HDR Tutorial – How To Make Beautiful HDR Photos With Ease!

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HDR SOFTWARE – THE REQUIREMENTS

The first thing to get is Photomatix Pro. To get started, visit the Photomatix page and use the coupon code “TREYRATCLIFF” to save 15%. This is an important piece of the puzzle! It is fun and simple HDR software to use – I will show you how. I also taught my son how to use a BB gun and he only injured his sisters twice.

I also offer a Complete HDR Tutorial video course that you might enjoy even more than this texty-version! If you are feeling extra-lazy, then you can also pick up my Trey’s Photomatix Presets, which are not required, but will give you a head start!

THE FREE HDR TUTORIAL

I wrote this Free HDR photography tutorial over six years ago and I update it about every three months. Recently I rewrote it from scratch to incorporate all of the new things I’ve learned and I am happy to share them with you here.

Hundreds of thousands of people have used this tutorial to learn how to make beautiful HDR photos — I am sure it can teach you too! Remember, anyone can do this stuff. All it takes is a tiny bit of curiosity. You will surprise yourself in no time! Let’s get started! 

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Who Is The Best Audience For This HDR Photography Tutorial?

This tutorial is great for new photographers as well as intermediate to beyond. We’ll get started slow, and ramp up from there!

HDR (High Dynamic Range) is still a relatively new way to create photos. I’ve traveled around the world and shot with many incredible photographers. After we shoot, we get together to compare techniques and post-process photos late into the night. Over time I’ve crafted a best-of-breed solution that will help you create your own unique art. This tutorial not only teaches HDR, but it will help you create a style that is quintessentially your own!

Interested In A Full How-To Video Course On HDR Photography

Grab the complete course now! This is a brand-new video tutorial that is great for beginners, and it also has lots of meat in there if you are intermediate or advanced. It’s over 10 hours long, but you’ll be up and running in half an hour with your first HDR shot!

I edit a ton of photos in every possible situation: Indoor, Outdoor, Sunrise, Sunset, Mid-Day, Mixed Indoor-Outdoor, Action, Movement, People, Nature & Landscape, Architectural, Travel, and more. There are many hours of high-production quality video as you watch me set up in these conditions, and then many more hours of screen capture, as you see me edit the photos you just saw captured in the field. Even better, you get all of my RAW files! So you can follow along, step-by-step, and see exactly how I do each and every move.

Here’s a good teaser video for you! 

 

Would You Like To Read This Tutorial Offline?

This same tutorial is available in the form a beautiful eBook, Introduction to HDR, that you can download and read it offline. It’s a great resource to keep with you that you can reference over and over again.

This EBook That Will Save You A Lot Of Time And Trouble!

Get the Top 10 HDR Mistakes eBook right here! This has been a labor of love (and embarrassment)! Why embarrassment? Well, I decided to use my OWN early photos as examples of bad HDR. I made all the mistakes, believe me. I’ve corrected all of them (I think!) and I figured out what I was doing wrong. I explain it all in the book. It wasn’t obvious to me at the time, but now it is. Anyway, this eBook will be a great boon to you!

 

Free Newsletter From Trey!

There I am. I look confused, don’t I? I think I was at the time. Anyway, sign up for my newsletter! There are always hot tips and the latest goodies! I send out about one a month and I promise not to spam you!

 

What Is HDR?

HDR is an acronym for High Dynamic Range. If you use some special HDR software, you can see all the light in the final photo that you can see when you are standing on the scene. Perhaps you’ve been in a beautiful spot and taken a photo and it comes out flat and disappointing. With HDR processing there is no longer a need for that — now the final image can be as truly evocative as it was when you were there.

The human eye can see so much more than a single shot from your camera! I say there is no need to accept the limitations of the camera. You can use the camera in a simple and innovative way to replicate what the eye can do. You’ll be using a combination of the camera and some software to achieve the final look.

The human eye can see about 11 stops of light. A stop is a measurable amount of light. A camera can see about 3 stops of light. This means you’ll be setting up your camera to take multiple photos of a scene, all at different shutter speeds, so you get the full range of light. Don’t worry, it’s easy!

