How to create a fake HDR effect in Photoshop

Apr 12, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

How to create a fake HDR effect in Photoshop

Apr 12, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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HDR tonemapping is the Marmite of photography.  It’s something people either love or they hate, but even if you hate it, when used subtly it’s a technique that can still help to bring back some shadow and highlight detail where you need it.

This quick tip from photographer and YouTuber Jimmy McIntyre shows you a method for creating an fake HDR-like look from a single exposure within Photoshop, that you can easily adjust and tweak to suit your image’s needs.

YouTube video

In the video, Jimmy shows a method which can easily be wrapped up into a Photoshop action, saving you valuable time in the future, and while the look may be a little strong for some, it can easily be dialled back, and masked off to apply it to only specific areas within an image.

Here’s a before and after of the image on which Jimmy worked from within Photoshop.

You can also see the changes in the image noted in the histogram on the right of the screen.

The principle of this techniques is similar to that of luminosity masks, using Photoshop’s “Apply Image” feature in order to create a pair of layers masking off the brightest highlights and darkest darks, allowing you to bring back some of the detail in just those areas.

Using something like Lumenzia would give you an even greater degree of control, but the technique shown in the video is a quick and handy addition to your actions toolbox.

What actions have you created to help speed up your Photoshop workflow, or to allow you to quickly test different methods and techniques on an image?  Let us know in the comments.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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9 responses to “How to create a fake HDR effect in Photoshop”

  1. Maurizio Caravaggi Avatar
    Maurizio Caravaggi

    isn’t it easier to open it with camera raw and work on the sliders?

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      I would tend to agree, except for the fact that you can mask this, allowing you to apply it to only certain parts of an image.

    2. John Aldred Avatar
      John Aldred

      I would generally tend to agree with you, except that using this method, you have the option of masking and only applying the effect to certain areas of an image.

      1. Flodder Avatar
        Flodder

        you know that camera raw is now a PS filter you can mask?

    3. Maurizio Caravaggi Avatar
      Maurizio Caravaggi

      true, thanks for reply

  2. Nate Whinnery Avatar
    Nate Whinnery

    “Fake” HDR seems a bit inaccurate. Isn’t an HDR image based on the results rather than the process? There are times where bracketing is still necessary, but shooting raw and adjusting from there does just fine a lot of the time.

    1. John Aldred Avatar
      John Aldred

      HDR is a process. When you don’t go through that process, it is indeed, fake. :)

    2. Nate Whinnery Avatar
      Nate Whinnery

      I have to disagree. High dynamic range does not dictate how you get there, only what you end with. I can take a few bracketed exposures, dump them into photomatix, fiddle with some sliders, and call that an HDR with ease if we’re basing it off process, or I can take a single image (in raw of course), put it in Lightroom, fiddle some more to make sure my shadows and highlights aren’t clipped, add a little clarity for good measure, and have it look just like the photomatix version. Both images then show detail beyond the initial exposure and an extended dynamic range, correct? The same would go for a b&w image. Most of us start with color then get rid of it in one way or another, but no matter what my process, I end with a black and white. If the focus is on process, then as the article stated, perhaps tone mapping would be the term of interest, and that process is what typically leads HDR photos to scream “HDR!!!” Anyone have Trey Ratcliff’s number? He gets the final say.

  3. John Shark Avatar
    John Shark

    Import a raw in photomatix an press the button…. it can’t get any simpler :)