HDR Tutorial

Learning HDR – The Beginning!

I wrote this easy and simple tutorial to help others who are struggling with learning on how to do an exceptional High Dynamic Range image. I have been doing HDR Images for a number of years and have developed my own technique of creating them as others have developed their very own techniques!


Software used to create the image below:

  • Photomatix Pro – A must! You have to start somewhere and of all the programs I have tried this is the best for me. I am working with the HDR toning built into Photoshop CS6 which is producing some nice results. More on this later!
    My review on Photomatix can be viewed here
  • Photoshop (I use CS6 but previous version will work as well) – I use this extensively after creating the image in Photomatix to achieve my desired look.
  • Topaz DeNoise – This is a must have for me after creating the HDR image in Photomatix. You can read my review of Topaz DeNoise.
  • Topaz Adjust – Another one of my Favorite Plug-Ins for adjusting certain elements after the creation.
  • Topaz Lens Effect – This gives me a different set of options to touch up different areas of interest.
  • NIK Color Efex Pro 4- This plug-in gives me control on elements of the image that I want to give a unique look and feel!
  • Nik Viveza 2 – One of my favorite must have plug-in! Totally Cool!

And remember, you can save 15% on any Topaz Product by using my coupon code: TRAVELSINPHOTOGRAPHY

For any NIK Software Plugins, save 15% by using Coupon Code:TravelsInPhotography

For Photomatix, save 15% by using Coupon Code:TravelsInPhotography

This is a list of software I used to create the finished image. You only need Photomatix or another HDR program to create the image and then use your own software to finish up afterwards.


The Beginning

Most cameras will allow you to choose Auto-Bracketing which is the method I use. Normally I choose to do 5 exposures but 3 will work just fine.

I  love doing HDR captures during the morning or evening hours when the light from the sun is at its best for me. I look at light differently when I am doing an image inside, out of direct lighting which will be covered in my full length tutorial – coming soon!

If you are just beginning or new to HDR, go out and find yourself a location that you think is interesting and where you can practice and begin to make your magic happen. I normally use AV (aperture)  mode or Manual mode. For this setting I used f/8, exposure will set automatically. For the autobracketing, your best result will come from a setting of +2, 0, -2. ISO-100, use a tripod! This will save you from many disasters. I do many handheld captures but I prefer using a tripod. I also shoot in the RAW mode,  this gives me better control in the processing stage (more to come on this subject at another time).

I also use a remote control on my camera just to make sure nothing will vibrate while capturing. You can set your auto timer to do the same.  I also make certain my IS and auto focus is turned off. Now you should be set to take your first set of images.

Below are my 3 images I used for this Shoot.



S tarting from here I open all images in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) and save them as a .TIF file. You can save them as a .JPG which will work just as fine, but I prefer .TIF (a bigger file and I have found they have more color depth). Before I save the images I remove the noise in ACR and some minor corrections. This step is covered more in depth in my full tutorial version.

Now, load your 3 images into Photomatix and after loading them you will be presented with this screen.

  • Align Source Images: This is in case you did not use a tripod, your camera had some shake to it or maybe you handheld your camera, this option can help align your images. Again, I strongly suggest using a tripod so you can avoid this.
  • Reduce Ghosting Artifacts: If you had some movement this option can help reduce them.
  • Reduce Noise: Since shooting at ISO 100, I see no reason to use this option. Even at ISO 100 you are going to get noise and this is easily dealt with by using Topaz DeNoise or other Noise Removal software.
  • Reduce Chromatic Aberrations: Depending on the lens you are using you can see purple, red or green outlines or halos around edges on your image. This can help to reduce them.

With the way I had my camera set, I did not choose any of the options shown on this screen.


Click OK and then the magic will begin!

No image will ever be the same nor will the same settings work on every image. This is where you make your image as you want it to be presented. You can see the settings  I chose to use on this image after going through each one over and over again until I achieved my goal. Now it is ready for me to finish processing in Photoshop.

You can always use the presets as a starting point. Very seldom I do this. I just start at the top and work my way down.

  • Strength: It is rare I use anything less than 100.
  • Color Saturation: I never over saturate my colors here. I keep it reasonable and then when I am back in Photoshop I work with my colors.
  • Luminosity: This is very useful for me on how I can control the light.
  • Detail Contrast: A fun slider to work with. Play with it until you are happy with the effect.
  • Lighting Adjustments: Very important slider on controlling the light on your image. You can work with the slider or click the check box and use the options given. I use both but on this image I chose to use the slider to achieve my effect.
  • Smooth Highlights: Many times I never touch this slider and just leave it at 0. On this particular image I chose to bump it up some to smooth out some of the blacks in the sky. Worked perfect this time!
  • White and Black Point: The white point is very important to help keep from blowing out the whites in your image. Work with it till you get your whites corrected. You may have to keep coming back to it after adjusting other sliders. The Black Point is set to 0 by default and I always move it up to give some punch and to help melt the colors together.
  • Gamma: Rarely you have to use this one, but on this image it was needed to help adjust my lighting and also to help keep the whites from getting blown out.
  • Temperature: Play with it but don’t go crazy! Most of this work can be done in Photoshop with more precise control.

The other sliders are not really needed. Micro-Adjustment will smooth your image which I can do that in Photoshop and I prefer to do it that way.

After you are satisfied with your selections just press Process and you will be taken to the next screen, then save your file and this part is done. You can save it as a .jpg or .tif.


This is how my image looked after opening it up in Photoshop. This is where you can begin your noise removal and your creative fine tuning to bring your image to life as I did using the plug-ins listed at the beginning of this Tutorial.


I will be updating additional steps used in this process in my next tutorial!


  • http://www.facebook.com/Laras.R.all.4.Jesus Nikki Lara

    Oh you are totally my hero now! This is so step by step even I cant mess it up! (well I know you’re here if I do :) ) Thank you so much Gary! Im so proud to know you as a photographer!

    • http://www.facebook.com/travelsinphotography Gary Smith

      Thank you Nikki and I hope this helps you!

    • http://www.facebook.com/travelsinphotography Gary Smith

      Thanks Nikki and I hope this helps you out!

  • Tim Harris

    Gary, very helpful and very well written. Thanks for taking your time to write this.

    • Gary

      Hi Tim, I am glad this has helped you… Thank you for your visit!

    • Gary

      Tim, I appreciate your visit and taking the time to view this!!

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