Use HDR Effect To Boost Images In Lightroom and Photoshop

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Photographers like the HDR effect because it gives the image a contrasting punch it needs to make it pop.

And by contrast punch, I mean tone mapping.

For the HDR enthusiast, tone mapping can easily be over done without knowing it. What you end up with is an image with halos all around the edges, looks washed out and unsightly.

20 examples of how HDR should be done.

If you prefer natural and realistic HDR image, you should read how to create one entirely in Adobe Lightroom.


Other Ways To Create The HDR Effect

Maybe you don’t have time to sit in front of the computer and spend the time to tone-map, which can be time-consuming if you really want to nail it.

Or maybe you don’t haveana HDR software.

You don’t need time or money to create the HDR look:

Enter fake/faux/HDR-like effect.

It can be done entirely in Lightroom or Photoshop and I’ll show you both.


Create HDR Effect In Lightroom

One thing to remember is that you’re not creating a high dynamic range image but the look of a high dynamic range image.

Hence the name ” HDR effect”.

fake hdr effect lightroom
HDR effect created in Lightroom


You can see what I meant by HDR effect – good contrast across the image with details brought up by increasing micro-contrast; dampening the highlights and brightening up the shadows.

What you’re trying to do is to mimic what the image would look like if it were to be merged and tone mapped into HDR.


Use The Tonal Sliders To Create The Effect

The 4 main adjustments you should apply are Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. All these can be found near the top in the adjustments panel.

before fake hdr effect
Before tonal adjustments


Your aim is to:

  • Bring down the highlights with the Highlights slider.
  • Brightening the shadows with the Shadows slider.
  • Use the Blacks slider to fine tune the shadows, and
  • Use the Whites slider to fine tune the highlights.

Every image is different so you have to experiment with these 4 sliders to see how much adjustments you need to apply.

Here’s what I’ve done for this image:

tonal adjustments hdr effect
Tonal adjustments for HDR effect

You can see I’ve moved the Highlights and the Shadows slider quite far towards the end, and that’s how you create the HDR effect in Lightroom.

I’ve also increased the Clarity to boost the micro-contrast. This brings out the texture on the rocks and the foreground.

I don’t normally use Saturation to boost the colour because the effect just doesn’t look natural.


Temperature / Tone Curve / HSL / Split-toning / Sharpening

In the example above, I’ve applied a very subtle S-shape to the Tone Curve to increase the overall contrast a little.

I’ve also used the HSL to accentuate the colors of the rocks.

I added a tinge of orange/yellow to the highlights with Split-toning and increase the Temperature to make the image look warmer.

Finally, sharpening the image but masking out the sky with the Masking slider and holding down the opt (Mac) or alt (PC) key.


Create HDR Effect In Photoshop

Getting the faux HDR effect cannot be easier in Photoshop if you’re using a Raw file.

You can use Adobe Camera Raw to do the same, which has almost the same adjustments in Lightroom.

Using the same example image, I’ve input the same settings from Lightroom in Adobe Camera Raw. The result is almost identical.

hdr effect with adobe camera raw
Similar HDR effect with Adobe Camera Raw


Mimic HDR Effect With Apply Image

Another way to fake the HDR effect without a HDR software in Photoshop is to use Apply Image.

Go to Image > Apply Image.

Essentially here’s what you do:

  1. Create 2 new layers: fill one with white (bottom layer) and one with black (top layer).
  2. Change the blend mode for both to soft light.
  3. Add a layer mask to both and leave it in white.
  4. Click on the layer mask for the white layer (bottom layer), open up Apply Image and keep all the settings but check the box for Invert and click OK.
  5. Apply Image will create a layer mask based on an inverted snapshot of the image.
  6. Now click on the layer mask for the black layer (top layer), open up Apply Image and uncheck the box for Invert.
  7. This will create a layer mask based on the actual snapshot of the image.
  8. If you want any of the layers to have a stronger effect, simply repeat Step (4) or Step (5) for the respective layer.




Even though you’re technically not creating a high dynamic range image, mimicking the HDR look in Lightroom and Photoshop can be a quick way to increase the visual appearance of an image!

For more tutorials on HDR photography, please check out ​the HDR resource page!


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