HDR Tutorial Part 3

Navigating the HDR Tutorial

You made it to page 3 of the Choose Your Own Adventure!  You may go back to page 1 or page 2. You may be eaten by a grue.

Bonus Step 1 – Lightroom Fun!

Okay let’s take a step back.

That HDR image we just made is pretty cool, right? But let’s not think of that as the final image. Let’s think of that as an “idea” and we want to make more. That HDR image, to me, only informs the final image. There are always some things I don’t love about the pure HDR result. In that case, for example, I don’t like the fully saturated green shadow on the left.

So, I often prefer to use tools like Photomatix and Lightroom to create many “versions” of the image, each one just being a thought experiment. Today, we are going to use Lightroom to make another version of that image. In my actual day-to-day processing, I may make several Photomatix versions and several Lightroom versions.

The final step, you will see, if you will let me jump ahead, is to layer them all in Photoshop and then combine them into something totally unique that speaks to your personality and your sense of art-self. Maybe this means something to you.

Finding (or creating) your own style

I believe that this method will allow you to create a style that is quintessentially your own! Since you have a unique personality and self, the way you choose to mix and match all the different layers will be inherently unpredictable. This ensures you will have a final look that is “different” than mine and uniquely your own. Maybe in the beginning your photos will look like mine. But, eventually, by using this system, you can come up with a style that is your very own.

Okay let’s get into Lightroom here. You can see that I have Trey’s Lightroom Presets open there on the right and there are many HDR-in-Lightroom presets visible. I started here with the “HDR-in-Lightroom Drama in the Center”.

HDR Tutorial

I have tweaked the sliders on the right to do many of the things that HDR does. The most important sliders are shown there on the top left. As with all these, you can click to zoom in on the image above so you can deconstruct how the preset works.

After I create this image, I export it into a temporary directory. By the way, that is the same temporary directory where I have my Photomatix file. Below, you can see the two images side by side.

HDR Tutorial

So, let’s get back to the notion of “ideas.” I quite like each of these two images! But, I don’t have to choose. I can combine.

If you have Adobe Bridge, you can select all the photos, then go to Tools>Photoshop…>Load Files into Photoshop Layers…. This automagically loads them all into Photoshop in layers! Note you may need to Auto-Align them under the Edit menu after you get in. I had to do that here, as you can see I had two different crops.

Bonus Step 2 – Photoshop phun!

Wait a second here… you’re not thinking, “Ohhhh crap, I suck at Photoshop” are you? I hope not! It’s nothing to be afraid of… This is what friends do, right? We push one another gently out of our comfort zones. So I’m giving you a little push here.

You don’t need to understand ALL of Photoshop to do these few things I will teach you.

HDR Tutorial

You can see that I have the Photomatix layer on top and the Lightroom layer on the bottom. Now I will Frankenstein these two images together using masking.

How to Mask

Watch the quick mini-video or follow the steps:

1) Click on the top layer to make sure it is activated
2) Click at the bottom of the layer panel to add the layer mask (looks like a Japanese flag)
3) Press B to get your brush, make sure the white box is selected, and then set the brush opacity at the top to 50% (for example)
4) Begin brushing on the photo itself. Each brush will show you 50% more of what is underneath. If you do enough strokes, you’ll poke 100% of the way through!

HDR Tutorial

Merging Layers

Once you have masked everything together, merge the layers together you have just completed.  You can do this by selecting Layers > Merge Layers from the menu or Command (Ctrl on windows) E.  If you have multiple layers, you can rinse and repeat this masking and merging as needed!

Before and After, a final comparison

HDR Tutorial

HDR Tutorial

Bonus Step 3 – Noise Reduction

The HDR Process can sometimes add extra noise to the equation. I usually like to use Noiseware towards the end of the process to get rid of the noise. It’s the best program I have found for this sort of thing!

Notes for Noiseware:

  • Oftentimes, I only do noise reduction on the sky. This requires me to duplicate the layer first and then mask through after the noise reduction so that only the sky has this effect.
  • I leave noise (as long as it is not too bad) in the textured areas of the shot because it adds even more texture.
  • For extreme night-time situations, be ready to violently move the sliders in all the Noiseware tabs to get rid of that mess!

Bonus Step 4 – Sharpening

I often then sharpen using Topaz Adjust or onOne.

  • OnOne – Once you start post-processing, you’ll want all the crayons in the box! Download onOne Software at this link. I have a review of OnOne here: onOne Plugin Review.
  • Topaz AdjustDownload Topaz. It will help bring “pop” and sharpness back into the final photo. The whole Topaz Bundle on the site is also a good option if you want all the tools they offer.

Bonus Q&A!

I hope you enjoyed the tutorial! Here are the answers to a few more questions that pop up from time to time.

How do you fix Ghosting or make an HDR of a moving object?

This is a common question! If you understand this section about masking, then maybe you see the answer to your question. Basically, I choose one of the images from Lightroom and make it look as “HDR as possible.” And then I bring that into a layer in Photoshop and mask through to reveal the part of the image I want to be “frozen” or still. Good examples are running children or waves or birds. If you JUST mask through the object, you may notice it looks funny, or obviously masked in. To combat this, do a gentle masking around the outside and gradient back into the HDR image. For example, use a 25% brush and make ever less intense concentric circles around the still object you have masked in.

What is Double-Tonemapping?

I figured this out by accident, but it is cool. Once you are done in Photomatix, don’t save! Go in and select Tone Mapping again, and you can do a second round of tone-mapping. Watch out because things can go crazy — but sometimes crazy-cool!

Where do you share your images?

I share them many places, but I keep my portfolio on SmugMug. I recommend them! See my full SmugMug Review for more.

  • The new HDR Tutorial Page 3 is up!

