HDR, Sharpness, and Detail, OH MY!

Article by Bill Fritz

One of the characteristics of HDR photography that has always excited me was the amount of detail you can achieve from the processing that would otherwise be impossible in a normal photo.   I have always been a pixel peeper in that sense and continue to try and figure out new ways to pull out as much detail as I can.

A very common way to achieve this is by using plugins.  Nik Software makes a great filter called “Detail Extractor” which is only one of the many great filters that come with the plugin Color Efex Pro.   Topaz labs also has several plugins that are fantastic, such as Topaz Detail, but what I’m going  to teach you today is something you can do right in Photoshop.

The above photo is the image I will be using as an example.   The only processing that has been done to it so far was it was tonemapped in Photomatix.    Although it already has a ton of detail, maybe we want some more.   Let’s open up the image in Photoshop and get going.

  1. Duplicate the “Background Layer” twice.   (CTRL+J on a PC )
  2. Select both of the layers you just made by holding down CTRL and clicking each one.  They will both be highlighted
  3. Click the layer drop down menu and select “Group Layers” and then rename this group “DETAILS”
  4. Set the blending mode of the “DETAILS” group to Overlay
  5. Within the group select the top layer and change the blending mode to Vivid Light. Then invert the layer. ( CTRL+I )  At this point your image should look exactly the same as when you first opened it.
  6. With that top layer still selected, go to FILTER>BLUR>SURFACE BLUR.  I know what you’re thinking, “Why the heck would you blur a photo to get details?!”  Hang in there with me
  7. Here you will be given two sliders.  Radius and Threshold.  I usually set them both to around 20 and go tweak them until I get the look I want.  For the sake of the tutorial I will leave them both at 20 and click OK.  This filter usually takes a little while to render, just a heads up!

When that finishes doing its thing you can turn the details group on and off to see the difference it had made.  The following images will be 100% crops of the image to show the before and after detail difference.

Pretty cool huh?  But what if it is too much?  Not a problem!   We put the details in a group so that you can back off the opacity if you need to.  You can even add a layer mask to the Details Group and brush details in or out wherever you want.  This technique also works on regular photos too.  It is not exclusive to HDR.   To top it all off, sharpen the photo with your favorite method to crisp up those details.

There are plenty of very effective ways to bring out details in your images.  This is just another tool in my editing tool belt that I have been using pretty often lately.  As I said before, Plugins such as Color Efex Pro and Topaz Detail work great too and they all have their own look to them.  It is up to you and your artistic merit to decide when and where to use them.

-Bill Fritz
Fritz Photography


  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.heckt Jim Heckt

    Oh yes!!!