October 22, 2011

How to create HDR photos in Adobe Photoshop…A step by step tutorial

You might have noticed that photos captured with a regular camera usually lack those fine details and colors that we actually see with our eyes. This is because the camera’s optical sensor has a limited range for details and tonal mapping as compared to the human eye.

HDR or High Dynamic Range photography overcomes all the aforementioned limitations of the digital photography. HDR photography has the capability of bringing out even the slightest of details from a scene, if done correctly. The results produced by an HDR photography are nothing short of being spectacular !!

Getting excited ? Keep on reading to find out more about HDR photography and how to do HDR photography with your regular camera (it doesn’t matter if you have a simple point and shoot, DSLR or even a 5 MP smartphone camera…you will be able to create HDR photographs with any)

Due to the digital camera’s optical sensor being weak enough to capture the required tonal range and sharpness, HDR photography is not possible immediately right after the click of the shutter button. It is an art of post production, carefully done with the help of photo-editing softwares like Adobe Photoshop and Photo Matrix Pro.

How to make HDR photos?

For simplicity, I will divide the whole process of making an HDR photograph into two parts. The first part is the pre-production (capturing three different images at specified exposure levels) and the second part being Post-production (using various softwares to work upon those images to bring out an HDR image)


Using the auto-bracketing feature on the camera, take 3 photos at different exposure levels(preferably +2EV, 0EV and –2EV). Make sure that neither the object nor the camera moves while capturing the shots. The use of a tripod is therefore necessary while doing the first part of this photography !


Transfer the captured images to the computer’s hard-drive and get ready with Adobe Photoshop.

How to create HDR photos in Adobe Photoshop?

Here is a step by step tutorial on how to create professional looking HDR photos using Adobe Photoshop :

Step 1: Open Adobe Photoshop and navigate to File –> Automate –> Merge to HDR. After this a popup box will appear asking you to select two or more source images to merge them to HDR. Select all those images and click OK.

 merge to hdr photoshop

select photos for hdr

keep the Alignment option checked if you are in doubt if your camera was not still while taking the shots or the object was moving slightly.

Step 2: Now you will see the merged HDR result. Adjust the slider(only if you really need to) till you are satisfied with your result and click OK..

merged HDR

Step 3: This step deals with the enhancement of tonal range in the merged HDR result. Navigate to image –> mode –> 16 bit channel.

select 16 bit channel

exposure gamma photoshop

Slide the Gamma pointer to adjust the contrast of the image.Sliding it to the left will increase the overall contrast while sliding it to the left will decrease the contrast. Then set the exposure pointer according to your satisfaction. Now change the method to local adaptation.

hdr conversion photoshop

under local adaptation, mess a little bit with the toning curve and histogram. Bring the left side of the histogram line to the beginning of the shadow information just as indicated in the above screenshot.Click Ok when you are done.

Step 4: Now again navigate to Image –> mode –> 8 bit channel. This final step will convert the image to JPEG format.

Now navigate to Adjustments –> curves and do a little bit of tweaking with the curve. Add shadow if the image looks washed out and add light if it’s too dark. After being satisfied, save your final result in JPEG format.

curves photoshop hdr


Original image(metered exposure 0ev)           Final HDR(blended exposure levels)    

original photo    hdr photo