HDR Tutorial Part 4 – How to Improve your HDR

HDR Tutorial Part 4 – How to Improve your HDR

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As you can see, there are some differences between the image of Photomatix and the finished one. This final part of HDR Tutorial makes the bigger differences in your image, but here, the personal taste is very important.
You can use typical correction tools of Photoshop, such as curves, levels, contrast etc … or use several plugins that can simplify the editing of the HDR.

My favourite plugins to improve your HDR are Topaz Adjust, Color Efex Pro and Topaz Denoise


This is great plugin that can enhance your HDR effect. To launch Topaz Adjust first duplicate your layer and then  go to Filters> Topaz Labs> Topaz Adjust. Once the plugin is launched, on the left you will see many presets that can help you to increase the HDR effect or just improve colors and contrast on your image. I select Filter Photo Pop. 



The second plugin to improve your HDR. This software help you about many types of corrections of HDR ; I usually edit this with the typical tools of Photoshop for these things, but this filter can easily help you for this kind of correction. To launch Color Efex Pro go to Filters>Nik Software>Color Efex Pro. On the left you will see a list of presets about, color, saturation, details, glow effect or brightness or darkness The most interesting filters for me are:

Skylight Filter: to intensify the effect of sunset

Glamour Glow: Denoise the image, with a glow effect typical of portraits but that produces pleasurable effects but also in landscape photography

Detail Extractor: To increase the level of detail in the picture

Pro Contrast: A present that include color, contrast and dynamic contrast correction, is very nice to correct the white balance in your picture and to increase the surreal effect on the contrast.



The noise is one of the biggest problems of HDR. It can happen sometimes that we do not feel satisfied with the work achieved over just because the image is too noisy. Don’t worry about that, the noise is easy to eliminate, as there are several Photoshop plug-ins to do this. Personally I use Topaz Denoise. 

Topaz Denoise Photoshop plug-in offers the fastest and  most effective way to reduce heavy reduction noise putting unrivaled quality at your fingertips.
To remove noise with this plug-ins open your HDR image in Photoshop, create a new level and launch Topaz Denoise.

Apply the filter it may deem best for your image, I usually use jpeg moderate or jpeg strong. When you’re done click OK.


To get a good result you not only will need to use these filters, to better improve your HDR it will be necessary to reduce their effect selectively, through the use of Layer Masks. Sometimes a filter has a nice effect on your image but that some parts of the picture are particularly affected by that. The use  of layer masks and  the bale of their effects with opacity is crucial to give the best in this type of photography. To return to the other types of correction, be inspired by your imagination and personal taste, many good results are obtained with the right experiments.

HDR Tutorial Part 3 – Photomatix Settings

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First thing to do is to import the RAW exposures into Lightroom or Photoshop to convert them into Jpeg cause the conversion and the merge of RAW files is not the best with Photomatix.


Now you need to make some corrections and then sync the images, these changes concern Chromatic Aberrations and White Balance. Start with syncronize the images, you will see this menu:

 Then correct Chromatic Aberration and White Balance with menu on the Right.


Now is possible to export the images as 100% quality into Photomatix, to do that go to Lightroom menu File>Export and select jpeg sRGB 100% quality


Open Photomatix, load the exported images and click ok. A screen will appear regarding the processing options. Align Source images concerns the alignment of the screen shows, I recommend to use matching features when you shoot handheld. I usually shot with tripod  so I use by correcting horizontal and vertical shift, since this option tends to produce the best results. The second part regards a function that allow to remove ghosts operating on selected sections and choose the right exposure for each ghosted region. The last two sections should always be selected if you don’t know how Reduce noise and Chromatic aberration, but there are many instruments to remove them, I usually prefer remove them manually into Photoshop.

Schermata 2015-10-19 alle 20.08.01



On the next screen we are going to change the values of our pictures on the left menu. There are no written rules about how the values should be set, as they are depending on the avaiable light in the picture. Then set your values in order to get the maximum detail from the image being always careful not to increase too much noise in your photos.

However I recommend to take the following main values as follows:

Strength: Higher but not maximum values, a strength too high could make the image darken. I usually set this slider around 70 -85 max;

Color Saturation: Is a slider to increase the amount of color saturation in the image. If you need to increase your colors set it more than 50 but personally I don’t move it more than 50;

Luminosity:  Enhance details in the shadows, much of the setting of this slider varies from picture to picture, interesting values are between +30 and +50;

Detail contrast: Is the main values to increase the details in the picture, set this slider in a range +40, +60 it depends on the image. Try to to keep it balanced with the Luminosity values;

Lightinig Adjustments: I never use Lighting effect mode, set the slider and move it on the left to have a surreal look, on the right values are near the real effect of your picture. Do not overboard on the left, you risk to cartoonage the image.