SAMPLE HDR PHOTOS

Here are a few interesting HDR photographs that people seem to enjoy. This shows the sort of style I have arrived at over the years by using the techniques described in this tutorial. You can see many more in my portfolio.

The Bamboo Forest While exploring Kyoto, I eventually found my way to this fanciful bamboo forest.  There had been a light rain most of the morning and everything was quite lovely.  The rain does strange things as it moves its way through these sorts of trees.  I waited and waited, and that was nice too.  In the early afternoon, the rain stopped while the sun peeked through the top.  It shone down while the earlier rain misted down from the tops of the trees.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Downtown Beijing After Rain Just about the only time you get a break from the smog is after a good rain. I’m sure all that nonsense just ends up down on the ground and soaks slowly into the groundwater.Anyhoo, this is the CBD (Central Business District) of Beijing. And yes, I took this with the Sony NEX-7. I’m working on that other piece I mentioned above and will put it up on the blog soon!- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

 Moonrise Kingdom This is one of my favorite new pieces from this year! I just shot it a few days ago.It was shot waaaay after the sun went down in Big Sur, California. This is a crazy waterfall that pours off onto the beach. You can’t see it from the road, and it requires a short walk. I found it thanks to Stuck On Earth, although I am sure other locals have known about this semi-secret place forever! You can go here too… it’s not terribly difficult. It’s called “McWay Falls” and it’s beautiful any time of the day.Also, btw, I’d like to thank those of you that have been ordering more prints recently — I am honored! :) You can always click just below the photo to check sizes and prices to find something to fit your budget. Thanks again!- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Reflections on the Eiffel Tower Isn't it romantic?  What could be more perfect than a beautiful sunset here in Paris?There was a big storm all day long, but I could see the clouds were beginning to break up a little to the west, and I knew there was a possibility the sun would dip into an opening beneath the heavy clouds.  So, with that intense possibility, I headed over to the Eiffel Tower area hoping the light would turn out right...I also made a behind-the-scenes video.  Since you guys have been so nice over on Google+, I'll share that video exclusively there first, so be sure to stay tuned... I'm still editing the thing together!- Trey RatcliffRead more here at the Stuck in Customs blog.

The Long Road to New Zealand This is one of countless beautiful roads that crisscross New Zealand.  I'm afraid I've forgotten exactly where I was when I took this photo!   I know that is very lame, but I bet people around here can help me pinpoint the area.As far as the camera settings, this is the kind of shot you can get with something called "compression," a method where you use a zoom lens and zoom in quite far.  It takes images in the distance and makes them larger than life.- Trey RatcliffRead more here at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Inception: New York I took these photos in New York City before going to LA to prepare for Burning Man. I found this spot below in midtown during a walk from Bryant Park over to the Facebook HQ in NYC. If you check my Facebook page, you’ll see some photos that Luke shot of me while I was taking this shot. It’s the one when I was awkwardly up under my camera shooting almost straight up in the air! You know that position…- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Walking Home

The Secret Workshop of Jules Verne This is perhaps my favorite find on my most recent trip to Europe.  How can a place so wonderful exist in our world?  It's amazing.I got a recommendation from a close friend that told me I would love this place.  And he was right!  As usual, to see the full-size image, click Original in the menu that appears when you hover over the image in SmugMug.This is the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle and is one of the least-known places in Paris.  Everyone goes for the hot tourist spots, and this museum sounds rather boring, yes?  But as you can see... au contraire!- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Hobbiton in the Morning

Lijiang at Night This is the old town of Lijiang, China, where I spent the week with Tom Anderson (the MySpace guy).  I think I mentioned him before.  Anyway, we got to be friends over the past several months, and we ended up spending a week together here in the south of China.Tom had first been here many years ago when he was setting up the MySpace office in Beijing.  He had great memories, and he thought it would be great for a big return now that he is getting more into photography.  So, it was definitely a week full of non-stop photography action.One late night after the sun had set, we weaved through the old streets until we found this place.  Looking up, I knew it would be a wonderful place to take a photo, so I set up for this one.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

