How to Fake an HDR Photo

Working on project’s for smaller businesses or non-profits, their is typically not a professional photographer built into the budget, and I’m often not personally in the area to take photos for the client. I’ve been looking through a multitude of methods for faking HDR using nothing but a single image and Photoshop, and here’s the best method I’ve come up with. You’re not going to end up with professional looking photos, necessarily, but at the very least you’ll have something that doesn’t seem like it was just taken with a cell phone camera.

1. Open Your Photo in Photoshop

We’ll be using this rather bland picture of a newborn baby.

a newborn baby sleeping

2. Duplicate the Background Layer

screenshot of a layer being duplicated in Photoshop Right click the Background layer and choose Duplicate layer….

3. Make the New Layer Black & White, and Overlay It

  • Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation (or Command/Control + U)
  • screenshot showing Hue/Saturation panel where Saturation has been turned down to -100Change the Saturation level to -100 (slide it completely to the left)
  • screenshot of changing a layer to Overlay mode in PhotoshopWith the black and white layer selected, choose Overlay from the drop down menu as shown.

4. Invert the Black & White Layer and Tweak

  • Go to Image > Adjustments > Invert or click Command/Ctrl + I to invert the image.
  • screenshot of the Levels panel in Photoshop being tweakedGo to Image > Adjustments > Levels and slide both the black and white sliders in a bit further than the photos maximum range.
  • Go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur and play with the blur until you really start to see the darker areas stand out.

Photoshopped image of a newborn

5. Duplicate the Black & White Layer, Invert it Again, and Tweak

  • Duplicate the Black & White layer
  • Invert it again
  • a Photoshop Levels panel with the white tweaked way upUsing the Levels panel again, slide the white slider way up
  • Lower the layer’s Opacity significantly, I went to around 22%.

a heavily Photoshopped image of a newborn baby

6. Optional Additional Tweaks

The image above is technically quite dynamic in it’s range: the shadow areas and highlights are close to the mid-range. In my opinion, it still looks a bit bland, though. Here are some additional tweaks I do to nearly every one of my photos.

  • Select the original Background layer.
  • Photoshop Levels panel showing tweaks as mentioned in the postTweak the Levels of that layer, moving the dark and light extremes in a little further than the images range.
  • Go to Image > Adjustments > Color Balance and tweak all three Tone Balance ranges (Midtones then Shadows then Highlights). I tend to move sliders in the Midtones and Shadows areas away from what the image looks like, so if it looks heavily red, I’ll slide the top slider toward cyan, etc. I do the opposite for the Highlights tonal balance. Your desires may vary.
  • Open the Hue/Saturation panel and decrease the Saturation to your liking.

Here is our final image:

the final outcome of a Photoshop tutorial on HDR images, showing a newborn baby

And here it is side by side with the original. What do you think?

side by side views of the original image and the final one

Up Next: Considering Purchasing Twitter Followers or Facebook Likes? I Wouldn't.