  • I love the tutorials and the newsletter as well as the tips on other software. I use Photomatix, onOne and Topaz but I’m still a beginner in using them as I don’t have sufficient time. With Photomatix, my whites usually turn to grey and I can’t remember where I saw a tip on dealing with this. Any help would be appreciated and thanks again for a great newletter and tutorials.

  • Trey,
    Great tutorial, I had a couple of questions / clarifications if you’d be so kind:
    My questions are in

    from step 6)
    This, briefly, is what we are gonna do:

    Import all of the original images plus the .JPG we just made in Photomatix

    Please note that this is kind of overkill to import all of them – over time, you will probably only import just the ones you need, as you will see. Also, most likely you will have 4 images — the 3 originals plus your Photomatix result.
    Repair the areas that are blown-out with the DARKEST of the original images by using “Masking”.
    Repair the ghosted pedestrian and cars by selecting the best RAW, which we will have adjusted to have nice coloring in the RAW importer

    from “Raw Importer”
    Now, go ahead and open the original images plus the Photomatix result JPG in Photoshop. The dialog you see below is the RAW importer for Photoshop. It is very nice because it has these wonderful sliders that you can use to pull out additional light information. This is the wonderful secret of the RAW photo! As opposed to the JPEG, the RAW contains extra light information you can access using the RAW importer.
    What I am going to do is select my favorite of the Original shots, and adjust the sliders so that it looks as close as possible to the Photomatix result.

    Thanks in advance for the clarifications.

  • My question didn’t show up in the last post, so lets try this differently. I’ll post them here.

    1) in step 6
    “import all of the original images plus the .jpg we just made in Photomatix”

    …are you talking about importing the three original Raw or the three processed that are now .jpgs?

    2) from the “Raw Importer”
    “Now, go ahead and open the original images plus the Photomatix result JPG in Photoshop”….This is the wonderful secret of the RAW photo! As opposed to the JPEG,….What I am going to do is select my favorite of the Original shots”

    I’m confused as to which files you are talking about. Should I be opening the processed jpegs or the unprocessed Raw files in camera raw and “use the sliders to make it / them look as close as possible to the Photomatix result”

    thanks in advance for the clarifications.

  • You spoke of NoiseWare and recommended it.
    I see you recommend other Nik software.
    Do you have any experience with Nik’s Define 2.0 noise reduction software? as compared to Noiseware?

  • Thanks all

    Paulmario – the best way to handle that is to re-mix the original whites from one of the original pics, like I suggest via massking.

    Jeff – 1) I usually just bring in the jpgs — if I need some part repaired with the raw importer, I may use the raw 2) If you do bring in the RAW, you can use the sliders to make it look more “HDR Like”. Often times, you do not need to bring in the RAW…. but if the JPG you are trying to remix does not cut it, then try adjusting the RAW

  • danial ma

    hej! Trey…great thanks with the tutorial…and love your photos too…

  • thanks for a great read. that was VERY helpful =)

  • Deana

    I have been trying to generate an “HDR” image just from one picture, but it won’t let me. I’ve opened up the image, but the “Tone Mapping” feature is un-selectable.

    Any ideas why?

    Thanks 🙂

  • Hrmm.. do you do this for EVERY photo?? You must spend a lot of time editing pictures. I am an amatuer photographer.. a hobbyist.. 🙂 However I am getting more and more into photography now that I have a semi-decent camera (Ricoh GX200). I notice that my camera does do auto-bracketing, which is a good start but I am a little bit overwhelmed by the amount of work and money involved in just getting started with HDR.

    I have encountered many situations where I could have used these techniques but yer… that’s a lot of work (or so it seems) per photo.

    How much is the initial software setup going to cost?

  • Thanks all.

    Deana – make sure you drag the RAW file into Photomatix — that will create a “pseudo hdr” that you can tonemap

    Ligt487 – yes – each photo takes me a small eternity! Software-wise, the one thing you really need is Photomatix – that is a little less than $100 when you use my coupon code. Once you are ready to add more software, just go through the ones I recommend!

  • Thanks for the feedback. I will check out the Photomatix software and go from there 🙂 Hrmm.. now I’ll have to go back to China again to take all my photos again with auto-bracketing 🙂

  • onur cem

    thanks for the great tutorial. You opened up a bright new path ahead of me

  • Raj

    Awesome tutorial. Do you suggest Lucis Art ED or or Lucis Art SE???
    You’re pretty awesome dude!

  • I have been shooting HDR for a couple of years now, but still found your tutorial helpful, especially the masking section. Thanks so much for sharing. Many of your images are good, especially those where the core photo indicates thoughtful and penetrating personal vision on your part. Many do. These are your best images, and they can stand either “straight” or manipulated.

    One general comment about HDR… I think we all have to be careful with this process, a heavy hand often suggests the photographer has just tasted some psychedelic cool aid.

    Jan Armor

  • Oliver

    Thank You very Much Great Tutorial!! Helps me a lot.
    One Question: You write

    ” I prefer to find my favorite of the original shots where the people are in the most interesting formation. I then use that photo to remix with the original.”

    Mmmh. But what would you do if your favorite is in the brightest picture? When you remix it with the original this part of the picture will be also bright.

  • THanks!

    Oliver – in that case, I would use the RAW importer and then make the exposure slider go left a bit…

  • Thanks a lot for this great tutorial. It’s a great reference for someone new to HDR photography. Also glad to hear that it is possible to just use a a single raw file and play with the exposure settings to create three different pictures– it is after all, exactly what the camera does, but the camera will has a fraction of a second between each frame. I’m still going to go with the exposure bracketing method, but I’m glad to know that I had the theory correct in my head of how HDR works.

