Photography, Tutorials

HDR Images My Way

If you ask people who they do HDR images, they will all tell you something different.  When I first started doing them in Photoshop, I used a “recipe” that I read about in a book by Scott Kelby. I was reasonably happy, but I knew I could do better,  Then David, over at csd’s Daily Photo, recommended Photomatix Pro to me, and I haven’t looked back.  Over time I have worked things out and have come up with my own way of doing them.

Before I start this tutorial on how I do them, I want you to understand that I am not claiming to be an expert, far from it.  I do things my way. I’m not a highly technical person and tend to do things more on instinct and what I think looks good.

The first image I am going to work on is one I did for Christmas.  I shudder when I look at it now. The image is very gray which can happen with HDR’s.  Too much gamma, or something, not sure what.

The other problem with this image is the ever present halo.  I don’t know how many times I see HDR’s on the internet and you can tell what they are, they have a grey coating, I don’t know how else to describe it, they also have the halo around solid objects, and the over saturated colours.  I am not sure why it seems appropriate to oversaturate the colours in HDR images. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like the bright green grass I see in many of them.

There is a detail of that image to show you what I mean.  It is really annoying and really makes the image stand out as a HDR image.

Admittedly this was done in Photoshop.  As I said, I now have Photomatix Pro, here is what it looks like when you open it up and press load images.

Remember you can click on any image and get a bigger picture.  I have made the Photomatix ones larger for that reason.  Hopefully you will be able to see them.

So in the image above you can see, we are ready to load our images, for the sake of this tute, we are using more than one image.

The three images I needed for this HDR image are there in that folder.  I highlight the 3 images and press open.

Here are the three images loaded.  There are a whole heap of pre-sets that you can use on the right, or they are underneath if the image is in landscape mode, but I find them too surreal or hyper-real and I don’t like them.  I click on Enhancer – Default.  It is also a pre-set, but is probably closest to the more natural image.  From there I go about changing all the pre-sets that are available on the left.

You can see the sliders have been changed on the left. I change the strength to over 80, depending on how I am feeling.  I don’t touch the saturation, I turn the luminosity down but no further than -4.  The details I go up about 2 or 3, be careful with this one, it can make the image quite dark. One thing I do do, which does really seem to change the image, well for me, the lighting adjustments.  I move it, most of the time all the way over to the right.  It nearly always gets rid of the halo.

More options, I don’t really do that much more, I do smooth the highlights sometimes, but more on that soon.  I change the gamma as well, you have to be really careful about gamma.  It can also darken the image.  If you do it the other way, it will lighten it, but again, be careful.

Once you have done that press process.

It is still very grey, but I suspect that is the scene more than the HDR process.  I hope you agree that this one is a lot better.  That is the difference, after viewing it again, I realise, it isn’t as luminescent.

I thought I would do another image as well, and show how to adjust for that halo.

Here is an image of the silos that are near my mum’s.  I have done this before, but as I was looking at it recently I realised how bad the halo was around it.  I will show it at the end, and you can compare the two different HDR images.  I have opened it up and clicked on the enhancer-default setting.

I have started making changes here, you can see the halo forming around the silos, and the lighting adjustments is still on 0.0, it is also still quite dark.

The lighting adjustments slider has been moved all the way over to the right, and you can see the image has lightened up a lot.  I also upped the smooth highlights as well, which really does help even it out as well.

So here is the image the first time I did it.

Here is the second time.

The first image has had some post processing, but I think the lighting in the second one is more natural and is a good image to begin post processing with.  I hope you agree. I am hoping you notice that the halo is gone.

That is about all of it now.  I don’t do a lot, but I think it is important to develop your own style.  I play with the settings, and I would recommend you do the same. Work on a copy of your image if you are worried about messing up your image, but you don’t have to save it if it doesn’t work.

Playing with the settings is really the only way to understand how each of the settings work and what they do.  I don’t really know what they each are, I won’t pretend, but I have a pretty good idea what each of them will do to my images.

If you have been following my blog you will know, that this is usually only the first step in processing my images.  I go on to do a lot more to it in Photoshop and with Topaz as well.  HDR images are not always necessary, but I nearly always take bracketed shots, why not, and then do the HDR.  I don’t think it hurts, I have a pattern now and it doesn’t take me very long at all.

