Produced by KelbyOne

HDR Another Way in Photoshop

As many of you know, it is difficult to obtain good exposure in both the highlights and shadows of scenes that exhibit a high dynamic range of light. Often, photographers will post-process using an HDR converter to achieve the desired exposure. However, there is another way to achieve correct exposure in both the highlights and shadows without using HDR.

This technique begins in the camera. Using a tripod, take two exposures of the same scene. Expose your first image to capture detail in the highlights. Expose your second image to capture shadow detail.

(Image 1 above contains the shadow detail, Image 2 below contains the highlight detail)


Note: Unlike most HDR processing methods, this technique works better when there is a large difference in light between shadow and highlight. For example, a sunrise or sunset shot would work better than a shot taken in overcast conditions.

Once back at your computer, upload your images making sure to label the images in the order they were taken.

Select two sequential exposures, one for highlights and one for shadows. Open them both in Adobe Camera RAW. (Note: CS3 Camera Raw is now an option for both TIFF and JPEG files). Select your shadows exposure and make adjustments that enhance the shadow details. Then select your highlights exposure and make adjustments that enhance your highlight details. Once you are happy with these adjustments save them and then open both images in Photoshop.

With both images open in Photoshop, hit the ‘F’ key to toggle through the screen modes until you are in Standard Screen Mode where you are able to see each image with a menu bar at the top.

Select the Move tool and click on one of the images. Then hold down the Shift key and click-and-drag that image into the other one so that the two are now part of the same document. By holding down the Shift key you are ensuring that both images will line up properly. However, since a perfect set of exposures is often hard to capture in the field, I often follow this step by using CS3s new Auto-Align Layers tool.

To take advantage of the Auto-Align tool, the first thing you will need to do is double-click on your background layer and make the background an editable layer. Now you have two editable layers.

Next, select both layers by holding down the Shift key and clicking on both. Then, go to the Edit menu and select Auto-Align Layers from the drop down menu. (Use the ‘Auto’ Projection option) Now you have two perfectly aligned exposures.

Again, select both layers in the Layers palette and drag them down to the New Layer icon. This will produce two copies of your active layers. Hide your two newly-created layers by clicking the Eye icon next to them in the Layers Pallete.

Next, blend the two layers together. Select the top layer, in this case the highlight detail, and select Blending Options from the Layers Style menu inside the Layers drop-down menu.

Inside the Blending Options menu, at the very bottom, you will see two sliders underneath a “blend if” dialog.

Move the menu box to the side, making sure you can see your image clearly. Then holding down the Alt key (Option on a Mac) grab the white arrow at the end of the top slider. Holding down the Alt key will split that white arrow in half.

Move that half of the arrow toward the black end of the slider. You will notice your image begin to blend.

Move the arrow until you feel the correct amount of blending has occurred. Keep in mind the image will appear very flat. Don’t worry, that will be corrected later.

Now that you have partially blended the original layers, move back to your unblended layer copies.

Make both visible again by clicking to the left of the thumbnail and bringing back the Eye icon.

Next, make sure these layers are above your masked layers.

One at a time, select the layer, hold the Alt key (Option on a Mac) and click the Add Layer Mask icon. Holding down the Alt key fills the layer masks with black. Add a black layer mask to both of the unblended layer copies. You have just hidden these layers again. However, this time you are able to selectively bring them back.

Selectively go through your image adding back pieces of the original exposure where you deem necessary. (I like to use a very low opacity brush, 40 or 50 percent usually works fine.)

Make sure to use a large, soft-edged brush to help prevent obvious brush lines in your image. Notice that by gently adding pieces of the original exposure you have already helped add contrast to the scene.

Now we are going to create what I like to call a ‘working layer’. Once you have blended the layers to your liking, select all the layers using the Shift key and make a copy of each. Select these newly-created copies and use the Fly Out menu at the upper right of your Menu Pallet to select Merge Layers. You have just created a working layer. It is from this layer that dust removal and/or lens corrections are made.

Now is the time that you add contrast to your final image. Select a soft-edged brush and go into the Quick Mask mode by pressing ‘Q’. Select portions of the image where you want to add contrast by painting on the image. The areas will show uup red in Quick mask mode. When you have selected the areas that need a boost in contrast, hit ‘Q’ again and go back to regular view. You will see all of the areas that you painted in red are now selected.

In most cases I find a simple curves adjustment layer is all that is necessary. However, this is a good place to experiment with levels as well. Apply your adjustment layer and tweak the settings to your liking.

Finish things up with a global curves and levels adjustment to your working layer.

Voila! You have yourself a natural High Dynamic Range image without using an HDR converter.

22 Comments

  • bob says:

    oh really nice guy good job i like it

  • Denis Rouleau says:

    Great results!

  • fatos says:

    thats great

  • bushmill says:

    I am trying to Learn HDR myself I have made a few attempts but not good enough to display yet , yours are exceptional , hope I can archive that level.

  • creezlavie says:

    best tut ive seen so far on the web for fake hdr, bravo!

  • Joe Nathan says:

    Amazingly good. I’ve tried PS’s Merge to HDR command, but it never seems to work well. Your method worked perfectly.

  • rajesh Thapliyal says:

    really nice effect

  • Leonardo says:

    Hi,

    I’m an absolute beginner on Photoshop and I managed to follow the steps so far until I got to here:

    “One at a time, select the layer, hold the Alt key (Option on a Mac) and click the Add Layer Mask icon. Holding down the Alt key fills the layer masks with black. Add a black layer mask to both of the unblended layer copies. You have just hidden these layers again. However, this time you are able to selectively bring them back.

