HDR Styles

There are many ways to process and HDR, many different styles. Certainly not everyone likes the same look and there are clearly some Battle Lines drawn with different sides vehemently defending the “Look” that they prefer. Is there a right style? Of course not, it’s photography, it’s art, everyone works and see differently.

But I thought I would show a few of the different styles out there. And recognize that these are not clearly set in stone and even my interpretation of a certain style may not be what you think it is. And also there are laterally thousands of interpretations in between.

I’m presenting these mostly straight out of the HDR Processing software with out any post editing since that can alter things to another even further degree, I did make some adjustments just to keep the lightness levels similar except for those styles that simply are not light. I will also show a couple of the styles done with two different programs, Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 and HDRsoft’s PhotomatixPro 4.2. Since even which software you use can vary the look.

Also be aware that these styles can look very different depending on subject matter


The first thing I want to show is a Standard Photograph, exposed for the building, as would be possible in a single image with it’s limited dynamic range

Standard Single Image

The next style is judging by the HDR Group at Google + a very popular style.

It is charaterised by a very mid-range tone, some graying to whites and possibly some haloing if one isn’t careful. It can also be high on detail but isn’t always


Photomatix Pro 4.2 Grunge

HDR Efex Pro 2 Grunge


Probably tied for Most Popular with grunge is this style

It is characterized by a softer look, very saturated. Looking very much like somone may have painted it (hence the name)


HDR Efex 2 Pro Painterly


Photomatix Pro Painterly

The next style is generally preferred by older Photographers, or Non HDR Photographers …and NOTHING wrong with Older Photographers. I’m one. ( I’ve seen the demographics on this, so don’t be offended)

In one iteration it is very “Photographic ” looking, more like a standard photograph of a well exposed standard dynamic range scene. Another thinking on it is “As the eye Sees” look, which doesn’t quite use a standard photograph as it model for look but rather how we actually see things. It is natural looking but perhaps with a bit more detail. ( This is the method I prescribe too, how well is not for me to judge)


This Next style is preferred by those who do Interiors of buildings (Old and dilapidated in many cases), Auto and Motorcycles and also younger people that play video games for it’s CGI look. It’s extremely detailed and textural with deeper shadows



This last category I’ve made up the name myself and it’s used often for people that do Compositing of Backgrounds and People. I named it for the person that put the style on the map mostly, although he may not like my interpretation of it.

It’s highly detailed and textured, It’s dark and foreboding in nature and very much de-saturated



So what are you? Or are you something completely different?


Hope that Helps,




  1. Dave December 31, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    I’m going to go natural or painterly, but then, i’m the older demographic… I don’t get worked up about others doing the more aggressive or processed look. They like it. Doesn’t affect me. I just do my own thing and carry on.

  2. Bill C January 8, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Sometinge I use a more Artsy approch, but generally I stay with a more natural approch

  3. Terry Barnes January 8, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    I like the natural look , and some painterly. I normally move my strength slider down to 50% on most to keep a more natural look to the image. I’m older , and pretty conservative so never get to wild with processing. I feel HDR enhances the natural but shouldn’t change the whole feel of the image.

  4. Sj January 8, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    To be honest , I really like all of them! I would be hard pressed to pick a fav! Maybe just depends on mood that day or image? Thanks for the break down.

  5. Roger Bolt January 8, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    It was very informative to note how differing HDR software has a variety of effects within the same mode.

  6. bill burt January 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    I like your work and I admire your vision and self description about “this is all I see”. In that regard, we are kindred spirits.

    BTW, you could not be in a better place to ply your profession of : “Photographer”.

  7. David Lansing January 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    Peter, I have NIK HDR Efex Pro 2 and there is neither a Grunge nor Painterly preset. I called NIK support and even they were scratching their heads and said they had no idea what you are talking about. The closest they could come up with is that if you go to HDR Method on the right side and click on Detail, you can move the slider all the way to the right to Grungy. But that’s not Grunge and there is no Painterly. Can you explain please?

    • Peter January 8, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

      Yes David,

      When I speak of “Styles” I am talking in general terms as it applies to ALL HDR not just that of a certain software or a preset. When I say something has a “Style” it is an appearance that generally contains a certain look to it. It’s like any object that has a style such as even say Furniture, “French Provincial” is a style, but does not pertain to the manufacturer of the piece.

