D50 RAW to HDR tutorial.

Posted on 2007/03/26


Nikon D50 RAW to HDR tutorial

Here it is, the promised Nikon D50 HDR tutorial or ‘How To Make A HDR Image Out Of A Single RAW file’. Do you want to make a image like the one above? Then read my tutorial and try for yourself. Now I didn’t teach everything myself, I learned a lot from ‘stuck in customs’, but there are some things I do different. Let’s get started.

01: Shanghai not edited at all

01: Take a picture. Well, obviously you’re going to need a image to start with. So set the D50 to RAW mode, go out and find something interesting. I haven chosen this picture for this tutorial as it has colorful buildings as well as clouds. When it comes to clouds, it gets really interesting. You can also download the RAW file I use for this tutorial here and go step to step through the tutorial with my file: http://jakob.montrasio.net/wp-content/uploads/2007/shanghai.nef

02: Shanghai optimized with Photoshop

This is what my chosen image would look like after dropping it in Photoshop and performing Auto-Colorcorrection. Pretty ugly, right? Let’s make it more beautiful with HDR.

02: Copy the RAW file to your computer.

03: Open Photomatix

03: Fire up Photomatix Pro.

04: Photomatix creates HDR

04: Go to ‘Automate’ then ‘Batch Processing’. Now locate your RAW file folder in the ‘LOCATION’ area and select your RAW file (ending with ‘.nef’ as for Nikon D50 files) and hit ‘RUN’. It will take a couple of seconds, then it will say ‘*** Batch successfully completed ***’. Hit ‘Cancel’, go to ‘File’ and hit ‘Open…’ – now browse to the folder where your RAW file was lying around, there should be a folder called ‘PhotomatixResults1’ now. In there is one file with the ending ‘.hdr’, select it and hit ‘Open’.

05: Photomatix loads HDR

05: That’s what you see after a short loading. Photomatix has opened your HDR file, now let’s edit it. Click on ‘HDR’ then ‘Tone Mapping’.

06: Photomatix Default Tone Mapping

Now we’ve reached the most important feature, the ‘Tone Mapping’. Now come the HDR settings. Play around with everything as you like now, and see the preview image change as you change settings. The slower the computer, the longer it takes for the preview image to reload. Take your time and try everything out to understand what does what. Don’t change the ‘Method’, though. Done? Okay, now try to set everything like this:

07: Photomatix Better Tone Mapping

Now we have few dark areas, the image has an overall bright tone. The shadows are ‘taken’. Click on ‘OK. Then go to ‘File’ and save it as a tiff file. Don’t close Photomatix, we want to make the sky scarier now. You have this file now as a tiff:

08: Tone Mapped

After saving, go to’File’ again, then ‘Open recent’ and open the ‘.hdr’ file again. Now we save it with different settings:

09: Photomatix Extreme Tone Mapping

Save again as a tiff, and look at it. The sky is much more interesting now, but the buildings are much darker now, too:

10: Extreme Tone Mapped

So what do we do? We will open both files in Photoshop and keep the scary sky together with the bright buildings. But to get the sky easily selected, we should make a bright image with better contrast. Then we can select the sky much easier in Photoshop. So do this now, open the ‘.hdr’ a third time in Photomatix and Tone Map it with the ‘Tone Compressor’ method as shown here:

11: Photomatix Tone Compressor

Now you save it as the third and last file out from Photomatix. This is what you third tiff should look like:

12: Tone Compressed

Open that file in Photoshop and start selecting the sky with the ‘Magic Wand’ tool. Set it to 10 and click around. After a couple of seconds you should have easily selected the sky like this:

13: Select Sky

Let’s save that selection. Go to ‘Select’ and choose ‘Save selection…’, so we can load it on the other images.

14: Save Sky

Now open the first two HDR images you created. Drop the one tiff onto the other one and make copies. Your layers should look something like this:

15: Layers

The really bright, third HDR file has not to be here, leave it out. Now you have the scary sky as the top layer, followed by the bright HDR image on the layer below, right? So select the top layer with the scary sky, go to ‘Select’ and coose ‘Load Selection…’. Now choose the selection of the bright image, and invert it:

16: Load Sky

Now you have easily loaded our previous selection onto the scary sky layer and inverted it:

17: Sky Loaded

Hit delete, and remove everything but the sky from the scary sky layer. Now it looks like this:

18: New Look

The border between the buildings and the sky looks ‘hard’, so let’s make it softer, and let’s take some of that grain out of the clouds. Go to ‘Filter’, ‘Blur’ and select ‘Gaussian Blur…’. You have to still have selected the top layer, right? The scary sky. Set the Radius of the Gaussian blur to 2. Apply these settings. Now the image looks much smoother and is finished:

19: Layers Mixed

You might want to add a border and a signature, so go to ‘Image’, and ‘Canvas Size’ – now add to the width and height both 100 pixels:

20: Canvas

Now you have a black border, drop some signature there, type your name there or whatever, and save it. This is the final result.

