Prepare RAW Photos for Conversion to HDR

Converting Raw photos for high dynamic range photography requires a different mindset than traditional digital photo processing, which aims to create the best looking photo possible. Here are a few differences:

  • Don’t mess with exposure. The point of bracketed photos is to have different exposures, so it’s best to leave this alone unless you’re converting a single Raw photo to exposure brackets.

  • Don’t rescue detail from highlights or shadows. HDR takes care of this in tone mapping.

  • Avoid dynamic range adjustments. Some Raw editors have dynamic range adjustments that play with shadow and highlight detail, bringing them together. This defeats the purpose of HDR.

  • Be careful about making color and tone changes. If you must make color and tone changes (for practical or artistic reasons), be consistent unless you’re experimenting with color variations between brackets.

  • Fix white balance if necessary. You can delay fixing the white balance, but if you prefer, fix it now. White balance corrections compensate for different lighting that can impart a colored tint to your photos or turn what should be white to a shade of gray.

  • Don’t over-sharpen. Sharpening bracketed photos is often an important part of getting a good, sharp result in HDR. Don’t overdo it, though, or artifacts will be magnified in HDR.

Be careful of making changes that make tone mapping harder and increase the level of noise or artifacts in your images. Trust the HDR part of the process to do what it’s supposed to do (enhance details, contrast, and control exposure) while using the Raw editor’s strengths to convert Raw photos.

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