Create a High Dynamic Range Image with Photoshop

A high dynamic range image is an image created by using several photos of the same subject shot using different exposures. This effect helps to create a more dynamic image by bringing detail, highlights and shadows together in one image. High dynamic range effect is most commonly used on a still life subject, such as architecture or landscape, because its easier to capture multiple photos that are identical.  

Materials Needed

  • Photoshop software
  • Image files

Step 1: Capturing the Image

Select the subject you want to photograph. Take the first photograph focusing on the entire image. Next, adjust the exposure on the camera to capture the highlights and take the photo. The last photograph you will take will be with the exposure adjusted to capture the shadows. You may need to repeat these steps several times until you have at least three photos that successfully capture all of these elements.

Step 2: Merging the Photos

Open the three images using Photoshop by choosing File>Automate >Merge to HDR. This will merge all three photographs together as a high dynamic range image. Once they are merged, select the option to align the source images. This will help to eliminate any shake or slight variances in the image. Click ok to finish and you now have a 32 bit image. This is a good point to save the image. As you work and adjust the photo, do not overwrite this file. If you need to abandon any changes that were made while working with the image, you can just open this file and start over.

Step 3: Tonal Adjustment

Using your 32bit preview image, open the histogram and adjust the white point settings until you have an image with an even exposure and without strong contrast. Next, convert the image to an 8 bit image by selecting Image > Mode > 8bits/Channel. Once the tool has opened, adjust the Exposure and Gamma until the image has the proper amount of contrast and balance. 

Step 4: Applying Shadows and Highlights 

Open the shadow and highlight tool by going to Image > Adjustments > Shadows / Highlight. Use the sliders to adjust both properties until satisfied. This option gives you the chance to brighten any dark areas and lighten or darken any light areas that need to be adjusted. The settings on this tool are very sensitive, so do not adjust beyond level 10. Once you are doing making your adjustments, click ok to save your settings.

Step 5: Adjusting Contrast

To make final adjustments in the contrast, go to Image > Adjustments > Levels. Move the black and white peaks towards the center in the histogram to fine tune the contrast in the image.

If you are satisfied with the image, you are done. You now have a professional quality image that brings all the details of the image together. Remember to save the file in JPEG format as an 8 or 16 bit image.

Popular Cameras for High Quality Photos: