Genohunter 6:07am, 11 April 2007
Any suggestions or tips for making a good HDR photo?
Herman Au - PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Herman Au - (admin) 10 years ago
Forewords: I hated HDR. Why am I even bothering with it and writing this? It's only because there are too many that really give HDR a bad name, and I finally got around and decided to learn how to do it well myself. I'm not claiming to be an expert in this and I'm only sharing what I've learned so far.

Preparation: First off, you need an HDR software to make HDR shots. There are lots of HDR softwares out there on the market, and Photomatix is a popular choice and is what I used in mine. I believe Photoshop CS and above has the HDR feature if you already have a copy. Second of all, you need a tripod. This is very important because in order to generate a good HDR you'll need multiple shots of different exposure. You can generate HDR with 1 picture, but you wouldn't get a very good one and take the most advantage of it.

Before you start, you may consider briefly reading what HDR is really all about, what the results should look like, and what you want to achieve before you proceed. Here's a pretty good site for your reference: Cambridge in Colour

Step 1: Taking the shot:
First off, identify your subject. Find something with a wide variety of range in lighting. e.g. sunset silhouette; shooting from inside a building with windows in the middle of the day; parking lot at night. Also, make sure you find something that stays still and does not move. Set up your tripod, and then you'll be off to take multiple images. You can either use the bracketing feature of your camera, and if it's not available, manually take multiple shots of the same white balance, aperture, but vary the exposure. I did mine using different shutter speed in Manual mode shown above.


Take at least 3 shots, and review your shots. For best results, make sure your different shots cover a wide range of exposure of different parts of the picture.

Step 2: HDR processing:
This tutorial is not meant to give you a step by step tutorial on how to use your HDR software, and thus I'll try to cover the broader basics of what you'll encounter and prepare you with the information you need to get it done.

Open up your HDR software, and use it to open up all the images you have taken. Follow the instructions and start generating your HDR! (For Photomatix users, Click HDRI, -> Generate HDR).
When you're done, you'll see something like the following picture, YUCK!
tone_mapping (by hermanau)

Don't be discouraged yet like I was... :-) We're just beginning and this is only a part of the process. Review the image, and check for ghosting effects or visual blemishes. If you spot ghosting, chances are your camera moved when you're shooting, or your shots need to be aligned. In that case, you may have to go back to step 1 or try the aligning image feature of your software if it's available.

Step 3: Tone Mapping:
In Photomatix you'll see that little window hovering, and that's a preview window of what it could look like when you adjust it properly. The large preview window is only giving you an idea of the range of the image, and by no means it is going to be the final product. Then, go to HDRI -> Tone Mapping and adjust the settings to your preference. Experiment with the settings to your liking, but make sure you don't go too extreme here. You want to enhance the picture instead of generating a plastic wrapped 3D'ish looking piece of duno-what-you-call-it like a lot of those HDR-wannabes out there. This is where I can't really share much with you at this point because I'm not exactly an expert. But I'm sure you'll find a ton of reference out there that will assist you in this process. This is a process with many different approaches, and you'll have to master this if you ever wanted to get your HDRs right.

When you're done in this step, you'll be having an HDR image (yay!), but we're not done yet (duh!). Think of it this way, your HDR is like a RAW file that contains much more information about each pixel than necessary to dispaly on your monitor. Why? That's because when you're done, you'll be converting this 24-bit or even 48-bit HDR image back into an 8-bit LDR format, discarding the unused information. Save your image in 48-bit format to retain all the information you have created in the process in TIFF.

If you're a Photoshop user, you may skip the tone mapping in your HDR software and covert the HDR image into LDR in here. In that case, you'll notice a lot of tools normally available to you in Photoshop or the photo editor of your choice are missing when you open the 48-bit TIFF. You'll have to change it back to an 8-bit or 16-bit image before you can regain all the tools.

This is the step a lot of people skip, and fail miserably in their HDR resulting in a flat, overexposed, plastic wrapped like image. I can't stress enough in my tutorials about this, but remember you're trying to enhance the image instead of trying to create something from scratch when you retouch an image. HDR is no different from any photo retouching process, and could be very destructive if you go overboard.

