Although the thought of high dynamic range photography can make some people cringe, it can be really useful. Real estate companies, for example, like to use HDR to make everything look clearer, brighter and more detailed, but often you might want to use HDR in architecture photos for practical reasons. In this tutorial you'll learn how to make an HDR photo of a building using Adobe Camera Raw
Before You Start
If you’re new to HDR photography, you can read How to Make HDR Photographs With Automatic Exposure Bracketing to help you with shooting multiple images in preparation for merging them to one HDR photo.
How to Merge and Edit High Dynamic Range Photos in Adobe Camera Raw will take you through how to merge your photos in Adobe Camera RAW. I'll touch on this briefly in this tutorial but for a more in-depth look at your options and best practice it’s worth reading the article first.
How to Make a High-Dynamic Range Architecture Photo With Adobe Camera Raw
You can’t control the weather when you’re shooting externally, and you can’t always choose your time of day either. This means you might have one side of the building in bright sunshine, or completely in shade, or a frustrating mix of both. Using HDR can help you balance photographs, not only individually once merged, but when compared as part of a set – if you’re photographing the same building front and back for example.
Open and Merge Your Images in Adobe Camera Raw
Let's get started.
This is how I’d expose the image if I was only taking one shot. The exposure is slightly to the right, or over-exposed, so that the shadows are recoverable. You can still see from the histogram that the light areas are too bright, beyond recovery in fact. This is often a problem when photographing a building in its entirety.
By shooting three images with a stop or two below and above the centre image, I can increase the dynamic range available to me by having the 'best' parts of the exposures of all three.
Select all the images in your film-strip, right-click and choose Merge to HDR.
You’ll see a preview of the image. Selecting Deghost (either low, medium, or high) will make the process longer but is better for handheld images or for photos where something in the photo (like the tree in mine, for example) might have moved. Deghost will take into account any differences in the image from movement and merge them cleanly, without any odd halos or glow from the overlap. Because of this, you might lose some edges due to cropping.
You can see from the merged image and the histogram now that things are much more balanced. You might notice the image is very saturated. That’s partly an effect of HDR but also it’s to be expected from the weather and time of year it was taken.
Apply Profile Correction and Straighten
Let's clean things up a little now.
The merge process will apply the Basic adjustments that it thinks balances the image, but it won’t apply profile corrections or straighten your image, both things that might be required, particularly if you’ve photographed with a wide lens and may have some barrelling.
Depending on your style of photography, you might also want to straighten the vertical lines in your image at this point. Under Geometry > Manual Transformations, adjust the Vertical slider until the lines vertical lines run parralel.
Rather than starting with reducing the Vibrance or Saturation in the Basic panel, I like to start with Colour Mixer.
You can sometimes take the harshness from some colours by shifting their Hue. For example I find that the luminous greens of grass can be offset with some yellow/orange, while bright blue skies can move away from aqua towards purple. You can also dip the Luminance of those colours slightly but try not to go too far with it or your photo will start to look strange and flat
You can learn how to use the Local Adjustments tool and what each targeted adjustment does in our article How to Use Brushes and Filters in Adobe Camera Raw (Make Selective Adjustments).
Hopefully your HDR technique will have balanced the exposure of your image but you can still draw attention to architectural interest like brickwork and windows by using local adjustments.
Use your paintbrush to make targeted changes like making windows brighter and adding more clarity and texture to bricks.
Put Your Stamp On It
Finally, add the touches that make your work distinct and crop to suit or if needed. If you’re presenting to a client then basic edits and a natural look might be as far as you go, but if you’re experimenting with HDR for yourself then try a slightly different edit ready for a fine art print, or to use in a written piece or blog.
I always think the thing to remember about HDR is that it gives you more flexibility but (unless you're deliberately going for an unrealistic look) requires subtly and generally a pulling back of saturation and contrast. HDR is really useful for low-light and night time photography too, though you might find you'll need a tripod for those so that you don't end up with too much movement and subsequent ghosting.
The great thing about HDR in ACR is that the file saves separately from your original multi-image shot, and like all ACR images it saves with sidecar data, so you can revert to your original at any point, meaning you can experiment a bit and give something different a try!