How to Create HDR photos


HDR of a P51-mustang

I’ve been asked several times, how do you create those really vivid HDR photos?

Well, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range.

The process itself takes photos of multiple exposure levels and combines them to have higher resolution, detail, and lighting than what would be displayed in a normal image. HDR photos really shine when it comes to exposures with a lot of detail and different colors.

They’re not hard to make, it just takes time and the right equipment.

Here’s what I use for most of my HDR shots:

  • DSLR Camera that can do bracketing (takes multiple exposures automatically)
  • Tripod (you *can* take HDR shots without a tripod, but it helps)
  • Photoshop
  • Photomatix Pro
  • Topaz Denoise5

So, Let me show you an example of my process and I’ll show you the normal shots along with the HDRs.

So, I took some photos of a few WWII planes at the Boca Raton Executive Airport recently.

Here’s a series of 3 exposures of the cockpit section of a P-51 Mustang


Now we can feed these images to the PhotoMatix application to combine them.

Use the PhotoMatix application to grab all three images.


Press OK and it’ll ask you some preprocessing questions. Most of these are defaulted so you should be OK to just press OK again and go to the processing part.

Once completed, you’ll have to decide on how much your Strength, Color Saturation, Luminosity, and Detail contrast are — and these are a matter of taste. Typically, however, you’d want the max detail contrast for any additional processing you might do.

For this example, I used a Strength of 61, Color Saturation of 80, Luminosity of 1.9, and Detail Contrast of 10, with the Lighting Adjustments set to Sureal.


Something to consider, the Sureal setting makes it look more like a painting than an actual photo were the Natural lighting options more uniformly lighted photos.

So you can now save the photo from Photomatix as either a TIF or JPEG. I always save them as TIFs (text-image-file format) so they can be processed in Photoshop.

Next, in Photoshop, use the Topaz DeNoise plugin to remove any noise. Now you might not need to do this, but it’s not uncommon.

Generally speaking, the higher the Luminosity setting in Photomatix when processing, the more noise the final photo will have, so using the DeNoise plugin really pays off when you want the right colors.

Once you’re done in Photoshop, save your image as a JPEG and you’re ready to go.


I sometimes like to re-pump the converted jpg back into the photomatix plug for additional tone mapping – to really give it that “graphic comic” feel. Just use Photomatix to open the saved Jpg and with the same settings you had before, hit the process button again.

This is far from an exact process but just wanted to give you a general idea of what’s involved with making the HDRs and their benefits in bringing out color and detail.