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Roof! Here It Is!: My Single Jpeg File HDR Processing Revealed :)

For my fellow bubblers who have asked me on how I process my images, this is (was) my usual workflow:

(Favorited by 114 people, 2345 views as of Oct 2012)
You can see my current HDR workflow here: Big Ben Bus Stop HDR Processing

As a sample, I will use my artwork Roof! There It Is

Equipment Required:
- Digital Camera, preferrably a DSLR – (at least 10 megapixels)

Softwares Required:
- Photoshop (…or Lightroom or Gimp or anything similar)
- Photomatix

Advantages of this method:
- No ghosting effect in your image / No need of tripod / Less space used in your hard drive and your memory card / Your old images in jpeg can be reprocessed & still achieve HDR effect.

Disadvantages of this method: (compared to RAW)
- More noise & pixelation / Less ‘room’ for editing / Less detail & smoothness.


Open jpeg file in Photoshop.
It helps if the exposure of this primary image is perfectly balanced.
(Note: Almost all of my images are from jpeg fine, but recently I have been shooting in RAW format and it gives me better results).

Go to Image>Adjustments>Curves (or Ctrl M as short cut).
Save 3 exposures: 1 overexposed, 1 original/normal exposure (primary image), 1 underexposed.
(The minimum number of exposures required is 3. Exposures of 5, 7 or more is optional.)

By dragging the centre of the diagonal line upward & to the left gives an overexposed image. The original exposure is saved as it is. And by dragging the centre of the diagonal line downward & to the right gives an underexposed image. The channel is on RGB.

Curves coordinates example:
overexposed: output 145, input 115 (to show shadow details)
underexposed: output 110, input 145 (to show the highlights)
This is never a fixed value. You can change it accordingly depending on your primary image and whether you would like to use more than 3 exposures.

You can also use the “exposure” option if you wish: Go to Image > Adjustments > Exposure and just drag the sliders to produce different exposures.

The 3 images should come out like this:

Open Photomatix.
Generate HDR image (load the 3 exposures saved).
My exposure values are roughly estimated to -1, 0, 1. Press OK.

The next window is Generate HDR Options. I dont tick any of the boxes here apart from “Take tone curve of color profile (recommended)” which is already pre-ticked. “Align Source Images” may not be necessary because it is based on a single image. “Reduce Chromatic Aberrations” when ticked should also give better results.

Which now leads us to the very crucial part of tone mapping:
Go to the Details Enhancer tab.
For this image, these are the settings I used:

Most of my images are roughly in the following settings but never exactly the same:

Usual adjustments on: strength (between 50-100), color saturation (50-75), luminosity (mid to 10.0), usually keep the microcontrast to 10.0 or slightly less.

As a rule, I stick between the “mid”, “high” and “max” buttons in the smoothing/light mode sections. I find the 2 on the left to be overcooked, so I never use it.

Tone Settings: White point (somewhere in 1.5%), Black point (mostly from 1.5% to 5% to give it a darker tone) and Gamma (I choose from 1.20 to .70)

Color Settings: Usually stays in the middle at 0.0.

Miscellaneous Settings: micro-smoothing (0.0 to 6), highlights smoothness (0 to 30), shadow smoothness and shadow clipping at 0.

Press ‘Process’ then ‘Save’.

Further clean-up in Photoshop:
For this image, I took it back to PS for a slight desaturation especially of the reds that came out too harsh (like the vending machine at the right side of the train station).
Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation (or Ctrl U for short cut). From here I can adjust the reds, yellows, cyans, etc. if needed.

And this is the final image:

I must admit, I used to ‘overcook’ some of my early images in tone mapping. But eventually I came to realise that keeping the HDR looking ‘natural’ is a lot, lot better! But then again, your personal taste and artistic creativity will be the judge of it.

Extra processing in Photoshop:
At times, some of my images after Photomatix turn out to have some overexposed areas. To fix this, layering the HDR image over the original or underexposed image then using the eraser tool is a very good option. Usually my eraser tool’s brush opacity is around 20%.

See some of my samples:

The above sample is one of my latest work A Little More Conversation. Image on the left is straight from Photomatix and the one on the right is the final image. Notice the more natural result after blending the HDR with the original image. In here, I also desaturated the colours of blue, cyan and reds plus reduced the brightness to achieve the deeper, darker tone. The burn and dodge tools are also very useful. I use them around the image on places that need some adjustments with the brush opacity of 15-20%.

This is my other work No. 52 Victoria Street with a similar post-Photomatix treatment but this time without the layering with the original image – got lucky on this one as I didnt have to do much tweaking. Again, I had to reduce the reds which I found very strong. More often, people’s skin tones look sunburnt so desaturating the reds can give out a more natural look. Sometimes the dodge tool can also do the trick. I also used the burn tool on the slightly overexposed areas and a touch around the image frame for a subtle vignetting effect. Then some brightness reduction & contrast adjustments to finish off.

That’s all for now folks! :)


RB Friends Who Have Tried This Method In Their Artworks:

Ocean Rays by FStop

Gibraltar Via An HDR Tutorial by John44

Attitude by Peter Marin

We Turn Away To Face The Cold Enduring Chill by Jim Nooney

Looking Towards Belfast City Hall by Peter Ellison

Beauty by Gouzelka

On Ilkley Moor by AJM Photography

Doorway To Doom Plus Free Parking by Kevystylez


  • rodeorose
    rodeoroseover 4 years ago

    Nice of you to take the time and share this Yhun. I assume you are submitting to the Tutorials group?

  • rodeorose
    rodeoroseover 4 years ago
  • Jason Ruth
    Jason Ruthover 4 years ago

    thank you for taking the time to document your technique and sharing it too, great stuff.

  • cheers Jason :)

    – Yhun Suarez

  • Kate Adams
    Kate Adamsover 4 years ago

    Hi Yhun this is excellent, thank you so much for sharing.

  • cheers Kate :)

    – Yhun Suarez

  • Evelina Kremsdorf
    Evelina Kremsdorfover 4 years ago

    Holy crap!!! I know your secrets now!!!! Will definitely use it the next time I get to play with images.
    So very kind of you to share!!!

  • lee Henley
    lee Henleyover 4 years ago

    cheers for putting this up im gonna have to have a crack at doing some hdr stuff

  • will look forward to your HDRs Lee :)

    – Yhun Suarez

  • mylittleeye
    mylittleeyeover 4 years ago

    3-5 exposures works best, but you make things look great.

  • mylittleeye
    mylittleeyeover 4 years ago

    i mean 3-5 photos at different exposures. long exposures work great too.

  • will have to try those in the future :)

    – Yhun Suarez

  • carol brandt
    carol brandtover 4 years ago

    thanks so much for sharing your single-image technique.. perhaps I’ll have better success with this than my multi-image HDR attempts :P

  • cheers Carol :)

    – Yhun Suarez

  • Crowmanic
    Crowmanicover 4 years ago

    really nice share … and well documented/explained Tutorial … and of course you get excellent results …

  • cheers mate :)

    – Yhun Suarez