HDR and How the Process works

OK, HDR (High Dynamic Range) processed images are a little like Marmite from a photographers point  of view. Photographers either love HDR or hate HDR images.

For a long time I had the software to create these HDR images but just did not have a clue how to use the software to be ale to process them.

In general you need a DSLR camera that has an ‘Auto Bracketing’, but this is not totally necessary.

Before you start creating HDR images there are a few software programmes that you will need.

Photoshop, Photomatix, and optional is Photivo.

To be quite honest HDR images can be processed in Photoshop alone, but as well as the process being very long winded, the processed image is no where near as good as it is when being processed in Photomatix.

I say that Photivo is optional as you do not need it to create a HDR image, it just tweaks certain aspects of the processed image from Photomatix.

OK, Lets start!

We will start with DSLR’s that do have the AEB function.

If you have a DSLR camera that supports AEB  (Auto Exposure Bracketing) you will of course need to set it to AEB. What AEB allows you to do is as you press the shutter button the camera actually takes 3 photographs. One is under exposed, one is exposed correctly and the other is over exposed. (This can be done with a Camera without AEB, but it is very difficult, you will certainly need a tripod and  by the time you have set the camera up for the first shot, by the time you are ready to take the second shot, nevermind the third, the colours would have changed anyway, even if the cloud has moved, so even using this method for Landscape photography is pretty much a useless process)

Open the three images in Photomatix, if you have set the auto bracketing to +1 and -1 you have set your camera to take three images. +1 will be one level of exposure above the correct exposure, -1 will be one level below the correct exposure. You can (on some models of camera go up to 3 levels above and below) now upload your three files to Photomatix. If you have set the AEB correctly you should have no probelms with Photomatix, but even if you have not, there is an option within Photomatix to correct this.

Within Photomatix there are plenty of slider bars to play with to get your image to look as you would like it to. I however have saved a setting that I like the look of and it works pretty much with every image I process through Photomatix. Then when  you are happy with the way the image looks,click on the PROCESS  button in the bottom left of the screen to process the three files into one final HDR image. Once the image has been processed save it back to your computer.

This is where the option of using Photivio, as I mentioned before, this really is optional,I just use it to give a little more detail to the final HDR image. I will show you the differences later between the images.

Now, if your camera does not AEB, not to worry.

A method I have found that works just as well as a DSLR that does not support AEB (if anything, sometimes better images) Is to set your DSLR to take both JPEG and RAW files. While out taking photographs just take your pics as you normally would, (when using a DSLR with AEB sometimes the process of the camera taking the three images can take a second or more, which does not take long, but while maybe taking a photo a crowd of people, or leaves blowing in the wind that second is enough to totally ruin the final HDR image with the movement becoming very blurry) then upload the files to your computer then select the image that you want to create rather than using the JPEG  file, use the RAW file instead.

OK, once you have selected the RAW file a different screen pops up. I am not saying that this is the correct method, but it is the one that I use.

To the right of the screen you will see a button that says ‘AUTO’ on it:


OK, click on the ‘AUTO’ button. This will bring all the levels, the tones, contrast, correct exposure to the correct settings. Then press ‘SAVE IMAGE’ to the file of your choice.

Once this is done drag the ‘EXPOSURE’  slider up to +100



Then press ‘SAVE IMAGE’ to the file of your choice.

This then brings the ‘EXPOSURE’ one level higher than the correct exposure.

Then click ‘AUTO’ to get the exposure back to the correct exposure. Then drag the slider left to -100



Then press ‘SAVE IMAGE’ to the file of your choice.

OK, now you are almost ready to create your HDR image.

Open Photomatix and upload the three files that you have just created into it. Then follow the same steps as you did before with the AEB files in Photomatix. Again, using Photivio is an option.


Here are the Images from the camera to the final HDR images.

Original image from the camera.



Here is the image with the correct exposure



The next image is one level above the correct exposure ( +1 )


And now for the final image in the process, one level below the correct exposure ( -1 )



Here is the image once it has been through the HDR process



Now the next image is the HDR image after processing it with Photivio



Here is the full process in pics. Click on the image to enlarge and scroll across to see the changes in the process.



I hope I have explained the process well enough for you to have a go at creating your own amazing HDR images.


3 thoughts on “HDR and How the Process works

  1. Pingback: HDR and How the Process works | goldenvalleyartsales

  2. Pingback: The Telegraph Photography Contest | Garden Cottage Prints

  3. Pingback: The Telegraph Photography Competition | Our Garden Cottage

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