Smooth Highlights: This slider reduces contrast in the highlights, move the slider to the right to bright the image.

White Point: White Point set the overall brightness in the HDR. The use of this slider depends on your image, I usually set white point around 0,4

Black Point: They are very similar to White Point, move them to increase the point of black of your images, I’m very low with this slider, set them less than White Points and less 1

Gamma: Increase the overall brightness of the image, you can use it to brigh or to darken more your image.

Temperature: is the slider to warmer or to coolder the image. I usually leave this slider to default cause I prefer correcting temperature into Photoshop.

Micro Smoothing: Is to intervene on the best part of details and to clean the image. Put it not more than 20 if you don’t wanto to loose too much details.

Saturation Highlights: Increase the colors in the highlights. I usually set this lighter high if I have a nice sky to show otherwise I don’t use this option.

Saturation Shadows: Increase the colors in the shadows. I never use this slider

Shadow Smoothess: This slider is usefull to darken the foreground and to give a more realistic look to the image.

Shadow Clipping: Increase the shadow range clipping. I never use this slider.


photomatix example

Go to HDR Tutorial Part 1 – What is HDR
Go to HDR Tutorial Part 2 – Shooting HDR
Go to HDR Tutorial Part 4 – How To improve your HDR

HDR Tutorial Part 2 – Shooting HDR

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When it comes to HDR photography, a photographer has to consider different  steps before shooting. However, we still need to see the various aspects of light and the image composition. Before taking a photo is very important to think about these elements, the background, the capture of detail and the light avaiable. As mentioned we will see the 5 steps before shooting HDR.


This is the most important thing to do when you are going to take a picture, whether is HDR or not. Act as a photographer, wait for the right moment to shoot, and just the right light conditions. If you act in a professional way you will reach professional results.


The choice of lenses is decisive in a photo composition. Different lenses provide different perspectives. Using wide angle lenses in a HDR image, you will be able to capture images with a good Depth of Field (DOF), setting high valours of aperture. Furthermore the choice of wide angle is also the optimal solution for giving a greater sense of width to your photos.


A picture is considered as a whole and not in what you can see at first glance. Cover all the elements and start thinking now about how to eliminate or bypass unwanted elements. Be careful distracting subjects or elements can ruin your photograph.


Light is the main element in a picture, no light, no details, no pictures. Make sure you always have the even amount of light.  See the light and its features, you must pay attention to its direction, the contrast range in the scenes, the quality of the light and the colors. In this way you will be sure  to reach what you see.


Don’t take all your pictures standing straight up. Instead, move your camera and take a walk around what you want to photograph. Move it up and down and backward or forward. Try to create a unique perspective of image for the viewers. The longer you take to explore the subject from different angles, the better off you’ll be at creating an interesting image with it.


Rather than what one might expect, the most important thing to make a HDR is doing a good shoot, the distinctiveness of an image created with this technique is not only achieved with a good post-processing but with photography itself.

So, in order to capture an image that would be a good HDR photo, we have to imagine it at the end of the editing process. For this reason surreal or melancholy shots are preferred. I highly recommend not to take photographs in the hours when the sun is high, rather prefer the early hours of the day or the sunset, when the light is constantly changing and when you can take the full details of the clouds in the sky.

To shooting HDR try to be as accurate as possible, the more clean you are, the few will be the differences between images and the more your HDR will have the desired effect.

For this reason it is very important to use the camera in aperture priority, the camera in this way during the bracketing overexpose / underexpose adjusting shutter time your “imposition” of the diaphragm and in this way will keep unchanged the depth of field (DoF) on all shots.

I recommend the “quality” and “cleaning” of images taken, for this reason shoot in RAW mode to capture the widest dynamic range possible. As regards instead the “cleaning” of the picture would be good to shoot with low ISO (possibly 100) and the lowering of all the other settings that can create noise in the shots.

1. A camera that allows shooting in bracketing mode. With this feature you can set the number of shots you want and the variation of exposure between the images. You can clearly make this series of shots even without this feature but you could run the risk of moving the camera with the result that the image is moved.