    Have you tried creating HDRs by changing lens settings? Like one exposure at, say, 1/2000 of a sec, one at 1/200, and one at 1/8? Or would it just be easier and get the same effect from changing exposure values?

    Anyway, great tutorial– I’m off to go take my first HDR shots!!

  • Tom

    Amazing photos and a great tutorial. Despite what the critics say, HDR’s are re-invigorating photography and will bring a new wave of artists along with it.

    I have 2 questions:

    1) When you create an HDR from a single image, do you tend to shoot that image underexposed (to ensure no part is blown out), overexposed, or right on?
    2) Is Photomatrix required to get quality outputs (in your opinion), or can you used the HDR tool in CS4? (I admit that I cant get good results in CS4, but I think that might be due to user error rather then CS4’s limitations).


  • Hello,

    I’ve been shooting HDR for a few years now, just thought its about time to say thanks for all the help your site has provided. Keep up the great work.

  • Russ


    I am an amateur photographer (using Canon EOS 50D) and currently based in Singapore. I was really astounded by your pictures and never thought how expansive photographic creativity could be. The pictures are amazing and so is the tutorials. Im an old-fashioned photographer but seeing your pictures made me think otherwise. So, why not indulge myself with it for the sake of growth and for the sake of photography itself. . .I would just like to inquire if those softwares you recommended are stand-alone softwares or are they Photoshop plug-ins?. . .thanks so much in advance…

    Keep shooting and keep inspiring people. . .
    God bless. . .

  • val

    Great stuff.
    Are you doing a survey on who is reading your ‘e-book’ ad? “1st” is spelled first, yes?
    Also, do you have your HDR Tutorial in a PDF or some other downloadable version as you did a while back?
    PS – Love your HDR Book. Inspirational!

  • Pingback: Best HDR Software()

  • Thanks for the tips! I’m really having a blast with HDR!

  • Abishek


    Awesome tutorial. I have been very interested in HDR photography for a while, but have not had much success. Very recently on a trip to the rockies, I realized I was not even motivated to try out any HDR’s.
    In the past I have used PS to do the tone mapping, but have been very disappointed with the results, particularly sharpness. I believe the layer mask steps make all the difference between a complete well processed HDR and a half a$$ job.

    Do the noise reduction tools work with PC’s?

    Reading your tutorial and viewing your pics have rekindled my interest in HDR. I am very close to buying the photomatix s/w, and if I decide to do so, will go through your website and coupon code.

    Keep up the good work….

  • Libby

    Is there a way to use masking in elements rather than photoshop?
    Great Tutorial

  • Tuan

    Hi Trey,

    I stumbled upon your website a few weeks back (I don’t remember how)and I got hooked ever since. Thanks for your tutorial, it’s awesome. All your pictures look stunning, I can’t get my eyes off them.
    I’ve shown my recent photos to my friends and co-workers and they said “WOW” and they feel jealous.
    The pictures look clear and stand out. HDR is the way to go for me from now on. Keep up all your great work. Thanks

  • Hi Trey,
    Repeat of Libby’s question – is there a way of doing the masking in PS Elements (v8 for me) rather than Photoshop?


  • Thanks for the tips. Will be useful in some projects.

  • Update on the Photoshop Elements masking question. There’s a neat little workaround described here:

  • Omee

    Hi Trey,

    I’ve been playing with HDR for a few weeks now having read your tutorial. I wanted to mention a neat feature I’ve just discovered on my first dSLR (Canon 500D).

    Auto-bracketing on my camera limits you to -2, 0 and +2 EV, which is fine normally. But I’ve discovered that if I turn on auto-bracketing and then adjust the EV to -2, it will auto-bracket -4, -2 and 0. Moving the EV the other way allows me to take 0, +2 and +4. Doing this gives me 6 shots with two at 0EV (but you can just delete one of course) ranging from -4 to +4 at 2EV stops for those few occasions when -2 and +2 aren’t quite enough.

    Obviously only really useful in a fairly static scene and on a tripod. But I thought it was neat and wanted to share. I imagine other brands of cameras do the same.

    Really inspired by your work Trey. Thank you so much for making this tutorial and the eBooks.

  • This HDR tutorial is the best…! I’ll do my best to take photos like you and process HDR like you someday. yay!

  • the images look pretty nice.
    but im not getting the point, why do you make them look like cgi, they look totally unreal.
    your art lies not in photography but in postproduction and handling software.

  • You Are my GOD thank you SOOOOO!!!!!! much i cant wate to try this out…

  • Liliana

    Thanks so very much. I new nothing about hdr before reading your tutorial. I’ve been practicing while reading and it has helped a lot.
    You explain everything in a very simple and fun way.
    Thank you again.

  • Is there a way to print this out? Thanks for the infomation!

  • Outstanding work Trey, glad I was watching Leo Laporte and the TWiT Netowrk to find your site and work as soon as I did….it really is fun to take HDR images.

    BTW if anyone is interested, I’ve just finished a tutorial on the HDR process and even explain masking in Photoshop so it’s worth it for those who didn’t fully understand it in text format here at the site. You can find my channel under “SonicOrbStudios” or google me for my website which will link you there. The video is called “HDR Photos Tutorial”.

  • Dwight Carlin

    I didn’t see anything in the tutorial about Photoshop Elements. Did I miss it? If not, are the steps exactly the same? Obviously Photoshop has some features that Elements doesn’t and I don’t want to get halfway through and find out I can’t finish. Thanks for the help. Dwight

  • thx all… Dwight- yes PS Elements is okay – all you need is the ability to use Layers

  • jeff

    I’m having such a hard time with my tonemapped layer.
    It’s locked and I can’t seem to unlock it. What on earth am I doing wrong?

