Hands-on Photo Tip: Creating Truly Realistic HDR Images with Adobe Camera Raw

Into the Open (HDR)

Into the Open (HDR) – Final image created in this tutorial: 12 exposures merged in Photoshop CS6 and tone mapped in Adobe Camera Raw 8.2

In this Hands-on Photo Tip, I will show you a really cool alternative way to create an HDR image.

We’re going to use a feature in Photoshop CS6 that allows you to merge your source photos and bring the resulting 32-bit HDR image into Adobe Camera Raw (or Lightroom) to tone map it.

And here’s why is this so cool:

  1. You’re getting a much more natural and clean result without the halos and the excessive noise that you normally get when you use standard tone mapping operators.
  2. You can still apply a typical HDR look in Photoshop later on using filters like Topaz Adjust or Nik Color Efex. These give you greater control over your image.
  3. In Adobe Camera Raw, you have more direct and intuitive control over the highlights, the shadows and the overall exposure of your tone mapped image.
  4. And finally the coolest thing of all is that you can change any of these settings – including the tone mapping parameters – at any time during your workflow. You’re not going to be stuck with a particular tone mapped image. This is going to make your workflow so much more flexible and efficient.

The Video Tutorial

Overview of the workflow

So, here’s what we’re going to do:

  1. As a first step, we’re going to bring our RAW photos into Photoshop to merge them into an HDR image. You can also do this with JPEGs, but I recommend that you’re using RAW images.
  2. The second step is that we will save the resulting HDR image as a 32-bit TIFF file. This TIFF file is a real HDR image. So, it contains all the tonal information of our source photos.
  3. The third step is to open this 32-bit TIFF file in Adobe Camera Raw and tone map it there. The software will recognize that it’s a 32-bit file and give us access to the entire tonal range. You can also use Lightroom for this step if that’s more convenient for you.
    Into the Open - Pics to play with - Download the source files of this HDR image, test your post-processing skills and share your results in the comments below.

    Into the Open – Pics to play with – Download the source files of this HDR image and try out the exact steps explained in the video tutorial above.

  4. The fourth and final step is to open the tone mapped image as a Smart Object in Photoshop and apply any adjustments to it to finish it off. This gives us the full power of Photoshop’s layer masking, adjustments and filters to work on the image. Smart objects are the key that enables us to go back and change the tone mapping settings whenever we need to.

Check out the video to see how this works in detail.

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12 replies
  1. Harry
    Harry says:

    Hallo Klaus,

    diese Technik kenne ich schon eine Zeit lang und hin und wieder wende ich sie auch an.

    Ich finde es aber sehr wichtig, richtig und gut, dass Du diese tolle Alternative zu Photomatix & Co. hier präsentierst.
    Wie immer in vorbildlicher Art und Weise.

    Weiter so.

    Freundliche Grüße, Harry.

  2. miro
    miro says:

    Hallo Klaus

    Fantastische Video… Und geile Bilder auf deine Webseite 🙂

    Und vor allem deine HDR Technik ist für mich sehr Innovativ, und sehr zeit sparend.

    Vielen, vielen Dank, für dein(e) Workshop(s)


  3. Chris Axe
    Chris Axe says:


    I have been working with the HDR technique described above for the last week. I works very well as it produces less noise, less grain and not overly contrast images.

    If you have subjects with motion the remove ghosts feature in Photoshop is not as capable as Photomatix Pro. Also I tried the Photomatix plug in for 32bit hdr it works well the ghost reduction feature is better than Photoshop but not as capable as Photomatix Pro.


    Chris Axe

  4. Joerg
    Joerg says:

    Hi Klaus,

    wouldn’t it be possible in Photomatix to stitch and align the images in Photomatix and save it here as 32bit HDR as TIFF and use Lightroom Camera RAW to achieve the same workflow. The reason I ask is I do have an outdates Photoshop but having Photomatix and LR up to date…


  5. alexander
    alexander says:

    really a thumbs up for your every time generous contibutions! You add the fun to photography!! Thank you so much for all your time and energy!!


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