HDR Looking Effect With Only 1 Photo!

Introduction: HDR Looking Effect With Only 1 Photo!

About: Hello! I tend to make instructables about simple life hacks, and misc. technology projects. Sometimes, if I find a great recipe, I will post it. Subscribe if these are interesting subjects!

Normally when you are creating a High Dynamic Range picture, 3 or more images that have been taken at different stops are blended to create 1 photo with all the color and light as the original 3. The effect is stunning if done properly. This instructable features a simpler way to create the effect of an HDR image, using only 1 photo. This is not a true HDR, but it creates a very similar effect. If you have an iPhone running on iOS 4.1 or higher, there is a feature built in that essentially does this.

Photo 1 and 2 are from a hike I took last year.
Photo 3 and 4 are of a building in San Francisco.

Step 1: Materials

Obviously you are going to need a computer, and your picture you wish to HDR-ify. The software I used was CS5,  but other versions of Photoshop will probably work too. 

If you do not have CS5, you can always download a free trial from Adobe 

Step 2: Pick Your Picture!

The first thing you want to do is pick your picture. It does not have to be spectacular. It is good though to select something with some potential, with things like neat shadows or clouds.  I chose one I took in San Francisco.

Step 3: Shadows and Highlights

Open Photoshop and import your picture. (Do not make any layers ye.t) The first thing you are going to do is go to Image>Adjustments>Shadows/Highlights. Set Shadows, as well as Highlights to a number around 50%.  

Step 4: Desaturate and Hard Light

Now you want to create a copy of the first layer. (Right click on background, open "Duplicate Layer", click OK.)  After that is done, make sure that the new layer is selected, then navigate to Image>Adjustments>Desaturate.

Look back over to the layers, where there is a pull down selection box. Find the "Hard Light" button. 

Now it's starting to look like a real HDR!

Step 5: Gaussian Blur and Soft Light

Now you are going to create a copy of the original layer and move it to the top. Go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. This opens a window; you will want to set the radius to around 40-50 pixels. This will make your picture look super out of focus, but don't worry! Go back to the layers box, open the drop down menu again, but this time select "Soft Light".

If it looks good, go ahead and save it as a .PNG. (File>Save As...)

Step 6: Results:Before/After

I think there is a very apparent difference between these 2 pictures. The new HDR'ed one has a sharper, crisper look to it. It also was brightened up quite a bit. The only downside I see to doing this is that the sky sometimes acts up and looks a little pixely.

Step 7: Getting More Advanced

If you want to get more advanced, start experimenting with layer selection tools, and only edit certain parts. For example you could brighten up an area, and darken others before starting.

Step 8: Examples

Here are some example of fake HDR photos.

If this method worked well for you, I would love to see some examples in the comments! 

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6 Discussions


8 years ago on Introduction

I have to tell you that one of the developers of the HDR technique gets really steamed when people do this so called HDR effect. He believes in not pushing the envelope and trying to get as close as possible to what you actually see. BUT I took examples of what he called "ugly" HDR effects and showed them to a large sample of people and 96% of them preferred the surrealistic saturation pushed effect we have come to expect from HDR.(As do I i{^_^} ).
The poor guy he must feel a bit like Dr. Frankenstein with his creation doing things he didn't want.

your dog
your dog

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

I understand the your feeling towards this type of effect. It makes sense that the developer would be upset with how HDR has been misused. I think it is appealing to the average person that doesn't really know much about photography will look a this and say "WOW cool!"

I have since started using Photomatix and started using less and less of the "painterly" effect


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

I have been internally reviewing HDR software for about 5 or 6 years now as part of my job and I have tested Photomatrix Pro and about 10 other HDR programs. In the government position I am in I don't like to publicly favour any particular commercial software. SO if I mentioned for example EasyHDR I am not in anyway saying to use that software or even saying try that software. I expect fellow Instructabilians to be ingenious and experimental in finding what does a really good job at multi-image alignment. i{^_-}

I can recommend my OB-Pod though as I have released that into the public domain. It is a great way to make sure that all your HDR images are aligned if you have to change camera settings from shot to shot.


8 years ago on Introduction

Or you could just use the ReDynaMix HDR plugin from DCR:


9 years ago on Introduction

Look good, thanks for the technique.