HDR effect in Camera Raw

Peter Fenech

HDR effects can add much needed drama and intrigue to architecture and travel images

HDR effect in Camera Raw

HDR effects can add much needed drama and intrigue to architecture and travel images. The detail-enhancing qualities really benefit shots with ageing textured surfaces and hidden fine detail. However it isn’t always possible to create bracketed exposures when shooting around a city and in places where tripods aren’t allowed. Furthermore, while it is possible to produce bracketed series by using the burst mode on your camera, on some occasions you might find an image that you’d like to apply an HDR look to, but you didn’t bracket your shots in-the-field. In these situations it is helpful to know how to generate a similar effect on a single image. By using just Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) you can approximately recreate the key elements of an HDR style, without ever needing Photoshop or third party plugins.

Main tools

1- Shadows/Highlights sliders

2- Clarity Slider

3- Vibrance

4- Spot Removal tool

Open in Camera Raw

Raw files will automatically be opened in ACR when you move them into Photoshop, but you can open Jpeg images by changing the Format to Camera Raw in the drop-down menu, then clicking Open

HDR effect in Camera Raw

Adjust the exposure

A common effect that experimenting with contrast for the HDR look can have is lost detail in highlights and an overly-bright image. You will often find it necessary to lower the exposure of your shot slightly to compensate. This can be done at the start or end of the workflow, or at both stages, but here the original image looked washed-out to begin with, so a – 0.50 Exposure was inputted.

HDR effect in Camera Raw

Adjust Shadows/Highlights

Begin by dragging the Shadows slider to the right to lift the dark areas of your shot, then pull the Highlights to the left to restrict tonal range. It is not uncommon to have to use + 100 for shadows and -100 for Highlights for a strong enough HDR effect, although this may have to be tailored for your shot.

HDR effect in Camera Raw

Adjust Clarity

The detail extraction part of the process is controlled by the Clarity Slider  – a powerful slider for enhancing midtone contrast. In most cases you’ll find yourself pulling the slider all the way to the right, but once again you should decide on this with your individual image in mind.

HDR effect in Camera Raw

Adjust Saturation

A common side-effect of boosted Clarity is a loss of colour intensity. You can recover this by using Saturation, but as this may be increased by any later contrast adjustments you make, it is better to make use of Vibrance to boost only the most under-saturated colours. In fact a negative Saturation value was used here to produce a subtle colour scheme.

HDR effect in Camera Raw

Add a vignette

A great way of focussing attention on your subject on a wider-framed shot is to darken the corners of your photo. We can do this directly in ACR by heading to the Fx Panel and dragging the Amount Slider to the left. Here the Midpoint Slider was also tweaked to shift the darkening effect further into the image, extending further away from the frame edges. This is a good step in this workflow, as the enhanced detail can bring with it enhanced distractions around the periphery of the frame.

HDR effect in Camera Raw

Clean up your shot

An optional final step is to use the Spot Removal tool to remove unwanted distracting elements. The broken wood and cracked pavement tell a story, but the litter is bright and hard to ignore, pulling the eye away from the woman. A quick application of the tool around the small areas containing distractions eliminates this problem, creating a cleaner composition.

HDR effect in Camera Raw


HDR effect in Camera Raw
HDR effect in Camera Raw

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