HDR Cookbook – Introduction

Welcome to the HDR Cookbook – a primary resource for HDR photographers.

The HDR Cookbook is a free collection of practical, in-depth tutorials (I call them recipes) on High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography and some variants like HDR Panorama and Vertorama photography. It extends far beyond the contents of many websites and books on this subject by giving hands-on information on professional shooting and post-processing techniques.

This article gives a very brief introduction to HDR photography for those who are new to the field. Following that, I describe the motivation and the history of the HDR Cookbook and finally, I give you two alternative way to start your journey through farbspiel-photo.com.

After reading this introduction, you should go straight to the Requirements and to the Contents sections.

HDR in a Nutshell

Typical source images of an HDR image

In a nutshell, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range – a technique for capturing scenes whose dynamic range (difference between the brightest and the darkest areas) is too high for the camera’s sensor. Not all areas of such a the scene can be exposed correctly in a single exposure. An HDR software combines multiple photos of the scene into a single image. Usually, one of the photos is exposed correctly (0EV), one is underexposed (-2EV), and one is overexposed (+2EV) as in the images above. As a result of combining the three, all areas of the image are exposed correctly.

The normal HDR workflow starts by merging the exposures into a single 32-bit image using an HDR software (e.g. Photomatix). This image cannot be properly printed or displayed on a normal monitor due to its high dynamic range. Therefore, it has to be reduced to a 16-bit (or 8-bit) image – a step that is called tone-mapping. The characteristic HDR look is produced by this tone-mapping step, and for many photographers, the HDR workflow ends after this step. However, the resulting images often look flat and have a low contrast.

HDR image after tone-mapping

Most of the recipes in the HDR Cookbook are concerned with the following post-processing steps that are required in order to make this flat-looking tone-mapped image pop. This post-processing work is done in some image editing software (e.g. in Photoshop), and it involves global adjustments (e.g. contrast and saturation enhancements) as well as local adjustments that apply only to certain regions of the image.

Final image after the post-processing work

(visit the photo page of this image to get more information)

Motivation and History

I started posting my work on flickr in February 2010. Soon after that, an increasing number of people started asking about the techniques I used to process my images. So, I began including detailed information on how the photos were produced from the shooting techniques, via the HDR merging and tone-mapping all the way to the post-processing steps. However, flickr and other photo sharing platforms do not really offer a lot of space for such information and structuring it was difficult. Since some of the things I do to photos are somewhat complex, the information I was able to provide for each photo directly in flickr was only a coarse summary. Other great photographers on flickr enjoyed this additional information, and I started getting a number of individual messages asking for advice and more detailed information on my techniques. Hence, it was a logical next step to share such information with a broader public using other means.

I started the HDR Cookbook in August 2010 as an Internet blog. I added a small number of recipes and put links on the flickr photo pages to refer to this information. Since then, it has grown considerably in size and depth. Apart from adding more recipes, I started a new Before-and-after section in December 2010 to show the readers the major stages of the evolution of an HDR image in a single picture. The before-and-after comparisons give a viewer a direct impression of what HDR can bring to their images. At about the same time, I started recording the processing work I do and produced Making-of videos. A Making-of video shows a time-lapse screen capture the entire post-processing work, giving the viewer an even better understanding of the techniques involved.

Over the course of 2011, the HDR Cookbook with its three major sections has grown in size and popularity. In August 2011, I decided to extend its contents even further by adding the Pics-to-play-with section. In this new section, I provide free access to some of my original full-res source images. Everyone can download the source archives and process these images in whichever way they like. This added a vital practical asset to the HDR Cookbook as now, people could actually test their newly gained skills and compare their results with other photographers online.

In November 2011, the time was right to move the HDR Cookbook to a new home, integrating it with the rest of my work in order to offer a comprehensive set of images and educational resources. This move gives me the flexibility to integrate everything in the most useful way and to grow the HDR Coookbook into an even more useful resource. So, here you are, at farbspiel-photo.com the new home of the HDR Cookbook.

