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In my mind, there are two approaches to producing a high dynamic range image. The first, is to create a result where the image looks like a normal photograph. But contains a much wider tonal range, than you could possibly capture in a single image. The other approach creates a hyper saturated and not exactly realistic interpetation of the scene. When you only have a single capture to work with, you aren't able to achieve a true expanded dynamic range in the image. But you can create an interesting creative effect, by applying the look of an HDR image.
In this lesson, I'll show you how it's done. The HDR toning feature in Photoshop will only work on a flattened image. So if you've already worked on your image, adding Adjustment Layers, for example, you'll need to choose Image > Duplicate from the menu in order to create a copy of the image. You'll want to turn on the Duplicate Merge layers only checkbox, and then click OK. This will give you a flattened version of your image that you can work with for HDR toning. In this case, I'm working with a flattened image, so I don't need to create a copy, and therefore can just click cancel here.
To apply the actual HDR toning effect, I'll choose Image > Adjustments > HDR toning from the menu. This will bring up the HDR toning dialog Where I can adjust my settings as desired. From my perspective the best way to get started is to choose a preset. These presets give you a variety of options but of course you can always fine tune the effect later. So really this is giving you an opportunity to get a sense of what might be possible for your image.
It's a good idea to explore several of the options that are available. For example, perhaps you want to explore an artistic monochromatic version of the image. Or you could choose a photo realistic result, which in this case of course, is not going to be much different from our original image. And you could take a look at, for example, surrealistic, which gives a little bit of a dreamy type of look. In this case with significant contrast. Or you might consider a saturated approach. Or perhaps even the more saturated preset.
For my perspective, the more saturated preset gives us the best starting point for a somewhat exaggerated HDR effect. And in fact, in this case I'm going to make it even more exaggerated. I'll increase the strength of the edge glow, that's the halo that you can see showing up in the image. And I'll also reduce the radius so that it's a little bit more intense, a little more focused around the objects within the image. We can also adjust the overall tone and detail of the image. For example, adjusting overall mid tone contrast. In this case I'd like it to be somewhat high.
Adjusting the overall exposure effectively lightening and darkening the overall image, which, I don't need to adjust much in this case. Fine tuning how much detail is visible. If I reduce detail, I get this sort of hazy, ethereal look to the image. I'd like something a bit more dramatic, so I'm actually going to increase detail. We can also adjust overall brightness for the shadows and highlights in the image. In this case, I'm going to brighten up the shadows just a little bit. And I might keep the highlights toned down just a little bit, and I can also adjust vibrance and saturation.
Saturation is a more global adjustment that will have an even effect on all colors in the image. Whereas vibrance will increase the overall saturation for colors that are not very saturated before it effects colors that are already saturated. In this case I'd like a very dramatic result, so I'm going to increase both rather significantly. I'll go ahead and continue fine tuning. I think I'm going to increase the gamma and maybe increase exposure just a little bit to help brighten up the image. That's looking pretty good. I can also fine tune using the toning curve.
I'll perhaps brighten up the image just a little bit, maybe darken up some of the shadows just to increase contrast just a little bit for this particular image. That looks pretty good. So I'll go ahead and click the okay button. Of course, I can continue refining this as much as I'd like, fine-tuning until I produce just the effect I'm after. But here I'm achieving the effect I'm going for. Something very dramatic that accentuates the colors and the contrast in the original scene. I'll go ahead and click OK and then I can choose Edit > Undo to see the before version, and Edit > Redo to see the after version.
Obviously a very dramatic impact for this image, but that's working out just great from my perspective. A dramatic HDR effect can obviously have a significant impact on the final image. Of course, even when you don't want to create an especially dramatic image of your photo, the HDR toning command can still provide you with some interesting creative possibilities.
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