How To: Making a HDR landscape photo

posted in Photoshop

How To: Making a HDR landscape photo

Ever wondered how to make one of those awesome HDR photos you’ve seen on the Internet? – Well look no further, because here comes (yet another!) explanation of how to do them.
In fact, it’s quite easy.. The only tools you will need is;

  • A camera able to shoot in .RAW (that is either .NEF or .CR2) + the ability to shoot AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) makes it alot easier.
  • A tripod is prefered.
  • The software called ‘Photomatix‘.
  • Photoshop (nearly all modern versions got the feature we need)


Let’s get started!

First; the process of selecting the right photos for the job.


For this little tutorial we will stick with three photos; -2 EV, 0 EV & +2 EV.

Then we open up our ‘Photomatix‘ software (Free version can be downloaded @ their website.), and choose ‘Load Bracketed Photos‘. Then we either drag-and-drop or select our photos from our library, into the program. It should look like this;


After selecting ‘OK‘, we will be prompted with an option box asking us if we will align the photos, remove ghosting or reduce noise in the photo.
There’s plenty of things to adjust at this point, however, in the tutorial we will stick with the top option saying ‘Align Source Images‘. Telling the program this, means that it will try to align the photos, matching lines and borders so that the overlay end result looks best. We need to choose this option, when it’s three individual photos we’re merging (and that is the case here!).
It obvious that if your tripod was well placed, on a solid ground, and the shakyness of the camera was at a minimum, it’s not necessary to go with this option – but in my example, I was standing on some loose rocks in the water, so my tripod was a bit unstable, unfortunately.


Feel free to play around with the settings at this point. Each HDR photo is unique!

(One thing to remember though, is that my experience tells me that changing the ‘Reduse Noise‘ option to a too high level, will sometimes screw up your photo. :p)

After letting the program ‘Preprocess’ your photo, you will get a screen looking like this;


Note the ‘Lighting Adjustments’ value to the left…



So.. Now we’re at the funny part. This is where the magic happens, and it’s up to you to experiment with the different values. I can’t tell you exactly what to change the value to, due to the fact that every photo has its own recommended values. For example, a landscape photo taken at dusk might need a much lower ‘Luminosity’ than a photo taken at daylight. And some people like the effect exaggerated, meaning that you have to change the ‘Lighting Adjustments’ to something below 0. Speaking of it, I’ll show you what happens..


Value -39…


Value -100. Notice how the difference between light and shadow gets very harsh.

So what can we conclude from these examples? – The lower the ‘Lighting Adjustments’ value are, the more unrealistic and surreal it gets! :p

You really need to be carefull with the settings, you’re watching at this point, but messing around with them are great fun. Dont be afraid to try all of the sliders.

When you’re done playing around, and you pressed the ‘Process‘ button, you will be taken to a post-process photo with a dialogbox that gives you three options; Contrast, Color and Sharpening.
Normally, I only go for the ‘Sharpening‘, due to the fact that I prefer to have complete control over my contrast/color adjustments in Photoshop.


On landscape photos I prefer you go for the ‘Strong Sharpening’.


So, at this point we’re done with Photomatix, so feel free to save your work as a .TIF (that way you wont lose that much quality for your work in Photoshop). Afterwards, you import it to Photoshop.

At this point, there won’t be any clear guidelines on what to do – it is once again completely up to yourself to try, try and try some more. However, I can give you some advice;

- Straighten out lines! Theres nothing like a horizont which is completely tilted. :)
A way to get rid of this, can be by using the ‘Ruler Tool‘ (Shortcut SHIFT + I three times.) and you use it this way;


Start by selecting it.

Then draw a line on your horizont, from point A to B. The length of the line doesn’t matter, it’s just important that it lays on top of your horizont. You will rotate the image so that your line is perfectly either horizontal or vertical. And the way you do that, is by going to the ‘Image‘ menu and go where this photo tells you to:


‘Image’ > ‘Image Rotation’ > ‘Arbitrary’.

A prompt window will appear telling you how many degrees it’s going to rotate your image, and you get the ability to either choose to do it CW (Clockwise) or CCW (Counterclockwise). I’ve never paid that much attention to this box, to be honest, and always let it be at the default value.



So! That was basically it. :-)  Gratz! I can’t teach you anymore about what to do, since its just random ‘Curve’-adjustments, lightinging- and darkening the different areas of the photos, so that it may look awesome in the end.

Last but not least, a little list of things to remember when shooting landscape HDR;

  1.  Patience is the key!
  2.  Shooting in early morning or late night, might give you the best natural lighting.
  3.  Remember extra memory card + battery
  4.  Don’t be afraid to over-tweak the settings in postprocess.
  5.  Avoid too much movement by people, water etc. on your shoots.
  6.  Remember not all hope is gone, because you got a little grainy photos!


Sample shots taken especially for this blogpost, can be seen under ‘Projects‘ > ‘HDR Nature vol. II‘ or directly by clicking this link: HDR Nature vol. II.

For your viewing pleasure, I hereby give you a couple of photos of the rig I used last time I was shooting landscape HDR in Sweden:








  • Legend12

    Thx for the guide, it helped me try out a new method. :-) Never thought of doin it that way,,,

    • Well thank you, good sir! :)
      Im glad you liked it. May I ask you how you normally do it?