How to Create a Subtle Faux-HDR Effect Directly in Lightroom 4 With a Single Image

How to Create a Subtle Faux-HDR Effect Directly in Lightroom 4 With a Single Image



This tutorial is a demonstration of the SLR Lounge Lightroom 4 Preset System and has been transcribed for DPS from the accompanying DVD. With over 200 presets, the LR4 Preset System has been critically acclaimed as the most powerful and intuitive preset system available for Lightroom 4, click the link above to learn more/purchase.


This tutorial is a step-by-step method of creating a faux-HDR look that works great for both landscapes and environmental portraits. What this effect does is simply tone-map the image to bring out the shadows and pull down the highlights, which expands the image’s dynamic range without going too over-the-top.

Mixology Recipe and Tutorial

If you own the LR4 Presets, this effect can be achieved in around 10 seconds and 5 clicks (as outlined below). If you don’t own the preset system, please skip to “How to Shoot the Image” to learn how to do it manually.

1. MY MIXOLOGY > 00 Standard Import
2. BASE ADJUSTMENTS > 16 Heavy HDR (Base Tones)
3. BASE ADJUSTMENTS > 35 Heavy Boost (Contrast)
4. BASE ADJUSTMENTS > 62 Light (Noise Reduction)
5. NEUTRAL CURVES > 31 Ivory (Neutral Punches)

Continue reading below to see what each of these preset adjustments are making to create our final faux-HDR look.

How to Shoot the Image

This effect works best when using RAW images without significantly blown highlights and clipped shadows. Images with blown highlights and clipped shadows have lost details in areas that will not be recoverable using this technique. When shooting, we try to retain as much details by “exposing to the right.” Now, this doesn’t mean that you are blowing out your image, it simply means that you are pushing the highlights all the way to the right of the histogram without blowing out the highlight detail. Be sure to shoot at your cameras lowest native ISO as well in order to retain as much detail and dynamic range as possible.

For this tutorial, we have selected the following RAW image from the exercise files of DVD.


Step 1. Boosting the Dynamic Range

We are going to expand the dynamic range in our image by lifting up our Shadows and Blacks +60 each, and pulling down the Highlights and the Whites by -60 each. This will shift the majority of our tonal range towards the middle of the histogram to retain more detail in the highlights and shadows. This process of increasing the tonal range kills overall contrast, so we will balance out our adjustment by adding +75 to Contrast as well.

We are also going to boost Clarity to +15 and Vibrance to +15 just to increase mid-tone contrast and image detail, as well as give a slight boost to the overall colors.


Lifting up the shadows by this much amount also tends to introduce noise, so to counteract that, let’s add a light amount with Noise Reduction. Go to the Detail panel on the Right Side Panel and add +20 to Luminance in the Noise Reduction box.


Here is the image with the adjustments made thus far:


Step 2. Additional Contrast via Curves

We want to separate the highlights and shadows a bit more to add a little extra punch to the image, so this time we are going to use the Tone Curve panel to sort-of “stack contrast”. Make sure that you are using the Point Curve mode by clicking on the Curve icon at the bottom-right of the panel. You will know if you’re in the right mode because under the curve graph is a drop-down menu for RGB Channels. We are only going to be working with the main curve and not the individual color curves for this tutorial.

Add two points in the shadows and two points in the highlights, then pull down the shadows and bring up the highlights. You can experiment to see how curve adjustments you will need, but you should end up with a standard contrast-boosting S-curve that looks similar to the curve below:


Here is the image after the tone curve adjustment:


Step 3. Finalize Exposure + Temperature

At this point, I like to fine tune my Exposure and Temperature to give me the final color toning and mood I am going for.

For this particular image, I’m just going to lower the Exposure by a full stop (-1.00) to get some nice romantic sunset colors into the scene and I am going to leave the temperature as shot.


Here is the image after the final Exposure and Temperature adjustment:

Step 4. Graduated Filters

I like to use the very subtle -1 Graduated Brush preset in the LR4 Preset System to pull down over the sky just to add a little more color and drama into the image as shown below.

Final Before and After Images

So here is the before and after image with the Vivid Landscape HDR Light Mixology Preset:

RAW Image

Final Image

The Lightroom 4 Preset System

Effects created within the The Lightroom Presets include basic color correction, vintage fades, black & white effects, tilt-shift effects, faux HDR, retouching, detail enhancing, and virtually any other look and effect. All within Lightroom 4 only and most within 5 clicks.

Read more from our Post Production category

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.

Some Older Comments

  • Nick January 2, 2013 09:58 pm

    Thanks - that's very handy. Getting some great results from a recent landscape shoot.

    One question: why the -60 / +60 for white / black point? I typically set these to maiximise the white / black point for an image to just avoid clipping. This tends to be unique for each image, and with values quite different to these...

  • Joel and Amber December 1, 2012 05:28 am

    That's excellent! Just got LR4, and can't wait to try it out!

  • Austin P November 7, 2012 04:09 pm

    Thank you so much for this! It was a great tutorial, and an awesome basis for learning how to add just that finishing bit of pop or colour to your image. Much appreciated! :)

  • Adober October 26, 2012 06:22 pm

    i got free fraps full version 3.5.9 from:

  • ccting October 11, 2012 11:08 pm

    OMG, excellent article.

  • Jai Catalano October 2, 2012 02:23 am

    Now that is the way you take a so so photo and make good use of it. I absolutely love it.

  • azzra September 28, 2012 10:34 pm it...

  • jackie September 28, 2012 02:35 am

    really easy to understand and helpful for making an image really pop! i don't have lightroom, but i do shoot RAW & can replicate. thx!!

  • Rebecca Kronenberg September 24, 2012 04:33 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing the step by steps for those who don't have the preset. It was great and easy to follow along, extremely informative, and can't wait to try it out! Thanks DPS!

  • Kishan September 22, 2012 12:37 am

    Thanks for the instructions. Tried it on one of my Tokyo pics and it looks great .. I already made a preset for this in my LR4.

  • Valerie September 18, 2012 07:08 am

    Thanks for such detailed instructions. It should make it easy for me to duplicate the effect on my own photos. It will be fun to play with these faux HDR effects.