HDR refers to High Dynamic Range photographs which have good details, sharpness, color and brightness in all areas of the photo, regardless of highlights or shadows.
Most point and shoot cameras today, cannot take pictures in direct HDR format. However, digital post-processing can still get out the HDR from your otherwise flat photograph.
Read on to find out how you can turn your normal photograph into a HDR quality image, within 15 minutes.
Difficulty level: Beginner-Intermediate
Time Required: Upto 15 minutes
- Adobe Photoshop CS2 or newer
- Windows XP or Mac OS/X
- 1GB ram with a good video card and a monitor that displays accurate colours
- Adobe Photoshop CS4 or newer
- Windows 7 or Mac OS/X
- 4GB ram with a graphics accelerator card and an LCD monitor
How to make your first HDR image:
- Open Photoshop and load the picture into the main window.
- Open the layers palette, by pressing F7 on your keyboard. You should see “Background” as the basic layer in the picture.
- Press Ctrl+J twice to duplicate the background layer twice. Now you should see “Background”, “Layer1” and “Layer1 Copy” in the layers palette.
- Now double click on the name “Layer1 Copy” and change it to “Highlights”. Similarly, change “Layer1” to “Shadows”.
- Click on the eye icon located left of “Highlights” to hide the layer. Now left click on “Shadows” to select it. Press B on your keyboard to bring up the brush tool.
- Right click anywhere on the picture to bring up the brushes palette. Select the fuzzy circle shaped brush with the size 45 written below it. However, depending on your skill with the mouse, you may like to select a bigger or smaller brush.
- Left click on your foreground colour and set it to ffffff. This is the same as setting it to white.
- Left Click on “Mode” and set it to Soft Light. Select Opacity and set it to 25%.
- Now everything is set. Paint over the dark areas of the picture by left clicking your mouse, holding it and dragging it. Be careful, you should paint over an area ONLY ONCE! Otherwise the picture might end up looking too abnormal.
- You will end up with something brighter than what you previously had. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t paint too accurately, or within lines.
- Now go to the layers palette again and select “Highlights”. Click the eye next to it to make it visible again. This will show you the original picture again.
- Open the “Curves” window, by pressing Ctrl+M on your keyboard. Click on the middle point on the curve and drag it downward, till the image has enough color and contrast in the background/landscape. Drag the curve upwards if your photo is already very dark – to make it brighter. Then press ok to exit the curves window.
- Now click E to get the eraser tool. Right click anywhere on the picture to open the eraser brushes palette. Choose the fuzzy shaped circular one with size 65 written below it. You can choose a different size if you feel like.
- Like Step 8: set the opacity to 30%, but dont change the mode to Soft Light. Now erase the dark areas of the picture once. Then reduce the brush size using the key “[“ on your keyboard (conversely, you can use “]” to increase the size) and erase the areas requiring a finer brush. Keep doing this till the dark areas appear bright enough to your eyes while the contrast and sharpness still remain the same.
- Once you feel that the picture is good enough, you can stop doing the previous step. Now press Ctl+B to bring up the colour balance window. Adjust the colors till you get a good saturation and the right colors to the picture. The settings I used were: +7, 0, -7 in midtones; 0, 0, 0, in shadows and -8, +25, +8 in highlights. Press OK to finalize the colours and exit the palette.
- Now select “Shadows” on the layers palette and press Ctrl+B again. Adjust the colors till you get a good color in the dark areas. My settings were: +18, -6, -18 in midtones; 0, 0, 0 in shadows and +5, +8, -5 in highlights.
- Once you are satisfied with the colours, click on “highlights” in the layer palette to select that layer. Now press Ctrl+E to merge it with “Shadows”. Now there will only be 2 layers – “Background” and “Shadows”. Rename “Shadows” to “HDR”
- Your basic HDR is complete! Click the eye icon left to “HDR” to hide it and see the original picture. Now click it again to see what you have created! Is it good? I bet!
- You can stop here if you want. But if you want to go the distance and see what further can be done with your basic HDR to get stunning results, stay tuned and wait for the next tutorial. Save the file as a PSD in case you want to edit it later. Then “Save As” a jpeg file which you can show off in flickr, facebook or any medium of your choice!
Here is what we started with:
And here is what we have created in this tutorial:
You can do even more if you play with the colour, contrast, brightness and curves.. Like this:
If you want to know exactly how this last step was done, stay tuned for more tutorials.. coming soon! If you liked this tutorial and used it to create your own lively HDR, share the picture here so every one can learn and enjoy.
And for anyone who is interested, here is our gallery of HDR images