Photography Techniques Tech

7 Methods to Create Realistic HDR Images

Original Light

Point out the phrase “HDR photography,” and you’ll undoubtedly get some cringes. HDR is one method that you simply both love or hate. Luckily for me, I’ve been utilizing this system to create lots of my pictures ever since I picked up a DSLR, and it’s a software I undoubtedly have grown to respect. Personally, I really like taking photographs throughout sundown and dawn, which suggests a lot of the scenes I encounter are of utmost distinction and subsequently excessive dynamic vary. Relying upon the shot, it may be almost unattainable to create a tonally balanced picture with out doing HDR images of some sort, though there are various totally different strategies of mixing exposures with totally different outcomes, some extra pure than others.

When studying how to create HDR photographs, most of us in all probability began off utilizing HDR software program. Combining a number of exposures and tone-mapping take just a few minutes and we are sometimes impressed by the end result as a result of the picture merely pops. Whereas that is all good, it’s also the rationale why HDR images has a nasty status. HDR software program merges a number of exposures routinely and the tone-mapping algorithm typically creates a visible impact that appears “out of the world.” Although we’ve management over how a lot adjustment to apply, it’s straightforward to go overboard and find yourself with a picture that appears distastefully unnatural.

Should you take pleasure in HDR images as I do, then you must know that tone-mapping is just not the one means to create HDR photographs. As an alternative of counting on mathematical equations to do the work, you’ll be able to create HDR photographs manually. That course of is understood by the extra common time period of publicity mixing. Don’t be postpone by the phrase “manual”; it merely means you’re taking management of how you want your exposures to be merged and picture processed. Mixing exposures manually additionally assist to practice your thoughts to assume how one can create your picture extra creatively. On this article, I’m going to present you ways to mix exposures in 7 alternative ways. It’s helpful to know all of your choices as a result of not each photograph must be post-processed the identical means; this manner, you’ve gotten the instruments to cope with any excessive dynamic vary scene mom nature might throw at you. A few of these mixing methods may be utilized in composite images. I’ve listed them under from the simplest to probably the most technically difficult.

What You Want For Publicity Mixing

  1. A number of exposures of the identical scene, ideally shot utilizing a tripod.
  2. Picture modifying software program that helps using layer masks (e.g. Adobe Photoshop).
  3. Pc mouse.

Chances are you’ll marvel in case you want a pill corresponding to a Wacom pill. Personally, I feel it isn’t important. It’s helpful to have one as a result of you can also make use of the strain delicate stylus for mixing. Having stated that, you’ll be able to definitely do with out it. Aside from that, it is best to understand how layer masks work. All of the mixing methods I’m going to clarify listed here are principally layer masking. The distinction with every method is how to create the choice to masks.


I’m utilizing Adobe Photoshop CC 2018 for the aim of this tutorial. Not to fear in case you are not utilizing the identical software program. All of the steps I’m going to show listed here are generic. This implies when you have a software program that helps layer masking, you have to be in a position to comply with the rules to replicate the end result.

As all of the mixing methods are based mostly on alternative ways of masking layers, I’m going to assume you have already got a sound information of primary layer masking. Lastly, to guarantee we’re on the identical web page for all of the examples given under, assume there are 2 exposures of a dawn picture with the darker publicity on prime of the brighter publicity.

Original LightOriginal LightCanon EOS 5D Mark II + EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM @ 23mm, ISO 100, 1/25, f/18.zeroOriginal DarkOriginal DarkCanon EOS 5D Mark II + EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM @ 23mm, ISO 100, 1/100, f/

1. On the spot Mix

I got here throughout this one within the Luminous Panorama and I’ve to say it’s the best of all methods defined right here. It primarily includes copying the underside layer and paste it on the layer masks of the highest layer. You need to use this to mix any type of photographs. Though it’s fast and easy, it might not all the time ship good outcomes.

To mix your pictures immediately, first, add a white layer masks to the highest layer. Subsequent, Cmd/Ctrl click on the underside layer to choose the entire picture. Then, Cmd/Ctrl C to copy the choice. Concentrate to the subsequent step as a result of it doesn’t work in case you don’t comply with precisely what I’m about to inform you. Now, Choose/Alt click on on the layer masks of the highest layer and Cmd/Ctrl V to paste the choice on to the layer masks. You must now see your pictures blended already!

Instant Blend MethodInstant Blend MethodLast results of the picture blended with On the spot Mix. It seems barely underexposed which may be simply fastened with easy tonal adjustment.

2. Apply Picture

On first sight, it might look comparable to immediate mix however the technique behind is definitely extra refined. Comparable to the method above, the mixing is all executed for you by the software program however with extra promising outcomes than Immediate Mix.

