High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography: Tutorials, Tips and Stunning Examples
Taking amazing photos is something many aspiring amateur photographers strive for. And HDR effects can really make your images pop.
Below is a complete toolbox to get you started with HDR photography on your own. Whether you want to go all out and learn how to take real HDR composite images or if you just want to learn to fake it in Photoshop, the information below can get you started. And, to really inspire you, we’ve also included a showcase of fifty phenomenal HDR images.
Image credit – Winter Wonderland II by Philipp Klinger
What is HDR?
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. In other words, HDR photos cover a large exposure range, allowing for deeper contrast in both shadows and highlights. HDR photos are striking to look at, but the effect can easily be overdone.
Image credit – Amsterdam II by MorBCN
There are two basic types of HDR photos. The first are true HDR composite photos, created by taking multiple shots of a subject at different exposures and combining them. The second technique involves using Photoshop effects and adjusting the shadows, highlights, and other settings.
Basic Equipment for HDR Photography
If you’re interested in creating real HDR images, you’ll need slightly higher-end equipment than many amateur photographers have. Here’s a list:
- A camera capable of taking images in RAW format
- A good quality tripod
- Software such as Photomatix or Photoshop
The RAW format camera is going to be the main sticking point for many photographers. There are some point-and-shoot cameras out there that can save to RAW (such as the Leica D-Lux 3), but they’re pricier than most other cameras with otherwise similar capabilities. Most DSLR cameras will let you take RAW format images, but it’s something to double-check before purchasing a new camera. It is possible to create decent HDR images using JPEG or TIFF originals, but they won’t be as striking as those created from RAW originals.
If you want to create faux HDR photos, all you really need is a good point-and-shoot (or DSLR) camera and Photoshop. Everything in this technique is done in post-processing, so you’ll just want a camera that’s capable of taking high-quality originals with a good exposure range.
10 Real HDR Tutorials
The tutorials included here are based on combining multiple photos with different exposures into a single HDR image, using Photoshop or other tools.
Photoshop CS2 HDR – This tutorial covers using Photoshop CS2′s automatic HDR function to combine multiple photos into a single image.
The High Dynamic Range (HDR) Landscape Photography Tutorial – This is a huge tutorial that covers using Photomatix and/or Photoshop to create stunning HDR images from as few as three exposures.
Photomatix Tutorial – A short tutorial for creating HDR images with Photomatix.
HDR Tutorial Guide Thing for Photomatix – Another very extensive tutorial on using Photomatix.
HDR: High Dynamic Range Photography – A great tutorial that talks about tonal mapping to create HDR images.
How to Create HDR Photos – HDR/Photomatix Tutorial – A great tutorial from Abduzeedo on HDR photography with Photomatix.
How To: HDR Photography Basics (Part 1) – The first in a three-part series of beginner tutorials.
HDR Photos with the GIMP – A tutorial for creating HDR composite images using the free, open-source GIMP software.
Merging HDR in Photoshop CS3-CS4 Tutorial – A great tutorial from Photoshop Cafe for using newer versions of Photoshop for creating HDR composites.
10 Faux HDR Tutorials
It’s not complicated to create your own HDR-style images using Photoshop or GIMP. While they’re usually not quite as striking as the real thing, you can use virtually any image to create them. Just be careful of overdoing it and creating something that’s obviously fake.
Tutorial – HDR from 1 JPG – An excellent tutorial from Flickr user Christiaan L on creating a faux-HDR image from a jpeg original.
HDR Tutorial – A spectacular, slightly-grungy Photoshop tutorial.
Gritty HDR – One of my all-time favorite HDR tutorials, resulting in a very gritty, grungy final image.
How to Produce Fake HDR Images – A simple eHow tutorial for creating HDR images with GIMP.
How to Easily Fake an HDR Effect in Photoshop – A tutorial from Flickr user KolNedra on creating fake HDR images with Photoshop.
Fake HDR Effect Using Photoshop – A very basic tutorial that offers two separate methods for faking HDR images.
HDR Style Results Using Layers in Photoshop – A great tutorial for using multiple layers to create an HDR-styled image.
Fake HDR Look in GIMP – A very in-depth GIMP tutorial for faking HDR photos.
Fake HDR Photoshop Tutorial – A simple, 8-step tutorial for creating fake HDR images with Photoshop.
Achieve HDR Style Effects Using Photoshop and the Lucis Art Filter – An interesting tutorial that uses a slightly different Photoshop technique for faking HDR.
50 Stunning HDR Photos
Below are fifty stunning examples of HDR photos to inspire you to create your own. Some are “real” HDR, made from composites of multiple images. Others are faux HDR, created in Photoshop or GIMP. Can you tell the difference?
The Cow Whisperer
The stair of Carlos V
Casa Comalat – Barcelona
Creek Walk @ Changi Boardwalk : HDR
By Demarcus Romero
Mist Lifting Off Cedars
By DJSchulte Oxherder Arts
Palacio REal, Nocturno
G to the G – in HDR
By Jasen Miller
Bremen “Muhle am Wall” HDR
Musee du Louvre – HDR, Museum, Paris
By Al lanni
By Paul Stevenson
Back to the Crazy HDR’s
Hatley Castle HDR
By Brandon Godfrey
Evergreen Plantation HDR
By Corey Ann
Monument Valley HDR 2
By Chris Isherwood
HDR Barn Door
St. Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh (HDR)
Victoria B.C Skyline from Mount Tolmie (HDR series)
By Brandon Godfrey
Let there be light
By Philipp Klinger
Blooming Apple Tree HDR
By Tambako the Jaguar
HDR Kurdi Kurdistan
By Kurdistan 4 all
Hamburg – Speicherstadt – HDR
By Johannes Pape
Feneos Valley HDR
By Leonidas Tsementzis
Crater Lake HDR 1
Sierra Juarez de Oaxaca (HDR)
Lake Morning (HDR)
Sagada Pond HDR Version
The Tower (HDR)
La Vista Dal Mio Giardino (HDR)
By Francesco Sgroi
Laveria Brassey – Abandoned mine
By Joep R
By Peter Pearson
Tokyo International Forum
Ala Moana Evening HDR
Broadhaven Sunset – HDR and Tone Mapped
By Pemb Dave
Lizard Point (HDR)
Mountainboarding . HDR
By Philipp Klinger
Houses of Parliament London
By Joep R
Looking out over the Thames
By Joep R
Red boat – Venice
Time travel in color
By Kris Kros
Remains of the day
Stuck in India – Humayun’s Tomb
By Stuck in Customs
- 19 Tutorials for Creating Beautiful HDR (High Dynamic Range) Imager – Speckyboy Design Magazine
- HDR Tutorials Roundup – TutorialBlog
- 85 Examples of Beautiful HDR Photography – 2ExpertsDesign
- HDR Creme – Gallery of HDR photos.
- 35 Fantastic HDR Pictures – Smashing Magazine
- 60+ Stunning HDR Images – [Re]Encoded
- 80 Examples of Stunning HDR Photography – Phototuts+
Author: Cameron Chapman
Cameron is a professional Web and graphic designer with over 7 years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She's also the author of Internet Famous: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Online Celebrity.