HDR Effect Tutorial

What is HDR?
HDR is short for High Dynamic Range. It is a post-processing of taking either one image or a series of images, combining them, and adjusting the contrast ratios to do things that are virtually impossible with a single aperture and shutter speed. 

Also note that HDR is a very broad categorization. The process starts with using basic HDR techniques, but then there are many more steps to help the photos look more evocative.

How to prepare for HDR
Set up your camera in Aperture Priority mode. This is important because you don’t want the multiple photos to have different areas of blur. Turn on Autobracketing. If you have 3 pics in the autobracket, set it up at -2, 0, +2. Take 5 pics at -2, -1, 0, 1, +2  or just take 3 pics at -2, 0, and +2. You will find this +2 to -2 range satisfactory for 95% of situations. An exception, for example, would be shooting the interior of a house that is extremely dark and there are windows where the outside is extremely bright.

Other best practices:

  • For 95% of situations, going from +2 to -2 is enough light range.
  • -Shoot in RAW, if you can. JPG is okay, but RAW gives your more flexibility later in the processing. RAW photos contain a lot more light information than a JPEG. Please note that when processing in Photomatix later, the RAWs are no better than JPEGs.
  • Use a tripod, unless you have the steady arms.

    Here are two methods used to achieve the HDR effect:

    Method 1: Using Photomatix Software

    Method 2: Using Adobe Photoshop

    Open the 3 photos with the same scene taken under different exposures in Photoshop. Go to File>Automate>Merge To HDR.

    Now click in "Add Open Files" and select "Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images" ONLY IF if you took the photos without a tripod or something to stable it. Then click OK.

    Wait a few seconds, then click Ok again. Now you have a 32bit HDR file. Go to Image>Mode>16bit.

    Now you have the settings window for the 32 to 16 HDR conversion. Select "Local Adaptation" from the pop-up menu, then click "Toning curve and histogram".

    Now go to Image>Adjustment>Shadows/Highlights.

    Set these values.

    Now go to Image>Adjustment>Brightness/Contrast and set the values.

    Go again to Image>Mode>8 bit (if you want to export a JPEG file)

    Save and export.

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