Shooting and Processing High Dynamic Range Photographs (HDR)
Illustration by Petra Stefankova

HDR that doesn't look like HDR


Shooting and Processing High Dynamic Range Photographs (HDR)

with Ben Long

Start your free trial now, and begin learning software, business and creative skills—anytime, anywhere—with video instruction from recognized industry experts.

Start Your Free Trial Now

Video: HDR that doesn't look like HDR

As I've mentioned throughout this course, HDR can sometimes be overdone. In fact HDR has almost become something of an adjective. People will describe an image is looking very HDR or really HDR-ish. That has led some people to think that they just don't like HDR and so they stay away from these techniques, because either they don't like the look of HDR or they don't mind it but they don't want their images to obviously look processed or to be thrown into that HDR category. I want to show you now that it is possible to use HDR techniques to create an image that doesn't look so obviously HDR.
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 6m 46s
    1. Welcome
      2m 0s
    2. What you need for this course
      2m 37s
    3. Using the exercise files
      2m 9s
  2. 24m 55s
    1. Dynamic range defined
      4m 31s
    2. Understanding bit depth
      3m 37s
    3. Image sensor and shadows
      2m 38s
    4. Three methods for capturing more dynamic range
      3m 56s
    5. HDR shooting and processing
      4m 40s
    6. Single-shot HDR
      2m 43s
    7. When to use HDR
      2m 50s
  3. 19m 59s
    1. Finding HDR subject matter
      4m 38s
    2. Shooting HDR
      9m 45s
    3. Workflow and organization
      5m 36s
  4. 17m 52s
    1. Using gradient masks to improve dynamic range
      3m 56s
    2. More dynamic range masking
      8m 57s
    3. Masking with brushes
      4m 59s
  5. 1h 35m
    1. Creating an HDR image in Photoshop
      12m 15s
    2. Creating an HDR image in Photomatix
      22m 5s
    3. Creating an HDR in HDR Efex
      11m 47s
    4. Merging in Photoshop and processing elsewhere
      3m 51s
    5. Using Tone Compressor in Photomatix
      4m 25s
    6. Using Exposure Fusion in Photomatix
      7m 35s
    7. Single-shot HDR images in Photomatix
      4m 18s
    8. Single-shot HDR images in HDR Efex
      1m 3s
    9. Single-shot HDR images in Photoshop
      5m 32s
    10. Ghosting and Photoshop
      2m 51s
    11. Ghosting and HDR Efex
      2m 47s
    12. Ghosting and Photomatix
      6m 36s
    13. Batch processing in Photomatix
      10m 51s
  6. 2h 12m
    1. Reducing noise and correcting chromatic aberrations
      13m 33s
    2. Finishing an image
      8m 42s
    3. Handling HDR images that are "flat"
      13m 37s
    4. Combining HDR and LDR
      23m 3s
    5. Selective editing with HDR Efex Pro
      9m 42s
    6. HDR that doesn't look like HDR
      12m 42s
    7. Tone mapping troubles to watch for
      6m 46s
    8. Why use HDR for black-and-white images?
      5m 26s
    9. Black-and-white HDR
      12m 39s
    10. Panoramic HDR
      12m 3s
    11. HDR time lapse
      4m 24s
    12. Processing the trestle image
      10m 1s
  7. 37s
    1. Goodbye

please wait ...
Watch the Online Video Course Shooting and Processing High Dynamic Range Photographs (HDR)
4h 55m Intermediate Jul 22, 2011

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

In this course, photographer Ben Long describes the concepts and techniques behind high dynamic range (HDR) photography, a technique used to create images that have a wider range between the lightest and darkest areas of a scene than a digital camera can typically capture. The course begins with some background on dynamic range, on how camera sensors detect shadows, and on the kinds of subjects that benefit from HDR. Ben then describes and demonstrates several methods of generating HDR images, starting with single-shot HDR, which relies on masking to subtly enhance the dynamic range of a shot. Next, the course covers multi-exposure HDR, which involves shooting several photos of a scene, each at a different exposure, and then combining them using software tools. Ben demonstrates how to use Photoshop and the popular Photomatix software to process HDR images whose appearance ranges from subtle to surreal.

Topics include:
  • Understanding how the image sensor detects shadows
  • Capturing a broader dynamic range
  • Knowing when to use HDR
  • Finding good HDR subject matter
  • Using gradient masks to improve dynamic range
  • Merging in Photoshop and processing elsewhere
  • Dealing with ghosting
  • Reducing noise and correcting chromatic aberrations
  • Handling HDR images that seem flat
  • Combining HDR and LDR (low dynamic range)
  • Selective editing with HDR Efex Pro
  • Creating panoramic HDR images
  • Creating an HDR time lapse
Photoshop Photomatix SilverFast HDR Studio
Ben Long

HDR that doesn't look like HDR

As I've mentioned throughout this course, HDR can sometimes be overdone. In fact HDR has almost become something of an adjective. People will describe an image is looking very HDR or really HDR-ish. That has led some people to think that they just don't like HDR and so they stay away from these techniques, because either they don't like the look of HDR or they don't mind it but they don't want their images to obviously look processed or to be thrown into that HDR category. I want to show you now that it is possible to use HDR techniques to create an image that doesn't look so obviously HDR.

So even if you don't think that you're really into HDR, having HDR techniques in your toolbox is still a good thing because there will be times when you can use them in a subtle way that gets you a better image than you would get without them but without taking you into that HDR realm. We're going to create an image that looks very dramatic but not necessarily in that kind of overdone, texture-y, HDR way. Image 9927.exr, I have gone ahead and done a merge of three images for you and just given you this EXR file, so I'll open this up in Photoshop.

We're actually going to do this one in HDR Efex because we're going to do a lot of selective editing and that's a really easy place to do it. Everything we're going to do could be done in Photoshop. So if you don't have HDR Efex, grab the free demo from the niksoftware website and install it. So we've got some dramatic lighting. We've got some sheep. We've got a farmhouse type situation here. This is a 32-bit image, so I am not worried about this overexposure. There is data in there. We've got a bad lens flare. We're going to take that out at the very end of our process.

I am going to go to Filter > Nik Software > HDR Efex Pro. It's going to load the image and tone- map it and now you can see a little more of why I chose to shoot this as HDR. Really cool cloud detail up here. But overall the image is just a little hohum somehow. Your eye doesn't really know where to go. Again, always holding that idea of what's the subject, what's the subject? I don't know, is it this bit up here? Is it this bit down there? Is it somewhere in between? We need to give the viewer some help here. It would be great to focus attention somewhere, but I would also really like to play up with the drama of the light shining right down onto this area.

I am going to start with a big vignette. I am not even going to worry about adjusting any of my tone-mapping parameters yet because I think I am just going to hide a bunch of this image. So I want to figure out what's even going to be visible before I worry about refining anything. In HDR Efex it's very easy to add a vignette with the Vignette controls down here. I am going to add a big one. Something we haven't looked at yet in these controls is if I pop up the details, I get a lot of nice parameters for refining the size, darkness, and shape of my vignette.

Amount just controls how much darkening. Transition changes the width of the transitions on between the dark part of the vignette, and basically the hole in the vignette. Size lets me control the size of the hole of the vignette and I can make the vignette even more circular or more rectangular. This image is such a tall image I am going to go a little more rectangular. Already it's starting to take shape. We're really getting focus into this area here, but it still needs some work.

I don't know that I need to do too much to my tone-mapping because I am liking what's happening up here. I'd like to lose some of this though. So I think I am going to even go to this vignette and I am going to darken a lot and I am really pulling in, make this, there we go, make this much more about this area. Now this is looking good. This has gone awfully dark.

So I am going to do a localized adjustment. All of these localized adjustments, even the vignetting, this is all stuff I could be doing in Photoshop after I had done an initial tone mapping. I just wanted you to get another look at how cool the Nik localized editing tools are and also it's really nice being able to do these and my tone-mapping at the same time. As I said I didn't want to mess with any tone-mapping settings until I've gotten my vignette in place. So this is just a really nice interactive environment where I can be tone-mapping and what would traditionally be my post tone-mapping editing at the same time.

You're going to hate me, but now I am thinking the vignette is too strong, so I am going to go back and adjust it. But this serves only to prove the point I was just making, that it is very, very nice to be able to do all of this in the same environment, because when I decide that I don't like something I've done, I can more easily go back and fix it. And if you're wondering, well, what didn't I like about it, is I was just starting to decide it's just too black around the edges. So this is looking a little better.

