How to create an HDR effect from one image
01 Raw settings
Open your image in Adobe Camera Raw. We’ll explore the standard HDR settings, and process the image as if it’s been taken as one of a bracketed set of images. First set the Recovery slider to 100%, and Blacks to 0. Next click the Tone Curve tab, click the Point tab and select Linear from the Curve menu.
02 Noise and sharpening
Next click the Detail tab. Set the Sharpening Amount to 0, as we don’t want to sharpen the image. You’ll find that noise is quickly amplified by the HDR process, so set both the Luminance and Colour Noise Reduction sliders to 30.
03 Lens Corrections
Click the Lens Corrections tab, tick Enable Lens Profile Corrections, and under Make select Canon. Check Remove Chromatic Aberrations at the bottom. Next go back to the Basic tab and set White Balance Temperature to 2750 and Tint to 0. Make sure 16 Bit is selected in the Workflow Options at the foot of the interface, and click Open Image.
04 Copy and Save
We need to paste each of our Raw edits into a new document to remove the EXIF exposure data, so that Photoshop thinks we’re using three separate exposures. Go to Select > All, then Edit > Copy. Close the image without saving it. Click File > New and OK the New dialog. Go to Edit > Paste and then Layer > Flatten Image. Go to File > Save As, and save the image as 02.psd file (02 because this will be our ‘middle’ exposure of three). Then close this image.
05 Create an underexposed image
Open hdr_start.dng in ACR again. To create an underexposed version of the shot with maximum detail in the highlights, set Exposure to -2, then click Open Image. Go to Select > All, then Edit Copy. Close the image without saving. Go to File > New and click OK. Go to Edit > Paste, then Layer > Flatten Image. Go to File > Save As, save the image as 03.psd and close.
06 Create an overexposed image
Open your start image again in Adobe Camera Raw. To create an overexposed version of the image with maximum detail in the shadows, set Exposure to +2 and then click Open Image. Repeat the above steps to copy the image and paste it into a new document, then save this image as 01.psd and close.
07 Merge to HDR Pro
In Photoshop go to File > Automate > Merge to HDR Pro. Click on the Browse button and select 01.psd, 02.psd and 03.psd. Make sure the ‘Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images’ option is disabled, then click OK. Under Manually Set EV, set image 01 to -2 EV, Image 02 to 0 EV and Image 03 to +2 EV.
08 HDR settings
Check you’ve entered the correct EV for each image, then press OK. When the Merge to HDR Pro dialog appears, set Mode to 16 Bit and select Local Adaptation. Set Radius to 50, Strength to 1.00, Gamma to 0.80, Exposure to -0.80, Detail to 125%, Shadow to -50% and Highlights to -75%. Finally, set Vibrance to 20% and Saturation to 20%, then click OK.
09 Boost the contrast
HDR processing reduces contrast and produces rather flat-looking images, so to counter this go to Image > Adjustments > Curves. Click to place a point on the centre of the curve line to anchor the midtones, then click to place a second point further up the line, and enter values of 180 for Input and 200 for Output to create a contrast-boosting S-curve. Click OK.
10 Darken the sky
Finally go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and move the Shadows (black) slider in to 12 to create deep blacks and reduce the noise in the sky. Bring the midtone slider up to 1.14 to lighten the image slightly. Now save the image as a PSD file and you’re done!
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