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HDR processed images that look almost surreal are all the rage these days. There may be times when you do not have multiple images to run through the Merge to HDR Pro dialog box, but you still want to achieve in a single photo the look of that special surreal HDR processed image. In that case the new HDR Toning adjustment fits the bill. HDR Toning can be applied to a single photo like this one that was shot as a JPEG or this one, both of which were shot as 8-bit JPEGs. These two photos are the fine work of photographer John Lorenz who has been shooting the uncanny beauty of the San Louise Valley in Southern Colorado for years.
So I would like to take this image and simulate that surreal HDR processed look. To do that I am going to go up to that Image menu and down to Adjustments and down to HDR Toning. That opens the HDR toning dialog box with the very same controls that you have seen before in the Merge to HDR Pro dialog box. As in that dialog there are couple of HDR methods available, but the only worth working with for the purpose of making a surreal image is Local Adaptation. So in order to give this image a surreal look, I am going to move the sliders here.
The main slider that I concentrate on for this purpose is the Detail slider. I am going to drag that slider all the over to the right to give the image as crunchier look as I can. That not only sharpens, but it also adds grain and here and there I have got these glowing light edges. All of which contribute to that surreal look. I am also going to increase the Vibrance and maybe the Saturation as well. Let's see what happens when I take the Vibrance slider and drag it all the way over to the right. I am looking for some wild color in this image and that has brought back some color.
I am going to drag the Saturation slider to the right also, maybe not that far. Maybe just abut there. I like that look. Now I wonder if I can get a little more edge glow to help with that surreal feel. I will take the Radius slider and I am going to drag it over to the right. In this particular image I think that the edge glow is too much. But again, this is just subjective. So I am going to take the Radius back to the left a bit, to about there and I will leave the Strength where it is.
Before I am done, I will play with the exposure of the image, although I don't know if it is going to help in this case. I might try to lighten a bit. No, that's too much. I, actually liked the exposure almost where it started, right there. So I will put it back. That's about all I am going to do to this particular image. I am going to click OK here and now I am going to approach the other image. This image has a bit of surreal quality to it already. What I really like about it between the relatively sharp icicles and the softness of the background. I would like to emphasize that to create another kind of otherworldly image.
So I am going to open that same HDR Toning adjustment and the default settings do brighten the image. But what I want to do here is to soften that background. So I am going to right to the Detail slider and this time instead of dragging it all the way to the right, I am going to go all the way over to the left. As soon as I do, I have got that lovely soft background. I might try adding a little glow around the icicles by increasing the Radius slider. I don't want to go too far, maybe just about there, and I will leave the Strength of the glow as it is.
I want to bring out a little bit more of the shadow areas, so I am going to take the Gamma slider and move it over to the left. Then I will go to the Shadow slider and I will try moving that to the right. Now I am able to see a bit more of these mountains here. Let's go a little further. I will take the Vibrance slider and move it over to the right, but not too much. I really like that soft look and I do not want to ruin that with too much color.
So now let's compare how the image was before I made this changes and how it is now. Quite a difference. If you like these particular soft otherworldly look, you might want to save it as a Preset so you can apply it to other images. That can be done from this menu, clicking there and choosing Save Preset. I'll call this soft ice and I will click Save and then I will click OK. Now if were to go to another image, say back to that surreal image and brought up the HDR Toning adjustment again, I could go to the Preset drop down and there I will find the soft ice preset that I just saved and I could apply it to this image as well for a very different look.
So if you want to simulate the look of an HDR processed surreal image or you want to create your own otherworldly look and you only have a single image to work with, give the HDR Toning adjustment a try.
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