I would like to darken that a little more, so I am going to actually try dropping a control point on here, sliding that up, and dragging that down a little bit. So now I've got more of a kind of uneven vignette, but that's okay and that's probably a little more punch to that area. So that's looking good. I still can't get these quite where I want them and I think part of my problem is I am not liking how green it's getting as I brighten stuff up. So what I have done here is I've selected both control points and I am dragging the Exposure slider on either one to adjust both of them.

I am going to desaturate the green a little bit. And that didn't do much. I think I may have to wait and do my desaturation later in Photoshop. I am liking that but there is something else I want to do. I really like how bright these things are, these rooftops. They're really catching the light. Setting those off against the dark of the buildings would be very nice, and honestly that's something I am going to have an easier time doing in Photoshop. We've also got a lot of retouching to do in Photoshop to get rid of these lens flares. So I may almost be done here.

Let's now finally go play with our HDR controls a little bit and see what we can do to this stuff up here. Right now it's going to affect the entire image, but this is the bit that I am really wondering about. If I increase Structure, and that's getting a little too contrasty. I lost some of the nice filigree that I had in there. Let's turn up the method on the HDR. And then that's getting too contrasty. So I think it maybe Tone Compression. That's going to take some of these bright bits and grab more of the tone that we have at our disposal in that big 32-bit space and start filling in the bright bits with it.

Tone Compression takes, as I dial it up, more tones get dialed into my image. So I am losing brightness but I am getting more detail. I think I like that better. That looks pretty good. I could sit here and tweak these sliders all day long, but I am going to hit OK and head on over to Photoshop to finish up the rest of these edits, and here's my adjusted image. Notice that it's gone from a 16-bit down to a 32-bit image. It made the edits though back into my original EXR file which I'd rather not write over.

So since I've noticed that right now, I am going to go ahead right now and do a Save As and save it as Photoshop format with the same filename. So that will preserve my EXR file and you can see back here in Bridge I've still got EXR and my PSD. I am going to hide Bridge now just so it unclutters our screen a little bit and zoom in. So some other things that we needed to do. We need to take out the lens flares. Let's go ahead and do that. Because again, as I have been saying with these other edits like this, I kind of want to do that early because if I can't fix it, it may mean the image is lost.

I had checked that out ahead of time, so this is not a total gamble here. I knew-- whoa! That didn't work very well. Just duplicated wrong part of the image. Notice that with clouds I don't have to be perfect with my edits, because they are kind of random. If you're not clear on how to use the Clone tool don't worry. There are plenty of places in the lynda library where you can learn how to clone. So that looks pretty good. I don't think that's too noticeable.

I need to get rid of that one which I am just going to do with the Spot Healing Brush. Get rid of that, and this is a flare right here. There is very rarely just one bit of flare in an image. If you find a strange circle in an image somewhere that's plainly a lens flare, you need to go look for other weird discoloring, usually in a line but not necessarily. So we've taken care of that. Let's get rid of some of the sensor dust. I promise you, my sensor is not always dirty like this. I do clean it.

We've got some up here. Very often edits will bring up, particularly contrast edits, will bring up sensor dust that you didn't know was there before. I want to darken up these buildings and brighten up their roofs. But I think I am going to deal with the green bit first. We're back to a problem that I said earlier, which is this should not be supersaturated green I don't think, because it's a cloudy day out. So I am going to drop a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer on here and tone this down. I am liking that better. It needs to be brighter.

I am going to dial up the lightness but if I do that, I start losing contrast in a way that I don't like. So we'll brighten this back up with the Levels adjustment. I possibly could have finessed and tweaked and fiddled in HDR Efex a little more to get this the way that I want it. But I often tend to mix and match my editing tools. I will do some of my adjustment in HDR Efex with the wonderful control point tools and either re-touch them more, add more using my normal Photoshop methods like I am doing here.

So this lets me paint some brightness in there, which I like. Let's darken these buildings. The light is back there way in the distance. So the sides of these buildings should be in shadow, which actually they already are, so let's exaggerate that some more by darkening up. I am not going to use the black point because I don't want those to go away completely. I just want to darken them. Yes, my whole image is getting darker. I don't care about that because I am going to Select All. Hit Delete to fill my mask with black and I will grab a white paintbrush to fill this in.

