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Tips & Tricks

Easily Create Great HDR Images From A Single RAW File

By Kishore Sawh on August 3rd 2015


One of the most frustrating trends in photography, in my somewhat humble opinion, is HDR photography. Not that it exists, not that it doesn’t have its place and use because it does, and not even that it’s done with such frequency. The problem is that it’s all too often done so damn poorly.

HDR, in fact, can be utterly brilliant for all types of scenarios, and it’s a shame it has a bad rap and associated with negative slights, but your HDR photography doesn’t have to be a punchline.Taking a good HDR often requires numerous shots to be blended after the fact, but the challenges that presents aren’t few. Generally, things move in an image that require detailed analysis afterwards, and even if they didn’t, cameras do if even minutely, so you often require a very steady footing/tripod. But, you needn’t always fuss with taking numerous exposures to blend later on if you shoot correctly and know how to manage it in Photoshop.


This is what photographer and educator Jimmy McIntyre teaches you how to do in a recent video. What he demonstrates is how to digitally blend a single RAW file that results in a natural, balanced, and effective HDR image. This method isn’t going to be as effective in some aspects as using multiple exposures, but depending on your situation, and also how well your camera handles RAW files regarding how many stops DR it’ll get, you could be in good shape. Jimmy, in typical Jimmy fashion, walks you through the steps on how to do this, in just a few short minutes using what he calls the ‘Rapid Blend-If Technique’.

What you’re essentially doing is opening a single RAW file in ACR, making the adjustments of exposure and highlights to the lighter portion (the sky in this instance), and then making that image a smart object. You will be rasterizing your layers once you’ve adjusted both, and then blending them, and you’ll see just how simple and effective this can be.

jimmy-mcintyre-photoshop-HDR-RAW-landscape-photography-slrlounge-3 jimmy-mcintyre-photoshop-HDR-RAW-landscape-photography-slrlounge-2


Again, I stress that this method certainly depends on your camera sensor’s ability to handle dynamic range, and will not be as powerful as creating an HDR with multiple exposures, but it can do the job. If you’re looking to really produce top quality HDR images, the type that truly bring out the benefits of HDR without looking gaudy and over processed, allowing you to capture nighttime images, landscapes and so much more to a higher level, check this out. And if you really want to create effective HDR images from within Lightroom easily, our Lightroom Preset System has the ability to do it with a single click. You can find out more about it, and all else the system offers here.

Jimmy does some really fantastic tutorials, always keeping them as succinct as possible, and always pretty bulletproof. You can find more about and from Jimmy here on his site, and YouTube channel, and see other articles we’ve done featuring his work below:

How To Use Blend Modes To Totally Revamp Your Photography | Brilliant Work From Jimmy McIntyre
Photoshop Trick Using the BW Adjustment Layer To Brilliantly Alter Color

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. robert garfinkle

    here is an advantage I see.

    correct me if I’m wrong, but if I remember it right, hdr can be difficult as one of the challenges from frame to frame is movement.

    if you are using a single image that problem would be eliminated, yes?

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    • norman tesch

      if you are on a half way good tripod alligning images is not that bad from what i have seen. im taking 7 shots ranging all the way up to 2 seconds for the last image. hand held i wouldent try it. if you have 5d mk3 you can shoot 3 pics and have it stack in the camera as part of the creative mode.

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  2. norman tesch

    boy that seems like the senic route to get hdr. i shoot 7 stops of hdr. im also doing panos so i wind up with 161 images or more.i find with 7 stops you dont get halos like you do with 3…. you can also just go into lightroom take one image and then make as many virtual coppies as you like. then you can then add and subtract each picture individually with the amount of stops that you like. then throw it in photomatrix and then send it back to lightroom for tweeking.

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