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Greetings … Gareth from The Celtic Camera Photography here. Before we get under way, I’d like to take a moment to thank Vernon for asking me to guest blog here on “Beyond Megapixels … truly a spiffy thing, sure!

Today I’m going to show you how to create an HDR photo from a single image. Now, I’m know what some of you are saying — “Eww! Not overcooked, over saturated HDR’s … ARGH!”

Hey, rest assured, I’m right there with ya; in most cases I’m really not too keen on these super-surreal HDR images. which is why when I create my HDR images — whether from bracketed shots or just one image — I strive to create an image with a nice tonal balance: details in the shadows … highlights that aren’t blown out. To achieve this I’ll need to start with an image that has fairly decent exposure. I also need to be working with Raw files, as we’ll be creating three separate TIFF files to begin with.

Software needed for this tutorial:

  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Adobe Photoshop CS3 or higher (I’m using CS3 … haven’t paid the “Adobe Tax” yet ;-)
  • Adobe Bridge
  • Photomatix Pro
  • Nik Software:
  • Silver Efex Pro
  • Color Efex Pro (These two programs are optional, as I’ll only be using them to give my image my personal, final “kick.” You can further customize your final image in Photoshop to your liking).

So let’s get started. I’ve imported some images into Light room and this is the image I’ll be working on:


Note that we have a decent Histogram reading here; fairly balanced and no “peaks” on one side or the other. As most of the “magic” will be happening in other software there’s really not going to be a lot going on here in Lightroom other then the creation of the TIFF files. I want to leave my image as “flat” as possible, with just a few minor tweaks. My image is eventually going to be in black and white, so I’ll leave my White Balance “As Shot.”

Next I’m going to go down to Camera Calibration and select Camera Faithful.


Then, because I’m going to be “stacking” three images on top of each other I’m going to crank both of my Noise Reduction sliders under Detail all the way to 100


The last adjustments I’ll be making in Light room are the Exposure for the three new TIFFS: I’ll go to the Basic panel, click in the Exposure box, hold your Shift key and tap my down arrow key three times to give a -0.99 exposure value and hit Enter.


Now I’ll go up to my pull down menu and select File > Export, which brings up the Export dialog box.

These are the settings I choose:

  • Export Location: Same folder as original
  • File Naming: Filename
  • File Settings: Format (TIFF) – Compression (None) – Color Space (AdobeRGB) – Bit Depth 16 bits)
  • Image Sizing: Resize to Fit (Long Edge) – Don’t Enlarge (off) – 6144 (Pixels) – Resolution: 300 ppi
  • Output Sharpening: Sharpening Off [I’ll sharpen later]
  • Metadata: Normal [Your choice … I do mine later back in Bridge which is beyond the scope of this article.]
  • Post Processing: Do nothing
  • Now click Export.

Note: I enlarge to pretty big files and the number 6144 would change depending on the aspect ratio; this one is at 2X3 … use your discretion for the Image Sizing section


Now I’m going back to my Exposure slider and once again clicking in the box, Shift Arrow Up to get a value of 0.00. Again, File > Export from the pull-down menu, leaving all the settings the same and click Export. This time I’ll get the Problem Exporting Files dialog, saying the file already exists … no worries, just click the Use Unique Names button to create your second file.


And … one more time; I repeat all the steps above except this time I change my exposure slider to +0.99. I now have three new TIFF images at 16 bit.

Let’s move over to Bridge. First, I select my three new files (Command+Click each) and go up to File > Open With > Photomatix Pro:


This fires the software and the first of four dialog boxes; I first select Generate an HDR image > OK:


Next it’s telling me which files I’ve selected … click OK:


Next is Exposure Value setting; since I’m doing this “faux” style (three images from one instead of three bracketed shots) Photomatix is telling me it can’t extract exposure settings from the EXIF … again, no worries; I just make sure the Specify E.V. Spacing is on 1 and that I see 1, 0 & -1 next to the thumbnails. (All these fields are clickable to change). Click OK


Finally, I have Generate HDR – Options. Since I created three images I want to leave Align source images and Attempt to reduce ghostly artifacts unchecked (it’s a hand-held/tripod/moving objects over three images thing which we don’t have to worry about here) and make sure Take tone curve of color profile is checked, then click OK:


Now, sit back and let Photomatix do its thing … go grab a cuppa, this could take a while.

