I had been itching to try my hand at HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography for months, but the truth is that I never have a tripod to hand when I see a fitting HDR photo opportunity.  I wish I had the supernatural steadyness of hand that would be required to take three identical bracketed exposures of the same subject, but sadly I’m just a regular shaky-handed Joe.

So I got pretty excited when I realised you could create an impressive HDR image using only a single RAW file!  This little trick is due to the fact that RAW images capture a much wider range of colour information than JPEGs can display, and using RAW software we can extract this information and create the three different exposures we need to create our own HDR image.

In this example I’m using Adobe Lightroom, HDR Soft’s Photomatix and Photoshop.

To start with I took a correctly exposed but lacklustre RAW image (click to view) and created 2 virtual copies in lightroom, although you can use any good photo editor that allows adjustment of exposure. I gave the first virtual copy +1 exposure and the second -1 exposure.

All 3 images were then imported into Photomatix using the Photomatix Lightroom plugin.  Photomatix is a great program for creating HDR, but it doesn’t do all of the work for you, there is still the matter of adjusting the tone mapping.

Tone mapping is the important step where you adjust the different colours in the image to bring out as much or as little detail as you want.  With this process you can make an image look like a painting (this is the effect I went for with my image) or a hyper-real photo full of detail and impact.  I can’t offer much advice when it comes to tone mapping, the process involves a lot of trial and error, although Photomatix has some great presets that let you quickly try out different treatments. To see the image after the HDR tone mapping click here.

At this stage I have an HDR image, but it’s far from perfect.  The highlights are blown out and there are some areas where the tone mapping has created big inconsistencies in colours and shadows.  But that’s fine, I have Photoshop to save the day!  After some cloning, dodging and burning my image is looking like a nice example of HDR fakery. Click here to see the final image.   Here’s a black and white version.

Here’s a Flickr gallery dedicated to HDR from a single RAW.

Here’s a good tutorial on creating a HDR-like image using only a single RAW file and Lightroom.

You can also create the effect of an HDR image using only a single JPEG and a sprinkle of Photoshop magic, take a look at the following tutorial . Create HDR using a single JPEG and Photoshop