A Neo-Rockwellian Christmas When dad is a photographer, then there is a major degree of pressure to deliver photos on all the requisite holidays and celebrations! So, I decided to try to re-invent the family Christmas photo with HDR. Please note that many of my inventions go down in flames, but, as Winston Churchill said, “success is the ability to go from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm”.Christmas scenes have a lot of light levels. The lights on the tree, the deep greens withn the branches, a roaring fire, lights in the room, reflections off the ornaments, and the like. It’s wild! I’m pretty sure this is why people like Christmas scenes so much - a wonderful treat for the eyes that is rich in texture and rich in light. Traditionally, it’s been very difficult to capture so much richness in a single photo, saving a lucky and heroic combination of shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and lenses.The tree lights made the faces of my three stunt-children (who are also my real children) glow perfectly. No flash could have achieved this, unless you are the kind of Rambo-flash guy that would go bury one inside the tree to hit their faces from the left. But, let’s face it. That’s hard.This was a 5-exposure HDR. You will notice that I often use 5 exposures, but note I could have done it with 3 exposures at -2, 0, and +2. Some silly Nikon cameras, like the D3X I use, will not let you step by twos, so I had to take 5 at -2, -1, 0, +1, and +2. The middle exposure, from which the kid’s faces were masked in and perfectly lit, was shot at f/4 aperture, shutter speed of 1/250, 100 ISO, and at 28mm.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

-The Gentle Path to the Beyond-The little train that carried me into Hakone started winding through misty mountains.  The trees were thick and a fog was rolling in.  I had a feeling that it would stay wet, moody, and fairly perfect.  It had that heaviness that made you feel like it would remain like that for a few days, and it did.Before I get on train rides, I have a wonderful but dangerous habit of loading up with pastries.  Train stations seem to have nice little selections of all sorts of foreign twists on the usual subjects.  And, since I consider myself an explorer, I thought it would be good to get a TON of pastries and try them all.  It's very nice... sitting there... looking out the train window at a new land... rain falling... eating pastries...  (and I'm only a little ashamed to say that, upon arrival, my pastry bag was empty.)

Hong Kong from the Peak on a Summer's Night If you want to see how I made this (and how you can too!), visit my HDR Tutorial. I hope it gives you some new tricks!I had a long day waking up at 5 AM to take a series of subways and trains up to Shenzen for some meetings. I had a Chinese VISA, which you don't need to get into Hong Kong, but I had to use to cross the official Chinese border after getting off the train. I didn't realize that it was a one-time use VISA, and I had to go to Shanghai the next day. This caused a lot of problems with the Chinese officials, a body of government with which I do not enjoy causing problems.Anyway, after I got back to Hong Kong after a day in Shenzen, I was hot and sweaty and in the sort of meeting clothes that aren't great for being hot and sweaty in. But, everything about Hong Kong was still awesome and I had too look hard for things to complain about. The sun was setting, and I made it up to The Peak just in time for a shot.This was a 5-exposure HDR shot at 100 ISO, and, of course, a sturdy tripod to get all the lights as steady as possible.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

The Treetop Temple Protects Kyoto I'm just finishing up almost two weeks in Japan, and it has been an amazing trip! Usually I try not to start posting shots until the trip is at its close, and this is the first.While there, I spent time all over the country. I got a rail pass and just jumped on the bullet train to take me from one remote spot to another. I ended up with a few days in Tokyo to do my best to capture the city. I'll be posting photos from the trip throughout the next few weeks, months, and years, as usual. I hope this is a new line of photographs that will be interesting to you.Photographed here is the Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto. The city is known for its traditional Japanese architecture, slower-paced life, natural beauty, graceful geishas, and zen peacefulness. I probably could have stayed in Kyoto capturing scenes the entire trip. I remained here until the sky turned black, and then I headed back down some winding streets to find an old small restaurant where the food was mysterious and every course was served with a gentle bow.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

STEP 1: GET YOUR BOX OF 64 CRAYONS READY!

