Single shot HDR with Photoshop

Part 2  |  RAW processing with Lightroom 4

Choosing an image

The technique I’m sharing will work with any image but it will look a lot better with certain types of images. Interiors, old places, junk yards, sculpture gardens, churches and anything with lots of detail and texture always seem to look best when given the HDR treatment. I’ve had success using this technique on portraits and landscapes but I usually have to do some masking and more blending than I’ll be talking about in this blog series.

The Photoshop portion of this technique will work on any picture (including a jpg image). For the best possible results I like to start with a RAW file that’s been processed with a program like Lightroom. The most recent version of Lightroom (4.1) seems to really excel at creating images for this technique.

This is the second of three entries about my single shot HDR technique. If you missed part 1 and you’re interested in learning more about my idea behind this technique check out part 1 here.

For my example I’ll be using an image from the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC that will be processed in Lightroom 4. You can see above that I’m starting with grid mode in the Library module to find the image. I decided to use an image of the interior of the memorial that includes some columns and the statue of Thomas Jefferson.

Processing the RAW file with the Develop module

Here’s the image I chose in the develop module (with no adjustments made yet). You can see the the statue is dark (underexposed) and the outside world behind the statue is blown out (over exposed). I can’t get all the information back in the highlights but I can get some of the columns back. I’ll also be able to get some shadow detail back on the statue but it will bring extra noise into the shot. For my global shadow and highlight adjustments I leave the zoom setting at FIT so I can see the entire image.

Here’s a look at my basic adjustments followed by a look at the full image with the new settings:

You can see how more of the columns are now visible behind the statue and the statue is much brighter. I also added in a little clarity and vibrance to my personal taste. After making my basic adjustments I applied a lens profile correction (I do this with a preset I saved for this particular lens to save time).

Reducing noise and adding output sharpening

Next up I zoom in to 100% and I look at the statue to see how much noise I added when I boosted the shadows up so much. To make my adjustments I use the detail panel and I boost the color and luminance noise sliders to remove the noise. These settings are a little higher than I normally use, but that’s because I added in so much shadow recovery.

Next I added some sharpening with a low amount and super high radius and detail. This is a sharpening technique I sometimes use for landscape and interior shots. To keep noise under control I use a lot of masking. Here’s a look at my sharpening settings followed by a look at a 100 percent view of the image.

These settings worked great for me but you may need something totally different. The amount of noise and sharpening you use will depend a lot on your camera, your lens choice and the settings you used when you took your shot.

Here’s a closeup look at a before image (with the noise) and an after image (with the new noise and sharpness settings). These are 100% crops.

Ultimately you want to keep the noise as low as possible without losing detail and you want to add sharpness to gain detail without adding noise. This is always a balancing act but if you have to make a choice I’d recommend getting the noise out and sharpening less since the HDR toning will add a lot of sharpness.

Coming next  |  Finishing the shot in Photoshop

And that’s all I do in Lightroom. To finish this shot I’ll be going over to Photoshop (you can do this quickly by pressing command+E on a Mac or CTRL+E on a PC). Hopefully this all makes sense so far. Remember, this is supposed to be fast and easy.

To see how I make the moves that will get this shot looking like a tone-mapped HDR shot you can read part 3 here.

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