I am zipping through that technique because we've been doing it so much in this course that I am figuring you've seen some of the explanation already. So I am just darkening up these areas and now I'm going to really make this pop even more as I brighten up these reflections, these are metal roofs, so it makes sense that they'd be really popping, and here I am going to use the white point. I don't care if the metal roofs go into over-exposure. That will look like nice real metal specular highlights.

And there we go. Now, we're getting something that says subject very clearly. And as long as I have this mask that's all set up to brighten things I think I am going to hit these sheep or goats or whatever they are, I am going to hit the farm animals with some brightening. It's just that time of day when you've got to go out and brighten the farm animals. That might be a little much. I am going to leave that one in the dark. So this is an image that you might not necessarily look at and go, oh, HDR, and one of the reasons you wouldn't think HDR is because it's still got so much shadow in it.

Very often, HDR images as we've discussed and looked at are perfectly exposed all the way through and we've screwed up the exposure on so much of this. This is way too dark. This has gone almost a complete black. There is no detail on these. That's absolutely counter to what an HDR image normally is. So I know I keep doing this, I edit the image, I get to the conclusion, and I see something else. I just want to put out that as we print this and work on it some more. It may be that this highlight that I painted in here is a little too bright, so I might back off on that, and this is your chance to see why we work in adjustment layers.

I have got all my edits in discrete containers. And again making that darker, just editing this independent of the rest of the image is something that sets it apart from a normal HDR. So if you think you don't like the HDR look, if you're resistant to HDR technology, well you are wrong. You should learn it anyway because there are times when you can use it to a more subtle effect to create an image that could not be created without it.

There are currently no FAQs about Shooting and Processing High Dynamic Range Photographs (HDR).

Share a link to this course

What are exercise files?

Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course. Save time by downloading the author's files instead of setting up your own files, and learn by following along with the instructor.

Can I take this course without the exercise files?

Yes! If you decide you would like the exercise files later, you can upgrade to a premium account any time.

Become a member Download sample files See plans and pricing

Please wait... please wait ...
Upgrade to get access to exercise files.

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

Learn by watching, listening, and doing, Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course, so you can download them and follow along Premium memberships include access to all exercise files in the library.

Exercise files

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

For additional information on downloading and using exercise files, watch our instructional video or read the instructions in the FAQ .

This course includes free exercise files, so you can practice while you watch the course. To access all the exercise files in our library, become a Premium Member.

Join now Already a member? Log in

* Estimated file size

Are you sure you want to mark all the videos in this course as unwatched?

This will not affect your course history, your reports, or your certificates of completion for this course.

Mark all as unwatched Cancel


You have completed Shooting and Processing High Dynamic Range Photographs (HDR).

Return to your organization's learning portal to continue training, or close this page.

Become a member to add this course to a playlist

Join today and get unlimited access to the entire library of video courses—and create as many playlists as you like.

Get started

Already a member ?

Exercise files

Learn by watching, listening, and doing! Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course, so you can download them and follow along. Exercise files are available with all Premium memberships. Learn more

Get started

Already a Premium member?

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

Ask a question

Thanks for contacting us.
You’ll hear from our Customer Service team within 24 hours.

Please enter the text shown below:

The classic layout automatically defaults to the latest Flash Player.

To choose a different player, hold the cursor over your name at the top right of any page and choose Site preferences from the dropdown menu.

Continue to classic layout Stay on new layout
Exercise files

Access exercise files from a button right under the course name.

Mark videos as unwatched

Remove icons showing you already watched videos if you want to start over.

Control your viewing experience

Make the video wide, narrow, full-screen, or pop the player out of the page into its own window.

Interactive transcripts

Click on text in the transcript to jump to that spot in the video. As the video plays, the relevant spot in the transcript will be highlighted.

Learn more, save more. Upgrade today!

Get our Annual Premium Membership at our best savings yet.

Upgrade to our Annual Premium Membership today and get even more value from your subscription:

“In a way, I feel like you are rooting for me. Like you are really invested in my experience, and want me to get as much out of these courses as possible this is the best place to start on your journey to learning new material.”— Nadine H.

Thanks for signing up.

We’ll send you a confirmation email shortly.

Sign up and receive emails about and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

Keep up with news, tips, and latest courses with emails from

Sign up and receive emails about and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

submit Lightbox submit clicked
Terms and conditions of use

We've updated our terms and conditions (now called terms of service).Go
Review and accept our updated terms of service.