How to Create Realistic Looking HDR Images

HDR Photo Not too long ago, when faced with a high contrast setting, you had to either meter for the highlights and let the shadows fall where they may (which were usually black and without detail), or shoot for the shadows and blow out the highlights. Now with High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, you can cover the whole range of a high contrast scene.

How to Make an HDR Photo

To create an HDR photo, shoot a minimum of three images taken at different exposures by changing the shutter speed, but keeping the aperture the same – and then combine them into one properly exposed image by using HDR software. The result is an image that more closely resembles what our eyes see naturally. While it works great on most subjects, it works extremely well on landscapes. Here is the equipment you’ll need. You probably already have most of the hardware you need to take the photos and create an HDR photo, including a:

  • Computer
  • Digital camera with at least manual exposure compensation, however, Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) is quicker to use
  • Tripod

What you might not have is the software capable of performing the HDR process, such as Photomatix Pro or Nik’s HDR Efex Pro. Beginning with Photoshop CS5, Adobe added HDR “toning”, but anyone serious about HDR photography is more likely to use a dedicated piece of software for more powerful options. HDR Photography


Photomatix Pro works equally well on Macintosh OSX 10.4 or higher and on PC platforms with at least Windows 98 up through Windows 7. For the software to run properly, your computer should have at least:

  • 2 GB of RAM
  • 500 MB of free hard drive space
  • a monitor resolution of at least 1,024 x 768
  • 16-bit color video card

Digital Camera Settings

When shooting a series of images that will be combined, set your camera to aperture priority. Then using your exposure compensation feature, take one shot each of the same scene at the metered reading, -1 stop and +1 stop over the metered reading. By keeping the aperture the same, you eliminate depth-of-field issues. You can also add in -2 and +2 shots and combine five images instead of three.



A good tripod makes it easy to shoot the exact scene three times at different shutter speeds, thus eliminating merging issues when combining the images.

Using Photomatix Pro Software

At less than $100, the software is not expensive and it is the choice of professional photographers. (you can download a free trial of Photomatrix Pro here) To make an HDR photo, once you start the program:

  1. Click on the GENERATE HDR IMAGE button.
  2. Using the BROWSE button select the images you want to combine.
  3. Click the OK button
  4. Click all the boxes on the next screen and then click on the OK button
  5. The software combines the images into one – don’t be alarmed at the results, at this point it will look really bad.
  6. Next, click on the TONE MAPPING button
  7. You have two editing tabs – DETAILS ENHANCER and TONE COMPRESSOR. Tone Compressor will give you realistic results in less time.
  8. Once you have set the sliders where you want them, click on the PROCESS button

Once you have the image the way you want it, save it either as a TIFF or JPEG. It really is as easy as these eight steps to use HDR software and create an image that just a few years ago was almost impossible to make.

HDR Ship

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    • Chan
    • January 23, 2016

    Very good blog post. Using a tripod has made all the difference in my being able to shoot HDR photos. I certainly love this site. Continue the good work!

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