#CreativeFriday – HDR in Photoshop CC and ACR Toning

Lightroom 4 introduced working with 32bit TIFF images and HDR processing from images that were shot using in camera bracketing and processed with Photoshop. Once the 32bit image is inside Lightroom 4 or 5, the 32bit enabled shadow and highlight recovery sliders can be used to extract the extra tonal range.

Photoshop CC also has a similar way of creating and working with HDR images using Camera Raw 8 and the new Camera Raw as a filter option.

Select the bracketed shots in mini bridge, right click on the images and open in the option Photoshop / Merge to HDR Pro.

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Once opened into HDR Pro, make sure that the “32bit mode” option is turned on, the “remove ghosts” is turned on (if you think that there are items that have moved between the shots (i.e. leaves, foliage etc as these may have moved due to the wind or other forces), also, turn on the “Complete Toning in Adobe Camera Raw” (the histogram is greyed out once this box is checked).

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The “Complete Toning in Adobe Camera Raw” will open the combined image into Camera Raw, enabling non destructive 32bit processing.

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Make the adjustments in Camera Raw and press OK.

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The image is returned to Photoshop as a 32bit image. Notice that the image has been wrapped automatically into a Smart Object/Filter and a white revealing mask has been applied (therefore all adjustments are displayed).

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Now that the image is in a Smart Object/Filter the Camera Raw Filter modifications can be painted out (using the mask, (white box in the image)) as well as a black brush. Smart filter adjustments can be turned on/off using the eye icon next to the mask. Also, the Camera Raw Filter can be re-opened by double clicking (or using a right click) on the Camera Raw Filter text. The eye icon next to the Camera Raw Filter text will cause the filter to be re-rendered, as opposed to being turned on/off.

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Interesting effects can be applied to the image by changing the way that the Camera Raw Filter blends with the smart object image by selecting the “Edit Smart Filter Blending Options” and choosing the blending mode and the opacity.

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Results of Camera Raw Filter once the mode is set to Luminosity and set to 80% opacity.

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(The rest of the blending modes are not available as this is a 32Bit image)

This process should save you a lot of steps in the HDR process within Photoshop CC and enable you to get the maximum tonal range out of your bracket shots, using a 32 bit tonal range.


Sometimes  it is a requirement to convert the 32 bit HDR images to use a 16bit or 8bit tonal range. The 32bit image is created using floating point numbers and is able to store an extremely large tonal range, therefore contains information that is outside of the normal range of the eye or the camera’s sensor. If you want to convert to a lower bit depth you will need to consider that actual tonal range will become compressed and you will need to start thinking about compromising the full tonal range of the 32 bit image. Let us explore the reduction in tonal range in this update (more information can be found in this post).

Start out with the 32bit tonal range image as described in the process above. Then choose menu option Image / Mode / 8 bit or 16 bit. If you have a smart filter applied to the HDR image, Photoshop will inform you some filters may not work correctly on the converted bit depth.

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Press OK.

Photoshop will then tell you that HDR images may not look the same once you perform the bit depth conversion.

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If you choose Don’t Merge, Photoshop will try to calculate the tonal ranges changes that are need for the conversion. Once the conversion has completed the image may not look as it previously did in 32 bit mode.

If you choose Merge, then Photoshop will show a dialog box that will allow you to manually choose the areas of the tonal range that will be changed.

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at this point you will need to experiment with the output choices. There is more technical information in this post.


4 Responses to #CreativeFriday – HDR in Photoshop CC and ACR Toning

  1. David says:

    Do you know what the best way is to convert the final 32 bit HDR image to a regular 8 bit image without changing appearance and simply just flatten the image, in Photoshop CC?

    • rcurtis says:

      I have updated the blog post to include this.

      • David says:

        Thanks for the update.
        It was the same I encountered when I tried it out. I also noticed that in Preferences under File Handling you can choose: “Use adobe Camera Raw to Convert Documents from 32 bit to 16/8 bit” but I think the HDR toning option works pretty well.
        I just find it strange that there isn’t a way just to get what you see on screen to be the final 8 bit image. I’m pretty sure it was different in CS6

        • Jörgen says:

          When u convert to 16… change method. I never use “local adaption”. I think “highlight compression” works very well and also “exposure and gamma” if one lower the exposure to -1.14.