2. A tripod to avoid blur the micro, if there is movement, it will result in a blurry HDR

3. A remote controller to avoid interacting on camera manually.

1. Set on aperture priority (A)

2. Set shooting RAW mode

3. Set min 3 shots from the camera using Bracketing

Once you choose what to shoot, you will have 3 exposures:



 The first exposure should be a regular shot, don’t worry about adjusting the exposure of this picture. The important thing  in this image is to get an even amount of light.


 The second exposure should be darker than the first. Getting this image darker allow you to bring out the colors in the bright areas of the image.



The third exposure should be brighter than the first two. This exposure will affect the foreground image and the details in the dark areas of the photo.

Go to HDR Tutorial Part 1 – What is HDR
Go to HDR Tutorial Part 3 – Photomatix Settings
Go to HDR Tutorial Part 4 – How To improve your HDR

HDR Tutorial Part 1 – What is HDR?

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The HDR stands for  High Dynamic Range photography. It ‘s a method of image processing where the interval between the lightest and darkest  part of image is wider than the traditional methods. The processing of HDR passes through a blending of multiple shots at different exposures carried out in order to compensate the details in the overexposed and underexposed areas in one single exposure that collects all of this information. With the use of HDR technique you can get results that, in a traditional photography would not be possible to reach.

Crucial point of High Dynamic Range is to understand precisely what is meant by Dynamic Range, which is nothing but the ability to capture detail in shadows and light in order to obtain readable information. The human eye is calibrated specifically for this, adapt to different lighting conditions. Our brain can adjust so that we can clearly see the day in the summer or special brightest in a dimly lit room . This adaptability of the human eye is called local adaptation. However cameras do not have and can not have this ability. Each time the number of photons hitting the sensor, this doubles the brightness. This is the linear response. The practical effect of this is that most of the image information is collected in the higher values, while the lowest values are sacrificed. The question is how to capture the dynamic range? Following this HDR Tutorial you will be able to take the dynamic range through the bracketing function which record the scene at different exposures.

Go to HDR Tutorial Part 2 – Shooting HDR
Go to HDR Tutorial Part 3 – Photomatix Settings
Go to HDR Tutorial Part 4 – How To improve your HDR

Here are few examples of finished HDR photos:

Giuseppe Sapori - Overlooking Dream

Giuseppe Sapori - The wings of Destiny

Giuseppe Sapori - The heart of Rome

Giuseppe Sapori - The lighting room

Go to HDR Tutorial Part 2 – Shooting HDR
Go to HDR Tutorial Part 3 – Photomatix Settings
Go to HDR Tutorial Part 4 – How To improve your HDR

4) HDR post processing

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It’s my favourite step to the HDR processing. This phase is the most creative and the most funny. Working on our image earlier processed in Photomatix we can get some very interesting results. Personally I spend most of my work in this phase because here I reach my personal impression.There is not a HDR standard line to follow in this phase, but in the course of this tutorial we will see what are the guidelines on how to intervene in post-processing on a HDR.

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Handheld HDR Tutorial

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Giuseppe Sapori - Sea Step

Usually, I use a tripod to make my HDR photos. The use of a tripod for this kind of photography is important for the clarity of the images, to align themselves and to avoid blur. The main reason people recommend a tripod with HDR works, is the difficulty getting the 3 images to align properly. However should be considered that is not always possible to carry on a tripod, in all these cases you can still make a HDR shooting the exposures series holding the camera in your hand.

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Topaz plugin bundle coupon. Get 10% discount

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Giuseppe Sapori - Autumn on the river

After the editing process, I use topaz plugins to get to the images the last touch. The Topaz Plug-in Bundle helps amateur and professional photographers accomplish the most common creative and corrective post processing tasks. With this plug-in users can quickly enhance their digital images with flexible adjustments, that are easy to apply and customize.

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3) Photomatix tutorial

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In the previous tutorials we learned how to take and prepare images to process a HDR. In this tutorial we will see how to generate a HDR using Photomatix. There are many HDR software that allow you to merge to images to HDR and process them with the tone mapping. Nevertheless  I think Photomatix is better and the more intuitive.

So let’s see  how to process a HDR with Photomatix step by step:

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Hi, my name is Giuseppe Sapori, a professional photographer and author of this website, created by yours truly to show my work and share with you the techniques I use. My expertise is in the field of Landscape Photography... (Read More)

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