How to make compressed HDR images in Adobe Photoshop 7.0/CS

Ever taken night scenes, only to be frustrated how the pictures turned out? If the buildings were dark, you’d increase the EV setting to make it brighter… but the lights would become too bright. If you decreased the EV setting to show the beautiful lamps, the buildings would disappear into blackness!

Fortunately, there is a way around it, by shooting the same scene, with different EV settings, and combining the best of those pictures. This trick is commonly known as HDR (though it isn’t technically correct.)

Photoshop CS2 already has a HDR function built in, but CS2 seems to be quite the memory hog, so I kept to Photoshop CS. Still, it is doable with a little effort.

First off, get a tripod.

Pick a nice dark place with lots of highlights and shadows.

Put camera on tripod, on self-timer, on a long exposure. Remember not to move the camera or risk screwing up your shot like so!

If a scene needs 2 seconds to expose properly, shoot one at 4 times its length (8 seconds) and one shot 1/4th of its length (0.5 seconds). If your camera does not have an adjustable shutter speed, just shoot one shot normally, one shot with the EV at +2, and one shot with the EV at -2.

Load all the pictures in Photoshop.

Click on the second brightest image. Ctrl-A (Select All) and then Ctrl-C (Copy) it. Click on the brightest image. Press Ctrl-V (Paste). In the Layers bar, choose Difference, so you can align the image over it. Once done, change the blending mode back to Normal. Ctrl-A (Select All) and then Ctrl-Shift-C (Copy Merged) on the top-most layer.

Click on Add vector mask to add a vector mask.

Hold down the Alt key while clicking inside the white box (the vector mask). Press Ctrl-V (Paste).

Do the same for the next darker image until all of them are on one image.

If you’re more experienced with Photoshop, adjust the Levels of the vector mask (right after pasting the vector mask). This allows greater control over how much of the lights seep through.

You can also copy any image with lots of shadows and highlights, and do the same method onto itself, to decrease the difference between highlights and shadows.

Finished product, with a bit of tweaking. Remember to crop off the edges where the pictures do not align!

Another example, by the pool.

Masjid Jamek (gotta work on the saturation a bit.)

Click on the image for a bigger version.

Of course, you could camp around for the right time when the lights turn on, but the building is still lit by sky light.

Asia’s largest high court.

Giant leaves.

A pathway to the balcony. All pictures (except Masjid Jamek) shot at Hartamas Regency.

6 thoughts on “How to make compressed HDR images in Adobe Photoshop 7.0/CS

  1. ShaolinTiger Post author

    Nice, what you are doing is technically DRI though not HDR.

    The HDR feature in CS2 is ok, but the tone mapping isn’t particularly smart, the only good thing is the alignment is excellent.

    I much prefer Photomatix, lighter too and amazing tone mapping.

    DRI similar to how you did it above but just 2 images to even out foreground and background:

    HDR with Photomatix 3 images -2

  2. Jack|SQ Post author

    Hey Albert, the 2nd pic looks like a litted up F1 Circuit. Haha..great work! Love the edits too..really nicely done.


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