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For more information, please see full course syllabus of Adobe Photoshop CS6
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  • In Photoshop, you need three or more images to create HDR. Shoot a bracket and use a tripod. Bracket at least one under and over. Better to do two unders and two overs for a five exposure range


Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:07
  • High Dynamic Range (HDR) Overview 0:21
    • HDR Overview
  • How To Shoot HDR 2:49
    • How To Shoot HDR
  • Processing HDR in Photoshop 7:09
    • Merge Files to HDR Pro
    • Exposure Value (EV)
    • Looking at The Image
    • Mode: 8 bit, 16 bit, and 32 bit
    • Highlight Compression, Exposure and Gamma, Local Adaptation, and Equalize Histogram
    • Preset: Photorealistic
    • Preset: Scott5
    • Custom Preset: Edge Glow
    • Custom Preset: Tone and Detail
    • Custom Preset: Advanced & Curve
    • Final Result

Transcription: HDR

Hi everybody, Mike Brown here with you again, welcome back to educator.com's Adobe Photoshop CS6 course.0000

In this lesson, we're going to learn about HDR; what is it, how do you shoot it, and how do you process it.0007

First off, let me give you just an example of HDR; here's a photograph taken up in West Hollywood--just a kind of an interesting urban landscape if you will, and this right here--let's pull up the Layers panel...0017

This is the actual raw file untouched of this picture--it looks kind of nice, a little bit interesting, needs a little retouch and so on.0035

Here is the fixed up Photoshop version from there to there--notice how the sky has got a little more blue, we pop the contrast, we've color corrected, the white balance and if you notice in the driveway, I've retouched out some of the various and sundry junk oil spots, and we took out power poles and just basic retouch.0045

It looks a lot better, it's an interesting shot but still doesn't have that pop.0070

By using HDR algorithms and running this image through HDR, this is what we get--look at the differential, look at the sky.0076

I'm going to go back, this is the Photoshop version, and there it is with HDR--look at that, it just snaps, look down over here in the corner here at the gray clouds--I want to show you those.0089

Notice how flat they look and all the sky up here, but when we process it through HDR, look at the dynamic dimension that we got in all of the sky.0104

What HDR really does--it's High Dynamic Range; it enables you to pull all of the highlights and all of the shadows; detail that you normally can't get in processing, for example, right here in Photoshop, this is the best I can do in Photoshop, but by running it through HDR it will extenuate and bring out all of that detail.0115

And enables you to add a lot of drama to the shot, watch the car--the car's kind of flat surfaced which looks cool, but when we snap it look at the foliage, look right here at the overhang and the shelter in the Shell station--watch that when I pop it to HDR.0140

Look at the dramatic change--you can see reflections in the shadow area, all sorts of detail that you can't get any other way, so that shows you what we can do with HDR (I'm going to close that image out).0158

Now...you understand now that HDR is High Dynamic Range, what you're attempting to do with HDR is get detail that the camera is incapable of taking--let me give you another example.0172

Here's a photograph--we're going to work with this whole series.0187

Here's a photo I took in downtown Los Angeles at night with my Nikon D7000 camera--it's one of the better prosumer digital SLRs of the day, has great latitude, I shot this at a very high ISO so I could pull all of the detail I could out of the darkness, but this single shot right here, this is the best I could do.0191

You look up in the building--you can't see anything in the detail of the building or very, very little in the street (let's just zoom that up so you guys can actually see that on your own screens) look, it's pretty...just dark.0215

There's very little detail in there, in the menu inside the little hamburger stand, it's all blown out because the highlights are so far up there, and the street has very little detail at all, and it's not bad over in here, but there's a lot of areas like this little sign we can't read, all sorts of stuff that you can't see in this one image.0228

So what HDR enables you to do, is take a series of images, shot of the same subject at different exposures, what you will do, is you shoot it on a tripod if at all possible, and you'll take the median exposure--one that gives you the mid-tones and that's what we've got right here.0252

We've got mid-tones in the brick over here, all of the...inside of the liquor store which is not hot lit and doesn't have too many highs or lows--we have good detail there, but we're losing it in the highs and the shadows, so you're going to shoot what's called a bracket.0272

You're going to take one or two exposures progressively under exposed by about a half a stop each--in other words you shoot your nominal, you go a half a stop, you make it larger.0291

In other words if you shoot this at F8 you'd shoot it F8 and a half on the next one, stopping it down so you're getting a little less light in there, and this is what happens--watch the image.0305

You notice, it's a little bit darker, I'm going to go back, see the detail in the shop here?0316

Look at that area, now we've pulled a little more of the mid-shadows in by under exposing, and we're getting more detail out of the neon sign and then I'll take one more, I went way down just to pull those really bright areas and look here at the menu for which we had absolutely no detail--you can read the menu.0322

