HDR Workflow – Single Raw HDR by Adrian Evans

The Longboat was taken on a beautiful small island off Lanta island Thailand. My friend had booked a speed boat for the day as it was his girlfriend’s birthday. We had a busy day island hopping and snorkelling and stopped for refreshments and I took the opportunity to get some shots on my Canon 5d mk2 with my favourite travel lens the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

40mm 1/60 sec at f/10 ISO 100 handheld RAW

My primary applications are Adobe’s Lightroom, Photoshop and Photomatix. I use Lightroom to organize my images and for basic processing, I use Photoshop for adjustments beyond Lightroom’s capabilities.

The best way to capture good HDR (high dynamic range) is to take three or more identical exposures of the same image, one correctly exposed, one over exposed and one under exposed. Once you have taken your bracketed shots, check the Histogram on your camera to make sure you have captured the entire range of the scene, look at the darkest image in your series and see if most of the data is towards the left of your histogram then check the brightest image and see if most of the data is towards the right.

Photomatix also allows you to create a pseudo-HDR image from a single shot this is very useful if you do not have a tripod or not allowed to use it or when there is movement in your scene, which is likely to cause ghosting i.e. cloud movement, vehicles, people, animals, trees and waves to name a few, as I was traveling without my tripod and the waves would be problematic for my basic photo editing skills I chose the easy option – Pseudo HDR.

My Develop Mode Settings for Adobe Lightroom

  • Tone Curve – Linear
  • Detail – Noise Reduction and Sharpening Off
  • Lens Correction – Enabled Profile for Canon EF 24-105mm
  • Colour – Enabled Chromatic Aberration
  • Camera Calibration – Camera Neutral Profile


I created 2 Virtual copies of the original Longboat RAW file in the Develop Mode, decreased the Exposure of Virtual Copy 1 to EV -1.00

 Increased the Exposure of Virtual Copy 2 to +1.00 in the Basic panel


Giving me 3 different exposures -1,0,+1

Export these 3 images to Photomatix Pro 4.2.3

The options I used for these files is Show Intermediary 32-bit HDR image, Align images even though they should be aligned as they are virtual copies and click export.

I accepted the Photomatix screen option of EV+1,0,-1 as that’s what I had set in Lightroom previously, after a few seconds Photomatix shows me the merged 32-bit image


I always save the 32bit HDR master images as .EXR or .HDR file in case I want to come back and re-edit or use different settings on the sliders for a different look or for masking in Photoshop if I require a different sky, foreground from the original.


Photomatix default settings with my own customised presets on the right, I always start out with the default and gradually tweak just a few sliders.

  • Strength 70-100%
  • Colour 50%
  • Gamma  .90 -1.00
  • Micro-Smoothing 2.0
  • Lighting Adjustments Natural/Natural+

if I have trouble getting the desired look I will often click through my many saved presets from previous successful images for ideas or I will process the image more than once Ctrl T, if I am having problem with the sky I will reduce the White Point, this will decrease the overall HDR effect, once with a high white point for details, another with a lower white point to achieve a better looking sky, in Photoshop I would mask out the bad sky with the good one, once the desired look is achieved click process


I haven’t found a need to use the finishing touch panel as I will bring the image into Photoshop for the finishing touches. I then save this file as a 16 bit TIFF

I normally process the image a second time as Shadowmapping – this process I use to add depth to my images, I first came across this process through Rob Hanson –  http://robhanson.wordpress.com/hdr-shadowmapping/


The idea is to get a super-high-contrast, black & white version of your image, highlighting all the shadows and highlights. Obviously each image is different but these are the sort of setting I start out with on my Shadowmapping preset.

  • Strength 70%
  • Colour 0
  • Luminosity 10.0
  • Detail Contrast 10.0
  • Lighting Adjustment  0
  • White and black point varies on image
  • Gamma .99
  • Micro-Smoothing 0-10

Once I’m happy with the image I save to a 16 bit TIFF and open the normal HDR image with the Shadowmapped image in Photoshop as layers


With the Shadowmapped set as the top layer I select the layer and drop the opacity to around 25% and set the blend mode to Hard Light, right click on the layer to flatten image

I normally use the Auto Tone to check for any odd colour casts when editing in Photoshop, next I used a clone tool to remove the floating leaves, rope, sensor spots and any other distractions.

The sky was very noisy so I ran Noiseware Professional plugin for Photoshop at its default setting after first duplicating the layer in case it removed too much detail/texture from the other areas of the image, I can mask them back in from the duplicated layer, sometimes I will run the Noiseware plugin as soon as I bring the images into Photoshop depending on the level of noise, if I have other images of the same shot I might use them to blend in another sky or other parts of the scene.


I use Photoshop plugins occasionally to see how they may enhance the image. I like Nik Color Efex Pro for its versatility and results with its many built in customizable filters and control points which can be added anywhere on the image to control the strength and size of the effect or you can use the built in brush tool for more flexibility.

The built in filters can be used in conjunction with each other, I have found the Tonal Contrast and Detail Extractor do a very good job. Normally I would spend just a few minutes playing with the sliders strength and opacity to get the desired effect, click ok to accept the changes, these actions are non-destructible as Nik conveniently creates a separate layer for you.


At this point I would normally check the levels, curves, saturation, vibrance, noise and give it a High Pass sharpen. Some people like to crop early but I like to leave till the end. I would now straighten and crop for best impact using rule of 3rds on this image.

Adrian Evans is a keen amateur HDR Photographer, whose time revolves around North Wales, UK and Asia. His photography consists mostly of Architecture, Seascape and Religious themes. Adrian has had numerous photos published in Photoplus the UK’s number one Canon monthly magazine.

Web site: www.adrian-evans.com

Redbubble: www.redbubble.com/people/ajevans Fineart America: http://adrian-evans.artistwebsites.com

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/adrianjevans/

500px: http://500px.com/AdrianEvans




  • Paul Mack

    Very interesting Adrian :-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/mr.Adrian.J.Evans Adrian Evans

      Hi Paul, thank you

  • Lee

    Awesome man, lot’s of depth for a single raw.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mr.Adrian.J.Evans Adrian Evans

      Thank you Lee

  • Mitch

    Excellent insight to your work….very interesting

    • http://www.facebook.com/mr.Adrian.J.Evans Adrian Evans

      Thank you Mitch

  • Rob Hanson

    Ahhh, I love it when someone finds the Shadowmapping technique to be useful. Good job on this, Adrian!

    • http://www.facebook.com/mr.Adrian.J.Evans Adrian Evans

      Thank you Rob, i always throw it in the mix and see what happens :)

  • http://mikehardisty.wordpress.com/ Mike Hardisty

    Great article Adrian. Interesting to see your workflow. We really must try and meet up.

    • Jimmy McIntyre

      Hey Mike, there’s a good chance there’ll be a photowalk in London with a few HDR One contributors and anyone else interested on the 15th of next month. If you and Adrian can make it that would be great.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mr.Adrian.J.Evans Adrian Evans

      Thank you Mike, just let me know :)