[TickTockTickTock] Okay, so now I have an HDR image that needs to be tone mapped so I click the tone Mapping button:


Photomatix has now given me my control panel (on the left) and you’ll noticed the image has changed appearance.


This is because it converted the HDR image which can’t be read by my screen into a “tone mapped” image. There’s science involved —algorithms and stuff — which I don’t understand or care about … it just is. Anyway, this is where I’m going to have to play around with the controls, which came in at their default settings. What I want to do is not overcook … this is bad, in my world. Usually I just mess with the Strength, Light Smoothing, White Point, Black Point and Gamma until my Histogram isn’t peaking on the left or right and as much of the histogram is as centred as I can get it. This is how mine turned out:


I try to stay to the right side in the Light Smoothing department for a more realistic look. The buttons from the centre to the left create that more “surreal” effect that I’m not fond of.

Now I need to process this image into something that can be saved; click the big blue Process button at the bottom of the control panel … and grab another cuppa!

Now I need to save my file as yet another new TIFF and then my XMP settings: First, File > Save As. Note that it currently has a convoluted filename; I just erase back to the original filename and ad “HDR” to the end ( to avoid overwriting my originals) and I also make sure that I’m saving to the original folder as well. Also, I won’t be needing a 16 bit file at this point, so I change the File Format to TIFF – 8 bits/channel and click Save:


I also need to save my XMP settings, so it’s back up to File but this time I choose Save Settings and click Save:


I can now quit Photomatix and head back over to Bridge. I select my new TIFF file (with the “HDR” I just added on the end) and then File > Open With > Photoshop CS3:


Once opened, you can apply whatever Photoshop or plug-in adjustments you’d like to make the image your own. Me? I’m going to turn this into a grungy, high contrast black and white via Nik Software plug ins … very fine software, sure. First, I open the image in Silver Efex Pro (Filter > Nik Software > Silver Efex Pro) and then select the High Structure option on the left. A few minor tweaks (Shadow/Highlight Protection; Blue Color Filter; slight Vignette) and this is what I have so far:


Once this effect is applied I’m now going to open the image in Color Efex Pro (Filter > Nik Software > Color Efex Pro). Huh? Yup, Color Efex … it has a great little command called Tonal Contrast; here’s what it looks like once I apply this setting:


Back in Photoshop now and I’ll apply a small amount of Linear Contrast and then finish up (remember I said I’d do this later?) by sharpening, using the High Pass method. I find this to be a much superior method to sharpen images and if you’re not familiar with it, here’s how you go about it:

First, I create a new layer by keying in Command + J and then I add the High Pass Filter (Filter > Other > High Pass):


This will open the High Pass dialog. For an image this size a radius amount between 3.0 and 6.0 is sufficient. Basically what I’m looking for are thin lines along the edges in the image with no lines on the “flat” areas I don’t want sharpened (windows, skies, etc.). Click OK:


Once this is applied I go down to my Layers palette and change the Blending Mode:


to Hard Light:


To finish, go up to Layer > Flatten Image. And here’s my final image:

Note: The final image will take a long time to load hence why we put in the “Read More” tag.


At this point I’ll save out the TIFF file to a JPEG for web presentation and delete those three TIFF files I used to create the HDR (don’t need them anymore). I hope that this tutorial is helpful to you and that you have fun creating HDR’s from one image … Slainte!

By Gareth Glynn Ash – The Celtic Camera Photography

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