  • Aha… nothing nothing… just drag the LOCK icon to the trash. OR duplicate that layer.

  • Awesome stuff – thankyou! As I was reading I was thinking of all the photos in my collection that are just slightly missing something and could be brought to life with this technique! It’s going to be a long processing session!

  • Dana

    This is undeniably the best tutorial, thanks! Just a question please as I’m totally an amateur still groping my way through… I have a Nikon D60, does it have auto bracketing? Thanks!

  • Hey there,
    I heard about HDR a while ago but only got the real desire to get into it today after I failed to capture the beauty of autumn light shining through trees onto a lake. This tutorial looks great and as Light487 says, it does look like a lot of work but I think for those epic shots it just has to be done!
    I had a look through your gallery and a lot of the images are exactly the kind of effect I want to achieve (e.g. road to Queenstown, Umbrella…) but I think that some images in HDR can often look too digitalised, especially ones with lots of lights or flowing water. Are there different levels of HDR-ness you can give to a photo, if for example you want to give your photos more intensity but maintain the authenticity of the image?

  • Yes – you can certainly choose “how much” to HDR up an image…. if you know what I mean!

  • Fantastic tutorial Trey, the most complete (and convincing I might say) I have seen on the subject. Thanks for this and also for not charging for the information!

  • Trey, Fantastic photography and very readable blog. I was well into photography a few years back and then got distracted (in a good way) by graphic and web design. Just got my first DSLR and along with my descovery of HDR, cant wait to get stuck in!! Cheers

  • Pete Senior

    Ok… wow. I now know what I’m getting for Christmas! I’ve tried out the trial of Photomatix, and the results, even on a single file, are pretty mind-blowing. I can now go back to all my photos that I think need that extra little push, and make them extra-special. Also really great to see some examples, and a really great walkthrough from start to finish. It’s really nice that this is explained. If you just surf the net, HDR looks kinda scary and fiddly. Not so no more. Also, this is really handy for night shots with really dark patches-with three or so exposures, you can give some detail to the dark patches, without blowing out the light patches. Anyhow, this has given my ancient 350D another way of leaving an impact 😀 Thankyou!

  • George Webster

    thanks Trey for free tutorial…several people asked you to explain why you use jpgs not raw into and tiff out of Photomatix…are you not just throwing away an awful lot of data…hope i don’t have to pay $379 to get the answer!!!

  • Hey thanks for the comments…

    George – sorry for appearing not to answer some questions… we have over 1,000 posts, and each one gets comments and questions every day… I feel like the little dutch boy! Anyway — here is my good answer. JPGs are excellent quality. Really… I know many many professional photographers that get their work printed just using max quality JPG. I also do this. I’ve looked at 300% all over images that are TIFFs and JPGs and I don’t see a difference. And… Hard drive space is cheap… so that is certainly not an issue. Anyway, JPEGs get a bad rap — because there are a lot of people out there that are way too over-the-top TIFF-lovers. I think it is easy to see that side… the way the images are stored is very different and the file is so much bigger. The different+filesize seems to convince many people that it is indeed superior. Anyway — this is all a very long way of saying the JPGs are perfectly fine. (plus, they are much faster to work with…and speed of processing is also important… so this is a nice bonus)

  • Ryan

    Will you be updating a tut… or doing a review on the Photoshop CS5 HDR Pro? I have CS5 and am not really looking into dropping more money into software right now, and from what I understand Adobe really stepped up their game to make HDR Pro comparable. Wondering what you think of it and how can I cross correlate the slider settings from photomatix to the HDR Pro sliders. Thanks

  • Brilliant! I was guilty of not masking the ghosted portions of my image…no telling how many friends I have lost in the process!! see: http://timsdigitaldarkroom.com/Landscapes/Vermont-and-Maine/Vermont-and-Maine-2010/MG3425678tonemappedbw-copy/976629087_vawT4-L-1.jpg

    I didn’t realize until a few days ago you’re in ATX! wild. same here 🙂

  • Thank you for introducing me to HDR. I assume that I can fix the thousands of old slides and negatives that I have by making five scans at different settings and treating them the same as you describe; this is going to improve many old photos. I will also start to take practice photos in bracketed RAW and learn these new techniques.
    I have been taking photos for 45 years and seen a lot of other peoples work and you are one of the best. Sincerely, G. David Marshall (gdmlegacy.com)

  • That is a great Tutorial Trey!
    I started off with a Nikon D70s as its a great camera. Possibly thinking about moving to a D7000 next.
    I’ve done a few HDR shots so far, but not put any up on my website (not finished yet) or my Blog, as I didn’t think they were good enough. However this tutorial will definitely help me through the process. I’ve tried bracketing and the single RAW shot, and I agree that the bracketing gets the best results, I just never thought to put it in Photoshop to mask out certain things. I’ll be doing that now! Thanks again. I’ll be tweeting this to friends 🙂
    Andy Wood

  • Click on this link rather than the one I did wrong! oops.

  • Jason


    Great HDR tutorial!! Is the masking function available in Lightroom 3?


  • There are other ways to do it in Lightroom, but it does not really do layers quite the same way…

  • Nathan Dean


    This is invaluable information for any photographer, pro or amateur. Simply amazing! I have been shooting for 12 years and after reading this, I’m so excited to get out and shoot. It feels like the day I received my first camera for Christmas. Solid job!


  • Andres Bonilla

    Hello and thank you for you tutorials. You probably mentioned but I found out that high ISO is lethal for HDR. I had some shots in 800 ASA and they looked horrible, my best HDR are with 100 ASA and a tripod.

  • Hi there!

    I have JUST stumbled onto your work – as in, I saw a photo of yours on Flickr about a half hour ago – and I already know I’m going to be a loyal reader. I haven’t looked at any other of my open tabs since I found your site (and I have browsing ADD, so this is a big thing), and I read through the entire HDR tutorial.

