There are a lot of different options when it comes to processing HDR photos. You can use standalone programs like Photomatix, you can use Photoshop’s HDR Pro, you can hand process the photos as layers in Photoshop, and there are plugins that you can use within Photoshop or Lightroom. But another option that can work very well with many photos is simply to use the tools in Lightroom’s develop module with no other plugins or programs.
Typically with HDR photography you’ll be merging at least 3 different exposures of the same scene to create the end result. But what are your options when you want to increase the dynamic range and you only took a single exposure? Lightroom has the ability to improve the shadows and highlights of your photo, plus you can adjust vibrance, clarity, and other elements that are typical of HDR photos. While the end result may not be a true HDR photo blended from multiple exposures, this approach can produce a great-looking image with many of the same HDR qualities.
In this tutorial we’ll walk through the process of creating this faux HDR look in Lightroom, and we’ll take a look at the process with a few different sample photos. For the tutorial I’ll be using our HDR Hero Lightroom Presets, but if you don’t own the presets don’t worry, you’ll be able to follow along with the develop module settings that are used. Also, you can download a preset created in this tutorial for free.
The HDR Hero Lightroom Presets include 22 different one-click presets for applying faux HDR effects to your photos, and the set also includes more than 50 stackable presets that allow you to create your own custom faux HDR effects very quickly while still having full control. The way it works is you choose one preset in several different categories to create the look that you want. For this tutorial I’ll be using a few of the workflow presets to create the end result.
Here is a look at the sample photo straight out of the camera.
And here is a preview of the end result that we will be creating.
The effect shown here is a little more on the extreme side, but if you want something less extreme you can easily accomplish that by choosing the lower levels of presets in HDR Hero, or using lower settings if you are working without the presets. Personally, I usually prefer less extreme HDR images, but I wanted to show the possibilities of these adjustments in Lightroom. You can follow this process to edit RAW files or JPG files, but RAW files will typically produce the best results.
Ok, to get started we’ll open the develop module of Lightroom. Opening the HDR Hero workflow presets, the first step is to choose a tone base. The tone base will determine settings for the highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks, which sets the foundation for the faux HDR effect. I’m going to apply the “Bold Tones 1″ preset, which applies the following settings: highlights -100, shadows +100, whites +25, blacks -30.
The next option in HDR Hero is exposure, but I’m not going to apply any of the exposure presets because I’d like to keep the exposure as is. If you need to increase or decrease the exposure of your photo you can use any of the exposure presets.
Next, we’ll choose a preset for clarity. I’m applying the preset “Clarity Strong Boost”, which will set the clarity to 60.
Contrast is the next setting to adjust. I’m applying the preset “Soft Contrast Boost” which sets the contrast to 10.
And the last of the workflow presets that I am going to use if for vibrance and saturation. I’m applying the “Very Strong Boost” preset, which applies these settings: vibrance +35 and saturation +12.
If you’re using HDR Hero you’ll also have workflow presets for converting to black & white, setting sharpening, setting noise reduction, and for adding a vignette. I’m not applying any of those presets for this sample, and here is the end result that was created with just 4 clicks to apply the different stackable presets.
If you’d like to use this effect with your own photos, download the preset here (created in Lightroom 5). And if you’d like to improve your workflow for creating faux HDR effects in Lightroom, please take a look at the HDR Hero Lightroom Presets.
Here is a look at the “before” version of our 2nd example photo.
And here is a preview of what we will be creating. It is a more realistic-looking photo that simply benefits from an increased dynamic range.
For the tone base I’ll choose “Max HDR Tones”. For clarity I’ll choose “Clarity Strong Boost”. For contrast I’ll choose “Strong Contrast Boost”. And for vibrance and saturation I’ll choose “Moderate Boost”. Those settings are shown below.
And those 4 simple clicks create the entire effect.
Ok, so in the first two examples we saw how HDR Hero can work with landscape photos, so now let’s take a look at how the presets will work with a sample portrait. Here is the “before” version of our photo.
And here is a preview of the end result.
To get started I’ll select the “Bold Tones 2″ preset for the tones setting. I’ll also apply the preset to increase exposure by 1.0. For clarity, I’m using “Clarity Max Boost”. For contrast, I’m using “Moderate Contrast Boost”. And lastly, I’m also applying the “Strong Sharpening” preset. Like the first two examples, this one was also created with just 4 clicks. The settings are shown below.
If you want to be able to easily replicate an HDR look in Lightroom, please take a look at more sample photos from our HDR Hero presets.