skills are already aided in the whatever effect you want for the picture. Personally I'm not doing any post-processing. I work with the camera as it is built, and try to learn it, so I can create the pics I want of the camera. Using a Sony a55, I select HDR if thats the effect I want.

  • purrdey

    May 1, 2011 02:48 am

    seems an awful lot of work just to save the $99 Photomatix costs (and you can decide if it's worth investing the $99 by trying it out for nothing).

  • vinod mali

    April 30, 2011 02:50 pm

    can make HDR images also in photoshop 7.0 or cs2

  • zaini

    April 29, 2011 01:54 pm

    any other method for merging the HDR images other than photoshop.

  • Alton Marsh

    April 29, 2011 05:07 am

    I got lost at the point where I bring them all into Photoshop and "duplicate them all into one document." Got some step-by-step guiddance for duplicating them into one document? I have CS5, have Photomatix (and have actually used it) and know what you are talking about in this tutorial. It's a great idea, so much better than my other non-HDR method of adjusting one image, millimeter by millimeter.

  • Mark

    April 29, 2011 04:43 am

    @dave marcus -- Valid point. I guess that I was thinking of the beginners who skip the learning process and go straight to HDR using presets that ugly everything up. As long as you learn the background skill sets, any automation really can be useful and save time. It is when you use the automation without the manual skills that you don't know what good outcomes are and you don't realize what you are missing in skills. I know that when I was shooting in JPG only, I really did not understand why anyone would shoot RAW but now that I know how to use RAW to get a good JPG I would not do it any other way.

  • Dave Marcus

    April 29, 2011 01:41 am

    @Mark - I feel two ways about your comment "By using software that automates the process, you are not learning the skill set that is transferable to other processes in post production. Yes you get there quicker, but lose the transferable skills unless you have learned those separately."

    On the one hand, the use of any automated tool means you learn less, whether it an Auto setting on the camera or an automatic shift in your first car. Totally agree there. Also agree that dodging and burning skills are vital. And Photomatix can be used in this way. Have it handle ghosting and noise reduction automatically, select one of the presets, and save. Also having it do the alignment and cropping is a form of automation that means you don't have to learn to align and crop.

    On the other hand, Photomatix has its own set of tools to learn and to use. (Imo, it is people who use the presets only who are the people producing ugly HDR photors.) At a broad level, it gives a choice of two variants of tone mapping (what it calls details enhancer or tone compressor) and several methods for exposure fusion. There are 8 or 10 controls when you are doing fusion: Accentuation, Blending Point, Shadows, Color Sat, White Clip, Black Clip, Midtone. Nothing terrifically fancy, but tools that definitely allow you a lot of latitude in shaping the final result. There are 16 controls when doing tone mapping. Not going to list all, but it gives you control of luminosity, micro smoothing, highlight and shadow smoothness, microcontrast, etc.

    Two points.
    1. These are simply not tools you have in Photoshop. And the layers technique described in the article is very time-consuming if the scene has a lot of different areas of brightness and shadow - scenes like that have a lot of selections to make and adjust. The technique in the article is much easier in a scene like the scene the author used as the example than in a lot of other scenes, particularly urban scenes or scenes with complex shadows.
    2. Photomatix's tools are useful tools for HDR and they give you a lot of control. So why not learn these tools, and learn burning and dodging as part of other processes?

  • B

    April 29, 2011 12:07 am

    Daniel, any editing software with layers can be used, so I guess you could use Elements but GIMP works fine and is free.

    There's a different type of control with this method, but the real advantage is it can be applied to more than just exposure -- you can use it to selectively apply any filter or effect. No, it's not as easy to do on hundreds of images quickly, but I guess there's a quantity/quality distinction there.

  • Black Mesa Images

    April 28, 2011 11:48 pm

    @mark, why should I pay attention to Celesta when she can't even get facts straight?

  • Gene

    April 28, 2011 02:34 pm

    Other than being manual I'm not sure this is all that different for most other HDR tutorials. Tone blending is generally what almost all HDR shots are done with. True HDR is a bit of a unicorn as the displays (not to mention printers) that have a true HDR range that even approaches what we can see are insanely expensive and therefore rare. HRD these days really means tone mapping with tone blending, not true HDR.

  • Daniel

    April 28, 2011 08:37 am

    So what exactly is the point of this tutorial? Saving the expense of Photomatix? If so I'd like to call capital fail since there's no country on the planet where Photoshop is even as close as cheap as Photomatix.

    In fact just thinking of Photoshop makes me want to buy Photomatix right away...

  • Mark

    April 28, 2011 08:01 am

    @blackmesa -- You are missing Celesta's point!!! By using software that automates the process, you are not learning the skill set that is transferable to other processes in post production. Yes you get there quicker, but lose the transferable skills unless you have learned those separately. As I noted in my previous post, tonemapping by it's self can be a useful tool. But to really use it effectively, you should have learned to dodge and burn manually. Only by doing manually will you learn to use a process effectively. Once learned then you can automate and fine tune the settings of your automating tool be it tone-mapping or HDR software.

  • Mark

    April 28, 2011 07:51 am

    High Dynamic Range Photography is just that. It does not matter how you achieve it. Exposure blending IS HDR done manually.

    Tonemapping is actually doing the opposite of HDR in that it is doing nothing more than extensive Dodging and Burning with colors to even out the exposure and smooth the transitions. This actually lowers the dynamic range somewhat.

    With all that said, I often use tonemapping on single exposures to even out harsh lighting and yet I also use exposure blending when the need arises. And to address the article, tonemapping when done right does not introduce halos and over saturated colors. THE USER DOES THAT by not refining his/her technique!!!! The same can be said about exposure blending done poorly!!!

    This is an area where MOST people need to find a common vocabulary and quit making up their own definitions of HDR. Wikipedia is a good start and we should all read this if we are to comment on such.

  • Black Mesa Images

    April 28, 2011 01:35 am

    Celesta, you should spend more time reading what I wrote............

  • Celesta

    April 27, 2011 11:08 pm

    @Black Mesa images - it is good that you figured how to achieve a good result in Photomatix by pressing a button. Now do you actually understand what the application does and can you recreate the same process step by step manually in Photoshop or elsewhere? That would be something to be proud about.

    Re: HDR vs exposure blending - I am under impression that what the HDR software does is nothing different from exposure blending, only it does so pixel by pixel. I do not see any difference in the end. According to me, the author's photograph looks like HDR and I am not offended if it is called HDR. I think it is a great article, thank you Jacob.

  • arun

    April 26, 2011 07:28 pm

    I just can't help coming back here again and again!!! :)

    Here's a great link (a great website in general for a lot of basics) to understand Dynamic Range, and that should clear you basics on HDR too..

    http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/dynamic-range.htm

  • arun

    April 26, 2011 07:08 pm

    I think I could now comment on this post now - :P

    I'm not sure if logarithmic processing could be a nice way out of this issue of HDRs, because, then, we should be able to capture dynamic ranges of much larger depth, only, details in the grey tones might still get compressed!

    I think I'm off to doing some research on that..

  • arun

    April 26, 2011 07:03 pm

    Well, I think a lot of people need the basics on HDR set right around here - I'd advise a little theory!

    To some who've pointed out 'tonemapping' & 'HDR' -

    "High Dynamic Range" as the name suggests contains a very wide range of f-stops within the image between darkness & brightness. Referring to the zone system, ideally, a camera captures 5 stops between visible darkness & visible brightness - as compared to our eyes, which can see upto 22 stops of light!

    The problem -
    Why can't we view HDRs? The Prints, TV & Monitor/LCD Screens have limited ability to show colors, defined by the no. of bits available to them (bit depth)! So, in some cases it is 256 bits, in some it's 65336 and so on.. This is also called resolution. The case that limits capturing the dynamic range it is the bit depth of the processors - 12 bit/14 bit which implies 2^12 or 2^14 brightness level respectively!
    And that's exactly the case with the camera too, remember your camera has a specific bit depth to it which defines it's max resolution of 12MP or 20MP??!!

    The solution -
    Bracketing Exposures & Tone Mapping!
    Funny, that the whole post explains the process of Tone Mapping, while the author condemns the method in his introduction!!! Just because he's overlaying the layers manually, doesn't mean he's not tonemapping!

    For a definition of the term 'tonemapping', here's a wiki definition for starters -
    Tone mapping reduces the dynamic range, or contrast ratio, of the entire image, while retaining localized contrast (between neighboring pixels), tapping into research on how the human eye and visual cortex perceive a scene, trying to represent the whole dynamic range while retaining realistic color and contrast.

    Whatever you may do, you just can't show the entire range of the image you bracketed, so, you're trying to accommodate the local contrast while maintaining the overall range within the limits, so it looks overall like the way the human eye would have seen it - remember, looks like it, it can't reproduce the original in any way given today's technology!

    The difference between PS & Photomatix, one gives you control over the amount of local contrast, the other is automated to a certain degree and both come with their + & -...

    I hope this adds a little clarity over this whole topic.. I guess I could have written a new discussion on this, given the length and gravity of this post!!! :)

    Thanks,
    Arun

  • Jason

    April 26, 2011 05:37 pm

    Great results and nice tutorial...regardless of what the process is or isnt called

  • Ian

    April 26, 2011 10:10 am

    Again I have to disagree with quite a few of the posts on this tutorial. As B said, this clearly is a way of increasing the dynamic range of an image and this technique then qualifies as a means of achieving High Dynamic Range.

    Secondly, I think many of the people singing the virtues of HDR software such as photomatix are not using it for moving landscape work. There are clearly cases where that type of software doesn't produce good results in landscape work. If you have moving water i.e. waves, moving branches or leaves on trees, long grasses etc etc etc. Clearly the tone mapping process cannot readily handle these cases as the objects you are photographing move between shots. Whereas in about 2 minutes a proficient photoshop user can use layer masks and gradients to blend multiple images together to handle these sort of cases. Also in cases of say a beach at sunrise where there might be 5 or 6 stops of difference between foreground and sky, you will get some sort of artifact. Just like focus stacking software at very strong contrast boundaries there has to be some kind of artifact.

    Again just lke using a tone mapping program, this is not the ultimate answer, its one tool that is useful in certain cases. I think the problem with posts on this site is that too many people criticise and not enough people contribute. Feel free to write us a great tutorial on your advanced use of tone mapping programs as I certainly have struggled to get results I am consistently happy with in the kind of circumstances I describved above.

  • Dave

    April 26, 2011 07:15 am

    "The ’stereotypical’ HDR photography uses a method called tonemapping, which creates the obnoxious halos and often over saturated look."

    Only if you don't know what you're doing.

  • Scott Webb

    April 26, 2011 06:55 am

    This is a process that software like Photomatix solves. This is a processing solution you might look at for one image here and there but you're not going to do this with a huge number of images, everyday.

    We could always do the work explained in this post, but the point was that it sucked!

    Kind of a weird article. Nice photo though!

  • Krist

    April 26, 2011 03:42 am

    I don't care if you call it HDR or if you call it ABC123, it's a good tecxhnique and produced a nice image. Thanks.

  • B

    April 26, 2011 02:48 am

    Saying "this isn't HDR, it's exposure blending" is like saying "That's not a car, it's a Toyota". Exposure blending is one way to overcome the limitations of the single-shot dynamic range of the camera to create - wait for it - a high dynamic range image.

    I use this technique often for any kind of landscape, and for non-extreme cases you don't even need to bracket exposures. Developing two or three images from a single RAW file with one stop (or less) of exposure adjustment between them generally works fine too, RAW formats generally have enough luminance information to cover you.

    You don't need Photoshop, either. Any editing software with layers will work; I use GIMP and RAWTherapee. You can also save time by simply applying a gradient to a layer mask when you have straight lines, like horizons, to work with, and learning your selection tools.

