Moving Objects in HDR – Using A Single RAW

In order to capture the full range of light in any given scene we often have to use multiple exposures. The number of exposures needed varies greatly from scene to scene. Sometimes, however, we are forced into a situation where only one image is usable for the HDR process.

Why use a single image?

Often when light is sparse and we can’t use a tripod it is almost impossible to capture those higher exposure shots. We can crank up the ISO but any HDR photographer can tell you how disastrous that can be. HDR programs simply can’t handle high noise levels.

A second reason for only capturing one image is excessive movement. Moving objects aren’t usually a challenge to fix using Photomatix’s deghosting function and then cleaning up in Photoshop. But sometimes movement is so excessive the images won’t align correctly.

When can’t you use a single image?

When the scenes are too contrasting the 0 exposure shot will not encompass a sufficient range of light. For example, during a sunny day objects in the foreground may look fine while the sky is often completely white. Even if you manually lower the exposures in Lightroom or an equivalent later, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to salvage much detail.

For example, the shot below of Prambanan temple was far too contrasting. The RAW file had very little information for the sky.Even manually lowering the exposure in Lightroom left me with next to nothing to work with.


After combining this with -2 (and +2 exposures) I was able to pull more than enough detail from the sky.

What we’ll do today

There are as many ways to process a single image as there are photos. Every shot demands its own workflow. For this particular photo I’m going to combine HDR processing and Lightroom editing to go from this:

 To this:


About the image

Essentially this is not a perfectly processed image of course. On close inspection you’ll see imperfections, and like any other photo compositional improvements can be made. However, I chose this image because it had everything necessary for this tutorial – a reasonably low contrasting scene, moving objects, and darker areas that are difficult to render in Photomatix.

What’s needed?

–          A low contrasting scene or you can use my photo – here

–          Lightroom

–          Photoshop

–          Photomatix

–          Noise removal software (I’ll use Topaz Denoise)

–          This image

–          A moderate understanding of photoshop

Step One

Export the image from Lightroom onto your desktop. Call this image ‘Main’.

Step Two

Go in to the Develop section of Lightroom, and on the same image put the following sliders on these numbers:

Recovery  = 64

Fill light =  80

Blacks = 5

Contrast = 41

Now export this image and call it ‘Girl’.

This is the image you should have after Lightroom.

Step Three

Open Photoshop and run the images through your noise removal program. I’ll use the default Moderate setting in Todaz De-noise.

This is an absoltely essential step when processing a single image. Since your photo won’t contain anywhere near enough information to create a well-balanced image, the HDR process will bring out horrendous noise in some areas. On this particular image the horse will be a burning red. In fact, you’ll see that the image still contains a lot of noise after being tone mapped.

Run all three images through your noise removal software.

Step Four

Open Photomatix and drag and drop the Main image. Run it through Tone mapping and make all of the dials look like mine.


Save image as ‘Main 1’.

The problem with this image is that it contains a few halos. Not conventional white halos, but mirky dark halos, especially around the horse’s legs.

Step Five

We now want to create an image with similar contrast and color but with no halos. Drag and drop the Main image again into Photomatix and copy the dials below.


Reducing Strength, Luminosity and detail contrast will flatten your image but it will also remove any halos, as you can see below.

Now save this image as ‘No Halos’.

Step Six

In Photoshop open the file ‘No Halos’. Then, on top of ‘No Halos’ drag and drop the ‘Main’ image. They will align perfectly.

What we need to do here is to replace the areas with halos on the top image with the cleaner parts of the image below. You can do this by simply selecting the Eraser Tool on the left and going over those parts. I set the opacity to around 50% since there were some differences between colour and contrast in the images. Remember to use the Soft Round brush so the transition is smoother.

Once you’ve finished, flatten these images (Layer>Flatten Image) and save the resulting image as ‘Main 2’.

Step Seven

By now you should have an image without any serious haloing but the woman, the horse, and the guide to the right will be riddled with red/purple/blue noise.

This is where the image ‘Girl’ comes into play. Open it in Photoshop and then place ‘Main 2’ on top of it. What we want here is the detail and colour from the girl, horse, and guide found in the ‘Girl’ image to replace its noisy counterpart in the ‘Main 2’.

As before, select the Eraser Tool, and slowly work your way around those objects at 100% opacity. When you’ve finished, don’t flatten the images. Sharpen the ‘Girl’ layer first and adjust the contrast to fit with the contrast of ‘Main 2’.

Now flatten the image.

Step Eight

If you look closely you’ll see a lot of chromatic aberration around the girl and horse. Usually I’d remove this before the HDR processing but on this occasion it wasn’t very effective. There are a lot of different ways to remove chromatic aberration, but in this situation you are going to trim the edge of the object by using the Clone Stamp.

Zoom into the girls head. Make the Clone Stamp around 9 in size and make sure to use the Hard Round brush. Clone just to the right side of the girl’s head (the sky), perfectly parallel to the part you’re going to start with. Then begin replacing the chromatic aberration. Do this with every other area that needs it too.

Step Nine

Now play with the contrast and colours until you find what pleases you most.

This is the final image:


Final Words

In my personal opinion, processing a single image should never be a substitute for multiple exposures if you have the choice. You will lose contrast, details, and depth of colours.

I actually processed the image we’ve worked with today using 3 exposures and there is a marked improvement in the shot. There’s greater detail and contrast on the sky and on the ground, as well as rounder colours throughout the picture.However, I still had to use only the Main image for details on the moving objects.

The same image using 3 exposures.


My name is Jimmy McIntyre and I’m the editor of HDR One magazine. I travel for a living, learn languages, take pictures, and generally strive to enjoy every minute of the waking day! You can visit my daily HDR travel blog or subscribe to my updates on facebook – Jimmy McIntyre