So between those three photographs, we've got the really bright highlights, we've got the mid-highlights, and we've got mid-tones, progressively from dark, less dark, mid-tone.0345

Then we go beyond on the other side, and we're going to over expose.0359

Look, we're beginning to see detail in the roadway and just a little coming in over here in the building--we're pulling up detail from the shadows and we'll take one final image that's bright and look; we can see detail in the building now, and the roadway, so between those five images we have details between the five of the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights.0363

And what HDR will do, it's going to combine all of those images into one image that gives you the overall range that you couldn't possibly get with a single photo, so let's go ahead and go back here.0390

We've defined what is it; High Dynamic Range, whoops, can't do that in white, High Dynamic Range is what it is.0407

Range that's greater than a camera can actually shoot with one photo.0416

We've talked about how to shoot it; you shoot a bracket, over expose a couple, under expose a couple around your mid-tone shot.0421

Now let's talk about processing it in Photoshop.0429

I'm going to go ahead and close this title page out...and we should just have the one, two, three, four, five, and the HDR I'm going to close that one out as well, and now we're down to our five bracketed images.0433

They don't have to be open, you could get these from a folder; we go to the File menu, we go down to Automate, we go down to the bottom, just above Photo Merge to Merge to HDR Pro, and what this is going to do is give us this little box, we're going to use files, we're going to add open files in this case.0450

If you didn't have them open you could browse and select them, we'll add those five open files, and we're going to go ahead and let it cook--now this may take a minute or so because these are reasonably high resolution images.0470

It's really fascinating what they can do--now I want to talk just a little bit while this is cooking.0488

You've all seen HDR, you may not recognize precisely what it is, but originally HDR was designed to give you the ability to get the range of exposure that you can't get in a single image, to make it still look like a regular, clean photograph.0494

But people have discovered very quickly that by moving the adjustments, you can really go artistically crazy and get these wild effects that can take a photo and make it look absolutely like some surreal object.0516

Personally, that's not my style, because I'm a believer as I've said before in the mantra garbage in, garbage out, you start with quality, you're going to end with high quality and that's what I'm after.0532

It's very easy to take a mediocre photograph and go nuts with HDR and make it look 'wowee zowee', but it's still a mediocre photograph, so be careful to try to take quality photographs and play with this.0547

Alright, here we are, we've got our image that's been combined--this is the first trial if you will--down at the bottom you can see what we have here, and the EV (which is the exposure value) you can see there was the mid-exposure that I talked about--that's the nominal one at zero.0561

This one is minus point 67 which means it's two thirds of an F stop under exposed, and the one that we came all the way down just for the menu, that's two and one third stops under exposed--way down there but I only was concerned with that bright, bright menu.0581

On the other side, here's one stop over and one and two third stop--you can see how the bracket was actually shot.0600

Alright, here's the combined image at the beginning and you can see already that it looks much better--we can see detail (let me zoom it up so you guys can see it) we have detail in the menu...0607

We also have really good detail in the sign--look, you can even see that in the neon sign, the waitress--the roller-skating waitress has a pink dress on, which you couldn't see anywhere else, and a white apron, and you can see the little glasses and details in the hamburger, the milkshake and looks like an ice-cream soda over there.0622

And now we come up and look at the details that we have available in the actual stonework on the building--you can see all of this detail right across here of the, I'm not sure what this cornice, if you will, and we have detail in the windows.0647

Now we come right down to the sign we can read the sign and we have detail in the street, so it's all there but now it's time for us to work it, and here's the thing about HDR/0664

In your iPhone you can press HDR and it'll pop out an image that looks kind of cool, but here you have the ability with all these sliders that we're going to talk about here, of processing this image to your like and playing with it, and then that's only step one because it doesn't do everything in here--it gets it close.0676

Then you save it out and it comes out to Photoshop, and then you put your final detail work in in the Photoshop image to get it precisely the way you want it.0696

It's a lot more work, but it's well worth it.0707

Alright, so let's get started.0709

We can work in three different bit modes; 8 bit, 16 bit, 32 bit and if you remember at the beginning of the course, 8 bit color--it has 16.7million colors, 16 bit, I don't know, 64, 128 million, some ungodly amount.0712

A lot of it you can't even see with your eye, and 32 bit is off the scale in terms of having detail that's way beyond the capability even of the human eye.0733

Normally if you have the RAM and people that are doing this on a professional level, will work the HDR in 32 because even though you can't see it, that detail helps with the other detail that you can see, it all contributes to making a better image, and then when you pop it out into Photoshop, you change it down to an 8 bit.0745

But in this case, processing time obviously with a 32 bit is going to sit here and crank, so we're going to go ahead and leave this at 8 bit.0768

You have several pre-sets available for looks but before we go to that, let's talk about the methods that you can apply for the HDR.0776

