How to Create an HDR Image with Photoshop CS5

How to Create an HDR Image

How to Create an HDR Image

What is HDR?

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Dynamic Range is the difference between the darkest part of the image that has detail and the lightest area of the image that has detail. The human eye has a higher dynamic range than digital cameras, and can adjust to varying levels of brightness. Cameras, however, can only capture a fixed dynamic range. Since the late 1800’s, the photography industry has used a variety of methods to increase the dynamic range of traditional photography.

In 2005, Adobe introduced Merge to HDR into Photoshop CS2, making it easy to increase the HDR of your images.

HDR Controversy: Love It or Hate It.

The photography community tends to be divided over HDR. There’s a lot of photographers who love it and are very passionate about expressing that; and there’s a lot of photographers who hate it and are equally vocal. Then, there’s me and a small group of folks in the middle who find that HDR has it’s uses and it’s abuses. I say abuses because there are a lot of examples of really bad HDR out there. There are also some really cool surrealist examples of HDR out there. I say surrealist because many HDR photos don’t look like traditional photographs.

I’m all for using HDR as as another tool for artistic expression. When used correctly, HDR can save a photographer hours of time (and the client hundreds of dollars). Those are two very practical reasons for using HDR. Personally, I don’t use it in my fine art photography. And, this is only the second time I’ve ever used it, so I’m not an expert on all the settings. But, this tutorial on how to create an HDR image will show you the beginner steps you need to start your own experimentation and decide for yourself how you feel about HDR.

Ansel Adams created the Zone System, which is all about achieving the greatest dynamic range of your tools (film and print). His 11 step Zone System assigned values of 0 – X (10) from absolute black (0) to absolute white (X). His dynamic range was I (1) – IX (9), meaning those were the darkest and lightest areas that could still show detail.

How to Create an HDR Image using Photoshop

Let’s get started …

Before you even get to photoshop, you need to (a) Take the photo and (b) Bracket your exposures. Read my post on Exposure Bracketing for more information, but here are some quick tips:

  1. Use a tripod.
  2. Shoot a minimum of 3 photos, but try for at least 5 photos. You want to cover the entire dynamic range of the scene.
  3. Bracket with the Shutter Speed, so that you’re not changing the depth of field (by changing the f/stop) or adding noise (by changing the ISO).
  4. Bracket in full-stops. 1/3 and 1/2 stops may not give you much of a difference.

For my example today, I’m going to use the same photos that I used in my Exposure Bracketing post. I’m going to use 3 of them, the minimum recommended number.

Use at least 3 images for HDR Merge Pro. Use at least 3 images for HDR Merge Pro.

Go to File - Automate - Merge to HDR Pro. Click to open larger image. Go to File – Automate – Merge to HDR Pro. Click to open larger image.

Open the images in Photoshop. Go to File –> Automate –> Merge to HDR Pro
Opening your images in photoshop to create HDR ImagesA settings box will open asking you which files to use. In this case, I’m going to use Files, click Browse, and select the three images that I’d like to merge. Click Okay. At this point, if you’re not using RAW images, a dialog box will open to let you know that you’ll get better results with RAW. If you get that message, click Okay to continue with the merge.

Then, sit back as Photoshop does all the work for you.


HDR Dialog Box in photoshopNext, you’ll see a dialog box with the merged photo and a lot of settings on the right side of the screen. For my purposes today, I left the settings on Default. But, before you hit okay, play around with the settings to see what HDR can do to your image.


My final image.

HDR Image

Comparison of traditional photos against High Definition Photo The image on the right is the HDR image.


Copyright 2017 Valerie Hayken Up