Friday, April 1, 2011

Create an HDR Image from any Image

Today I am going to show you how to create an HDR image from any image.

HDR which stand for High Dynamic Range is a highly stylized method of photography.
Generally accomplished by shooting multiple images at different shutter speeds in a RAW format on your camera.

When these multiply images are merged in a photomerge program like Photoshop or Photomatix etc. you can achieve interesting effects.

Unfortunately you may not have access to a camera capable of shooing in RAW or simply want to take an existing image and convert it to HDR.

Lets Begin.


Open Photoshop.

In the File tab you will see several option for opening an image.
For CS5 instead of Open, we'll use Open As and change the format to Camera RAW
For CS4 use the regular Open, but in the bottom left corner where it shows the format, change it to Camera RAW.

There are two RAW formats in Photoshop, Use the Camera RAW not the Photoshop RAW format.

When you click open, the image will be opened up in the Camera RAW editor.
You can then access most of the options available for RAW images, however limited by the low bit depth associated with Non-RAW image.

For our purposes today, were just going to adjust the Exposure setting.
For this first image, let's drop the exposure three stops to -3
In the bottom left corner of the editor there is an option to Save image. Save this image with a -3 added to the file name.


Duplicate step 1 using the same original image but this time, were going to bump the exposure to +2.

Now we have three images with different exposure settings, which should be sufficient for our needs.
Original image

Under exposed by -3

Over exposed +2

Now we need a Photomerge software.

There are a couple of options.
1. Photoshop - Even in CS5 the HDR capability is awful when compared to other third party options, so while there are some uses for photoshops photomerge tool it is lacking for the average user.

2. Photomatix - One of the best in the market and comes with a full free trial, however it watermarks the final images.

I prefer photomatix as it offer far more flexibility than Photoshop.
You can download a free trial version here


Open up Photomatixpro

If your using the trial version, select continue trial and
then load bracketed photos.

Load the three image that where prepared earlier.

Because we are using the same image with forced exposure values, photomatix is going to balk just a bit, I have found leaving the EV Spacing at 2 works most of the time.

The next window to pop-up is the pre-processing options-
Since we are using the same image there is no need to align the images
or to reduce ghosting

However select reduce noise on the merged image.

Click Okay.


Photomatix comes with several popular presets but rarely does it nail  it without some tweaking.

I find it useful to choose the preset that comes the closets than tweak from there.

Once happy, click Process

Photomatic will do it's magic and presto you have yourself an HDR image created from a single image.

You can convert almost any image, from your cell phone or a cheap point n shoot. Just remeber that with any image process, garbage in garbage out. Converting a bad image will only create a bad HDR.

Below is sample of some image I converted using this process.

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