    I have this to say: you rock. I really appreciate your friendly writing, willingness to share and teach others, and humble attitude. The fact that you are obviously proud of your work, but don’t assume that the whole world will love it, is refreshing, and your sense of humor is so fun. Thanks for sharing with all of us, and keep up the great work!

  • jason

    hi trey, have you come across this … http://people.csail.mit.edu/kapu/papers/GalloICCP09.pdf ?

  • Hey bro, might want to change the font. Helvetica is easier to read IMO. 🙂

    Thanks for the tut btw!

  • Dylan Alvarez

    Hey Trey!
    This tutorial has definitely helped my photos out a LOT. I’m planning on buying the HDR video tutorial as soon as possible. One question though. Do you save your photos from Photomatix as JPGs, 8-bit TIFFs, or 16-bit TIFFs? I’m trying to figure out what the best format would be for me that saves enough image data to be able to manipulate it around a bit in Photoshop and at the smallest file size possible. I know that this is the eternal struggle for image formats but I’m just trying to find a good balance. Thanks in advance!

  • Paulo

    Hi Trey! Great tutorial! I have some questions. Regarding the raw pics in lightroom, do you edit those pics first and then convert it to jpeg before you drag them to photomatix for HDR? or you convert them right away (as camera shots) to jpeg without editing the pics. Thanks!!!

  • Nat

    Hi Trey,
    Great tutorial, clear and well laid out, thanks.
    Have you tried NIK’s HDR Efex Pro? How does it compare with Photomatix Pro?

  • Excellent tutorial – definitely gave me lots of ideas and info when I started my HDR journey. Stoked to have sold some now, even got a couple of galleries selling them and had architectural HDR shots in Elle magazine in Italy and a UK Wedding magazine! Cheers for the inspiration 🙂

  • Marcus


    Great tutorial!!!

    I’m getting more into photography. I have a Nikon D50 and I was wondering if I should use raw instead of the autobracketing. My camera does the 3images (-2,0,2) but I did some testing and found out the raw was better with moving stuff.

    I don’t mind generating the tiffs from photoshop since I’m fairly good with it.

    So my question is… Is it ok if I only use RAW?

  • hey Trey

    I would like to help you with this tutorial translation project. I am Italian, and I can provide you with a good Italian translation of the 3 pages article!

    Can we talk about it? Drop me an E-Mail, man! 🙂

    take good care
    Marco Famà photography

  • Michael E.

    Just went through your tutorial last night, and then came up with this today.


    I think I think in a similar frequency of light, I think.

    This is literally my first HDR pic after going through your tutorial.

    I’m happy.


    – Michael

  • jane

    hi trey
    I would like to ask you a question about the software you listed up. If I have just the photomatrix and a noise reduction software(without the luciusart), can I still achieve the same results you have on your images?

    p.s your work is amazing.I added you as a contact on flickr.The pandora picture rocks!

  • Paul

    great tutorial.
    main criticism is how you are opening and saving these files multiple times as jpegs across multiple programs. surely you are loosing data.

    also, that shot of the donkey(?) has a white halo around it, which is something you want to avoid with HDR

  • hello, I’m from Brasil, this is my first test with hdr videos, just for fun


  • Joe D

    Trey, sorry if this has been mentioned before. Do you make any adjustments to your bracketed images in Lightroom before you export them as jpgs for processing in Photomatix?

  • annelie

    I think this website is really good! Beautiful pictures and well described! I do have one question though. For example, your horse picture * which is btw stunning* how did you do that ? I mean, every time when i have to change the the light stuff like -2 -1 -0 etc it takes a couple of seconds, coz i do it by hand, In the mean while, the horse can move slightly. So like is there a special function on the camera in which it automatically shoots in 5 different lightings?? I have hte nikon D90. .

  • Terry Lawson

    Hi Trey

    I was going through youR HRD Tutorial and there is one error ( I think ) in page 3 of your Tutorial.

    Now that you created the mask, you will see a little white box on that layer down in the lower right. See it? Click on that little white box it (MAY NOT NEED THIS WORD) because THAT represents the mask.
    Make sure your chosen color over on the right (SHOULD THIS BE LEFT) is BLACK.


  • leo

    Wow, this tutorial is awesome! Too bad I’m 16 years old and the only camera I have is an iPhone 3G 😛 I managed to take some CHDR (Crappy HDR) photos with it though, with “Simple Camera” and “Pro HDR” (which I bought, but I had to jailbreak to install it because iTunes wouldn’t let me) but it’s difficult and the results suck most of the time…

  • Have no idea where I went wrong.. I used the step by step process and didn’t get close to a half way decent photo image with the photomatix.
    Awesome photos you have to share.

  • Jim Spartacus

    This is what I got after reading all of this. After you have spent $2000 to $3000 plus for a camera with assorted goodies, then you go out and spend another $2000 plus for computer software and lessons on how to do all of this – is that what I’m reading? What did photographers do before the advent fancy software? An even better question – if Ansel was around, would he invest in photo software?

  • Thank you very much for this tutorial! I bought Photomatix over a year ago, but gave up using it because I found the results unpredictable and often not complimentary. I came across this page last week, dusted off my tripod, and tried your technique with a sunset photo. Now I’ve edited 4-5 photos following your tutorial, with better results than I’ve ever had! My fave pic so far is from a single RAW. Dismal grey skies used to be a photo killer for me, but in this picture the sky is dramatic, not dingy. Thank you for making bad weather fun again! 🙂


  • Hi
    after being directed to check this web site out and looking at the tutorial I am eager and excited to get started at HDR.. I have lightoom three and photomatix can be purchased as a plug in. Can I do decent HDR images with just this software? Or do I have to get the Adobe CS5 also..The wife will kill me if I spend anymore money on this Hobby of mine!!

