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HDR Without HDR Software

Okay, I admit it. I used the title for this column to grab your attention. Of course, there are times when using specialized High Dynamic Range (HDR) software is a must to create a true HDR image—very high-contrast scenes require multiple bracketed exposures to produce a single HDR shot.

However, if the contrast range of a scene isn’t greater than about three ƒ-stops, you can greatly expand the dynamic range of an image without specialty HDR software using Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop, Photoshop Lightroom or Apple Aperture.

The opening image for this column was created in Camera Raw from a single JPEG file, the middle exposure from a series of pictures taken at +2 EV, 0 EV and –2 EV.


Here’s the middle exposure. Detail in the shadow areas is very hard to see and, in some areas, lost. Now, you might be asking two questions: One, "Why did Rick ‘RAW Rules’ Sammon use JPEG files?" And, "How did he get those JPEG files into Adobe Camera Raw?"

Well, first of all, I always shoot RAW files. To save time when processing HDR images, however, I convert my RAW files to JPEG ones before working in HDRsoft’s Photomatix or Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro.

Secondly, when it comes to getting JPEG files into Camera Raw, all you have to do in Photoshop is go to File > Open and select Camera Raw in the Format window. When you do that, you can open JPEG and TIFF files in Camera Raw, and take advantage of all the cool adjustments.




Here are two screenshots that show the before-and-after settings that I made in Adobe Camera Raw. The basic concept was to use Fill Light to open up the shadow areas; use Recovery to preserve the highlights; boost the Exposure a bit because the picture was somewhat dark; and, finally, to increase the Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation to develop and enhance color.


As a comparison, here’s a true HDR image that I created in Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro from my original three images. As you can see, it’s not that different from my single Camera Raw-enhanced image, again, because the contrast range of the scene wasn’t that great.

Rick Sammon, has a bunch of apps; the latest one is Rick Sammon’s iHDR. Check it out on his website at

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