Post processing a colorful HDR photo step by step


Recently I’ve uploaded on of my best photos of the recent Iceland trip to two of the probably most famous photography websites on the planet – 500px and DeviantArt. Shortly after the upload has finished I noticed this picture is going to get huge amount of views. Just like 3 days later I had a highest pulse of 99.5 / 100 and nearly 10.000 views at 500px and over 8.000 views over at DeviantArt. Today I want to show you, how I edited this pictures.

Drag the line to the left / right to see the difference

First things first

You won’t be able to take a crappy picture and edit the shit out of it to get a sick amount of attention. If you want a good (HDR) photo, use a tripod, have patience and also get use switching filters on and off your camera.

I’ve planned this shot for several months (getting a hotel near this spot, be here at the right light and so on). As we arrived at the Kirkjufell (photo motive of this picture) there were already lots of other photographers camping at the best spots to shoot the best pictures, so be there early.

About the actual Kirkjufell picture

I used my Canon EOS 600D (Rebel T3i), the Tokina 11-16 mm lens, stacked 3 Cokin neutral density grad-filters in front of the lens and set my DSLR up for bracketing exposures (which will lead to a nice little HDR photo later) so I got three different exposures – 2 seconds, 1 second and ½ second. I used f-stop f/6,3, ISO 100 and a focal length of 14 mm.

The post processing

If you’re shooting in a situation similar to this one I witnessed, you will end up with like 200 shots, so make sure you find the very best of the very best of those 200 pictures. This will take a while.

Choosing the right shots
Choose the best pictures before starting to edit them

The very first step I do, when starting with post processing in Lightroom is switching the Profile from Adobe Standard to Camera Standard (sometimes Camera Landscape or Neutral) in the Camera Calibration menu (you’ll find it all the way down on the development menu on the right side of Lightroom). Second thing is I go all the way up in the development menu to the Basic settings and change the white balance (WB) from As Shot to the setting that looks best to me.

Camera Calibration and White Balance
Camera Calibration and White Balance

Next thing I do is change the clarity (which you can also find under the Basic settings) to something between 30 and 100, you just have to play with this. By the way this is one of my favorite settings in Lightroom. I didn’t change any of the other settings like exposure, cause I’m creating an HDR photo, so it’s not a real problem if it’s a bit to dark or to bright at the moment.

Now scroll your way down to the HSL / Color / B & W menu point and choose the Saturation submenu. You can push the colors as you want, I always try to not overdo this step which happens really quick.

Sharpening your picture is probably one of the easiest parts in post processing. I just turn up the amount to 150 in the sharpening menu (Details) and leave all the other settings as they are. If you think your images is a bit noisy, then push the Luminance amount under the Noise Reduction menu.

Adjusting Clarity Saturation and Sharpnes
Adjusting Clarity Saturation and Sharpnes

Ok, now I’ve done this for one picture out of three. What need to be done now so all the three pictures get the same look is synchronizing them. This is all so a pretty easy Step. Just select your pictures down in the menu (included the already edited one) and push the Sync… button (down in the right corner) like in the picture below. Now we’ve finished the Lightroom part.

Synchronizing your pictures with Lightroom
Synchronizing your pictures with Lightroom

Editing the HDR in Photomatix and Photoshop

The next thing I’ll do is import my 3 edited shots into Photomatix and generate an HDR picture. The good thing about this software is, you barely have to change the settings. I normally just play around with the Details Enhancer method (e.g. Strength at around 100, Saturation at about 50 and so on).

Once I’ve finished the HDR in Photomatix, I open the photo in Photoshop duplicate the picture layer (CTRL + J). If the images has lots of dark parts, even after creating the HDR, I’ll adjust that by going to the menu Images > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Then I just erase the too bright parts of the image again using a layer mask (just create a layer mask on the layer you want to edit, choose the brush tool with black set as your foreground color and go over the parts that got too bright)

Adjusting Shadows and Highlights
Adjusting Shadows and Highlights

For the final retouching I’m normally using the Nik Software Collection. Here in this picture I just used: Color Effex 4 Pro > Classical Soft Focus. The presets here are pretty nice but you can change them if you want to. This step will give your photo a nice warm glow throughout the whole image. This will probably be a bit too much though, so create a new layer mask (on the new layer that came up after the Classical Soft Focus Filter) and erase the parts where the glow is to much. BAM. Finished.

Because I’m going to upload the final picture to the web, I always use the Andreas Resch Websharpener (see review here) and resize it to a width of 900 pixel.

If you have any questions regarding this tutorial, feel free to ask in the comment section below, I’m glad to help you! 🙂


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Author Description

Christian Möhrle

Photographing landscapes since 2009, trying to help out the lovely photography community with tutorials, workshops and more

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