High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography: Tutorials, Tips and Stunning Examples

hdr - winter wonderland
Image credit – Winter Wonderland II by Philipp Klinger

Taking amazing photos is something many aspiring amateur photographers strive for. And HDR effects can really make your images pop.

Below is a complete toolbox to get you started with HDR photography on your own. Whether you want to go all out and learn how to take real HDR composite images or if you just want to learn to fake it in Photoshop, the information below can get you started. And, to really inspire you, we’ve also included a showcase of fifty phenomenal HDR images.

What is HDR?

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. In other words, HDR photos cover a large exposure range, allowing for deeper contrast in both shadows and highlights. HDR photos are striking to look at, but the effect can easily be overdone.

Amsterdam
Image credit – Amsterdam II by MorBCN

There are two basic types of HDR photos. The first are true HDR composite photos, created by taking multiple shots of a subject at different exposures and combining them. The second technique involves using Photoshop effects and adjusting the shadows, highlights, and other settings.

Basic Equipment for HDR Photography

If you’re interested in creating real HDR images, you’ll need slightly higher-end equipment than many amateur photographers have. Here’s a list:

  • A camera capable of taking images in RAW format
  • A good quality tripod
  • Software such as Photomatix or Photoshop

The RAW format camera is going to be the main sticking point for many photographers. There are some point-and-shoot cameras out there that can save to RAW (such as the Leica D-Lux 3), but they’re pricier than most other cameras with otherwise similar capabilities. Most DSLR cameras will let you take RAW format images, but it’s something to double-check before purchasing a new camera. It is possible to create decent HDR images using JPEG or TIFF originals, but they won’t be as striking as those created from RAW originals.

If you want to create faux HDR photos, all you really need is a good point-and-shoot (or DSLR) camera and Photoshop. Everything in this technique is done in post-processing, so you’ll just want a camera that’s capable of taking high-quality originals with a good exposure range.

10 Real HDR Tutorials

The tutorials included here are based on combining multiple photos with different exposures into a single HDR image, using Photoshop or other tools.

Photoshop CS2 HDR – This tutorial covers using Photoshop CS2’s automatic HDR function to combine multiple photos into a single image.

The High Dynamic Range (HDR) Landscape Photography Tutorial – This is a huge tutorial that covers using Photomatix and/or Photoshop to create stunning HDR images from as few as three exposures.

Photomatix Tutorial – A short tutorial for creating HDR images with Photomatix.

HDR Tutorial Guide Thing for Photomatix – Another very extensive tutorial on using Photomatix.

HDR: High Dynamic Range Photography – A great tutorial that talks about tonal mapping to create HDR images.

How to Create HDR Photos – HDR/Photomatix Tutorial – A great tutorial from Abduzeedo on HDR photography with Photomatix.

How To: HDR Photography Basics (Part 1) – The first in a three-part series of beginner tutorials.

HDR Photos with the GIMP – A tutorial for creating HDR composite images using the free, open-source GIMP software.

Merging HDR in Photoshop CS3-CS4 Tutorial – A great tutorial from Photoshop Cafe for using newer versions of Photoshop for creating HDR composites.

10 Faux HDR Tutorials

It’s not complicated to create your own HDR-style images using Photoshop or GIMP. While they’re usually not quite as striking as the real thing, you can use virtually any image to create them. Just be careful of overdoing it and creating something that’s obviously fake.

Tutorial – HDR from 1 JPG – An excellent tutorial from Flickr user Christiaan L on creating a faux-HDR image from a jpeg original.

HDR Tutorial – A spectacular, slightly-grungy Photoshop tutorial.

Gritty HDR – One of my all-time favorite HDR tutorials, resulting in a very gritty, grungy final image.

How to Produce Fake HDR Images – A simple eHow tutorial for creating HDR images with GIMP.

How to Easily Fake an HDR Effect in Photoshop – A tutorial from Flickr user KolNedra on creating fake HDR images with Photoshop.