There's these four; highlight compression, and this is what it does, it kind of worked a little bit better than the original photo, but that's all you get, there's no other option sliders, you bring it out and you work it so it didn't really do a great job.0787

And this is pretty nominal all the way, exposure and gamma, you only have exposure control and the old gamma which is basically contrast.0802

Again, you have no other controls.0815

Equalizing a histogram is kind of odd, the one you want to leave it at is local adaptation and you have all of these available options.0817

Now, we can start with...some of the pre-sets--it's at the default right now, let's go ahead and take a look at photo realistic.0826

Now watch the sliders; see how the sliders popped?0836

This is a setting that gives you this appearance to it, and it's looking much better actually--let's go back to the default, take a look at the image now...it was a little flat, had the detail but just kind of wasn't there.0839

We go to photo realistic, and with these adjustments that are pre-set, this thing's looking pretty good and in fact, if you notice, it looks fairly close to what I showed you was my finished product.0854

Let's go with, just for fun...what RC5, that's kind of surrealistic, they blew it out.0866

Saturated...no, don't like that, oh this is Scott Kelby's number 5, let's see what Scott has there...wow, look at that!0875

Now this is what I was talking about in the making it surreal, look at how wild this image has become.0886

He jacked up the detail all the way--we're going to back it down a little bit and see what happens here...this is Scott Kelby, is a contributor and developer, and this is his particular take on it, so that's to show you what you can do--it almost looks like a surrealistic painting.0895

We'll try one more, just surrealistic and see what that sets out at, that went crazy, so we're going to instead go back to the default...0918

Or I'll tell you what, we'll go to default and we'll play with it ourselves.0928

The edge glow is controlled by the radius, which is the amount of area it's looking at, and the strength which is measuring the comparison of the bright and dark pixels; the more strength, the higher the contrast and detail that blows on that within the area of the radius, so we're going to jack up the radius slider a little bit and see what happens at that strength...0933

And we're going to up the strength, and begin to see what happens--now we're getting contrast and detail, let's even raise it up a little further.0958

If we go too far, all the way up, we've lost our highs again, so we're going to come back down and let's see what happens if we drop the radius here and pull up the strength a little more and drop the radius even more.0966

So in other words you can play with this to get what works well for you--I kind of like...right there looks pretty good for starters, that's the edge glow, and what they're talking about on glow, is if you go all the way, you start to get this haloing.0980

Let's go back and take a quick look at Scott's...notice all the haloing and look here, he's got strength down and radius up but the detail went crazy and you get all this edge glowing, so we're going to go back to ours again, and let's just go ahead and work it down.0997

Alright, there's the default, we're going to jack up the radius a little and the strength just a hair, don't want to go too much on that yet.1015

Tone and detail gamma, we'll leave that alone--exposure, I'm not going to worry about that right now, detail is...remember clarity in Camera Raw?1023

It just pops the detail and just basically a sharpening methodology, let's just bring it up some more--look what happens, let's go all the way.1034

That's whoa, there is off the wall, look at that, that's wild.1043

We're going to come back down--I'm looking for photo realism so I'm going to bring it back down some...and we're going to drop that radius downward, bring it up--I'm trying to work on the highs...inside on the menu...that's pretty good right there.1047

And now we have shadows and highlights, we can pull the highlights down which brings more detail, see that in our menu, working really well...and the shadows--let's open up the shadows just a hair...see what that does, that's not too bad, but I want to pop the detail a little bit more now...and that's about as far as we can grab it within here.1068

Notice we've got a range and it looks really cool, we've got the menu, we've got the sign, we've got the street, it hasn't been sharpened yet, and we've got all sorts of detail on the building, so now we're going to go ahead and click OK.1093

By the way, you can apply curves right here, and let's add a little contrast to it, but I want to keep the highs right--there we go, click OK, and there we've done it--now it's going to merge all of these adjustments into that generalized combined image and give us a final file for Photoshop.1109

It's really fun working with this...just amazing results, here's the original image, and now it's still cranking--we get the final result, and there we have what we've done so far.1134

What I'm going to do--I'm going to duplicate that image as we always do--let's take curves, and I just want to snap it a little bit here...bring up the detail, snap the contrast just a hair, and pull the highs down--there we go.1148

Turn it off, turn it on, and we went from...this original image, to this image right here, by combining five images into the Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop CS6.1168

And by playing with the adjustments, look what we've got--we got wonderful detail in the building, we've got detail in the windows, the sign is fabulous, look at the sign.1191

I mean, there's the pink dress, there's the apron, I mean absolute phenomenal detail, we can read the menu, look at that, it's wonderful.1202

We can even read the detail on the walls in here, we've got everything, we've got this and look at this incredible, kind of gritty detail that we've pulled out of this shot in the street.1212

All done with Merge to HDR Pro and bracketing in your photography in Photoshop CS6.1223