  • Thanks very much Trey. This is an exciting adventure and you are an excellent mentor.
    I just read your tutorial and received answers to some of the questions I posted on a differnet page on the site.

    For clarification:

    1)Is the shot of the farmboy in your portfolio a single raw image? Was it divided into 3 layers, as someone mentioned here, or was it processed as a single raw in Photomatix?

    2)Same questions for the shot of “The Gentle Path”.

    3)You are fine with JPEG’s for final output. Is this for internet or is this also for large prints, say 20×30 inches or larger. I am now going to start with RAW. My 5-6mb JPEGs after processing are leaving me with 2mb finished products which is not much when printing.

    I looked at Michael E.’s Petaluma Train Station (above in this blog)and assume that your students successes bring you great pleasure. May you have much.

    Thanks again,

  • Kat

    I’m a new photographer and I saw a question on this board that I didn’t find an answer for: when you’re going to do an HDR process from a single RAW, do you overexpose the original photo when you take it so as to get the most clarity? I learned to do this when I first got my Nikon D3000 last year and then to duplicate and muliply the layer in photoshop to make it look more rich. Would overexposing the shot produce better results when doing HDR? I ask mainly because I don’t have an autobracketing feature on my camera (which I really wished I had looked into when I bought it) and processing a single shot is my primary way to get HDR without long, frustrating shoots.

  • Hi Kat,
    Why don’t you use a tripod and manually adjust for three or five different exposures? It takes a few seconds longer, but you should get the same results if you take care not to shake the camera, ie: solid tripod, mirror lock-up, timed release or remote release.

  • Trey,
    I am fascinated by your great work and all the efforts of this website!
    I have a large catalog of 35mm that I have scanned at hi res, but alas that doesn’t get me the bracketed exposures one would desire for HDR work.
    Do you have any experience or suggestions for workflow with Photomatrix when source material starts as hi res tiffs, or am I talking apples an oranges?
    I look forward to viewing the DVD for future work regardless ,thanks in advance.

  • Kat

    Hey Moshe,

    That’s good advice and I’ve been doing that. Only problem is that I can’t take any HDR photographs of anything that is moving too quickly (e.g. clouds on a windy day). So, I’m reliant on my RAW image turning out for good depth when creating a pseudo-HDR for many situations. I’m just wondering how to best expose the one shot to get better results in the processing stage.

    Thank you,


  • Promytius

    I was doing great until “On the Menu, go to Layer > Create Layer Mask > Reveal All.” My PS (CS2) does not have that selection, and there is no equivalent that I saw. Oh well….

  • A masking question – do you use a tablet rather than a mouse? I reckon al of this “painting” (masking back and forth) would be heaps easier with a tablet. I’m thinking of getting one just for this purpose.

  • Prakhar

    Great tutorial but I have photoshop cs5 which already has a “merge to hdr” feature.Can you temme if it wud be fyn to use dis instead of photomatrix

  • Justin

    Interesting comment about 80% of people liking HDR! While I totally agree with you about how it should be used to recreate how we actually see the world (so many potentially great photos ruined by burnt-out sky or underexposed subjects!!) I think that there needs to be some kind of new nomenclature for HDR styles. If you google search “HRD” in images, most of the pictures that come up look nothing like how we would see the world. To say that by (in the broad sense that you mention) making an HDR image recreates how we see it is too general for the masses of snapshot shooters who like HRD. For many people the “extreme HDR” (again, google image search this) looks ‘cool’ because of the intense contrast and dodge ring around closer objects. This is, undoubtedly, not how we see the world, yet it is still HDR. I have no problem with people liking this—free will, and everything, I choose not to practice this—and I appreciate a lot of your photography (here, I will thank you for the great tutorial!) but I think the opportunity of using HDR steers people to over-do it and go from what could have been 3-5+ OK photos, to a great photo, then to a single over-developed blown-out HDR photo that looks like fantasy and loses all subjective credibility.

    So as you mentioned from the start, HDR is new and exciting, and I am so glad you recognize it as something that is still very much being figured out. But this is all the more reason for someone/some people to form a set of terms to describe what they are talking about. No one process works for all styles!

  • Matt Helms

    Gave HDR a run a few years ago, but just didn’t grasp the concept…

    It seemed overly complicated and quite out of my ability.

    This guide has given me new hopes. Heading out to take some shots during lunch shortly here.

    Thanks for the detailed insight into the process.