Fake HDR Effect Using Photoshop – A very basic tutorial that offers two separate methods for faking HDR images.

HDR Style Results Using Layers in Photoshop – A great tutorial for using multiple layers to create an HDR-styled image.

Fake HDR Look in GIMP – A very in-depth GIMP tutorial for faking HDR photos.

Fake HDR Photoshop Tutorial – A simple, 8-step tutorial for creating fake HDR images with Photoshop.

Achieve HDR Style Effects Using Photoshop and the Lucis Art Filter – An interesting tutorial that uses a slightly different Photoshop technique for faking HDR.

50 Stunning HDR Photos

Below are fifty stunning examples of HDR photos to inspire you to create your own. Some are “real” HDR, made from composites of multiple images. Others are faux HDR, created in Photoshop or GIMP. Can you tell the difference?

The Cow Whisperer
By caese

The Cow Whisperer

The stair of Carlos V
By caese

The stair of Carlos V

Cadaqués
By MorBCN

Cadaques

Casa Comalat – Barcelona
By MorBCN

Casa Comalat - Barcelona

Creek Walk @ Changi Boardwalk : HDR
By Demarcus Romero

Dead Tree
By Subadei

Mist Lifting Off Cedars
By DJSchulte Oxherder Arts

Palacio REal, Nocturno
By R.Duran

G to the G – in HDR
By Jasen Miller

Bremen “Muhle am Wall” HDR
By Maschinenraum

Musee du Louvre – HDR, Museum, Paris
By Al lanni

HDR Landscape
By Paul Stevenson

Back to the Crazy HDR’s
By Footloosiety

Hatley Castle HDR
By Brandon Godfrey

Evergreen Plantation HDR
By Corey Ann

Monument Valley HDR 2
By Chris Isherwood

HDR Barn Door
By Hawleyjr

St. Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh (HDR)
By Left-hand

Victoria B.C Skyline from Mount Tolmie (HDR series)
By Brandon Godfrey

Go Ahead
By Ageel

go ahead

Let there be light
By Philipp Klinger

let there be light

Blooming Apple Tree HDR
By Tambako the Jaguar

HDR Kurdi Kurdistan
By Kurdistan 4 all

Hamburg – Speicherstadt – HDR
By Johannes Pape

Feneos Valley HDR
By Leonidas Tsementzis

BRP_HDR_23
By Sporadic

Crater Lake HDR 1
By ArtBrom

Sierra Juarez de Oaxaca (HDR)
By Phylevn

Lake Morning (HDR)
By Iowa_Spirit_Walker

Sagada Pond HDR Version
By Jonicdao

The Tower (HDR)
By Edbrambley

La Vista Dal Mio Giardino (HDR)
By Francesco Sgroi

Laveria Brassey – Abandoned mine
By Joep R

Joep R.

HDR Creek
By Peter Pearson

Tokyo International Forum
By Galactic.supermarket

Ala Moana Evening HDR
By Madmarv00

Broadhaven Sunset – HDR and Tone Mapped
By Pemb Dave

HDR
By Zero159

Lizard Point (HDR)
By Left-hand

Mountainboarding . HDR
By Cest

Darmstadtium
By Philipp Klinger

darmstadtium

Houses of Parliament London
By Joep R

Houses of Parliament London

Looking out over the Thames
By Joep R

Looking out over the Thames

Red boat – Venice
By MorBCN

Red boat - Venice

Time travel in color
By Kris Kros

time travel in color

Remains of the day
By Petervanallen

remains of the day ii

Lookout
By caese

Lookout

Stuck in India – Humayun’s Tomb
By Stuck in Customs

Stuck in India

Barcelona HDR
By MorBCN

Barcelona HDR

Further Resources

About AuthorCameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with over 7 years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of Internet Famous: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Online Celebrity.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography: Tutorials, Tips and Stunning Examples