I hope you understand all that.  Teaching isn’t always easy and explaining what you do can be really hard.  I am hoping to do one a week.  I am also hoping that Photomatix will come on board and offer you a 15% discount if you want to purchase it after this tutorial.  Next time, we might look at putting watermarks on your images, something I have been asked about a lot.

Update on  Photomatix Pro by HDRsoft .

Here is the coupon code for your 15% discount – LeanneCole15, it is not case sensitive.  I am told that you click buy, you will be taken to the order form where you can enter the code where it says Coupon code.  I hope many of you will take advantage of this, it is a great deal.  I would like to thank HDR Soft for this opportunity.  To purchase the software you can click on the Photomatix Pro link above, or go to their purchase page here.


  1. Little Brown Tomato says

    I’ve been wanting to purchase PhotoMatix since I heard about them 2 months ago. I’m using their trial version for now and am really impressed. Just a matter of budget before making the purchase. Thank you so much for the tutorial, Leanne! :)

    • Don’t buy it yet, apparently if I did a tutorial on it, my followers would get offered a 15% discount, so I am waiting for a coupon code.
      It is great, I love using it, did the tute help at all?

      • Little Brown Tomato says

        The tutorial is definitely a help. I’ll refer back to it after I purchase it – which, by the way; can’t wait for the discount! :) So glad I’m following you! Thanks so much!

      • Oh good, you never know with these things if you have helped people or just confused them. Glad the discount will help. :)

    • I like to help others, and by doing this, it also makes think a lot more about what I do. So if it helps that is great. It is great practice for me. Thanks

    • Thank you, I am so glad you could follow it, that was my biggest fear. I hope it helps if you going to do some of this yourself.

  2. I don’t do HDR images, of course, but I can clearly see that you have explained the process very well. I can’t imagine that anybody wouldn’t be able to follow. You do this teaching thing VERY well. :-)

    • Thank you George, it is such a worry and it is the first time I have ever attempted anything like this. It was probably too complicated to do first time, but I wanted to get it set up so people could get the discounts. hopefully the next one will be easier. I really appreciate you taking the time to look at it George, means a lot to me. :)

  3. I’ve not tried HDR but am encouraged to give it go now I know about PhotoMatix and have your great tutorial to follow. Will have to wait for the discount code before purchasing though!

    • I am glad I have inspired you to try it again, hopefully they won’t take a long time, and hopefully they approve of the tute that I have done. Thanks Elissa

    • Thank you Marie, I didn’t cover everything, but thought I should leave some for another time, don’t want to over load.

  4. This is so so helpful. That gray halo effect from Photomatix has bugged me for a long time. Thanks!

  5. I love the before and afters. I leave my early HDR’s up on the site, but sometimes I want to take them all down. Love the post!

    • I think it is good to leave them, it is great to see how far you have come. I remember being told that at art school, that you should save early drawings so you can see how much you have proved. I’m glad you liked it, thanks David.

  6. Wow, in the first set of images, the halo is indeed gone and the overall look of the photo is much more uniform, smoother. Nice!! I love how that halo has vanished. You are really good with the software. :)

    • I don’t know about that, I figured that out, probably more by accident, I do tend to work hap-hazardly and discover things along the way. I don’t always know what I am doing, but it does seem to work. :) Thanks John

  7. Good for you to work through issues that bug you about HDR. It does feel at times getting a “natural” look is far harder than something more “artistic” even though the whole HDR thing was designed to expand the dynamic range so you keep details in the shadows and highlights. Sounds like your goal is similar to mine – the final image shouldn’t obviously be HDR. It’s the image that matters, not the processing.

    Personally I also found Photomatix to be much better than Photoshop’s HDR engine but not particularly user friendly. I switched to NIK HDR Efex Pro and find it gives me much more control. They have a free trial period – give it a look. Would love to see comments on your comparison.

    • I totally agree, I want my images to have a more natural look after HDR processing. It really is the image that is most important. Getting what you want from it.
      I tried HDR Efex pro, but in the end stayed with Photomatix. I didn’t really try it much, probably should have tried it more, but the trial ran out, I don’t think I would be able to download it again. Maybe I can ask if they will let me try it again.