This works on Mac or Windows. I have converted from a Windows guy to a Mac guy. I used to dislike Mac people and thought they were annoying, but now I’m a changed man. Okay, I have digressed way too early in this tutorial.

By the way, all the steps in the tutorial are the same, whether you are using Mac or Windows.

HDR Software To Download – Required

Optional Photo Software To Download – Highly Recommended And Fun!

  • Adobe Lightroom – The final bonus steps of my tutorial have you using Adobe Lightroomfor some finishing touches.Nik and OnOne – These are two great packages to have with you. Once you start post-processing, you’ll want all the crayons in the box! Download the Nik Collection anddownload onOne Software at those links. As usual, the STUCKINCUSTOMS discount code will save you money. I have reviews of both here: Nik ReviewonOne Plugin Review.
  • Topaz Adjust – Download Topaz. It will help bring “pop” and sharpness back into the final photo. The whole Topaz Bundle on the site is also a good option if you want all the tools they offer.
  • Noiseware Professional – This is the best noise reduction software. Download Noiseware for Windows or Download Noiseware for Mac. The STUCKINCUSTOMS (link to Noiseware) code saves money as usual.
  • Adobe Photoshop or Elements – Anything that allows you to work in layers is fine really, and these are the most popular. Elements is much cheaper if you are on a budget! You candownload Photoshop right from the Adobe website or you can download Photoshop Elements.

Q&A: Where Is The Best Place To Keep Your Online Portfolio?

This is a question I get a lot! I use SmugMug. Read my whole SmugMug Review to get a discount and find out more. There is a lot more Q&A at the end of the tutorial too!

 

WHAT PHOTO ARE WE WORKING ON TODAY?

I took this photo down in Milford Sound, New Zealand, which is very close to my new home in Queenstown. I love to go down to this place. It always feels epic and wonderful, but as you can see, the original photo was not all that exciting. I’ll share the before and after, then we’ll go through all the steps together.

BEFORE, RIGHT OUT OF THE CAMERA

HDR Tutorial

AFTER GOING THROUGH THIS TUTORIAL

This took me about five minutes to make, but I am very fast now. It might take you 15-20 mins the first few times.

HDR Tutorial

STEP 2: BUY A CAMERA, BUT BE SNEAKY SO YOUR SPOUSE DOES NOT KNOW

Or you can just tell your spouse about it. You never know how these things will go — it’s a wildcard.

90% of cameras sold today can make these kinds of photos. To make an HDR image, get a camera that fits any of the following:

  • Take multiple photos in something called “Auto-bracketing mode” or “Auto-exposure mode” or “Exposure Bracketing” — they are all the same thing.
  • Allows you to shoot in Aperture and adjust the exposure to +1 or +2 for example. If this is confusing to you, no worries, we will get to this.
  • Shoot a single RAW photo. Yes, you can make a beautiful HDR image out of a single RAW!

See my recommended camera reviews page for more info. I rank them as Good, Better, Best, so you’ll be able to find something that fits your budget!

Even though you can make a good HDR photo from a single RAW, I often prefer to use Autobracketing. Autobracketing allows your camera to take multiple photos (say 3) in rapid sequence. Each one of those photos will be at a different shutter speed. If you are poking around your camera now, just like for the letters “BKT” for Bracket, and then maybe you can see how you can set it for three exposures at -2, 0, and +2. But more on this soon.

What equipment do I have? I started with a very low-end camera, and I have continued to upgrade over time. Currently, I’m using a Nikon D800. You can see my Nikon D800 Review here on the site. It’s really overkill, but that’s okay sometimes! Somehow I can justify spending a lot of money for only minor improvements in the shots.

I also use a tripod. You might want to also if you are planning on low-light photos like sunsets and these sorts of things. You can do everything handheld, but using a tripod is actually a lot of fun! I hate to keep pointing you to the Reviews section, but I don’t want to clutter up this tutorial too much! You can find out more about my tripod there.

