HDR Photography Tutorial 3: Dark Dramatic HDR (+ Video)

14 September 2016

It is a pleasure to read all your thoughts, questions and interests, thank you!
I have received a lot of questions about how I emphasize dramatic atmosphere by using HDR. In this tutorial I will explain you this technique.

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Tutorial introduction

– In this tutorial I use my own photos –

All the steps I explain in this tutorial are based on personal experiences.

Why HDR?

In photography is important to get as many details as possible. For example: sunny weather results in big contrasts. It is almost impossible to get all the details from the dark and light area without using HDR (High Dynamic Range).

A HDR consists of three or more photos with different lighting stops (mostly used: -2, 0 and +2 stops).

The HDR from this tutorial consists of 2 photos with different exposure settings. The -2 stops photo will be used for the dark clouds and the +2 stops photo will be used for the details in the castle and dried pond. We will not use Photomatix or other HDR software. We will manually edit those two photos in Photoshop by hand.

Dark clouds

Step 1: Oke, let’s get started!

1 ) This photo editing technique works the best when you have a photo with some dark clouds and an interesting subject. So take a look in your photolibrary and find 2 photos taken from a tripod with the lighting exposures +2 stops and -2 stops.

The two photos from this tutorial are photos taken in the middle of the day. When you take a look at the +2 stop photo the sky has flat clouds. The -2 stops photo got some really nice dark clouds, but there are not enough details in the castle and dried pond.

Step 2: Let’s open Photoshop

1 ) Open the two exposure photos in Photoshop. Open the Layers Window by pressing the “F7” key or go to “Window” -> “Layers”. I recommend giving layers names by it’s exposure stop.

Select the “+2 stops” layer.

Step 3: Get rid of the clouds, use “Color Range…”

1 ) Go to “Select” -> “Color Range…”.

2 ) Click on “Sampled Colors”.

3 ) Choose “Highlights”. With this option you can make a selection of the highlight area in the “+2 stops” layer. By doing this you are able to delete the clouds from the “+2 stops” layer very easily by using the mask function.

Step 4: Using “Layer Masks”

1 ) Ah, you’re almost able to see one of my dark magic techniques ;-).

2 ) Now the selection of the clouds is made, you need to invert this selection by clicking the right mouse button -> “Select Inverse”. I know you’re thinking like: “huh?! But the clouds are in this selection?”. I know, but in the next step we are going to use the “Layer Mask” function, where you need to indicate what must be visible.

3 ) It’s time for the dark magic trick. Press the “Layer Mask”.

Step 5: Results till now, not very impressive

Result till now. The clouds are more dramatic, but it is not very realistic, is it? In the next step we will refine this.

Step 6: It’s time to turn the lights off

1 ) Create a new layer on top and fill this with a solid black color (#000000).

2 ) Click on the “Add layer mask” button as below

3 ) Select a brush (500/800px) with the opacity of 30% and set the “Foreground Color” to black. Select the mask of the black layer and start brushing at the bottom side. When brushing, the photos underneath will become slightly visible. For brushing clouds, downsize the opacity to 10%. Brush, and decide which spots need more or less light. When pressing the “x” key you can change the foreground color to white and make area darker. Change “x” again and you can make it lighter. There is no certain way to brush, you must have to do to feel.

See the video tutorial on bottom page how I did the brushwork for this tutorial. The result will be something like below.

Step 7: Using a “Photo Filter” in Photoshop

1 ) Ah, and darkness there is..
To emphasize drama we are going to use the build-in “Photo filter”. It imitates the old-school “Cokin filters” very nicely.
Click at the button “Create new fill or adjustment layer” -> “Photo Filter” and a new pop-up will show.

2 ) Click on the pull down menu “Warming Filter (85)” and select “Green” with the density of 25% as below.

3 ) Results with “Photo Filter” till now

4 ) It’s time to get rid of the green toning at some spots on the photo. Select the “Photo Filter” layer and select the “Layer Mask” as below.

5 ) Select a brush (like we did in Step 6 – 3) and brush the green filter away at some spots. I don’t like the green toning over the castle and dried pound so I brushed at those spots.

Step 8: The end result of “Dark Dramatic HDR”

Download full resolution end result (5616×2872)

Download full resolution end result (5616×2872)


This tutorials wasn’t that difficult, huh? I hope you have learned a bit from the techniques I use.

I’m really curious about your results, so do not hesitate to show me these!

If you have a question about this tutorial, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Or post a message on the bottom of the page.

Please like if you like : – ).

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