  • Trey’s website was the starting point for my interest in HDR as I didn’t know about it before that.
    I was never actually able to fully follow the tutorial originally because I couldn’t do masking with Elements 6. That changed with Elements 9.
    Just a few things for beginners from what I’ve learned:
    I’d recommend taking the photos with a tripod and fixing the ISO at 100 to control noise. HDR adds alot of noise.
    +2 to -2 is generally good enough for exposure range.
    Photomatix is well worth the investment. Its a great starting point for an image.
    Search the Web for Presets – you can save them as your own and then you can do less messing with the sliders.
    The sliders are not that straightforward
    Being able to combine the original picture and the HDR picture is really valuable.
    This is done by masking. Photoshop Elements 9 does this quite well.
    Even combining some of the original photo back into the original (by using say a 30% mask) really improves the look of the picture.
    Masking I think is the key to going from good to great this is the bit you need to master.
    After this it gets expensive.
    It can remove the halos and the odd bits from a Photomatix picture but you can still keep the good bits.
    Adobe CS5 is great but very expensive. It can do what Photomatix does but Photomatix is easier and quicker to use.
    Adobe Lightroom is brilliant for Organising but expensive
    Topaz Adjust is expensive but very good (puts a very good HDR effect even on a single picture)
    Noiseware professional is excellent at reducing noise but is expensive (and very fast to use). Noise is big problem in HDR. Using something like Noiseware professional really smoothes out skys and makes the HDR less harsh. I like Topaz adjust myself.
    HDR Efex Pro is good but very expensive, the same for the other pieces of Nik software. Viveza 2 is very good for putting structure into things like clouds. Its uses control points to do local adjustment without layers and its quite effective. Silver Efex Pro is great for black and white conversion. Color Efex Pro I’m not gone on but alot of people like to use it for change the look of a photo.
    Once you get past Elements and Photomatix the bill starts to get really expensive.
    From time to time I still tinker away with HDR. Feel free to look at my Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/fergalocallaghan/
    Comments are always welcome.
    I see it even in Treys work, you get more and more subtle about HDR as time goes by. Less is more really when it comes to HDR. I still like the bold colours, sometimes it reflects better what I saw rather than a normal photo. Maybe my eyes have a higher than average dynamic range.
    The one great advantage Trey has over all of us is location. I think I could do a good job on the Taj Mahal if I could afford to go there and get in before the general public. Trey kicked off the bandwagon so he deserves all the plaudits and the opportunities he has to go to these great places. His passion shines through in his work. I can only envy and admire. He is still top of his game because even with the load of people now doing HDR his work is still the benchmark to reach.

  • Andrea

    Hi Trey, and friends 🙂
    When I open in photoshop the file created with photomatrix and then I add the other 3 original pictures as levels I have a serious problem to overcame: the image created with photomatrix doesn’t align with the other 3 due to the small movement of the camera or of the subjects, what can I do to fix this? (the ones in photomatrix are already joined in a single image from the program, fixing the movement etc, but how can I use the other for editing if they are not aligned?)
    thanks in advance, great tutorial 🙂

  • I understand what your your problem is. I’ve had that problem in the past.
    Firstly I make sure that I am using a tripod so all the pictures are exactly the same. I use a cheap remote control or the camera timer to take the pictures so that pushing down on the camera shutter button isn’t putting the three pictures slightly out of line.
    Then when Photomatix does the HDR picture it is all perfectly aligned.
    In Photoshop I used something I think its under Scripts which is loading the pictures into a stack.
    They are then perfectly aligned. I also use Lightroom and you can load a number of pictures there into Photoshop as layers.
    Since I have been doing this I have had no issues about alignment only ghosting issues when something moves within the picture.
    When I had your problem I did mess about a bit to fix it. I think what I used to do was create a mask 50% with the HDR and Original (best shot), zoom in to a big size and then move the top picture to get something in particular in the picture to line up. At least I think that is what I was doing. I was doing it in photoshop elements 9 and I seemed to be able to move the picture a bit.

    You are on the right track though. The key to getting good HDR pictures is the mix the Photomatix picture back with the best parts of the original. It reduces noise and brings it back to being more realistic. I think the tutorial glazes over this a bit. I usually noise reduce the HDR before blending back in the original. Noise reduction takes out some detail but masking with the original and bringing some of the original back in improves the detail.
    Kind Regards

  • I should correct my previous mail and say masking was glazed over in the original tutorial whereas he describes it in much more detail in the updated version.
    There are great videos on youtube to show you how to do masking. Its much faster to see someone do it that to read it in a book.
    I’m not sure if the original shots are available anywhere here on the website. It would have been interesting when learning to have had the same raw files to try and copy the masters methods and techniques. In the Amazon book reviews on his book and in the e-books I’ve bought here he doesn’t really disclose everything he does. There would be a suspicion that he doesn’t want everyone to get as good as him and do himself out of a job. Its enought to get going but it doesn’t make you as good as him. Its probably a reasonable fear for him. What makes Trey unique is that he knows how to do something that others cannot. Its always put as each person needs to find their own way.
    His tutorial is however one of the best places to start and giving that for free probably took some courage but its paid off in spades. I’d have never have figured it out without him. It was the first instruction of any sort I saw.
    Kind Regards

  • ı am learn and usefull photoshop like, cs3 really beatiful your sites good site thankss

  • Trey, I just got on here recently and what I see is so interesting to me. I want to take the 11 hour course but I think I will wait until I get back from a trip to N.H. (coming up at the end of the month for a month) I am concerned, with myself, about understanding what you are talking about in some cases. I have breezed through this information very quickly. This is all for still shots right? I don’t do video. It all seems very interesting to me and I want to go further with HDR. I have tried it with little/some success through CS5 and photomatix. A few shots came out great but I have no idea how I did it. I just worked the sliders and it just happened to come out great so knowing what I’m doing to begin with is the route I want to take. I am not sure why/how adding the three raw originals into photoshop as layers and then adding the completed Photomatix as a Tif but then I read something about JPG. It’s difficult for me to understand but hopefully I can get through this okay. I tried three of my pictures and circled the ghostly areas which, as a result, turned out to be very noisy with dirt. I assume that is typical and I also take it that this is why I should order the Noiseware? Anyway, I will catch you later. I do want to go through it again and maybe again,to try and understand it all. Thanks for being there for us. It sounds great!!

    From what I can see by checking this out, it’s an awesome class to get into and I like your humor to go along with it. I am very interested in all of this so I can’t wait to get back here. Until then I want to at least try to understand these free preview classes that you have on here. I will keep going through them in hopes of understanding this more before I start the big class.This will make it much easier for me. Thanks again, Tena

  • Thank you so much for this tutorial! I just finished my first HDR shot with your help and it looks FANTASTIC. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making this so accessible and straightforward while allowing the reader plenty of room to explore and grow on his/her own.

