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DIY HDR {you can do it}

Monday, April 23, 2012
So...Friday I introduced you all to the beauty of HDR imagery.  Today I'll show you how you can make your own HDR images without spending a dime on software.  I'll be turning this photo:

Into this:

And you can do it too.  Most HDR images are made by processing them in digital program that combines multiple images into one.  So...you'll need to download one such program.  There are awesome programs that cost some moolah.  BUT, I don't like to spend money so I use freeware.  Go here and download luminance-HDR.  Don't freak out because the website looks like gibberish.  It's legit, I promise. 

Now, I took screen shots through the whole process, so I hope this is easy to follow.  The image I used was taken on my old point-and-click Olympic camera that I got as a Christmas gift in 2004.  Nothing fancy.  I promise.  

Step 1 is to take your photo and copy it, so you have three of the same image.
Step 2:  open Luminance-HDR.  Click "New HDR Image" and open all three of your copies.

Step 3:  Adjust your exposure levels.  If you have a fancy pants camera you can use an AEB {I think that's what it is...} setting to get three images with different exposure.  Otherwise, do it manually here.  If you are confused about why you need to do this read my intro to HDR.  

Leave one at -10, then change one to -8, and the last to -6.  Then click NEXT.

Step 4:  A window will pop up called "Editing Tools."  Don't touch anything...just click NEXT.

Step 5:  Same thing in the next window {HDR creation}.  The blanks should read...Profile 1, Triangular, Linear, Debevec

Step 6:  You should be left with a window that shows your image, like this.  Looks awesome, right?  Just kidding.  We still have a few more steps.  Next up is tonemapping.  This is the part that makes your image look stellar and HDR-ish.  So click the "Tonemap HDR Image" button {in the upper tool bar next to "Save HDR Image As...}.

Step 7:  Okay, now I'll get a little techy.  Just a little.  The result of your tonemapping will change as a result of the ratio of mapping to size.  Basically...your results will be different based on the finished size.  Since you don't want your finished image to be as small as a postage stamp, change the "Results Size" {in the lower left corner} to be the biggest or second largest.

Next, play with the saturation, detail and contrast sliders...then hit the "Tonemap" button at the bottom.  Go over this until you get a result you like.

Step 8:  Click the "Adjust Levels" button at the top tool bar.  Move the sliders in a bit toward the center, until you get the contrast you like.

Step 9:  Click the "Save As" button and save your image.  

Now you can call it quits here.  Your image probably looks pretty great.  But if you want to add a little more pizzazz open your image in your favorite editing program.  This might be PhotoShop, iPhoto...or in my case Gimp.

What is Gimp?  Well...let me tell you.  It's a freeware editing program.  Download it here.  I do all my editing and graphic design in it.  It works a lot like PhotoShop, but it doesn't leave you broke.  I love it.

To finish this image, I increased the saturation.

Then, because my photo had an overall blue tint to it I balanced the colors.  In photos blue is the opposite of yellow and cyan {aqua} is the opposite of red.  So to balance my photo I added some red and yellow tones to it.

Finally, I added a transparent layer with some black on it to darken the sky a bit.  

And here's the final product.  Now my very unfancy photo looks like it could be hanging in a gallery somewhere.

Hope you liked the tutorial.  And I hope it all made sense.  As always...if you've got questions, just drop me a line.  In the comment box, an email or on Facebook.  Whatever works best for you.

Oh, and if you would be so kind...follow along.  I don't want you to miss a thing.




  1. COOL!!! Thanks. I am getting a fancy camera soon! :)

  1. The transformation in the photo is amazing and it absolutely could be hanging in a gallery somewhere. Love it! Thanks so much for sharing at Whimsy Wednesdays!

  1. Rachel said...:

    That is amazing! Thanks for sharing at Terrific Tuesdays.

  1. Patty said...:

    Thanks for the step-by-step....not that I need another way to spend my time...but this is very intriguing. I will play with a picture and see if I can get anywhere near your effect.

    I appreciate you taking the time to share the steps - AND the links to FREE programs...we appreciate the same attributes.

  1. WOW this is an amazing tutorial and I would love to invite you to share this, and any other posts you would like to, at my Creative Thursday Link Party at www.michellestastycreations.blogspot.com. (Runs through Monday each week)

    Have a great day,

  1. This is awesome! I love me some Gimp, and have been using it for years now. I got photoshop as a gift this year, and I love how easy it is to use, but I still open up Gimp sometimes and use it for a couple of functions that I like to have more control on. It is an awesome program, and now I can't wait to tru out Luminance. Thanks a bunch, and yes- that photo turned out gorgeous!

  1. Sugarr2518 said...:

    This is a great idea! I never knew of this program and I will be checking this out sometime soon. For now though, I'm pinning this! Thanks for the tips:)

  1. This is an awesome end result. I will definitely have to try it. I am stopping in from TheStuffofSuccess. Feel free to stop on by and say hello. Have a great week. Athena

  1. Awesome tutorial!!! Thanks for sharing it!

    @ Creatively Living

  1. This is a great tutorial! I'm always wanting to learn how to improve my photography skills. Thanks for linking up to our "Toot Your Horn Tuesdays". Hope you come back to link up again this Tuesday!


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