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Creating Realistic HDR Photos Using Photoshop

Example of photo that was tone mapped using Photoshop's HDR Pro

This is the same photo used in other HDR tutorials. This example shows it after it was tone mapped using Photoshop and a basic Lightroom edit.

You should not overlook using Photoshop to create HDR photos. First of all, it is software you likely already have,so it costs you nothing. Further, it does a really good job of tone mapping your pictures. In fact, perhaps the most realistic HDR photos are created using Photoshop.

Tone mapping with Photoshop is extremely simple. Tone mapping in Photoshop is just a rote process you will go through. There will be no creative decisions, and you just follow the procedure. In the end, it creates a tone mapped image that you will then use other tools to edit. Typically, you will take the photo into Lightroom and perform a basic edit there. That is what I will do for this example.

Original photos before tone mapping by Photoshop HDR

Original photos before tone mapping by Photoshop HDR Pro.

There are just 3 super-simple steps to creating an HDR image in Photoshop. Here they are:

1.  Select and Import Photos.

First you have to get your photos into Photoshop’s HDR appication. Doing that is simple. You just click on File > Automate > Merge to HDR Pro . . . Then you browse and select your photos and click OK.

Dialogue box in Photoshop's HDR Pro

In Lightroom it is even easier. You just select your pictures, right-click and select Edit In > Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop.

2. Preprocessing

Once you have selected your photos, Photoshop will open up the photos as layers to the same file. Then it will open up a screen with your picture on it. Here is what it will look like:

Photoshop HDR - preprocessing dialogue box

All you need to do on this screen is set the Mode to 32 Bit and click OK.

Believe it or not, you’re essentially done with the tone mapping process now. Just click OK and Photoshop will create your HDR file.

3.  Save the File

You’re done creating the file, now you just have to save it. Don’t worry if the picture looks terrible on your screen (and it probably will). You can fix it in a second.

The only trick here is that you have created a 32-bit file. You will have limited options for file-type, and JPEG will not be one of them. Save your picture as a TIFF file. For some reason, Lightroom hates 32-bit PSD files and it will not display properly there, if you edit your photo there.

Edit Your HDR Photo

You now have a fully tone mapped, 32-bit file to work with. The best way to edit it is just to do a basic Lightroom or ACR edit. The picture below is an example of what can be done in a few seconds.

Photoshop HDR photo - after a basic Lightroom edit

Our Photoshop HDR photo after a very basic Lightroom edit.
The exact settings are Contrast +7; Lightlights -100; Shadows +41; Blacks -10; Clarity +10; Vibrance +5; and Blue -29)

As you can see, Photoshop creates a very realistic HDR picture. The 32-bit image it creates gives you a lot of data to work with. You can manipulate the image in Lightroom or ACR to get the tone values where you want them. Of course, for more in-depth edits, you can take the HDR photo right back into Photoshop.

After completing the process, you can edit your photos in Lightroom, Photoshop, and whatever other software you like.

Related Articles

Here are some additional articles related to dynamic range and HDR:

 

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