Top 5 Free HDR Photo Tutorials

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is a new and popular trend in photography now that doesn’t appear to be disappearing anytime soon. People are attracted to it’s surreal and magical qualities which set it apart from normal photography. Shadows are brought into the light, and blown highlights are recovered – bringing much more detail and vibrance to HDR photos. There are an abundance of tutorials out there, almost too many, so we’ve sifted through them and picked out what we believe are five of the most interesting and useful ones. If you’re looking to get your feet wet in HDR photography, dive in to these tutorials!


The Taj Mahal © Trey Ratcliff

I guess it’s most appropriate to start with perhaps the most famous tutorial of all. Ratcliff writes in an easy straightforward manner, and has gained accolades across the spectrum, including major media like CNN, NYTimes, etc. He writes about both Photoshop and Photomatix. Stay tuned for a video interview featuring Trey on our blog soon!

HDR Style Results Using Layers in Photoshop by Nathan Pask

  HDR Style Results Using Layers in Photoshop © Nathan Pask

Many people may not have the inclination or gear to take multiple exposures or invest in Photomatix, but that doesn’t mean HDR is unattainable. This tutorial looks at how to take a single JPEG image and use layers to apply HDR qualities, resulting in a pleasing HDR-like image. Here’s another more gritty style HDR method using a single image in Photoshop, and another one for Photomatix.

A Plea for HDR by Alexandre Buisse

Nevado Vallunaraju at sunset, Cordillera Blanca, Peru © Alex Buisse

Luminous Landscape writes quality essays on a variety of topics, and this one is no exception, emphasizing the subtle variety of HDR. Touching on the more theoretical side of things, they examine what HDR is, what you need, what to avoid, and more. It’s not the most detailed tutorial out there, but a useful read nonetheless.

Merging HDR in Photoshop by Photoshop Cafe

If you’re going beyond single images and are shooting bracketed exposures, which you should be if you want the best HDR results, Photoshop has a nifty feature called “Merge to HDR” which is pretty simple to use. That being said, the best results require some knowledge, and this tutorial provides it, with a touch of Photomatix tips at the end.

The HDR Landscape Photography Tutorial by Royce Howland

This is probably one of the most thorough HDR tutorials on the net, covering both Photoshop and Photomatix. It also delves into the science and numbers behind HDR photography. It was written by a landscape photographer, and results in natural, realistic looking imagery.

Honorable Mention:

Photomatix Tutorial by Before the Coffee

HDR Photography by Cambridge in Colour

The beginner’s guide to HDR – The 23x blog

There are plenty of HDR groups on Flickr to choose from, whether it’s your first time taking HDR photos, or you’re a fan or realistic HDR shots, or tone-mapping is your thing.

I’m personally not the biggest fan of HDR photography, but here is a shot from my balcony where I used layers in Photoshop to achieve an HDR-like effect:

Xufei Pool on a Stormy Day Jesse Warren

Good luck!

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  • http://www.niksoftware.com Kevin La Rue

    Joseph – I noticed that you wrote your comment in mid-December. Just before Christmas, Nik released HDR Efex Pro 1.1, which fixed some of the speed, activation, & stability issues some customers were experiencing with the first version.

    The software is still not recommended for those using 32-bit Photoshop (we’re working on it), but lots of people are liking their results in PS 64-bit, or LR & Aperture 32- or 64-bit.

    We think selective editing with U Point technology, the HDR methods feature (taps 4 diff tone-mapping algorithms), and an all-in-one workflow (not a lot of tweaking after leaving the app) make it worth a look for many people. Free trial software, videos, and live training webinars at http://www.niksoftware.com/hdrefexpro.

    Best, Kevin

  • Joseph

    Nice – Software is the real key to nice HDR images. Buyer beware of the hipe and glits Nik HDR Efex is putting out. Go for SNS-HDR or Photomatix – they’ve been proven – look at http://www.stuckincustoms.com and the software reviews they have – but not Nik.

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