For your listening pleasure:

Stairway To Heaven by Rodrigo Y Gabriela There are several software programs available to help create HDRIs. Photoshop CS2 and later can render HDRIs however I prefer and use Photomatix (Windows & Mac) in this tutorial. For a free trial click the Photomatix link,

You can also save 15% on Photomatix software

using the promotional discount code: flyingpanther

A Brief HDR Background

First off, know when to shoot for it. Not all shots require it. This is why photographer’s love the early mornings and evenings when the light is soft, warm and at relatively low contrast. If you are shooting with high contrast and don’t have access to a graduated neutral density filter then HDR may be what you are looking for. Most digital cameras can hold detail in about a 5-6 stop exposure range at best. The human eye has the abilty to adjust to a much wider range, to the equivilent of approximately 12 stops. HDR photography helps capture this wider range by taking multiple low dynamic range exposures of the same scene which are later combined into one high dynamic range image. In the following image of the Salton Sea HDR was used to hold down the sky and reflection exposing properly for the clouds while also allowing for good exposure in the foreground.

Salton Sea Reflections

Getting Started

What you will need: A DIGITAL CAMERA WITH BRACKETING feature or the ability to adjust exposure manually. A sturdy TRIPOD, computer, PHOTOMATIX and other basic photo editing software (Photoshop, etc.)

What is bracketing?

Most DSLR camera’s have the ability to bracket multiple exposures. This is simply a way to tell the camera to take several shots in quick succession each at a different exposure. For example, a -2,0,+2 setting takes three shots; one at -2 stops, one neutral and one at +2 stops exposure. Some cameras have the ability to bracket more shots, some as high as seven or nine. For this example I will use three shots at a -2,0,+2 setting. Each camera’s bracketing controls are a little different. Canon has a setting labeled AEB or Auto Exposure Bracket. I select this from the menu and then dial in the bracket amount that I desire. When choosing this setting consider the contrast range of your scene and how much range you want to achieve in the final image. If there is high contrast consider a wider bracket range.



Why the tripod?

With a tripod you can take several photos at different exposures of the same scene and then merge them together in Photomatix resulting in the sharpest image possible. When hand holding the camera there will be slight movement between the shots and the images will not line up very well when they are merged. A tripod will give you the sharpest possible images to start with and make lining the images up later a snap.Digital cameras have allowed photographers a lot more freedom in experimentation simply because of the ability to view a shot on site and be able to delete and re-shoot. With film, I seemed to always regret a few missed opportunities.

Yellowstone Skeletal Remains

Ok, so you figured out how to bracket and you have your tripod. If you are new to bracketing your shots, experiment with it a little before heading out. I shoot for HDR primarily in aperture priority mode. This allows the user to select the aperture and the camera will meter and select the exposure for you. By using this mode it will keep the aperture constant for the three exposures. Close the aperture for wide focal range (ie. f22) and open it for short focal range (ie. f5). For example, the above shot taken in Yellowstone National Park was set to f22 to provide sharp focus throughout the entire depth of field. By setting a high f number you are closing down the aperture which in turn will require a longer exposure to let the light fill the sensor at the same ISO. If you are unhappy with the shutter speed, bump the ISO and re-meter. Be careful not to go too high for your given situation as noise may become evident with higher ISO’s. Generally the lower the ISO you can get away with the better.

Sprague Lake

You have successfuly shot your bracketed photos and now you are ready to turn them into something beautiful. A quick note about shooting RAW then converting to Tiff vs. JPEG and I don’t want to spend much time on this. Shooting RAW for HDR will give you more control of each image prior to merging in Photomatix. RAW files capture more information and allow for more editing possibilities (exposure control, white balance, etc.) If your final image will be going to the printer I recommend converting your RAW files to TIFFs before merging in Photomatix. A TIFF is the standard for most commercial and professional printing needs. A TIFF is an uncompressed and much larger file than a JPEG and will thus eat up more room on your hard drive. JPEG’s are compressed files. There are different qualities of compression with JPEGS however and you may find it to be easier when starting out if you just shoot as JPEG. JPEG’s are also great if you will just be posting to the internet or sending in an email due to their relatively small file size. I have also sent high quality JPEG’s to print and have been quite happy with the results. If you have shot your scene well and bracketed effectively your JPEG’s can still produce quality HDRI’s.

Find out more about RAW from Wikipedia here: RAW

Find out more about TIFF from Wikipedia here: TIFF

Find out more about JPEG from Wikipedia here: JPEG

A few easy steps to get your HDRI. Fire up Photomatix and open your series of bracketed images. Under HDR select GENERATE.

Generate HDR

You will get a prompt that will allow you to align source images. If your shots were taken on a tripod and you are pretty sure there was no camera movement you are ok. If you hand held your shots or your tripod was bumped select align images then hit OK. Let the program assume a standard tone curve. You also have an option here to let the program attempt to reduce ghosting artifacts such as moving objects or ripples.

Align Images

Once you hit OK it will chug away for a while and you will get something that looks like this. Colors look a little goofy but that is ok for now.

Generated Image

The next step is where the magic happens. From the HDR drop down menu select TONE MAPPING.

Tone Mapping

This will open your file to allow for the tone mapping features.

Tone Mapping Controls

On the left there are sliders for:
STRENGTH (Controls the strength of contrast enhancements)
LIGHT SMOOTHING (Controls smoothing of light variations throughout the image)
LUMINOSITY (Controls the compression of the tonal range, affecting the global luminosity level)
MICRO-CONTRAST (Sets the level of accentuation of the local detail)
MICRO-SMOOTHING (Smoothes out local details enhancements, reducing low magnitude noise)
There really is no science to these sliders. I have found each image requires something a little different. You can get pretty creative here and get out of control if you want or you can tone it down and go for something a little more natural. I prefer a more natural look. For this image a settled on the following increments:
LIGHT SMOOTHING (1 notch right of center)
GAMMA 1.29
You can also generate a monochrome image here by taking away saturation and bumping up the strength.


Once you are happy with the way it looks hit OK and there you have it. A few more seconds of computer chugging and you will have your HDR image.Next, you may want to adjust your image more by opening it into a basic photo editing program.For this I used Photoshop.

Final Adjustments

Here you can make some final adjustments to the image in Photoshop or other image editing software. My workflow changes based on what I think the image needs but generally I check for these elements:


2)levels adjustment

3)curves adjustment

4)highlight/shadow adjustment


The more I tinker around in the digital world, the more I am pleased with a more natural look in my images.

Happy shooting and have fun with your HDRI’s.

You can save 15% on Photomatix software

using the promotional discount code: flyingpanther

Click on the following image for my LATEST IMAGES. Not all are High Dynamic Range. Getting feedback from you is one of the only ways I can improve this tutorial. Please leave a brief comment below if you have the time.

Jumbo Rocks


28 Responses to “Creating HDR Images”

  1. MilkyJoe Says:

    Nice tutorial mate, thanks for sharing your take on hdr, always interesting to read πŸ˜€

  2. JesseBee Says:

    Stellar! Thanks so much for the tutorial… I’ve tried the technique a few times before, using Photoshop, stacking layers and erasing them out to get the effect I want… It’s painstaking and nowhere near what I’d like… I’ll try out Photomatix…

    Your pix are super dope. Thanks again.

  3. […] Originally Posted by XaLtezZaX thats fu&%in sick, any advice for a noob photographer like myself? =) +rep This is how I learned how to do HDR. Creating High Dynamic Range Images οΏ½ flyingpanther photography […]

  4. Joel Williams (jhwill) Says:

    Tyler, great tutorial! I’ve had to trial and error it to get to the point you’ve explained so well.

    btw you should compile a “Book” of your images and specifically the HDR collection. Even a simple iphoto or Aperture hardcopy or pdf would be great!

    Wonderful images!

  5. corbin Says:

    Totally sweet! Your blog is really taking off…great work!

  6. S Simpson Says:

    I don’t comment on blogs very often but I feel compelled to this time. I haven’t actually read the tutorial part. Photomatix is one cool program.

    Your imagery here is just outstanding. Some of the best work with this software that I have seen. Way cool man.

  7. Domesticfix Says:

    Thank you for this well thought out tut .

  8. Digitalfrog Says:

    Bookmarked ! Thanks !

  9. manowatt Says:

    Great tutorial. I’m impressed at the natural looking results you got out of Photomatix. It’s refreshing to see the app used to get this sort of look. I’ll have to revisit my own settings now.

  10. Mom Says:

    Great tutorial…I will be checking back often. The examples and explanations are very easy to follow. Beautiful pictures.

  11. Wan Xiong Says:

    Simple and straight forward. Thanks for sharing the HDR process, now i’m bound to learn.

  12. Jay Says:

    Thanks, great job.

  13. Dude, you rock. U just became my new hero. Thanks for the efforts and sharing here. When I find your gallery on nudes I’ll be getting out the credit card.


  14. Balliolman Says:

    Excellent tutorial: you demonstrate the workflow clearly. This should be linked to by the HDR Soft website as it is far superior to their own help file.

  15. tokyololas Says:

    Your photos are beautiful, and the tutorial is very clear – great of you to share it. I like the more natural look of your HDR for landscape shots and I like the fact that you emphasize the personal element involved in tonemapping decisions.

  16. Ed Says:

    gret information! Searching for light in NJ

  17. Raymund Says:

    thats some great information I still haven’t tried doing any hdr stuff but i’m gonna be trying it out once I get home. AFter reading this I have a greater understanding of how to do hdr pics! Thanks

  18. mig Says:

    Wonderful tutorial. Explained a lot of problems I’ve had. Many thanks.
    And fabulous pictures too.

  19. Jeff Clow Says:

    Superb tutorial…..and I intend to share with those who ask the proper way to do hdr imaging.

    Also, I enjoyed the Stairway to Heaven music while reading this tutorial.

  20. cath Says:

    Thanks so much – incrediable work. I can’t wait to attempt this.
    Great work.

  21. Hi Tyler,

    thanks for this very easy-to-understand tutorial; I’ve just gone out and taken pictures of my car, my cat and my sleeping husband to practice my new moves πŸ™‚

    Cathleen Tarawhiti

  22. Kris Parker Says:

    Hey Tyler,

    Very nice tutorial on the HIgh Dynamic Range method!! I’ll have to give this a shot next time I’m out and about : )

    Keep up the pro work!

  23. pete Says:

    very nice as im a novice i found this very helpfull
    thank you….

  24. shrimp Says:

    thank, this is useful

  25. photogirl Says:

    Thank you very much for sharing all the information about High Dynamic Range and your experience with it using Photomatix. The photo is miraculous! I am an amatuer photographer but am very grateful for your information you have shared with us. I will definitely keep Photomatix in mind when looking for a software program to create HDR images. Thank You!

  26. afu Says:

    great tutorial. thank you very much for sharing this info, all of your images are amazing.

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