HDR Portrait Tutorial

hdr portrait people new 490x326 HDR Portrait TutorialImagine shooting a vacation photo similar to this HDR photograph of me in Nevada. Take my word for it, when people see a photo like this they get jealous and that’s what a vacation photo is suppose to do! I was able to shoot this photo using a HDR technique I developed. Yeah… it involves a little more work than your standard point and shoot vacation photo. But you know what… if it makes my friends envious, it’s worth it.

The Standard HDR Look of People

hdr portrait people original 490x326 HDR Portrait TutorialPhotographing HDR of people is a little trickier than shooting landscapes. Most HDR photos of people turn out similar to this photo on the right. Notice how blurry the background is because of the depth of field. Blurry and HDR don’t mix well. I’ve experimented with several HDR approach for photographing people, and the traditional approach doesn’t work. People don’t process well in Photomatix. They end up muddy and dirty. That grungy look is cool but not for everything, especially people.

Captain Kimo’s HDR Technique for Portraits

It’s simple really… instead of shooting 3 exposures, I shoot 4.
Below are the first three exposures taken for the background.

landscape hdr even exposure 490x326 HDR Portrait Tutoriallandscape hdr under exposure 490x326 HDR Portrait Tutoriallandscape hdr over exposure 490x326 HDR Portrait Tutorial
self portrait hdr even exposure 490x326 HDR Portrait TutorialThe photo on the left is the 4th exposure. This photo is focused on me and will be superimposed onto the landscape above. Below are instructions to put it all together.

Software and Plugin Required

  • Photomatix – software for creating HDR
  • Topaz ReMask – plugin used for masking layers
  • Photoshopphoto editing program

Step 1 – Merge Landscape Exposures

The first thing we do is merge the three landscape exposures together to create our HDR photo. We do this by using Photomatix. The benefit of separating the subject from the background is that you can go crazy tone mapping without effecting the subject. Below is the final result of our tone mapping from Photomatix.

hdr landscape photomatix 490x326 HDR Portrait Tutorial

Step 2 – Processing the Subject

If your subject needs cleaning up, now would be a good time to remove pimples or unwanted blemishes. I use a plugin called Portraiture to do this because it does a fantastic job while saving me lots of time. Below is a screen capture of my Portraiture window. Left image is the original, right image is the filtered result.

portraiture captain kimo hdr 490x324 HDR Portrait Tutorial

Step 3 – Masking the Subject

Next I begin masking out the background using Topaz ReMask, another time saving plugin! Below is the masking process using ReMask. Please note quality of screen capture program is a little grainy.

topaz remask captain kimo hdr 1 489x306 HDR Portrait Tutorialtopaz remask captain kimo hdr 489x306 HDR Portrait Tutorialtopaz remask captain kimo hdr done 489x306 HDR Portrait Tutorial

Step 4 – Superimposing Subject with HDR Photo

Pretty straight forward process. Take the photo of your subject and place it on top of your HDR landscape. Below is the result from Step 4.

captain kimo fire valley superimpose3 490x326 HDR Portrait Tutorial

The above image isn’t the final product. There are a few more steps, like applying Topaz Adjust and re-cropping the image, ect… but I won’t get into that. You can read more about that in Chapter 5 of my HDR How-to Guide.

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25 thoughts on “HDR Portrait Tutorial

  1. Captain Kimo Post author

    Thomas, I applied Topaz Adjust slightly to give it that dynamic effect so that it would match the HDR image. I find that without it, the photo looks kinda off… like there’s something wrong but you can’t figure it out. But with a little Topaz Adjust it solves that problem.

    Regards, Kimo

  2. Thomas

    That is an interesting way of adding people into a HDR photo. I’ve had a number of problems with HDR’ing people and they include:

    1) People don’t tend to stay still long enough or still enough for 3 exposures.

    2) Once you obtained getting them still enough, tonemapping generally creates really odd skin tones and a very unnatural appearance.

    HDR is great for inanimate objects (like you implied) but for human beings it makes them look as if they have theatrical make-up on. I’ve actually tried your technique and the one thing I found was that I had to tweak the skin tone of the human beings a bit so that they don’t appear oddly desaturated compared with the rest of the photo.

    However, in your photo example above, you seem to have done a very good job getting the right amount of color saturation for the human being’s skin tone with the rest of the picture. Did you do any tweaking to the fourth photo (the photo with you in it)? Perhaps taken the 4th in RAW and did a HDR for that photo only, to get a slight HDR effect?

  3. KR

    Very insightful.. thank you for the knowledge you’ve shared. i’ve become an HDR photography fan because of people like you. thank you.

  4. Captain Kimo Post author

    LoL… not much of a trick, I wish I had something more worth while for you.

Comments are closed.