5 Quick Steps to better HDRs – Step 3

5 Quick Steps to Better HDRs – Step 3

  1. Straighten, Crop, Clean-up
  2. Decrease Noise
  3. Set a Black & White point
  4. Balance your Tone
  5. Sharpen Your Image

 Setting a Black and White Point

Here is something I found in an overwhelming number of images. In a quick look at about 50 images posted over half of them could have benefited from this simple adjustment; Setting a Black and White Point.

What does setting a Black and White point mean? Quite simply you are making an adjustment to an image and saying; this is Pure Black and this is Pure White. It will bring more clarity and detail to your image and eliminate that fog or haze you see in many images.

We get so tied up in making HDR, bringing out the detail with tone; making sure we can see detail no matter the tone. But the simple- fact is, in most images there are some areas that don’t have any detail, they are lost in the shadow, or lost in the highlight. I have even seen night scenes that have no set black point. Have you ever been out at night and not seen something black and hidden in the shadows? It’s just quite unnatural and leads to images that just don’t quite LOOK natural.

After all we are trying to capture the entire dynamic range of a scene, so why would you leave parts out?

Now of course there are some scenes and subjects that may not a true black or white point, so called High Key or Low Key images. Or, what you shot may only contain Mid-tones. But for the most part, if you are shooting an HDR, they have a pretty full range of tones. Like I said over 50% of the images I saw would benefit.

Setting a Black or White point (you don’t always need to set both) in Photoshop is quite easy. All you need is a curves or levels adjustment and you always want to have your “Info” tab open (window>info or F8 if it is not visible)

When you open Curves or Levels (or curves/levels adjustment layers) you will see 3 eye droppers on the side of the adjustment box, One is for Black Point, One for Gray Point and One for White point. We’ll ignore the gray point for now.

First take the Black Point sampler and go around your image while watching the RGB numbers in the Info box; you are looking for the lowest numbers in the image so check all the shadowed areas. Once you find a place with the lowest Numbers, click that area. That will set that point as R 0.G 0, B 0…Pure Black  (some people use other  points such as R5 G5 B5)

Next do the same for the White Point, sample around the brightest “White” areas of your image, clouds, white parts of building etc find the area that is closes to 255 and click and set that as your white point. There isn’t always a white point in an image; there more likely will be a black point.

One important thing to watch out for, Setting white levels and black levels can alter the White balance of an image, if your select a point that isn’t truly black or truly white, especially in a scene that is lit by incandescent lights or shot during the Golden hour. Sometimes we want to retain that color cast and there are times we tend to over-do white balance.

But if you do have a white balance problem in the image you did not correct earlier in the process (this is best corrected in the RAW state before combining exposures), this is where the GrayPoint sampler comes in. But you must make sure you sample a Neutral Gray area or you can make a real mess of things.

There are other ways to set Black and White points, such as draging end points in levels or curves and ways to do it in Lightroom too. So if you want to learn more a quick internet search will find you other lessons.

And that’s all there is to it


Before Black Point


After Black Point

No other post work was done to this image but setting Black and White Points.

Next: Balance your Tone