      The setting I used to create the styles in HDR EFEX Pro 2 were my own to fit the style and not of any preset in the program.

      Even with programs that contain a preset for certain Styles, like Photomatix may. It is still up to the artist to define that style for themselves as they see it and not just press one button to neccesarily make it a style

      Hope that clears it up some

  8. Marian Majik January 8, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    To be honest, natural looks the best to me. Maybe I’m dinosaur.

    • Peter January 8, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

      Haha, You just like what you like Marian, nothing wrong with that

  9. John-Visual Notebook January 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    I’ve used most of these techniques at one time or another – it depends to a degree on the image. However, most of the time, I’ll go for a natural look, being an old photog…

  10. Martin January 8, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    Sj above pretty much sums it up – where do I want to take this image today? What do I feel like? Grunge? Painterly? Natural? somewhere in the middle of everything? That’s why I like going through the presets of all the HDR programs I have (add 2 more to the list above) to find a starting point that I like, and go from there. I’m starting to get a good feel for which “looks” each program excels at, but I still usually look through them all – I never know what will strike my fancy … today.

    • Peter January 8, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

      I think you make a very important point there Martin, That Presets are a STARTING POINT. For the most part manufacturers make presets a little over the top so that the “Look” is apparent. Then it’s up to you refine it or dial it back to make the statement YOU want to make. Good post!

  11. Bill C January 8, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    Execllent Tutorial

  12. keith zimmerman January 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    I must say that, for this photo, I most prefer the Grimesly and HDR Efex Pro Painterly interpretations. Other photos would probably invoke a completely different opinion.

    Thanks for sharing these interpretations of this image. It demonstrates that the same HDR image can be interpreted differently by different people.

  13. Don Gadda January 8, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    I am another dinosaur. I find HDR a great way to find a proper exposure in circumstances where otherwise it would not exist. The natural look (above) is “ok”. There is a huge spectrum that can be worked in before you hit hyper real or surreal (grunge). Clearly there is a problem with how we talk about this! DG

    • Peter January 8, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      Thanks Don
      as I said in the piece none of the images have any post work past the HDR process and that where a lot f the actual refinement comes in especially in Natural Images

  14. Rapsac January 8, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    I found this very intweresting I am still (after mnore than a year) trying to decide what I like and what I don’t. I often use Grunge for old machinery and also for certain portraits.

    Have you tried Oloneo PhotoEngine? for me, it is easier tyo use and frtequently outperforms Nik or PhotoMatix.

    • Peter January 8, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      yes, I have a review for Oloneo if you search the site in the search bar on the right. Very easy to use. Thank you!

  15. Toma January 8, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    I am confused on what program I want to use, however this blog has helped in that Nik examples shown above appeal to me for this photo, but yet I like the painterly example above…..erggh! I have read that Oloneo is great also. I will keep playing with the trials…or just close my eyes and pick one! I am really impressed with HDR, so will keep plugging along. Thank you for the comparison.

  16. Morris January 8, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    Can you tell us in general what preset you started with in HDR Efex Pro 2 for each of your styles? Maybe a follow up post on some of the adjustments you typically make to produce your results?

  17. Nancy January 8, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

    Love the Grunge & Pro Paintary affect. Thanks for sharing these with us in both the download and educational values…

  18. Attila Rivera January 9, 2013 at 5:36 am #

    All of them are simply beautiful images!

  19. Richard Hopkins January 10, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Hi Forgive me if I missed it, but how many exposures did you use?

    • Peter January 10, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

      Hi Richard,
      This particular image was 7 Exposures, 1 stop apart

  20. Peter January 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    Keep Blastin Slacker 😉

  21. Suzan January 12, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    This article ‘cooled’ my temper down quite a bit. I kept looking at certain ‘styles’ and thinking “Why can’t they see they’re wrong”. It’s about the image makers Art. Thanks for painting an image with words.

  22. Eric August 16, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

    I tend to read up and study tone-mapping operators before using them rather than using presets in software.

  23. Bo April 12, 2016 at 8:58 am #

    I think it is very much true that presets are starting points. Fashion goes and comes and it has been out of fashion to overdo HDR but in all situations it is good to master the technique.
    Luminocity masks is an alternative if you want to blend pictures without really seeing it