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How to do a Single Picture HDR look in Adobe Lightroom

You transfer your pictures from your camera onto your computer. You take a look at them and some of them just don’t look the way you thought they would — underexposed, a little out of focus, dull… Fortunately, Lightroom is here for you. Adobe Lightroom is a great tool to make, or rather fake, the […]

How to do a Single Picture HDR look in Adobe Lightroom

You transfer your pictures from your camera onto your computer. You take a look at them and some of them just don’t look the way you thought they would — underexposed, a little out of focus, dull… Fortunately, Lightroom is here for you.

Adobe Lightroom is a great tool to make, or rather fake, the HDR look using only one picture. Not only is it extremely simple to do, but it only requires fiddling with the basic sliders.

Let’s get started!

(I am assuming that you already know how to import pictures into Lightroom and get into the Develop module. See you there! A complete guide for Lightroom for beginners is coming soon… patience.)

First of all, I like to start with the Highlights and the Shadows. The sliders can be found under the Basic tab. For the HDR look, I bring down the Highlights slider to -100 and set the Shadows slider to +100. This will bring back details in the picture (and dynamic range). It might look washed out for now, but don’t worry, we will take care of that in just a second!

*Do not abuse this HDR technique. It may be a quick fix but nothing remedies crappy technique. Sincerely. *

Highlights +100 and Shadows -100

For more Lightroom editing workflows like this one, click here. View the different steps distraction-free using the lightbox by clicking on the images.

Now, let’s do the Whites and the Blacks. Hold the Alt key and click on the Whites slider. The whole image will become black. Slowly slide it to the right until you see some white spots — that is called clipping. It is when part of your image is 100% white or 100% black, which means you loose details. When that happens, reduce the Whites until they disappear. Then, do the same for the Blacks. Slide the Blacks slider while holding down the Alt key; the screen will become all white. Slowly move the cursor to the left until you see some black spots. Now, unlike the Whites, I like to have a little clipping in my Blacks, as I find that it adds more depth to the picture.

Whites and Blacks

After setting these 4 sliders, the picture will generally have an HDR look to it. Of course, the HDR look lacks the “pop” of real HDR, but we’ve never been strong advocates of full-blown HDR anyways. Use the Clarity slider to tweak the high dynamic range look.

If your picture is too dull or too saturated, you can adjust the Vibrance slider. Based on personal experience, try to use Vibrance as often as possible when it comes to HDR and to avoid Saturation slider unless you must use it. It gives much more natural-looking shots.

Clarity and Vibrance

If you find the white balance to be off, you can adjust the Temperature slider: colder to the left and warmer to the right.
You can also use the eye dropper tool and select a part of the picture that should be gray.

Eye Dropper Before (Let’s say that the clouds were gray…)
Eye Dropper After (I don’t really like the warmer version as it doesn’t reflect what I want to present; I will stick with the default white balance.)


Finally, you can also use the presets if you’re feeling lazy but creative at the same time.

White Balance Presets

Now, go to Lens Corrections -> Profile and check the Enable Profile Corrections box. Then, using the 3 drop down menus (Make, Model and Profile), select the profile of your camera lens. This corrects any distortions and vignetting caused by the lens. Of course, if you shoot Fuji, none of the settings apply to you 😛 

profile

When you are done, go back to Lens Corrections -> Basic and check the Remove Chromatic Aberration box.

Chromatic Aberration Removed

Although you can do it whenever you want, I would generally crop my picture at this point, though my colleague and editor-in-chief Jack Luo might disagree as he always crops first. Whatever. I might want to crop out the top and bottom part of the picture to make it more panoramic, or simply just straighten it, for instance.

Cropping (I slightly rotated the picture.)

Then, I would do the sharpening and the noise reduction. Under the Detail tab, adjust the Amount and Luminance sliders until you are satisfied with the result. There isn’t really any rules or magic numbers for this part. You just have to try to make a compromise between sharpness and noise in your picture. Use the Fuji X-Trans sharpen preset if you need to.

However, I do have a tip for you. Let’s say you photographed a building with a bright blue sky in the background. You want to sharpen the building to get more details of the windows and the bricks, but you don’t want to get more noise in the sky as you do so. This is where the Masking slider comes in handy. Similarly to the Blacks and Whites, hold down the Alt key and slide the Masking slider. You should see a white screen. Slowly move the cursor to the right. Some parts of the picture will become black. Whatever is white gets sharpened and whatever is black doesn’t. Continue moving to the right until the sky becomes black and the building is white.

Sharpening and Noise Reduction
Sharpening and Noise Reduction

When I am happy with everything, I like to add some vignetting effect. This helps to draw attention to the center of the picture. Under the Effects tab, you can adjust the Amount slider to the left until you like the result.

Vignetting

And that’s the gist of faking a single picture HDR picture using Adobe Lightroom. Of course, there are many other techniques out there, including but not limited to curves, masking and (since CC/LR6) making “true” HDR out of 2 virtual copies. Such tutorials are coming soon. But editing the basic panel to mimic HDR is by far the quickest technique, and one of the cleanest too, because there is no tonal overlapse. Our friend Ming Thein has an excellent article on that matter, of course 🙂

Boats-2
Final image

You can download the original picture here (RAW file) if you want to try for yourself.

In the meantime, practice editing pictures with Lightroom so you can get better and better! And do not forget… never abuse this technique.


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