Step 4: Post Processing:
Now, open up your newly generated HDR image with your editor (Photoshop, in my example). What I tried to do here with my image is to #1 reduce the color over saturation, #2 bring back some of the contrast lost in the process. See the image below:

photoshop_editing (by hermanau)

I've applied Levels to first correctly expose the image, stretching the sliders on both ends towards the histogram. Then I applied 2 different curves to the image to adjust the contrast of the image, and to bring out the details I wanted. Finally, adjusted the saturation down by a lot, yes a LOT... saturation makes beautiful colors, but over saturation results in loss of range of color and can be very destructive also. The results... you be the judge. :-)

Subaru WRX (by hermanau)

Subtleness is the key; Images that scream "I'm HDR, fave me" = failure >:)
Genohunter 10 years ago
Herman: Excellent explanation! I cant wait to shot some pictures and make it as HDR now!
daintee 10 years ago
Very cool ... I need to buy a tripod ... oh, and a good camera. lol.
goldventure 10 years ago
That's very good. Thanks!! I will try this it out after survived my recent busy work schedule!
MableChong 10 years ago
Herman: It's really cool and I want to take HDR photos for my car now.
Herman Au - PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Herman Au - (admin) 10 years ago
latest creation:

Shirley's BMW 330i (by hermanau)

Alone in the parking lot (by hermanau)

I tried to bring back the original feel of lighting in the parking lot this time to hopefully just let the HDR blend in and bring out the fine details. See if you like this better.
goldventure 10 years ago
Personally, I like the WRX shot better.. The WRX shot feels like the box cover of the japanese plastic model cars.
Nick Haigh 10 years ago
great tutorial herman and to be honest mate there probably are people out there that use HDR properly but you are one of the first & very few people I've come accros to get it spot on! this is how HDR is really supposed to look like, well done mate!
David Swales 10 years ago
Herman a great tutorial. I totally agree with you about shots that scream HDR are not the best. My favourite comment about my mountain photo was "can't really see the effect of HDR on this one...very postcard, a bit conventional for me

Whilst the photos below are not true HDR (they are all from one image) I have used the HDR technique to create these photos.

In the mountain shot it brought a lot more detail out in the clouds and the ferns. I used photoshop and lowered and raised the brightness to create the different exposure levels (the photo was taken a few years ago with a point and click).


This second shot was clearly from one image given the movement in the photo. I have now got a Canon 400d and shot this in RAW and then manipulated the exposure to create the multiple photos. These were then combined with Photomatix.

Trampoline 1

I think both photos work and the HDR technique has enabled the production without which the photos lacked a bit of bite. I would recommend trying the one photo technique.

I do like the first of your car shots better.
MableChong 10 years ago
Thanks Hermanau, Icey Cake and Genohunter. This is my first HDR photo.

My First HDR Photo
Aitor Escauriaza 10 years ago
great tutorial, i like the colors!!!!

here is my little tutorial

and here's the result

Storm Beach
thanks Aitor Escauriaza love that picture, and I'm really impressed how you did that with just different exposure output of the same raw file. gotta jump back and try to figure out the soft light on the green channel, and saturation on gaussian blur with color blending mode layers do. :-)
Icey Cake 10 years ago
Besides this "real" HDR technique, you can also create "fake" HDR by using just 1 photo. The trick is re-creating multiple exposures of the same photo and combining them together using Photoshop manually or just use Photomatrix Pro automatically.

This technique will not create stunning photos like above but enough to bring back details from the darkness into the photo.
Herman Au - PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Herman Au - (admin) 10 years ago
well... that's not exactly "fake", but you need multiple exposures from the same image, actually what Aitor 2 posts above did with his. Icey Cake is right, the results could be quite impressive actually... You need to shoot RAW to get multiple exposures of the same shot thou. Also, for some reasons Photoshop somehow forbids me to use this technique to process my HDR :-/

Anyway, see the difference:

Sunset at San Luis Reservoir (by hermanau)

Untitled (by hermanau)
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