STEP 3 – SEE THE WORLD IN HDR

The more you do this, the more you will begin to appreciate all the light that flies around you.

Experience The Scene Fully!

The human eye can see about 11 “stops” of light. A stop is a measurable amount of light. The camera can see about 3 stops, or sometimes a bit more if it is a good sensor that can produce a good RAW file. Anyway, the point is that the camera currently cannot see everything the human retina can experience. So, to get around that, we need to use the camera to sweep through all the available light that the retina can see. Then, we’ll use software to bring it all together. Make sense?

I think the more you do this, the more you’ll be in a situation and you’ll think – wow – this would make an amazing HDR! This is a great feeling! And even better, you’ll be able to do it.

And maybe you do see the world the way I do. Rich, vibrant, romantic — like a movie! Look, not everyone sees it like we do. I know this for sure. Some people literally see the world differently, but not you and I. We see the world in terms of color, light, and saturation. And our memory may even make some of these more intense and cinematic. That’s why this style of photography really appeals to me.

HDR Tutorial

STEP 4 – TAKE THE PHOTOS

Put your camera into Aperture Priority mode and turn on Autobracketing. Set up your autobracketing to take three photos at -2, 0, and +2. Some cameras can do more, some less. Do what you can with your camera. For example, on my Nikon D800, it can take 9 photos, stepping by 1, so I could do -4, -3, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2, +3, +4. But that is crazy. I so rarely do that. 95% of the time, I take 5 photos from -2 to +2. There is no discernible advantage in stepping by 1, by the way. I’m just letting you know that most cameras are different, and don’t fret if yours does it differently.

Other best practices:

  • Be sure you are shooting in RAW instead of JPG. This will give you more flexibility and range in your shooting.
  • If you happen to be shooting into the sun, you may want to take a “-3″ shot as well because it will be so bright.
  • If in low light, use a tripod so you have a more steady shot. No tripod? Don’t worry. Photomatix can align them.
  • If you are on a tripod, set your ISO as low as it will go. This will help you get rid of noise.

Don’t Have Photos Ready? Download Mine!

You can download my 5 RAW files as well that I used to make this shot. Enjoy!

Now, in the shot below, you can see my five images I took in Milford Sound from -2 to +2.

HDR Tutorial

STEP 5 – COMBINE THE PHOTOS USING PHOTOMATIX PRO

This is where it gets fun. We’re gonna get all crunk up in here. Okay, that sounded stupid, and I immediately regret it.

Open up Photomatix and load in all the bracketed images. To do this, I dragged the five images from Lightroom onto the Photomatix Icon, but there are many ways to do it. You can select the images from a folder or use Photomatix to load them in.

HDR Tutorial HDR Tutorial

After that, you’ll see this delightful dialog. It looks scary, but it is not. You are welcome to experiment with all of these areas, but the only one I usually check is the bottom option. If I did handheld shots without a tripod, then I would also select the first one there to auto-align.

HDR Tutorial - Photomatix

Some Notes:

  • If there was movement or “ghosting”, chose “Reduce ghosting artifacts”. I prefer to fix this later in Photoshop, but you can do everything here if you wish.
  • If you shot at a high ISO or anticipate a lot of noise, chose “Reduce noise”

There are not many wrong choices you can make on this dialog, so don’t panic.

Want To Make An HDR Out Of A Single RAW? No Problem!

Just drag the single RAW photo (or open) into Photomatix. You can go through the exact same process as below. It doesn’t always work out perfectly, but for 70% of shots, you can still use a single RAW. It fails often in very extreme lighting situations.

Click Preprocess and your computer will churn away, doing magical and mysterious things. And then you will see… this!

HDR Tutorial

Let’s go through what you see above. On the left are a series of sliders that let me change the way the photo looks. On the right are the My Photomatix Presets. Whenever I click on a preset, it dramatically moves around the sliders and dropdowns on the left.

Every photo is unique, and you’ll never get the same results between different kinds of photos. Sunsets, middle of the day, interiors, etc. It’s wild!