      • If you’re getting what you want from Photomatix stay with it. I’ve learned it’s more important you be able to develop the image to your vision than know how to tinker with multiple pieces of software. I’ve gone back to Photomatix a few times just to see if the newer versions are “better” but will stick with NIK; just my personal preference.

        HDR is hard enough without having to worry about a whole new set of sliders! Keep up the good work.

      • I think you are right. I did try the NIk one, but I knew it would take some time to work out isn’t idiosyncrasies. I am very used to Photomatix now, so will stick with that for the time being. I think it nearly always comes to personal preference, it is about how you think and the product that suits that.

  8. Great step by step tutorial. I give you credit for taking the time to learn Photomax to produce your hdr images. I do like the way you toned down the supersaturation of colors. I think most of us tend to go over the top when we discover this process :)
    Thanks for stopping by my site!

    • I totally agree, when I think of what I have done in the past, I did a lot that was too much. It is hard to know sometimes when to stop. It is something that I am starting to understand now. I think doing an image and leaving it, then going back to look at it again and reworking it, isn’t such a bad thing.
      No problem stopping by your blog, thanks for stopping by mine. :)

  9. Photomatix has been recommended to me as well – I don’t know if they do a plug-in for Aperture though. And you’re right about warning of the over-processed HDR images out there on the web – some look truly awful!

    • I don’t know if they do as well. It is my understanding that it works on its own and then you open it in your editing software, that is what I do now. I start by doing the HDR image and then open it in Photoshop. Some of those HDR images you see really are dreadful. I hope they are because people are just beginning with it and as they learn more they will get better, we can hope. Thanks Mark

  10. Thank you SO MUCH for checking out and Liking my post, “TATTOOS AND SUICIDE.” It means the world to me, each view, each comment; it’s the most personal and intimate thing I have ever posted publicly, by far. I tried to celebrate my brother’s amazing and inspiring life, rather than dwell on the sorrow and tragedy of his far-too-young death (he was 27–my age now–I think I said that on the post). It was so validating that I got such a positive response and such heartfelt comments on that one, because I REALLY opened my heart and soul for everyone to see. I very much appreciate that you seemed to get that, and liked it.

    Wow, you must spend a TON of time on these tutorial blogs–posting all those screen shots, etc. Thanks for taking the time to instruct those less versed in these things of which you have great knowledge =)

    –Love and Liberation–

    Jan @ TheRewildWest

    • I can imagine how hard that was for you to write, and so there was no problems with giving support.
      I enjoy doing the tutes, it is great to share knowledge. Thanks Jan.

      • Believe it or not, it WASN’T that hard to write about–to think about in the days surrounding it, yes, but to actually write it–not too bad. Because it made me think about all the good things, and really reflect on how amazing and passionate and funny of a person he was, and how profound of an impact he had on my life and my personality. =)

  11. Very interesting and informative tutorial, Leanne! That ‘halo’ thing would drive me bonkers…I have reached a point where if I cannot get the shot to look the way I want, I leave it for a day or so, and sometimes go back to ‘square one’…in Photoshop, of course. I’m running CS4 Extended 64-bit, and though it has had its problems, I find I can work around them. It also helps that I used to develop and print my own B/Ws and spent years as a videographer/producer/writer/director…made me much more familiar with ‘working the pixels’!

    • I like HDR images, I like how helps with many other problems, but like you, I prefer to do most of my editing in Photoshop. I think having knowledge in film processing is a good thing. It really helps with processing, especially when doing black and white. Working with pixels is new to me, well relatively, my background is photography, but also drawing, printmaking and painting. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • I am also a painter, and spent a lot of time as a Scenic Designer/Scenic Artist…as well as learning drafting (manual), carpentry, and devising props and such as was necessary in the theatre. These days, I just mostly shoot, but will occasionally pick up a brush or charcoal.

      • I did a lot of that as well. I’ve designed sets, painted sets, painted scenes, made props, built sets, love all that stuff, but I’m concentrating on the photography now, I can get obsessive, and distracted. Haha.

