Single Photo HDR

I thought I’d share my Lightroom 4 recipe for making a HDR photo out of a single exposure. When I say HDR I’m referring to that tone mapped quality and not necessarily the dynamic range. If you’re shooting directly into the sun or some extreme dynamic range subject you’ll still need a set of multiple exposures to capture the full range.

Single Exposure

With the photo above I had shot 5 exposures to capture the fully dynamic range. Unfortunately it was very windy and a few of the photos were blurry due to camera shake. This exposure was a bit overexposed but had good distribution thoughout the histogram. Not too much was bunched in either the shadow or highlights.


So here are the settings I use to get the HDRish look. In fact I usually use these setting for images already processed in Photomatix as HDR’s.
Highlights = -100
Shadows = +100
Clarity = +15
Vibrance = +15
Tone Curve = Strong Contrast
Sharpening = 25

That’s the starting point anyway.  This image is quite bright so I also dropped the exposure to -2.2 and then tweaked the Whites and Blacks sliders.

The Whites slider you can push it to your preference.  Don’t worry too much about overexposing street lights or small portions of the image.  Just make sure large areas of sky aren’t overexposed. The final image was increased to about +75 which is quite a bit more than I usually use.

The Blacks sliders is similar to the Whites slider in you can underexpose some portions. It also gives a nice boost to contrast so I almost always reduce it by -15 or more.  For the final  image it was reduce to about -55.

Saint Paul, St Paul, Mississippi River, River Ice, Robert St Bridge, HDR

River Ice (Finished Photo)

For the finishing touches make sure to adjust sharpening sliders and noise reduction as needed. I rarely use noise reduction anymore unless I apply it with the adjustment brush (usually to the sky).

Probably the most important setting is the Clarity slider. It gives that local tonal adjustments and sharpening that HDR is known for. Just like the sharpening slider you can overdue the effect so use a bit of restraint for more pleasing images.

2 thoughts on “Single Photo HDR

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