So, I usually come into Photomatix and just click around on many of my different presets. Some are horrible for one situation but awesome for others! It always changes. In the example above, I started with the preset “Quaint Hobbit Holes” and then modified some sliders from there.

Okay, this is where it can get confusing for new people, but I will explain. Do you see at the top how it says “Tone Mapping” and that is selected? And then underneath that it has the “Details Enhancer” selected? Well, depending on what you choose in those top two areas, it dramatically changes the sliders and options beneath! Don’t let that confuse you.

Little Reminder – See The Whole Process On Video!

Download now if you learn better by watching! You can see me set up for this shot and watch a detailed process of where I click and what I do to produce the final image. The free text tutorial continues with all the details, but I know some people want to actually watch me do it… anyway, that option is there for you! 

I often do use this Tone Mapping / Details Enhancer combination because it is quite powerful. But I use many of the other combinations as well. For now, I will go over the most important sliders for this combination:

  • Strength – I keep this at 100% because I can always dial it back a bit later in Photoshop.
  • Color Saturation – This changes a lot for every photo. This was a low-color environment, so I brought it up pretty high. But, in other photos, I may not go above 50%.
  • Luminosity – This gives you the “painterly” effect. You may notice that some HDR photos look like paintings. The more you go to the right, the stronger this effect.
  • Detail Contrast – This gives you more intense blacks and more texture.
  • Lighting Adjustments – Let’s just call this the “druggie slider” — the more to the left, the more “on-drugs” it is!
  • White Point & Black Point – These are very important! Adjust that white point so nothing is blown out. Adjust the black point so you have some inky dark spots. I think a good HDR photo always has some nice dark bits in it.
  • Smooth Highlights – This will fix those daytime areas. Remember that you want everything above the horizon to be a little lighter than what is below the horizon. Well, except in this example where there is a reflection.
  • Micro-smoothing – This is also a great slider for adding micro-texture.

After you have fun playing with the sliders, click Process and then you are ready for Finishing Touches. Finishing touches allow you to make a few more final changes in Photomatix before you save the image.

Inside the finishing touches, you can adjust the contrast, color, or sharpening. I have put two screenshots below with captions.

HDR Tutorial

HDR Tutorial

After you have made some final decisions, click Done and save it off!

YOU ARE DONE! (OR ARE YOU???)

Look, let’s just say you are done now. You’re probably very happy with your shot, or at least a bit surprised how fun it was, yes?

BONUS STEP 1 – LIGHTROOM FUN!

Okay let’s take a step back.

That HDR image we just made is pretty cool, right? But let’s not think of that as the final image. Let’s think of that as an “idea” and we want to make more. That HDR image, to me, only informsthe final image. There are always some things I don’t love about the pure HDR result. In that case, for example, I don’t like the fully saturated green shadow on the left.

So, I often prefer to use tools like Photomatix and Lightroom to create many “versions” of the image, each one just being a thought experiment. Today, we are going to use Lightroom to make another version of that image. In my actual day-to-day processing, I may make several Photomatix versions and several Lightroom versions.

The final step, you will see, if you will let me jump ahead, is to layer them all in Photoshop and then combine them into something totally unique that speaks to your personality and your sense of art-self. Maybe this means something to you.

Finding (Or Creating) Your Own Style

I believe that this method will allow you to create a style that is quintessentially your own! Since you have a unique personality and self, the way you choose to mix and match all the different layers will be inherently unpredictable. This ensures you will have a final look that is “different” than mine and uniquely your own. Maybe in the beginning your photos will look like mine. But, eventually, by using this system, you can come up with a style that is your very own.

Okay let’s get into Lightroom here. You can see that I have Trey’s Lightroom Presets open there on the right and there are many HDR-in-Lightroom presets visible. I started here with the “HDR-in-Lightroom Drama in the Center”.

HDR Tutorial

I have tweaked the sliders on the right to do many of the things that HDR does. The most important sliders are shown there on the top left. As with all these, you can click to zoom in on the image above so you can deconstruct how the preset works.

