My HDR Procedure

in Tutorials
By spiffypix/Melanie (7,117) This user is a Premium Member Send mail to this user on December 29, 2008 12:43:43 PM CST

Seems like people either love my HDR or hate it.

I happen to love it. :)

I've gotten some requests regarding how I do my HDR. Here's a quick run-down of how I do it. If you go through this and I seem to be missing something, please let me know.

This is basically what I do:

I shoot with a Canon Rebel XTi. I use the bracketing feature and I usually shoot three RAW photos, each 2 stops apart. I use Adobe Bridge, Adobe Camera Raw, Adobe Photoshop CS3 and Photomatix by HDRSoft. You may be able to do it with other programs, but I think that Photomatix is a definite here. YOu can download the full-use version for free but your photo gets watermarked.

Here's the procedure:

-Select 3 RAW exposures in Adobe Bridge.
-Then click Tools-->Photoshop-->merge to HDR
-Let Photoshop do its work
-When it's done, click OK
-Then save merged image as a Radiance file (.hdr)
-Open Photomatix Pro program
- Open your Radiance (.hdr) file in Photomatix
-Then go to HDR--->Tone Mapping
-You want the 'details enhancer' option
-I crank Strength, color Saturation and Luminocity to 100% on this first pass through the program, give or take.
-Click on the Light Smoothing buttons to see what looks best (for me, usually middle or second button from the right)
-You want a little bit of white point (how much pure white is in your photo) and a little bit of black point (pure black), but not too much. You can always adjust contrast and lights/darks later on
-Under the Micro Tab, lower Micro-smoothing to zero
-Under the Micro Tab, increase Micro-contrast to about 90%
-Hit Apply, but make sure you click 16-bit first (very important!)
-Save file as tiff
-close that file.

-Now, if you want, you can re-open that same tiff file and follow the same procedure to run the image through the tone-mapping again. This time, you'll have to lower the color saturation slider considerably. you can mess around with the other sliders to see if that gives you the desired effect.
{EDIT: I don't run the photos through Photomatix twice very often nowadays, but you can certainly experiment with this process.}
-Once again, save as a 16-bit tiff.

You can run it through Photomatix as many times as you want (just make sure you always save it as a 16-bit .tif). The more you run it through, the grungier it looks.

Now you want to open the photo in Adobe Camera Raw and adjust the following:

-luminance to 60%
-color saturation to about 40%
-fill light to 40% (give or take)
-blacks up to desired darkness
-The most important slider for me in ACR is the CLARITY slider. Crank it to 100%.
Go to the curves tab in CAMERA RAW and lower the shadows & darks sliders just a little below the middle point.
-you can adjust other sliders as desired.

Click SAVE at the bottom left and save your new adjusted version under a modified file name (as a tiff). Then hit CANCEL. You want to preserve your original Photomatix tiff file, in case you want to start over again. Now open your modified tiff in Photoshop.

Now you can do your final adjustments in Photoshop. Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, etc. I use a lot of brightness, curves and hue/sat layers to get the look that I want. Levels is also important, as it adds great depth to an otherwise flat image.

That's about it in a nutshell. I'm no expert! There are people here on photosig that do it a LOT LOT LOT better than I can. Check out Mike Savad's HDR. I think he has written some tutorials on how to do it. Good luck!


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From ronnie2009/Ronnie (7,495) Send mail to this user on December 31, 2008 6:22:20 AM CST

Hi, Thanks for your time br posting this.I'm going to use your steps today and see what happens.All too often some want to throw out hints but not enuf to get people up and going..thanks again...


From spiffypix/Melanie (7,117) This user is a Premium Member Send mail to this user on December 31, 2008 4:13:03 PM CST

My pleasure. I love to see peoples' interpretations of HDR.


From markusrecht/Markus (0) Send mail to this user on January 24, 2009 1:02:50 AM CST

This is looking awesome. I like these grunge looks.


From stevez/Steve (827) Send mail to this user on January 25, 2009 10:48:01 AM CST

What a great tutorial, I've learned so much from this and my HDR images are so much better than before using your workflow. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Melanie!


From edacsac/Sam (344) Send mail to this user on February 10, 2009 11:52:36 AM CST

What does HDR stand for?


From mcanik/Daniel (192) Send mail to this user on February 13, 2009 1:45:58 AM CST

I believe "High Dynamic Range".


From namkn/Nam (110) Send mail to this user on February 11, 2009 2:42:37 PM CST

I'm using Photoshop CS4. WHen i try to open the 16-bit tiff, i can't seem to get it to open in the Adobe Camera RAW window. Did i skipped a step somewhere? Thank you


From spiffypix/Melanie (7,117) This user is a Premium Member Send mail to this user on June 11, 2009 12:40:51 PM CDT

Sorry for the late response, Nam. You need to change your preferences in Bridge to open 16bit tiff files w/Camera RAW. Otherwise it will only open raw images.


From steveburling/Steve (241) Send mail to this user on April 8, 2009 12:24:51 AM CDT

Thankyou very excellent easy to follow article and my best hdr work so far has been from using this technique


From catalium/Ray-dawn (0) Send mail to this user on April 28, 2009 10:09:01 AM CDT

I've read your article and practised once,really fine. Thank you for sharing!


From bdevitt1/Brendan (634) Send mail to this user on July 18, 2009 7:52:20 AM CDT

Hi Melanie, love your HDR. I am just curious, why do you merge the bracketed images in PS first. You can do all the processing in Photomatix. Do you find that it works better this way? I have never tried it your way. Regard, Brendan


From jeffdawson/Jeff (186) Send mail to this user on March 11, 2010 11:10:18 PM CST

Can anyone please tell me, can you just use the one raw image opened and processed 3 times with different exposure and tonal qualities. Then merge those in the same way to get HDR? cheers, jeff


From spiffypix/Melanie (7,117) This user is a Premium Member Send mail to this user on March 28, 2010 7:21:18 AM CDT

Hi Jeff -

You can, but for some reason when I've done it this way, I've gotten a lot more noise in the image. But yes, it can be done. The photo below was done with one exposure, in the fashion you mentioned.

Single HDR

Hope that helps...



From khadi/Kuntjoro (169) Send mail to this user on August 24, 2010 3:47:32 PM CDT

Brilliant. Thanks


From nacho25/Nacho (0) Send mail to this user on December 10, 2013 4:42:32 PM CST

Fantastic! Best regards from Spain Tutoriales Photoshop


From creativestream/spammer (0) Send mail to this user on June 23, 2014 4:41:58 AM CDT

Do you think this will work with RAW only or JPEGs would also work?


From spiffypix/Melanie (7,117) This user is a Premium Member Send mail to this user on August 6, 2014 9:30:47 PM CDT

It would work with JPGs to an extent, but RAW images are much more flexible.


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