advanced photoshop

How to merge exposures and use Photoshop’s CS5 HDR Toning tool

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Tips & Tutorials, by The Advanced Photoshop Team

In this tutorial we explain how you can shoot multiple exposures, merge them into a HDR image and adjust them with the Photoshop HDR Toning tool

The distinctive appearance of a high dynamic range (HDR) image is intriguing and leaves many people guessing how it was created. A mix between what looks like a photograph and what could be a painting, HDR is a fascinating and creative postproduction technique which offers a wide range of possibilities.

Commonly created in specialist image-editing software, such as Photomatix by HDRsoft, it is only recently that Photoshop has stepped up its HDR conversion tools in CS5. Offering more advanced HDR adjustments with the improved Merge to HDR Pro feature and the new HDR Toning adjustment option, you can now create an impressive HDR effect with just one or multiple images.

In this tutorial we are going to show you how to merge three different exposures in Photoshop CS5 and create a unique hyperreal effect with the updated Merge to HDR Pro tool. Learn how to extend an image’s dynamic range and bring out textures and details from the highlights, midtones and shadows via tonal mapping techniques, all covered over nine easy-to-follow steps.

You can shoot and use your own three exposures for a wholly original final image – simply follow along with the workshop steps below to create the same HDR effect.

Step 1: Get shooting!

How to merge exposures and use Photoshop's CS5 HDR Toning tool

Set your camera on a tripod and compose your image in the viewfinder. Begin by taking one correctly exposed image; this should read as 0 EV (Exposure Value). Now you can extend the shutter speed to +2 EV. Then go back to your original settings and decrease the shutter speed to -2 EV. Check the camera histogram to preview results.

Step 2: Import the photos

How to merge exposures and use Photoshop's CS5 HDR Toning tool

Once you have taken your three RAW file exposures load them onto your PC and save them into a separate file, before opening Photoshop CS5. Go to File> Automate>Merge to HDR Pro where a smaller dialog box will appear; select the Browse button to locate the folder containing your images and select each one to appear in the box. When you have all three, click OK.

Step 3: Preview results

How to merge exposures and use Photoshop's CS5 HDR Toning tool

Once Merge to HDR Pro has blended the three exposures together the image will appear in the new dialog. You can uncheck the ticks next to each exposure to preview the effect each one has on the final image and see the exposure value for each along the bottom. The default settings will have only blended the images together; select Custom from the Preset dropdown to begin making your own tweaks. Also enable the Remove ghosts checkbox.

Step 4: Edge Glow

How to merge exposures and use Photoshop's CS5 HDR Toning tool

Ensure the method is set to Local Adaption and expand the Tonal curves and Histogram preview at the bottom of the dialog to see how your tweaks affect the overall exposure. Begin by adjusting your Edge Glow settings, slowly increasing your Radius amount, which controls the size of your edge glow, to around 18px. You can add a stronger contrast to your glow by increasing the Strength slider; start slowly at approximately 0.61 – you can always build up on this over time.

Step 5: Tone and Detail

Step 5

Move down to begin adjusting your Tone and Detail sliders, beginning with the Gamma, which controls midtones. Lighten the midtones slightly to bring out more detail, setting the slider to around 0.85. You can also brighten the image using the Exposure slider, increasing to around 0.35 to avoid burning out the highlights. You can now increase the most important slider – Detail – which enables you to slowly create a more hyperreal HDR effect by pushing it to 172% or thereabouts.

Step 6: Shadows and highlights

Step 6

Next, we will work with the Shadow and Highlight sliders to even out the exposure and bring in a little more detail. Bump up the Shadow slider to lighten up the dark areas of the image; this will help to enhance the details that were already picked out using the Detail setting. You can use the Highlight slider to recover some of the brighter highlights that may have been affected earlier by the Exposure slider adjustment in step 5 if you need to pull things back.

Step 7: Colour and contrast

Step 7

Next click on the Color tab and use the colour-based sliders to increase the overall image’s vibrancy and colour saturation. Set your Vibrance slider to around 11% and your Saturation to 20%. For images that have a lot of colour
you can increase this further to get a more noticeable hyperreal effect. If you would like to increase the overall image contrast you can select the Curves tab and, by clicking on the diagonalbase line, create anchor points that you can slowly drag out to an ‘S’ shape.

Step 8: Save and Camera Raw

Step 8

Once you are happy with the results, save your image as a larger TIFF file (16 bit) or JPEG (8 bit); you can adjust the size via Image>Mode>8 Bits/16 Bits. Now close your image and go to File>Open, select your saved image and choose Camera Raw in the Format option set. Once your image has opened in the Camera Raw dialog, make any last-minute colour adjustments.

Step 9: Final tweaks

Step 9

Use the blacks slider to increase contrast without greatly affecting the shadows and increase the clarity of finer details. Lastly select the Vignette menu and increase the Amount to -75 with the Midpoint set at 46; this will create a more dramatic effect around the edges of your final image drawing the eye into the scene. You can now select Save Image in the bottom-left corner and save your work with the final touches.