    I guess you might get better results and do less work with something like Photomatix, I wouldn't know. But where that's a great hammer, learning to use layers and masks gives you a whole toolbox to do things like apply noise reduction, sharpening, contrast, color saturation, etc to selective areas of an image and really craft a final photo. Hardware and software advances are making me feel that this is becoming a lost art just like darkroom printing...

  • Black Mesa Images

    April 26, 2011 01:49 am

    Granted, I don't use Photomatix for HDR, I use different software and I don't have any of the problems you describe in your article. Everything I've read, Photomatix is the top of the heap. Photos I've viewed that have been processed by Photomatix don't have the problems you write about and look like the image you posted.

    It's all about the user. While you provided people with a very effective technique, the discounting of HDR software packages in your article doesn't do your article any justice as it just comes across as some guy who refused to learn how to use a software package that can get a user to the same end point in a much shorter time.

  • Dave Marcus

    April 25, 2011 09:11 pm

    @jerry - That's a very nice and a very natural HDR image/

  • darren

    April 25, 2011 05:54 pm

    @Ruben

    My point isn't that this is a bad technique, my point is that this isn't HDR it is exposure blending.

    @Gillies

    You are just wrong.

  • Jacob Shultz

    April 25, 2011 04:38 pm

    Hey Joe - I didn't mean this article to mislead. The point is that you can't produce these HDR results using Photomatix, as it uses the tonemapping process which often causes unrealistic halo's and other strange artifacts. Yes, you can create photos using Photomatix which is a cheaper alternative to Photoshop, however if you do happen to have Photoshop, this is a much more foolproof and controlled method of creating a realistic looking image (i.e. without halos). Sorry if I didn't explain it well enough in the article! :)

  • Joe2PointOh

    April 25, 2011 04:14 pm

    For those who don't already own Adobe Photoshop, wouldn't Photomatix be a far cheaper way to create an HDR image and for those who do own Photoshop, doesn't it have HDR processing built in now? I'm finding an increasing number of articles here that imply one thing in their headline and serve up quite another in the actual content. It's not an attractive trend.

  • Dave Marcus

    April 25, 2011 01:50 pm

    You've written a nice article about layers and exposure stacking in Photoshop--good techniques, nice explanation.

    But it is NOT a necessary technique for producing natural-looking HDR photos (I have produced more (and less) realistic images using Photomatix. See, for instance, http://www.flickr.com/photos/davemarcus/5595815347/ or http://www.flickr.com/photos/davemarcus/5606305681/).

  • Dave Marcus

    April 25, 2011 01:42 pm

    Uh, that's a realistic image?

  • Ian

    April 25, 2011 10:29 am

    Great tutorial and very nice output. I agree with some posters that most people don't fully understand how to use the HDR software correctly and I am certainly one of those people. Regardless of what you think of HDR software though, I think the contents of this article are a great starting point for landscape photographers introducing many useful points such as merging multiple images into one usig layers, layer masks and brushing things in and out. And your image of Merewether is great. Such a good spot for photos, I don't think it will ever get old with me

  • Jerry

    April 25, 2011 09:41 am

    Hi
    This is a very effective technique, and one which will always be effective without specialised software.

    Until recently I disregarded HDR because I did not like the effects which I was seeing, and had not been able to produce anything effective myself. With a bit of experimentation I have started to find that I can produce an attractive result which makes the best of the HDR approach, without the over saturation and halo effects:
    My own latest attempt: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zimcontract/5641192915/in/photostream

    For me the beauty of the HDR software lies in the ability to produce a good result from a single RAW image, and better results from bracketed shots.

    I use qtpfsgui and Gimp with G'Mic to finish the image. These are open source and available on Windows, though I prefer a Linux platform.

  • Guille

    April 25, 2011 08:55 am

    @darren: generating an HDR image means you use any kind of technique to achieve a higher dynamic range than the camera can produce in one shot.

