How To: Fake an HDR picture in Lightroom

After attending a conference by the great and powerful Scott Kelby on Camera Raw, I happened upon a really cool trick for faking HDR pictures in Lightroom (aka Camera Raw — the sliders are all basically the same). So, it takes approximately 30 seconds and some fiddling around with the sliders but the result is fun and ten times easier than the traditional HDR set-up.

So we’re going to start with this picture, a lovely image of the setting sun over the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Sigh.  Nothing like slowly enjoying a yummy frutti di bosco gelato while watching this lovely scene.  But anyway…here’s the unprocessed image…drumroll please…

….annnnnd, that’s not too impressive is it?  Let’s get some stats on this baby, just for reference.  Shot with a Nikon D700, 24-70 f/2.8 lens at 44mm, ISO 100, 1/200 at f/9.0.

Anyway, because I shot this in Camera Raw, there’s actually a lot I can do to make this look better in Lightroom.  But I don’t want ordinary better.  I want crazy, surreal HDR-like sunset, with colors popping and everything crisp and wild. So:


I move over to Develop mode in Lightroom (the equivalent of opening the image up in Camera Raw) and the very first thing I want to do is adjust camera calibration.  To do this, I’m going to slide all the way down to the bottom of my options under Develop until I get to Camera Calibration.  (This will not work with a jpeg — has to be Camera Raw.  Always shoot in Camera Raw. Always.)

And I’m going to pick “Camera Vivid” under Profile (It defaults to Adobe Standard, which looks kinda crappy usually). (9 times out of 10 I pick Camera Vivid for my workflow.)  Here’s a screen print of what I’m talking about.


Now I’m going to adjust my color treatment sliders. So, I’m going to scroll back up to the top of the develop module and there are 5 sliders I’m going to use to make some magic: Recovery, Fill Light, Blacks, Contrast, and Clarity.  Here are the 4 I’m always going to do the same thing with:

Recovery: 100

Fill Light: 100

Contrast: 100

Clarity: 100

Blacks I adjust according to the lightness of the original picture.  This image was pretty dark to begin with, so I’m only going to set blacks to 56 this time. A lot of the time I just default to 100 and then pull it back until it looks the way I want it to.

Here’s another screen print: And…whala!  I am DONE!  If I want to, I can go to Tone Curve and adjust contrast, or scoot this image over to Photoshop and apply some filters, but this looks pretty good already.  For good measure and color popping, I also upped the saturation to 12 here, just because I’m a little kooky about color tonight.  It’s getting to be my bedtime. Here’s the end result:

…which is, of course, exactly how I remember it looked when I took the picture. ;)

The END!!

  • Ryan Lally

    First one to comment? Sweet!

    Awesome picture–both before and after your tweaks. You’re quite the talented artist, Annabelle. Keep up the great work.

  • Ryan Lally

    First to comment? Sweet!

    Awesome pictures–both before and after your tweaks. You’re quite the talented artist, Annabelle. Keep up the great work!

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