    Selectively go through your image adding back pieces of the original exposure where you deem necessary. (I like to use a very low opacity brush, 40 or 50 percent usually works fine.)

    Make sure to use a large, soft-edged brush to help prevent obvious brush lines in your image. Notice that by gently adding pieces of the original exposure you have already helped add contrast to the scene.”

    It may be obvious to most but I’m confused as to what to do here. Can someone elaborate these steps a bit more?

    Thanks.

  • Ray K says:

    Thank you for this tutorial. However, I am finding the write up a bit confusing. When mentioning layers it seems unclear in places as to which layers we’re refrencing.

  • Ray K says:

    Got it – Figured it out. Thank you.

  • Skye says:

    Not sure if anyone even reads this anymore, but how do I selectively add backing to the image, I mean what brush effect do I use? Sorry for the stupid question, just brand new to Photoshop Cs3.

  • Skye says:

    Sorry to double post. Also was wondering about the global curves where is it, and when I attempt to mask with the brush, no red shows up?

    I understood everything including ‘Next, make sure these layers are above your masked layers.’, but nothing beyond that, any help would be appreciated.

  • Chris Main says:

    Hi Skye,

    I’ll try to help. When Mark refers to “global curves,” he is saying to use a regular Curves adjustment layer without any selections in the image, meaning it affects the entire image and not just a portion of it. The Curves adjustment layer can be found by clicking on the half black, half white circle at the bottom of the Layers palette and selecting Curves.

    As for Quick Mask mode, try double-clicking the Quick Mask mode icon near the bottom of your Toolbox (it should be the second icon from the bottom). In the resulting Quick Mask Options dialog, turn on the radio button for Selected Areas. The Color should be set to red by default, but if it isn’t, just click on the color swatch and choose red in the Color Picker. Opacity should be set to 50%. Click OK and try painting on the image. Your brush strokes should be a transparent red.

    Let me know what other specific questions you have.

    Thanks,
    Chris Main
    Managing Editor
    Layers Magazine

  • Skye says:

    Thanks for the fast reply, I do still have one problem, it says to

    Selectively go through your image adding back pieces of the original exposure where you deem necessary. (I like to use a very low opacity brush, 40 or 50 percent usually works fine.)

    So does that mean with Brush Tool (B) with white, opacity of about 40%? That way it makes it SEEM like its brightening it up, or is there an exposure brush? /sigh, sorry for the silly question. And on what layer, or layer mask am I brushing on? If from this step it could be more detailed I would understand , and I can’t believe I am having a hard time with this.

  • Skye says:

    I hate to double post, yet again, but this is what my PS looks like, with my layers.

    http://img65.imageshack.us/my.php?image=cs3ps.jpg

    And I have on the original highlights layer, the white arrow split under the Blend If section, of ‘This Layer’ so that the Shadows layer can show through..I think? Here’s a picture of that too.

    http://img21.imageshack.us/my.php?image=cs3ps2.jpg

  • Skye says:

    I hate to post..again but I forgot to mention, when I try and draw on the mask layers (The Alt+Mask thing) nothing happens on the shadows copy layer, and it only darkens things on the highlights copy layer. I am so confused..thanks for the help!

  • Skye says:

    Do you perhaps have msn or anything because I keep adding things to say and don’t want to flood this forum. Also attempt to mask yet again, with Q, is a failure. I put it to selective, 50% red, soft edge brush (b) and nothing..On the working layer which is all them copied, and merged into one. If you do just add skyo-@hotmail.com! Thanks!

  • Skye says:

    I figured out the masking, the default color was red yes, but in the normal color box for drawing colors was white, I put it to gray, and red and it finally works..that part at least..

  • Skye says:

    Last post for the night..I apologize to everyone who has to put up with my brainlessness.. but, here’s a link with a Photomatix Version, Photoshop Attempt (It’s pathetic imo), and the three images. Maybe you can do something better with them, I’m a bit curious, and maybe give steps on a proper way, feel free to email me if you don’t want to load these forums with dialogue. 😉 Thanks!

  • Chris Main says:

    Hi Skye,

    Not sure how much you’ve figured out on your own at this point, but I thought I’d jump back in and at least answer your first question after my original post.

    Here’s the copy from the tutorial that you had a question on:

    Selectively go through your image adding back pieces of the original exposure where you deem necessary. (I like to use a very low opacity brush, 40 or 50 percent usually works fine.)

    At this point in the tutorial, you should have four layers: the two layers that you blended using the Blending Options and the copy that you made of these two layers before you blended them. The copies should be at the top of the layer stack above the two layers that you just blended. The two layers at the top should both have a mask filled with black. A black mask completely hides everything on a layer. White in a mask will reveal the layer. So you want to paint on the mask with white. Make sure the mask is active by clicking on its thumbnail in the Layers panel.

    So, for example, if there’s an area in the layer that has good highlight detail that you would like to make visible, simply use the Brush tool and paint in that area in white. You should see that white area appear in the thumbnail for the mask in the Layers panel. You want to use a soft-edged brush, and you want to lower it’s opacity in the Options Bar. This makes the transitions much softer from the areas that are hidden by the mask to the areas that are visible. If you painted with a hard-edged brush at full opacity, the transition would have a hard edge and the changes would be much more obvious.

    After you paint, if the area is too bright, undo the edit, select a lower opacity for the Brush tool and try again. You can also switch to black and paint over those areas to hide them again.

    Help this helps. Let me know what your next question is.

    Thanks,
    Chris Main
    Managing Editor

  • Kaare Nilsen says:

    Illustrations are very difficult to read because they are not sharp enough. This is often the case with printed tutorials here. I wish you would try to make better clearer illustrations so we can see what you’re actually trying to show with these.