    Also, this is a very "manual" technique and it involves being very careful because with a sloppy mask you can get weird results. Learning to use all the settings in the different HDR software is the way to produce HDR images without the "fake" look with a significant time reduction.

  • Richard Davis

    April 25, 2011 07:42 am

    This is a great technique and one I've been using on interiors particularly for quite some time now. Many Photomatix HDRs look unnatural and overdone but this technique extends the dynamic range without all the artifacts noted by Jacob. To separate this approach from HDR, I've taken to calling it EDR - Extended Dynamic Range.

  • Richard Sisk

    April 25, 2011 04:10 am

    I forgot to mention that I will put a link to your article on my site! Thanks

  • Richard Sisk

    April 25, 2011 04:03 am

    Thanks for this terrific tutorial on realistic HDR work. I think you are on the right track and I appreciate your perspective on HDR. I have set up an HDR information site called: http://hdr360pro.com/
    I would like to feature you as a guest artist. Please let me know if that is OK!

  • Brian Hoffman

    April 25, 2011 03:15 am

    Another way to avoid the cartoon look is to use Timothy Armes LR/Enfuse. It is simple and ease to use to establish an original composite, then modify in your favorite software. You can read about it here: http://www.photographers-toolbox.com/products/lrenfuse.php

  • Karl Stevens

    April 25, 2011 03:00 am

    This technique is not HDR, it's exposure blending or exposure fusion. It appears from your introduction that you do not know what HDR actually is, as you make several incorrect statements.

    HDR is a mathematical reconstruction of a scene which attempts to generate an absolute value for each pixel. As exposure blending does not do this, but rather works with relative values, it is not (by definition) HDR.

    Also, tonemapping is not, by itself, responsible for "obnoxious" halos and saturation. If you want to, it's perfectly possible to create a natural-looking image. Just because someone decides to push the sliders too far, doesn't mean that the process is responsible. Don't blame the tool, blame the user.

    Perhaps before writing future articles, you could research your subject a little farther. As you mentioned Photomatix, I suggest http://www.hdrsoft.com/support/faq_photomatix.html#differences as a good place to start.

    Finally, for those who would like to experiment with exposure blending, there is software available to automate it. My favourite is Enfuse, which comes with Hugin/Panotools. Enfuse is Free software, and there are several GUI frontends available for it (if you don't want like Hugin for some reason.)

  • Ruben

    April 25, 2011 02:57 am

    @darren: What exactly would it mean that the final image "contains" a high dynamic range? or what advantages do you see on it? if you can not see "correctly" a HDR image anyway without the Tone Maping because of the limitations of the monitors etc.
    After all, all the "real hdr" pictures usually seen on the web are tonemaped to be viewed. and therefore I would say that those "doesn't contain any high dynamic range whatsoever" either.

    I think that this method, can generate the same great result. Really nice Tutorial.

    Here is one picture I made I hope you like it. I hope it is not overdone. What do you think?

  • Black Mesa Images

    April 25, 2011 02:44 am

    Hmmm, the software I use for HDR can pull off the same. Maybe it's just people refusing to learn software.

    Time spent masking, layering-Losing
    Learn and use software and have more time for picture taking-duh, winning!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    April 25, 2011 02:33 am

    Hi

    Great article about layers and exposure stacking in Photoshop. I use Photomatix, HDR Efex Pro and some other tools in post. I have learnedhow to keep the Tonemapping under control to take advantage of the power of the tool without producing over the top (or as I have heard "Clown Puke"..think this is funny BTW).

    I will try out your method and see what comes of it - thanks for sharing.

    Here is a clean shot of some chrome!

    Built Like A Ford: http://t.co/5mtDlns

  • Darren

    April 25, 2011 02:03 am

    This is more exposure blending then HDR. The final image doesn't actually contain any high dynamic range whatsoever. It's a nice photo with an old technique, however, the topic heading is not at all accurate.

  • Shannon

    April 25, 2011 01:57 am

    Not a big fan of HDR, but I love your shot. Maybe All the others I see are being overdone.

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