21: Final Result

Okay, let’s review the steps: You open your RAW file in Photomatix, you save it with different HDR settings, you open these in Photoshop and combine them there. Pretty simple and efficient. Sure, the image here won’t win any awards, but it’s especially for this tutorial. Like with almost everything in life: Practice, practice, practice! That’s the only way to become better and better. My HDR images are still horrible, as I have very limited time to work on them, but anyway, I hope this tutorial helps people who want to start making HDR at all. Here are some other HDR images I created from a single RAW file.

Shopping street people

Beautiful Glass

Old Building in HDR at night

Xi'An Bell Tower (in HDR)

HDR Tower with nice Sky

Pudong leaks over...

Field Of Yellow

Hangzhou RGB HDR Pagoda

14 Replies to "D50 RAW to HDR tutorial."

  • Jakob Montrasio
    2010/05/30 (1:10 pm)

    You are trying to generate a HDR from a single image? Then just drag and drop it onto the application icon instead!

  • Photographer
    2010/05/25 (5:31 am)

    Unfortunately I could not follow this tutorial, as when getting to step 04, and clicking “RUN” I get a message: Could not find 3 images to process

    Any suggestons?

  • Keith Andrews
    2009/06/29 (9:18 pm)

    This tutorial is a little misleading. It assumes the user has a copy of the $99 Photomatrix software, which basically does all of the HDR work for you. What we really need is a tutorial on how to blend multiple images taken using exposure bracketing, or a single RAW image and work with them in software that is a little more popular like Photoshop.

  • Jakob Montrasio
    2009/05/31 (10:40 pm)

    Oh, I don’t remember the name of that one. I used it two years ago, but something wasn’t so great about it. Now I use Quicksilver for anything. Try that one! It’s free and better than anything else.

  • Michael
    2009/05/27 (11:52 pm)

    ´cuse me, I actually meant the application you use for managing PROGRAMS… u show a pic of it on the top of this site…

    sorry, my fault!

  • Jakob Montrasio
    2009/05/27 (7:45 am)

    I use Adobe Lightroom to manage my photos. Best software!

  • Michael
    2009/05/27 (2:12 am)

    …by the way: what programme is it – shown above – that you`re using to manage your photos…????
    Like to have it…. it´s exactly, what I´m looking for.

  • Jakob Montrasio
    2009/04/30 (9:53 pm)

    Guys, this tutorial is from 2007. I was just starting with HDR back then and so excited about it. It was long before really good tutorials went up and I never bothered to update it. You can see on my flickr account that my HDR level is way over the one shown here by now. No reason to take it down though, maybe it still helps some people to get started.

  • RavenArkaos
    2009/04/24 (6:11 am)

    This is so weak, sorry mate, but U better stick to taking pics and forget about HDRs. what u did here is below lame, like fake HDRs from one jpg. too bad U are using net space that could way better be used for decent tutorials. and magic wand tool in HDR to ENHANCE THE SKY??? sorry, this is so sad… I know u are capable of taking good pictures, cuz i see it here, but attempt to make them natural, cuz this absolutely sucks!

  • Jay S
    2009/02/07 (12:31 pm)

    These are perhaps the worst HDRs I have ever seen. They look like ‘clouds’ being rendered on an image. Terrible edge-halos and the whole image is full of halos and artificial tinting. HDRs are supposed to enhance tonal range in an image – not introduce artifacts.

  • ueble-nachrede » Blog Archive » Bilder! 5 mal mit und einmal ohne
    2008/04/15 (1:29 am)

    […] Schritt und mit vielen Bilder den Weg vom RAW-Foto zum fertigen HDR-Bild. Zu finden ist das ganze hier. Und seinen Blog findet ihr […]

  • Jakob Montrasio
    2008/02/11 (11:36 pm)

    You’re both welcome! :D

  • Tim Dempsey
    2007/12/12 (7:15 am)

    Great tutorial! Simple, understandable, and well documented. I am writing a blog post about all of the great resources the Flickr community provides to its users… and included a link to this great post! Thanks!
    (that’s at http://www.elasticbrands.com...)

  • rofovnifo
    2007/07/05 (9:00 am)


    Looks good! Very useful, good stuff. Good resources here. Thanks much!


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