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HDR Tutorial on a landscape in Lavaux, Vaud, Switzerland

I receive lot of requests from people seeing my landscapes and cityscapes to know how I’m doing it! In this tutorial, I’m not going to give all the details, but I’d like to explain the workflow I’m using to make some of my landscapes pictures. I’d consider it as intermediate level reading, so if you’re really a beginner in terms of photography or HDR, then I’d propose you to look on the following link: definition in wikipedia.

Nouveau: traduit en français sur le site Alpha Numérique

Here is the before and after results:

Before and After… The first picture is still pretty good, but I tend to find the second one treated with HDR more interesting, with dreaming look that defines a specific atmosphere.

So, what’s needed?

First, you need to have a great DSLR camera that would deliver you high quality RAW with low noise. In fact, noise is quite annoying when getting at the end of the process. It gives pretty bad results in the sky or the water. So, shooting at 100 to 200 ISO is maximum requested. At 400 ISO, you won’t necessarily get something great to look at.

Large wide areas are what makes these pictures very wide. It has some negative spaces wich are very appreciated. Therefore, if you know how to masterize the golden rule of third, make sure to have 2/3 on sky and 1/3 on land when you have large and flat landscapes. When facing water and sky only, then get 2/3 for sky (especially if that’s a sunset or sunrise). However, when you have mountains, it would be better to get 1/3 only for the sky. Clouds deliver something pretty magic in HDR. This is why perfect blue skies are not very impressive for this method, but prefer cluttered sky. The contrast on the clouds will give drama to your picture.

OK… you shot your picture in RAW, you’re satisfied with the composition, you have no zones over or under exposed. For the purpose of this trial, we’ll use a picture I’ve done today in Lavaux, a recently UNESCO awarded region on the East of Lausanne, in Vaud. Full of vineyards, there is some dramatic view on the lake and the Alps. The last days it was snowing, so it would give something “wonder winter” to the photography! Here is the original file:

Lavaux Original - Sony A700 + Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 at 10mm, shot at ISO 200, 1/200s, f/8 (straight from camera)

Let’s start post-processing

To make HDR, you need softwares to treat the pictures and get it done fast and easily! Personally, I’m using Adobe Lightroom 2.1 for treating all RAWs and Photomatix Pro 3.1 (Beta) to work on HDR. The two softwares are very easy to use, quick and have pretty nice range of options to get to the outputs I want. There are frequent updates which make it even better time after time. All my HDR workflow is done with a single RAW exposure, which delivers few benefits to me:

  • Easier to manage, in terms of shooting photography and disk storage
  • Quicker
  • No problems with moving objects or people, and therefore no ghost artifacts

You’ll probably find lot of people telling you that this is not good and that you have some bad saturated results, however with today’s camera and the noise treatment, it’s feasible and tend to deliver nice results. You can give a try and let me know! To make HDR, you need a few different exposures of the same photography. In Lightroom, this is very simply done by creating 2 virtual copies.

Then change manually the exposures of each virtual copy by adding/reducing by -/+ 3EV. I’m playing by range of 3EV (on total, this makes 6EV scope), but you can play with lower range if you have some burnt zone in the original picture.

You need to export it in TIFF 16bits.

Here are the 3 different exposures (-3EV, 0EV, +3EV):


HDR Workflow

Now, you need to open Photomatix Pro and load the 3 pictures in TIFF. Generate HDR and in the options, you need to select the correct range of exposure, since Photomatix tends to not understand it automatically. It will also help you reducing the results randomness that it provocates sometime with automatic exposure setting.

That’s the first results, before we apply tonemapping. The images doesn’t pay justice to the finale results, since your computer can’t display such huge range of color and light data. That’s the reason for doing tonemapping, which enable to finalise the setup and provide correct color rendering that can be viewed and printed on all type of devices.

Now, you need to find you own tonemapping setup, and this requires some experiences to understand what are the right options to get stunning pictures. What is considered as a great result also depends on what you prefer yourself, and therefore this is very personal. The strenght of HDR you apply, the lightning you select and the several other options will give different results depending on many factors that are very complex to list here. This is why I let you deal with that and make your own experience tweaking the buttons! After doing some setup, this is the final render I have chosen to go with:

Isn’t it already better? The contrast is strong but not too heavy, the colour cast is pleasant to see and there is light on all zones of the photo. Export it as a TIFF 16bit to make sure we keep it in high definition. However, it’s not necessarily final, and we still need to finalise it before posting!

Final Touch-up for stunning render

Now, that’s where some of the people don’t always do: treat it again to get the final touch, what would make it stunning or just “hmm… I’m not a big fan of HDR…”. You need to import the tonemapped TIFF into Lightroom again. And that’s where you need to correct contrast, noise, saturation and a few other things that again are very personal and which would make it your own style! Look at the sky and how it is rendered, with more contrast and great warm colours. For me, that’s the final result, and I hope you appreciate it!

Lavaux Final Picture - 1280*1084 to be used as wallpaper if you want! Enjoy the view!

Let me know if that helped you and if you feel now more equipped to make stunning postcards! I’d be very happy to seeing the results you do with this tutorial, so please post a message with a link to your work to show it to all of us!

I’ve also made a test to compare graduated filters in Adobe Lightroom 2.1 with HDR renderings, and both have pros and cons.

As you can see HDR can definitely help you to get stunning effects in difficult situations, where the dynamic range of the camera is not enough. Here below another few photos from my landscape and cityscape gallery to let you see which type of dramatic effect you can get with this technique.

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Reader Comments (4)

I like your HDR interpretation. It looks pleasantly dramatic but not immediately like HDR.

décembre 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRainer

Thank you for this tutorial, it's just great, but... i just wanna know where i can find more information about tonemapping? I want to learn more about that.


février 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterManre

Thanks for the tutorial.

I use photomatix on both win PC and Powermac G5 - I find the browsing in windows effortless with easy sizing of images in preview - small - medium - large - or very large - this makes selection of images easy. However - on the mac it's a painful experience - having to first use 'finder ' and drag images into the photomatix icon for processing. This clumsy Mac 'method' has driven me back to windows and my faithful PC as a photo editing platform of choice. Is there a better way of browsing images on the Mac? - the Mac way of doing things is new to me so perhaps there is some other program that will seemlessly work with photomatix. I have found 'bridge CS3' to work exceptionally well with PS Elements 6 - it's a shame there isn't something similar to use with Photomatix. Any advice would be appreciated.


juillet 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian

wow !! why you don't create a good landscape using only Viagra Online blue pill, it would be nice!

juin 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSupremo Opresor
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