How to Start

There are at least two ways to start your journey through the new farbspiel-photo.com universe:

  1. You may start by browsing through my image galleries. The View item in the main menu gives you access to different galleries that showcase my work. Each image is accompanied by a number of possible educational resources that lead you to the information that is most useful to you. By starting in the galleries, you can pick the images that are most appealing to you and start exploring how they were produced. Simply start by clicking on View.
  2. You can also start by going to the HDR Cookbook Contents section. This section gives you an overview of the different topics and the respective recipes. The main HDR Cookbook menu is always available to you on the right side of the window to quickly jump to a specific topic.

I hope you are having a great time!

24 replies
  1. Michael Hatten
    Michael Hatten says:

    Klaus, Thanks again for compiling these tutorials. I am now going to have to revisit all my RAWs and redo them.
    I’ve been doing Photography since 2001 and jumped into HDR 2008. Some processing I’ve done well and others not so much. I’ve done a lot of trial and error to get where I’m at and I’ve found it difficult to find quality tutorials that explained the steps clearly. Yours have filled that gap..

    Thanks again..


  2. Grzegorz Rogala
    Grzegorz Rogala says:

    This is definitely the most comprehensive HDR blog on the web. I have learnt so much from your website and. most importantly, still continue learning and exploring HDR and panoramic photography. Thanks for sharing all this info.

  3. Gordon
    Gordon says:

    Have you considered making your videos in real time and telling us what you are doing as you do it? I know it would take up time but it’s such a great learning technique. The videos that have someone explaining what they are doing seem to sink in so much better than seeing the video without voice and going at warp speed.

    I’m new to your site and am so very impressed with what you share.

    Thank you,

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Thanks a lot Gordon!

      Real-time videos? Yes, I am thinking about it, and I will add some. If only I had some more time at the moment. That is really the only problem. So please stay tuned!

      Thanks for the suggestion, Gordon.

  4. Anthony Salmon
    Anthony Salmon says:

    Very nice Klaus, thanks for sharing with us, I have been in a commercial environment for many years and been shooting HDR for about three but I would like to become more active with HDR, your system gives good insight and understanding.
    Thanks again

  5. Nils Ziegemeier
    Nils Ziegemeier says:

    Hey Klaus,

    das hört sich alles sehr gut an. Und die Resonanz zeigt, dass es auch sehr gut ist. Leider ist mein Englisch, gerade Fachenglisch “Fotografie” nicht so ausgeprägt. Gibt’s die ganzen Tutorials eigentlich auch in Deutsch?

    Grüße, Nils

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Hallo Nils,

      vielen Dank! Leider habe ich nicht genügend Zeit, die Inhalte auch in Deutsch bereit zu stellen, so gern ich das auch tun würde. Ich hoffe auf dein Verständnis und dass du trotzdem ein wenig mitnehmen kannst.

      Viele Grüße

  6. Neal Jorgensen
    Neal Jorgensen says:

    I am learning to use HDR for indoor real estate photography, and am wondering about something where in a house there different forms of lighting, plus I am encluding the view out side the window which is all daylight. How is the best way to get the white balance right

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Hi Neal,

      those are surely challenging lighting conditions. A gray card would not help you durig the shooting much here, I think.

      I would recommend shooting in RAW and then working out the correct white balance in your RAW converter. Make sure you set the white balance to exactly the same values for all the exposures that make a single HDR. You may fine-tune this value util you find a pleasing look. That’s what I would do.

      I hope that helps you.


  7. Robin Oliver
    Robin Oliver says:

    Just seen you on “Twit” and now on your website. Great site with good easy to follow info and tutorials.

    Looking forward to learning more!


    Robin (Osnabrück)

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Hi Robin,

      good to have someone from Germany here. I hope you will find lots of information that are interesting to you.

      Take care, and do not hesitate to ask questions in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer them.


  8. Elizabeth Ruff
    Elizabeth Ruff says:

    Hello, Klaus
    I’ve been reading about hdr photography methods prior to ‘having a go’. Your articles are far-and-away the easiest to follow, or to simply read. I also like your style of applying hdr; many of the photos I’ve looked at, from other photographers, had too much treatment for my taste.
    Have you used Luminance (a free hdr application) at all, and if so, what did you think of it?
    I shall be keeping an eye on your website in future.

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Thanks a lot, Elizabeth. I really appreciate your kind feedback.

      I have used the forefather of Luminance quite a while ago. Back then, it was hard to use since the results were hard to predict. But I assume that they improved that since then. Other than that, there is not much I can say about it.

