High Dynamic Range Toning in Photoshop CS5

Cape Henry, Va Beach, Va


Over the weekend, I was reviewing some old photos and came across a double lighthouse picture that was flat and lifeless.  It was a cloudy morning in Virginia Beach, and the sky was a mush of gray.  I remembered what I saw that morning, but I hadn't captured it very well.  This happens to photographers every now and then.  When it does, you can delete it or put it into post-processing.  I took it into Photoshop.

I cropped it, and got rid of the telephone pole on the left side.  That still left another pole and the lines across the sky.  I've used the Clone Tool and Healing Brush to successfully get rid of similar obstructions in the past - it isn't a hard fix.  However, it can be a tedious job with constant adjustments to the "fix" to get it right.  This time when I used the Healing Brush, I made sure the Content Aware box was checked and had it knocked out in less than two minutes.  When you're working on images all the time, that kind of time savings is huge.  I made one or two minor tweaks, and that was it.  I'll do a blog on this feature later; today, we're concentrating on HDR Toning.

With everything cleaned up, I jumped into HDR Toning to put a little more life into the shot and put more definition into the clouds. In a "normal" HDR image, you'll use 3-5 (sometimes more) photos, merged to achieve the wider dynamic range.  In CS5, you do that with a new tool, called HDR Pro.  If you just have one image and you want to get a similar look and feel, you use HDR Toning.  The menu location is: Image, Adjustments, HDR Toning.

The first time you enter this tool, you'll notice that the default settings give you a highly saturated and highly vibrant image.  Too much for me; I backed them down.  I increased the Detail setting and made some minor adjustments to the Highlights and Shadows.  You should be careful with these sliders because a small movement can have a big effect.  I try to stay away from the over-the-top look of some HDR images, but this is obviously closer to that side.  Everyone won't like it, but it is better than the original.  You can find some video tutorials on HDR Toning all over the web.  Here are two links to give you a sample: Adobe and Tip Squirrel.

You can do this with portraits, too.  People and their skin do not react nicely to some of the HDR Toning  processes.  So, unless you are looking for those kinds of changes, proceed carefully.  I'm just beginning to get my settings down for that.  As I figure it out, I'll create custom presets to make things move even more quickly.  Here is a sample.  (And, yes, Content Aware Fill was used to delete the other kids - in under a minute!)  You can used the supplied presets, in addition to your own, to make your work more consistent.  This new version of Photoshop is loads of fun!