  • Hi Trey,

    I have Nickon D5100 and when I go in to Atuo bracketing it has reading from

    AE 0.3, 0.7, 1., 1.3, 1.7 and 2.0

    It doesn’t have negative values.

    Please advise.


  • Fantastic tutorial! I am just delving into HDR for the first time. This was a huge help! Thank you very much!

  • Done

    I was really excited to try this. Then I read page 3. Way over my head. Actually the whole digital process is over my head. I miss the film days. I think I am going to sell my gear.

  • Thanks for sharing Trey, this tutorial is very helpful !

  • Chris

    Hello. Your tutorial does not address the saving of images. Bear with me I am a newbie.

    Are you using your original files in Photomatix to make your final HDR photo? Or making copies and using those? I have been told never to work on your originals.

    You say that you convert the original RAW files into Jpegs in Lightroom. What is the point of shooting in RAW then? Are you converting them and saving them as new files or not saving them and just loading into Photomatix to do the HDR process?

    When finished in Photomatix you have 3 options of saving the HDR image. 16 bit TIFF, 8 bit TIFF and Jpeg. What is the difference and advantages or disadvantages of each?

    Anyone may answer if you know these answers. Please I find that not many will help me with some questions I have to get me going. Thank you so much.

  • Shayne

    Great tutorial Trey! Just wondering if I really need the Photomatix software now that CS5 has Merge to HDR Pro. I’m new to HDR and haven’t used this. I’m considering purchasing the Topaz Photoshop Bundle, so just trying to keep my costs down.

  • Otto Kristensen

    Way to go dude! Crazy tutorial! Thumbs up!

  • grodswanetta

    you must read online for more

  • 2 ice

  • Heh. You could shoot the same image with the same gear – heck, you could be handed the same raw file as a dozen other professional photographers, given the same tools to process it with, and the same knowledge to use those tools, and hand me thirteen different images when it was all over and done with. And none of them would be “wrong”. A couple of them would be amazing and popular, and some of them not so much. Just like a great sculptor, it isn’t the tools or how you use them. It’s the image you alone can see, and choose to reveal that makes a great photographer.

  • Damian Vines

    Hi Trey, I see this is about 1 year or more old now. Would you say there is any updates in software or in things you’ve learned that would change any of the information you’ve provided? Or anything you’d like to add to it?

  • Paweł Misiak

    I just have done a pretty good picture thanks to you!

  • Great.. great! Really great! Now I’m learning. Gotta take more pictures and practice more. 😀

  • i have nikon coolpix L120. can that be helpful for making hdr ?

  • Hey Trey, I’ve been following you on Flickr for years now and I have my first question…. How do you get rid of the red and blue mini halos around some objects?

  • thats the most perfect statement i heard in a long time…

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  • Eric Richards

    Noiseware is really nice, recently I’ve been running it on the source files before photomatix… seems to work out ok. Other times I run it at the end, just before sharpen.. I never really know when is best for that. No rhyme or reason for this comment. 🙂

  • Trey Ratcliff

    Try playing with the Chromatic Aberration (that’s what it is) checkbox during the Photomatix step! 🙂

  • Trey Ratcliff


  • or you can easily from Lens Corrections in Lightroom,
    there’s something called
    Remove Chromatic Aberration

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  • The numbers you mention and the steps between shots. For example the 0.3 setting would give you -0.3, 0, +0.3 exposures. The 1.7 would thus give you a -1.7,0,+1.7

  • It steps in 2 from the anchor point. So if your anchor (exposure compensation) was -1.0, then your 3 shots would be -3.0, -1.0, and +1.0 — make sense?

  • Yes, thanks for the clarification. My anchor point is usually 0 as I haven’t gotten venturous enough yet to start from a different point 🙂

  • Great tutorial Trey!

  • Dan

    Hey Trey.

    Good tutorial, thanks for taking the time all the years to put such thorough material out there for people to benefit from.

    Hey one question. I know you use LR. I switched from Aperture when Apple pulled the plug, to Capture One Pro 8 a few months ago. Tried LR before the switch, but just didn’t love the UI. It’s good, works for some. Just found CO to be more intuitive for me, and I liked the flexibility if offered in organizing photos.

    That said, I’m not entirely clear on why you use Photomatix at all. Can’t all of the adjustments you’re doing be done entirely in LR, within which you can also use presets? I know they can be done in Capture One too, albeit with different terminology (e.g. shadows & highlights for fill light / white & black points / etc.) What is it you’re doing in Photomatix that you can’t do in LR?

    I’m missing something here, but I’m new to this. Finally switched to RAW recently, and am learning how to work with it now.


  • Hi Dan,

    Lots of people are using Adobe’s built-in HDR. When Trey has dabbled in it in the past, he found it lacking compared to Photomatix – possibly because it’s just generally more robust and specialized. Your mileage may vary, though, and don’t be afraid to test it for yourself!

  • Dan

    Thanks for taking the time to reply, Luke. Appreciate the insight.

  • Mysh

    just like for the letters “BKT”

    should be – just look for the letters “BKT”

    If you shot at a high ISO or anticipate a lot of noise,
    chose “Reduce noise”

    should be “choose” not “chose”

  • Thanks for the heads up – fixed!

  • Slip Mahoney

    Thanks for the great tutorial. I love your HDR photos. Mine do not pop like yours, so this tutorial was a very informative. I had a NEX-5T but sold it. There is a great deal now for the Olympus E-PL6 on Amazon. Two lens package for $399. I was looking at the manual for this camera has both AE and HDR bracketing. I have viewed many photos on Flickr from this camera, and the photos are beautiful. Only thing is it does not have wifi which I really like for remote control, but I suppose I could get along without it. What do you think about this camera for HDR?

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