ACD Systems Blog

Using ACDSee Pro to Create an HDR Image with ONE Photo!

2013-02-18 17:25:00 GMT

By ACDSee Guest Blogger & Professional Photographer Serge Timacheff

High Dynamic Range (“HDR”) photos allow you to bring out the comprehensive tonal range in an image. This brings out detail, colors, textures, and tonal elements in photos, giving them an intense, colorful, almost surrealistic look-and-feel, often more like a painting than a photograph.

HDR Basics. Most HDR shots are created by taking a series of multiple photos of exactly the same image with the same aperture (f/stop) setting, varying the shutter speed from underexposed to overexposed, and then layering the images together in post-production. An HDR image might comprise anywhere from three to as many as nine or more photos.

HDR Truck 0-0

The accompanying photo of this colorful truck was taken in Northern California with 11 RAW photos, all at ISO 200, an aperture of f/7, and shutter speeds ranging from 1/80 to 1/8000 second (1/80, 1/125, 1/200, 1/320, 1/500, 1/800, 1/1250, 1/2000, 1/3200, 1/5000, 1/8000). While I shoot many photos hand-held (including this one), using a tripod can help make sure your photos are consistent (and so that slower shutter speeds aren’t blurry).


Following the shoot, I entered the 11 photos into Photomatix, an industry-standard HDR processing application. It provides multiple options for combining photos (including native RAW images) intelligently (it automatically aligns them, etc.) and then giving you multiple options for adjusting various versions of your image, from more natural to a wild and almost psychedelic look. From there, I save my “combined” HDR image and bring it into ACDSee pro for final editing. I often will use some adjustments to levels and colors, sharpen a little, and use the correction tool to tweak any minor glitches that the HDR process produced (sometimes, for example, it will create small aberrations in evenly toned areas, such as the sky, that need some touch-up).


HDR from One Shot.One of the biggest problems with HDR shots is that they have to be made from multiple images with wide-ranging exposures. If you’re shooting moving images, like people, animals, cars, or even landscapes on a windy day, HDR images are difficult because it’s essentially impossible to shoot multiple shots of the same subject that are exactly the same.

Using ACDSee Pro and its editing and developing features, and specifically the “Exposure” tool, you can use one photo, and, one-by-one, change the exposure to be over- and under-exposed, and save each one as a separate photo. This is what I did with the photo of our Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Nicodemus, from a single photo I took of him on the beaches of Ocean Shores, Washington.

Nicodemus SOURCE

Using ACDSee Pro, and starting with a RAW file taken with my Canon EOS 1D-X, I first edited the “source” image so it was what I wanted (cropping, sharpening, level adjustment). I then saved that as a TIFF file to ensure I had the broadest-range of tonality (JPEG files are limited in tonal range, although you can save your final image in JPEG). From this source image, using the Exposure tool in ACDSee Pro, I saved eight different “exposures” that were evenly incremental in exposure adjustment: Using the slider, the exposures set to 25, 50, 75, and 100 percent up and down (exposure values, or eV, of +/- .75, 1.50, 2.25, and 3.00). I made no other adjustments, and each of these differently “exposed” images was saved as a separate TIFF file.


I then imported these nine TIFF files into Photomatix Pro (see for more). Photomatix automatically recognizes the incremental differences between the shots; if you have made a mistake and included a duplicate or your increments were uneven, it intelligently alerts you so you can fix or override it for processing.

The final result was this exaggerated and colorful image of Nicodemus, in his element at the beach. The colors and textures help bring-out his personality, and the artistic effect of HDR processing make the photo memorable and ready to be displayed, shared, or sold. They look especially good when printed onto canvas.

Nicodemus HDR FINAL

Try this yourself with a single photo—the nice thing is that if you ever had a photo you wished you could try experimenting with as an HDR but you only had one shot of it, now you can achieve simulate a wide tonal range using ACDSee’s robust ability to manipulate exposure. While you will always get the most optimal HDR results from taking actual different exposures and original images, when that’s not an option this can be a remarkably successful alternative.


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