How to Manually Create an HDR Photo in Photoshop

Here’s a tutorial on how to do non-automated HDR for real estate photography using Photoshop CS5. The first thing you’ll need is a sturdy tripod with a level. The closer you are to a leveled image, the less correction you’ll have to do later.

Let’s start with what’s done in camera. This method uses 2 exposures. I generally shoot at -2/+2, but you may want to mess around with your exposures to see what works better for your particular scene. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to use a scene lit during the magic hour.

I’ll be turning these photos:

…into this photo:

Start off by opening both files in Adobe Camera Raw. On the underexposed image, adjust your fill light to bring out detail in all shadows. I almost always bump it up to 100%. Occasionally, I’ll also adjust recovery a little. It all depends on whether or not the fill light blew out your highlights. Adjust temperature and tint accordingly (a huge problem I have is florescent lighting exposing green).

Next, adjust the fill light on the overexposed image a bit. Normally I go about 40%. Again, adjust tint and temperature accordingly.

Open them up in Photoshop. In the next step, you’ll drag the overexposed image so that it’s on top of the underexposed image. Add a white layer beneath the underexposed image.

Here’s where the magic happens (not really). On your overexposed layer, apply the multiply blending change. This should already give you a pretty decent look.

The next step is some local touch ups. Select your eraser tool and drop the opacity to somewhere between 5% and 10%. Now select your under exposed layer. Now you can slowly erase any shadows that are too dark, but try not to over do it. You just want to be able to see a little bit of detail in everything.

Now flatten the image and duplicate the new layer.

Now you can transform the layer and use perspective and warp to make lens corrections. When using perspective, simply drag the bottom or top corner to the left or right to correct skewed lines. You can use warp to be a little more precise with it (I’ve purposely stretched the walls a lot here to give an example).

Next, you’ll want to crop out whatever edges are overlapping.

Afterward, use selective color, color balance and local desaturation to finalize color correction. That method is up to you. I tend to use a variety of tools depending on what I’m going for. As you can see, my sensor was filthy when I shot this image so you’ll want to spot any of that if it’s showing. Then get rid of anything weird like that wire in the left hand of the image and you’re set.

I have actions set up that take care of most of the work for me. Once you play around with this, you’ll probably want to do the same to really speed things up.

About the author: Andrew Bramasco is a Los Angeles/Orange County luxury real estate photographer. Visit his Facebook page here.

  • Senen L

    That’s actually a pretty great example of HDR. It was used just as a technique to enhance the photo with a specific purpose. Too many people just do HDR without thinking about it and it turns out horrible

    Thanks for the tutorial

  • Arbramasco

    You’re welcome!

  • Tombojombo

    a pretty good tutorial i guess, but imo the final image still looks too green and is lacking contrast. Also using eraser is a silly way to do it as you cannot go back. I use a similar technique but always always use layer masks as you can always alter them later. Also using pen tool to clip paths allows you to change them later. 

  • Anonymous

    +1 on both the layer masks and that the image is too green. My thoughts exactly

  • 9inchnail

     But that’s just a white balance problem. Maybe the author’s screen is not properly calibrated and he didn’t notice. Doesn’t matter, the HDR technique sounds quite interesting and the result looks more natural than most tonemapped images.

  • Sdafasdf

    Great turtorial! But I#m pretty sure that picture would also be possible when shooting a RAW at 0 instead of -2/+2..

  • Tombojombo

    I wouldn’t really call this HDR, or at least not use it in the same breath as the saturated tonemapped effect that is so popular now. 

    This technique is more like a modern execution of classic dodging and burning that has been done for 100 years. 

    This is how any pro should treat an image that needs more detail in a certain areas whilst mainting overall contrast. 

    This tutorial is a fantastic start to teaching the world about learning correct photoshop tecnique to obtain the best results without creating HDR rubbish and giving money to photomatix to create sub par results. This will always work better. 

  • Tombojombo

    sure, you could probably get away with it, but its always better if you have the information captured without pushing the file. 

  • Justin Manteuffel

    Great tutorial, though I’d say it’s exposure blending rather than ‘manual HDR.’ Someday when displays are capable of handling true HDR images, this misconception will be confusing.

    Also, if you’d prefer to work non-destructively, I recommend using Layer Masks rather than the eraser tool.

  • Armando

    Nice technique. I’m going to give this a try.

  • Travis

    Thanks for the tip, cause of concern though, when you adjust the fill to %100 all of the noise that exists in the shadows becomes very apparent even when shot with lower ISOs. 

  • Anonymous

    I clearly must be doing something wrong, but following the technique you outlined here, the Multiply blending option makes the whole image much darker. (ie: only *slightly* brighter than the darker layer).

    Am I missing something?

  • M22

    this is shitty tutorial not working!!!!

  • id2nv2nj2ca

    And I bet the OP will be more than willing to help you after that. Oh wait, it’s been over two years ago,and he hasn’t. Go figure. Douche.