After I create this image, I export it into a temporary directory. By the way, that is the same temporary directory where I have my Photomatix file. Below, you can see the two images side by side.

HDR Tutorial

So, let’s get back to the notion of “ideas.” I quite like each of these two images! But, I don’t have to choose. I can combine.

If you have Adobe Bridge, you can select all the photos, then go to Tools>Photoshop…>Load Files into Photoshop Layers…. This automagically loads them all into Photoshop in layers! Note you may need to Auto-Align them under the Edit menu after you get in. I had to do that here, as you can see I had two different crops.

BONUS STEP 2 – PHOTOSHOP PHUN!

Wait a second here… you’re not thinking, “Ohhhh crap, I suck at Photoshop” are you? I hope not! It’s nothing to be afraid of… This is what friends do, right? We push one another gently out of our comfort zones. So I’m giving you a little push here.

You don’t need to understand ALL of Photoshop to do these few things I will teach you.

HDR Tutorial

You can see that I have the Photomatix layer on top and the Lightroom layer on the bottom. Now I will Frankenstein these two images together using masking.

How To Mask

Watch the quick mini-video or follow the steps:

1) Click on the top layer to make sure it is activated
2) Click at the bottom of the layer panel to add the layer mask (looks like a Japanese flag)
3) Press B to get your brush, make sure the white box is selected, and then set the brush opacity at the top to 50% (for example)
4) Begin brushing on the photo itself. Each brush will show you 50% more of what is underneath. If you do enough strokes, you’ll poke 100% of the way through!

HDR Tutorial

Merging Layers

Once you have masked everything together, merge the layers together you have just completed.  You can do this by selecting Layers > Merge Layers fromt he menu or Command (Ctrl on windows) E.  If you have multiple layers, you can rinse and repeat this masking and merging as needed!

BEFORE AND AFTER, A FINAL COMPARISON

HDR Tutorial

HDR Tutorial

BONUS STEP 3 – NOISE REDUCTION

The HDR Process can sometimes add extra noise to the equation. I usually like to use Noiseware towards the end of the process to get rid of the noise. It’s the best program I have found for this sort of thing!

Notes for Noiseware:

  • Often times, I only do noise reduction on the sky. This requires me to duplicate the layer first and then mask through after the noise reduction so that only the sky has this effect.
  • I leave noise (as long as it is not too bad) in the textured areas of the shot because it adds even more texture.
  • For extreme nighttime situations, be ready to violently move the sliders in all the Noiseware tabs to get rid of that mess!

BONUS STEP 4 – SHARPENING

I often then sharpen using Topaz Adjust or onOne or Nik Software.

  • Nik and OnOne – These are two great packages to have with you. Once you start post-processing, you’ll want all the crayons in the box! Download the Nik Collection anddownload onOne Software at those links. As usual, the STUCKINCUSTOMS discount code will save you money. I have reviews of both here: Nik ReviewonOne Plugin Review.
  • Topaz Adjust – Download Topaz. It will help bring “pop” and sharpness back into the final photo. The whole Topaz Bundle on the site is also a good option if you want all the tools they offer.

BONUS Q&A!

I hope you enjoyed the tutorial! Here are the answers to a few more questions that pop up from time to time.

How Do You Fix Ghosting Or Make An HDR Of A Moving Object?

This is a common question! If you understand this section about masking, then maybe you see the answer to your question. Basically, I choose one of the images from Lightroom and make it look as “HDR as possible.” And then I bring that into a layer in Photoshop and mask through to reveal the part of the image I want to be “frozen” or still. Good examples are running children or waves or birds. If you JUST mask through the object, you may notice it looks funny, or obviously masked in. To combat this, do a gentle masking around the outside and gradient back into the HDR image. For example, use a 25% brush and make ever less intense concentric circles around the still object you have masked in.

What Is Double-Tonemapping?

I figured this out by accident, but it is cool. Once you are done in Photomatix, don’t save! Go in and select Tone Mapping again, and you can do a second round of tone-mapping. Watch out because things can go crazy — but sometimes crazy-cool!

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