      If you use Luminance, feel free to tell us your experiences here.


  9. Peter Silowan
    Peter Silowan says:

    FB Page: Peter silowan.

    Hi Klaus. OK now my local camera store has both the Nikon D-600 and the D-800 in stock. I can now almost actually afford the D-600 but Linda and I just took off for a couple of days and went up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I did a bunch of HDR stuff using 5 exposures that I haven’t worked on yet because I came home and got sick and I’ve been in bed for the past almost two weeks. Here’s my issue. When you sent your “cookbook I spent hours reading and enjoying and at one point you talked about how HDR can be done using the 3 exposures that the camera will allow but then somehow adding plus and minus ev and getting a 5 stop range. Could you please send me a link to that particular spot so I can save myself $800.00 and who needs a 36 MP file except people doing billboards and besides I don’t want to have to upgrade my computer just because I want to have fun doing some stuff for myself. Was that a run on sentence? (-:

    Best regards and once again I love your images and your tutorials. GREAT STUFF !!!!!



    I met a guy running a little shop at the base of Mount Washington the tallest mountain in New England. He had this very cool Sony Nex 1 (I think) For a fun little camera it had everything except 5 brackets. Only three. This guy was REALLY wishing it had five. I gave him your address and hopefully he’ll look you up and be as excited with your work as I am. Be well

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Hi Peter,

      I am explaining the technique you are referring to here: http://farbspiel-photo.com/learn/hdr-cookbook/creating-32-bit-hdrs

      But this is actually only a little trick to get a little more dynamic range out of your 3 bracket. It does not actually replace 5 “real” exposures. So, it won’t replace a 5-shot bracketing function.

      But in some cases it can really help in getting the last bit of DR if you are pushing the limits.


  10. Harold Wedderburn
    Harold Wedderburn says:

    You’re information on HDR is first class extremely informative.
    I think you use CS6 unfortunately not everyone can afford this.
    I just tried to follow your tutorial on CA using PSE10 I didn’t succeed.
    Is it possible for you to add a tutorial for CA for those of us who use PSE10 or add a PSE section in your HDR cookbook area.

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Hi Harold,

      thanks for your kind feedback.

      The CA tutorial actually relies on Adobe Camera Raw, not on Photoshop itself. And you can install it on PSE too. Go to http://www.adobe.com/support/downloads/detail.jsp?ftpID=5266, download and install it. As soon as you drag a RAW file onto PSE, Camera Raw should open and allow you to do exactly what I described in the tutorial.

      As for publishing different versions of my tutorials for Photoshop CS and PSE: I would love to do that, but unfortunately, I have only limited time and so many other things to do. I hope you understand that. I will look into it though and think about how I could include information specifically for PSE users in the future.


  11. Aslam
    Aslam says:

    Thank you very much teacher! You are such a PERFECT teacher! :D I’ve learned everything from you!!! AND ITS 100% FREE! Thanks Mr. Klaus!

  12. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    I’m have done a lot of research and I am wondering what you think of this workflow for HDR:

    1) Take images in RAW (3 brackets or more)

    2) Convert RAW to TIFF 16 BIT in Ligthroom: Rationale
    a) I have read that TIFF is just as good as RAW to DeNoise an image, i.e. there is no use denoising a RAW image (what is your opinion out there)
    b) Lightroom is superior to Photomatix to convert to TIFF

    3) Apply Topaz DeNoise to each image separately and save

    4) Select 3 Denoised TIFF images in Lightroom and open in Photomatix Pro to blend in HDR

    5) Do slight adjustments in Photomatix pro, do not denoise in Photomatix again, always Tone Map if looking for a more realistic image, save with as little changes as possible since Lightroom is more powerful to do changes

    6)Import blended HDR image back into Lightroom and process, always saving at 300 dpi or above if printing a large format image

    I know some people add a layer where they do more edits in Photoshop, at this point I can’t wrap around my head to get adding an extra step in photoshop….

    That said…could you let me know what you all think? Am I missing something? Doing something wrong? Anything I could do better?


  13. Amy
    Amy says:

    Is there any way I can remove a small item from my photo using Photomatrix? Thank you so much for the great online tutorial! I just bought it and am learning from you, Klaus!


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