Creating and Editing HDR Photographs

1st Things 1st - Define HDR

  • HDR stands for “high dynamic range.” Some call it “high contrast” or “multiple tonal values”.
  • Dynamic range is the difference between the darkest dark and the lightest light you can capture in a photo.
  • Once your subject exceeds the camera’s dynamic range, the highlights tend to become just white and the darks become just black.
  • With advanced photo techniques AND editing, you can capture the entire spectrum of the histogram.


Starting Point For HDR Photography

  • First, know your camera. How does it “bracket” images?
    • Bracketing is the general technique of taking several shots of the same subject using different camera settings. Best done with a cable release.
  • Can it capture HDR or multiple exposure compensation images at one time.
    • Most DSLR and Mirrorless cameras made in the last 3-5 years have this capability


When To Shoot HDR

  • HDR is best shot from ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset
  • HDR shots DO NOT blend well when there is wind or motion (say from sports or wildlife, waterfalls usually excluded from this rule)
  • If the shadows appear TOO DARK and/or the highlights are TOO BRIGHT.

When NOT To Shoot HDR

  • Do NOT use HDR when in LOW CONTRAST
  • How do you know? Take a picture and look at the histogram.
  • If the data doesn’t reach the right or the left and the peaks don’t reach out of the top of the graph (no clipping) then HDR probably won’t help.


  • Again, very low contrast.
  • You see a bit of clipping on the right (from the waterfalls), but there is plenty of date with which to work with.
  • This is the benefit of shooting and working in RAW camera file format.
  • HDR is NOT for Silhouettes
  • Do NOT use HDR to remove shadows
            • It’s better to shoot the scene at the right time of day
  • HDR is NOT for shooting people or animals or motion (especially when windy)


  • Sunrise Or Sunset
  • Bright Brights | Dark Darks

How To Setup | Shoot HDR

  • Tripods ARE A MUST (no matter how many articles you read)
    • Cable release REALLY helps reduce camera shake
  • RAW file format is a MUST!
  • Lowest ISO possible for the scene
  • Aperture as needed for the scene, just keep the same for all bracketed images
  • Take a test shot and look at the histogram
    • Will the scene benefit from an HDR approach?

  • Here I wanted to bring up the shadows and bring down the highlights.
  • I also wanted more color from the sky and from the weathered sagebrush.
  • I set my EV or HDR settings for +/- 2 stops
  • ISO 100, f22 (to get the starburst through the window)

  • Here I shot five images from 1/250sec to .4sec because there was so much of a difference in the lights and the darks.
  • Look at the histogram in the 3rd image (the “0” image), you can see that there is a lot of data lost between the field, the forest & Mt. Hood.

Editing & Merging HDR Images


  • In Lightroom, I select the images, then right click
  • I then select Photo Merge>HDR
  • I then get a preview of the image.
  • Press Merge to start the HDR blending process.


  • You can start in Lightroom or Adobe Bridge, or in Photoshop
  • From Lightroom, select your images and Right Click>Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop...
  • From Adobe Bridge, select your images and go to the Tools menu>Photoshop>Merge to HDR Pro
  • From Photoshop, click File>Automate>Merge to HDR Pro


  • On1 is like a mix of Adobe Bridge and PS
  • Select your images then right click>Create HDR...

Watch this video where I walk you through the entire process for each software and as a bonus, I'll show you how to finish up your image.

If you'd like to have a copy of these instructions, please fill out the form below and I'll send you the presentation in a pdf.

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