When you’re faced with a subject that has a high dynamic range – that is, one that has high contrast, with both very bright highlights and very dark shadows – one technique you can use to capture the full tonal range is high dynamic range imaging. But as you will see in our Photoshop tutorial below, there is a simple way to get an HDR effect from just one raw format picture.
To produce an HDR effect, you typically shoot a range of bracketed exposures (find out how to use your camera’s auto-exposure bracketing) to capture detail across the tonal range, and if you want the image to retain the utmost quality then this is the best way to do it.
But while HDR is great for landscapes and cityscapes, you can’t use the technique for sports or other action shots, because if there’s any movement between exposures you won’t be able to align and blend the images effectively.
However, it is possible to produce an HDR effect from a single raw file, by producing three different versions of the same image – one ‘standard’ exposure, one ‘under’ and one ‘over’ – and then merging these images using HDR software.
For this tutorial we’re using Photoshop’s Merge to HDR Pro command, but you can get similar results with dedicated HDR software such as Photomatix Pro.
Truthful Tonemapping: a quick guide to realistic HDR in Photomatix Pro
How to blend two photos for perfect exposure
6 photo editing steps every photographer should know
How to replace boring skies in Photoshop
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