      • Let’s put it this way, and you can do the numbers. I took my first shots with a bellows camera when I was about 4 and half…that would be late summer, 1950…and I graduated from high school in 1964…which makes me considerably older chronologically, but otherwise we are about the same age!

  12. Great information HDR is definitely where I want to go with my photography, I wish my camera had AEB as of now I have to adjust exposure up/down manually. Another interesting thing is some new camera models like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III that have a built in High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode, that can merge 3 images with different exposure in camera, very cool.

    • I’m a NIkon person myself, and my camera does the bracketed shots, though I would be wary of the camera doing it for you. You don’t get any control over it yourself or how it is processed. I have seen some down on iPhones, and they aren’t great.
      I think you will be fine doing it yourself, just remember to put your lens or camera on manual focus after you have focused the image, or you might end up with a heap of shots that you can’t use because the focus is different in all of them.

      Good luck with doing some.

  13. Wow…interesting and informative. A lot to take in for a pleb like me, though! Hopefully I’ll get around to it sometime. :)

    • It is a lot to take in, but hopefully if you are ready to try it one day, you will know somewhere to learn. Thanks Zelmare :)

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the work you did on this post! I can’t wait to go try these techniques. I’ve played with HDR in Photoshop, and liked the arty results, but this looks so much better. Thanks again!

    • I like a more natural look that I go for, one that is the first layer for all my images. I hope you find it useful and get a lot out of it. Thank you Minou

  15. Thank you so much for this step by step. (I’m blond..LOL) Hopefully it will help me learn how to work on my photos. I’m still a beginner, but would love to try to make some of mine look as interesting and intruiging as yours! So now I need to try to find the photomatrix and if it is available for Macs as well. Thanks again…

    • What a great compliment, though if you are a beginner start off small, that is what we all started doing. I will be doing some other tutorials that will be easier in the future.
      Photomatix is available for Macs, you can now can a discount as well, go to the software page above for details on it.

  16. Reblogged this on Keli has a Blog and commented:
    Well all know I’m still lost in the experimental stage, but I thank Leanne for her help. Thought I’d share in case anyone ever does read my blog…LOL

  17. Thanks for the tutorial! I will definitely have to check out that software. I’m using Photoshop Elements, so I’m even more limited.

    I agree 100% that your second efforts there are spot on. I also believe that HDR should be used primarily to maximize the natural detail, and I feel most people overuse it. (Unless, of course, they’re aiming for that fantasy look–then sometimes it’s successful.)

    The few times I’ve used it (or parallel techniques anyway), it’s to try to make sure highlights and shadows both keep their detail, and I aim for it not to be obvious that I’ve combined images to achieve that. (I usually use two, even when I auto-bracket for three, just because that’s what seems to work best for my very simplified process. And since I do mostly handheld photos, many are a single image I’ve processed to bring out shadows and highlights separately and then combine.)

    • I love Photomatix, so please check it out. I think they do a great job. It is a much cheaper way of doing HDR images rather than forking out for Photoshop.

      Oh yes, I couldn’t agree more. I think so many over use it. I use it as a first step, and a natural look is what I aim for.

      Sounds like you are on top of what you are doing. I do a lot of hand holding with my bracketing as well. You can get some interesting effects. Photomatix, as with any software like this, is very good at correcting your mistakes. I am really amazed. I don’t want you to think I’m trying to sell you the software, but they do have a free trial, and you might find it interesting. Good luck.

  18. Little Brown Tomato says

    Leanne, quick question… do you know how long the coupon code for Photomatrix will be available? I have to wait till payday before I can splurge. Thanks :)

  19. Kris says

    I’ve attempted doing HDR a few times without much success. After reading your tutorial, I’ll have to give it a try again.

  20. It pays to do the white balance before importing into Photomatix, one less thing to worry about when doing the HDR… and yes I sometimes look back on HDR and shudder, I have on occasion scrapped a whole days worth of HDR and started all over again.

    • It is funny the whole HDR thing, I hardly ever do them now, sometimes I will do one, then scrap it and decide to work with a single image. I still do bracketed shots, good to have those options. Thanks for the advice about the white balance, might have to try that next time.

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