HDR Portrait Tutorial

Picture of New HDR Approach to Shooting People PortraitsImagine 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

Self Portrait HDR People Old WayPhotographing 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 Over Exposure for HDRLandscape HDR Under Exposure for HDRLandcape HDR Over Exposure for HDR
self-portrait-hdr-even-exposureThe 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.

Landscape Merge with Photomatix HDR

Step 2 – Processing the Subject

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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.

HDR Portrait of People Portraiture Sample Captain Kimo

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 Before MaskPicture Remask ExampleTopaz Remask After Complete

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 Valley of Fire Superimpose

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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