From Many, One: Digital Toolbox

How to make realistically beautiful HDR photos


Sometimes it's easy to spot high-dynamic-range, or HDR, images -- because, all too often, they're hideous. You know the type: crazy with oversaturated color, weird halos, and an aesthetic that has more in common with paint-by-numbers motel art than with photography.Still, it is possible to use HDR software to make pictures that, by combining multiple exposures, look more like the scene you saw when you were there.

One of the most fun and versatile tools for making natural-looking HDR images is HDRsoft's Photomatix Pro ($99, direct;, which we used to create the "After" picture.

Getting started

Want to learn more? Editor Jack Howard's new book, Practical HDRI: High Dynamic Range Imaging for Photographers (Rocky Nook, 2008; $33), explains it all.

It's not hard to make a great HDR photo if you start with as few as three good base images, such as these photos by Robin Ducker.

With your camera on a tripod, use autofocus, then switch to manual to keep the point of focus from shifting during multiple exposures.

Next, set your camera:

• File type, RAW. This gives you the most dynamic range to work with for more options when you merge.

• Autoexposure bracketing set for +/- 2 EV (that is, 2 stops).

• Aperture-priority so that only the shutter speed changes when you bracket, not the depth of field.

• Burst mode so you can fire off all three frames as quickly as possible and avoid capturing light shifts or movement in the scene.

• ISO of at least 200 or 400 to avoid using very long, motion-revealing shutter speeds.

After you shoot, bring the images onto your computer and open Photomatix. Click here to see the tutorial.

More of Debbie Grossman's Photoshop tutorials can be found in the Digital Toolbox archive.