After making use of a layer masks to the highest layer, make sure the layer masks is clicked to choose it. Go to the primary menu and choose Picture and select Apply Picture. The pictures blended immediately and a brand new panel pops out with a number of drop-down menus for you to select. By default, Layer is Merged, Channel is RGB and Mixing is Multiply. I like to recommend preserving the primary and the third as it’s. In Channel, you possibly can experiment with the person RGB channels to see if the picture blends higher. On this instance, I selected Blue as a result of blue is the predominant shade within the picture and it does make the mix seems to be barely higher. Click on OK as soon as you’re finished.

Apply Image MethodApply Image MethodPicture blended with Apply Picture. It seems to be barely higher in contrast to Immediate Mix however nonetheless might do with additional tonal adjustment.

three. Gradient Masks

Gradient Masks works in an analogous method as a graduated impartial density filter. The perfect picture to use with this system is one the place the horizon is in a comparatively straight line. If there are objects resembling mountains or timber crossing the horizon into the sky, then it is probably not blended correctly.

First, choose the Gradient software from the instruments panel. Within the choices menu above, guarantee you choose the Linear Gradient with foreground set to white. Now add a white layer masks to the highest picture. You’re going to use the gradient device to draw a vertical line on the layer masks. Achieve this by click on, maintain and drag the road down to the place you need it to finish. The size of the vertical line is the transition. Above the road will probably be all white and under the road can be all black. Personally, I might begin the road from midway into the sky and draw it midway into the foreground. This creates an extended and clean transition to permit the pictures to mix extra naturally. Experiment with the size of transition to see what you want. A helpful tip is to maintain down Shift to be sure to draw a straight vertical line.

Gradient Mask ImageGradient Mask ImagePicture blended utilizing Gradient Masks has a lot better distinction.Photoshop Gradient UsedPhotoshop Gradient UsedThe layer masks created utilizing Gradient Masks.

four. Free Hand

The identify itself is fairly self-explanatory. There isn’t any choice to make right here. All you do is paint on the layer masks of the highest layer with both a black or a white brush, relying on whether or not you’ve got added a white layer masks or a black layer masks. This system is appropriate if the pictures you need to mix have a comparatively straight, non-complex horizon. Evaluating this to the Gradient Masks, it’s extra tolerant of objects crossing the horizon as you possibly can paint round it. That is additionally the case the place it helps probably the most to have a pill slightly than a mouse, though you are able to do it efficiently both method with sufficient care.

After including a white layer masks to the highest layer, choose the Brush device, set 100% opacity to start with, zero% hardness, shade to black and measurement to pretty giant. You need to make certain the layer masks of the highest layer is chosen. Now paint black on the foreground and midway into the sky. Change the comb shade to white and opacity to 50%. Now paint white from the sky to midway down the foreground. Change the comb to black once more and opacity to 40%, paint from foreground to midway into the sky. Repeat this course of by change the colour of the comb whereas decreasing opacity by 10% every time till you get to 10% opacity. By now, the transition from sky to the foreground ought to look superbly clean.

Free Hand TechniqueFree Hand TechniquePicture blended utilizing Free Hand method. There’s a lot better management in distinction as you determine the place and the way a lot you need to reveal/conceal.Free Hand MaskFree Hand MaskThe layer masks in Free Hand method.

5. Shade Vary

This can be a fairly neat method to use if the areas you need to create a variety are in comparable colour. In contrast to the mixing methods defined above, the transition within the picture could be complicated so long as the colours are comparatively uniform.

As you’re going to use shade vary to create the choice, you don’t have to add a layer masks first on this occasion. From the highest menu, go to Choose and select Colour Vary. A brand new panel pops out at this level and by default, your picture turns into grayscale for you to visualize the choice. Within the drop-down menu on the prime of the panel, select Sampled Colours. Use the eyedropper device to click on on a shade within the picture you need to create a variety on. After you have clicked, the grayscale picture will change to mirror the brand new choice based mostly on the colour you might have chosen. You’ll be able to repeat this as many occasions as you want till you’re proud of the choice. Use Fuzziness to change the feathering of the choice and Vary to change the depth of the choice. Hit OK if you end up accomplished and you will notice marching ants. Click on on the highest layer within the layers panel and add a layer masks. It will create a masks based mostly on the choice.

Color RangeColor Range

6. Mix If

This technique is a little more technical and may take a while to perceive the way it works. However don’t be postpone by the training curve as a result of it is among the quickest methods to mix pictures and it permits you to fine-tune the mix. You should use this system in photographs with any type of horizon. Nevertheless, it really works greatest if there’s good tonal separation. This implies whenever you take a look at the histogram, you’ll be able to see a superb distribution of pixels within the shadows and highlights as an alternative of all within the midtones.

To mix with Mix If, it’s essential to all the time work on the highest layer. To start, double-click on the highest layer. Be sure to click on on the empty area as an alternative of the phrases or the icon. It is best to now see the Layer Type panel. By default, the Mixing Choices is chosen with its menu displayed within the panel. On the backside, you will notice Mix If. Instant to the suitable, there’s a scroll down menu with Grey chosen – maintain that as it’s. Under it, there are 2 sliding changes, one for This Layer and one for Underlying Layer. Allow us to begin with This Layer.

This Layer impacts the highest layer, the layer you’re engaged on. Notice there’s an arrow on every finish. The left arrow is for the blacks and the best arrow is for whites. When you transfer the arrow for blacks to the fitting, the blackest blacks will begin to disappear from the highest layer. In different phrases, pixels to the left of the black arrow might be clear and pixels to the RIGHT of the black arrow shall be seen. In the event you transfer the arrow for whites to the left, the whitest white will begin to disappear from the highest layer. Pixels to the suitable of the white arrow can be clear and pixels to the left of the white arrow shall be seen.

The Underlying Layer adjustment impacts solely the layer beneath with out affecting the highest layer. Should you transfer the black arrow to the proper, the blacks within the layer beneath might be revealed. Conversely, in the event you transfer the white arrow to the left, the whites within the layer beneath will probably be revealed.

When you really feel the modifications are too drastic when shifting any of the arrows, you’ll be able to cut up every arrow into 2 for extra delicate and finer mix. By holding down Choose/Alt and left click on on one aspect of the arrow, you’re able to transfer solely half of it. You possibly can first transfer this half in the direction of the course you need earlier than shifting the opposite half to full the mix.

Picture blended with Colour Vary. The distinction within the sky seems to be barely imbalanced as a result of the colour within the sky isn’t totally uniform. I might have added extra shade by holding down Shift whereas sampling shade with the eyedropper device. However doing so consists of a part of the foreground into the choice which I didn’t need.

Blend If 1Blend If 1Each this picture and the one under have been blended utilizing Mix If. On this one, I moved the darkish arrow in This Layer.Blend If 2Blend If 2Right here, I moved the darkish arrow in Underlying Layer. That is simply to reveal there’s greater than 1 approach to obtain the specified end result.Settings for Blend IfSettings for Blend IfSettings for Mix If in This Layer.Settings for Blend If Underlying LayerSettings for Blend If Underlying LayerSettings for Mix If in Underlying Layer.

7. Luminosity Masks

For many who usually are not conversant in luminosity masks, it creates alternatives based mostly on the brightness worth of the pixels. It’s unattainable to clarify every thing about luminosity masks in a couple of paragraphs so I’ll ship the important thing factors solely. When you’ve got by no means heard of luminosity masks, I hope this sparks an curiosity in you to discover the subject additional. So simple as it might look from the surface, luminosity masks can do much more than simply choosing vibrant pixels. You possibly can customise the masks to choose pixels of various brightness, reverse it to choose darkish pixels and even do cross choice to create a extremely focused masks. Luminosity masks is my go-to technique when different strategies don’t work. You should use this system to mix actually all sort of pictures.

As an alternative of explaining every step of the method, I shall stroll you thru the workflow of mixing with luminosity masks as an alternative. To mix the instance photographs given right here, I first choose the underside layer as a result of I would like to create the masks based mostly on the brightness of this picture. Wanting via the luminosity masks, I do know I’m going to choose one of many brilliant masks as a result of I would like to mix the sky in. I routinely use portray a masks method, which suggests I first add a black layer masks to the highest layer, choose a shiny luminosity masks and cargo the choice on to the black layer masks. Then, I exploit a white delicate brush to paint the sky again in from the darker publicity. Typically the mix can look a bit awkward when there’s a massive hole in publicity worth between the two photographs. When that occurs, I exploit the portray technique defined in Immediate Mix to create a clean transition.

Luminosity Mask TechniqueLuminosity Mask TechniquePicture blended utilizing luminosity masks. The distinction in each the sky and the foreground are higher preserved of their supply picture in contrast to different methods.Luminosity Mask ExampleLuminosity Mask ExampleThe layer masks after painted black and white with a vibrant luminosity masks.


Naturally, once we are given a number of decisions we have a tendency to need to stick to the best choice attainable. My goal is all the time to mix photographs in probably the most environment friendly method potential, and I exploit any method that may obtain my aim. After creating HDR with publicity mixing for a number of years now, I do know which methods work greatest for me I typically go straight into it. Having stated that, typically I do have to experiment with a number of strategies earlier than I’m glad with the outcome. So, I feel the important thing to mix photographs efficiently is to know all of your choices, experiment with them, and take your time to discover those that you simply choose.