All my attempts at HDR come out looking remarkably fake, how can I reduce the halos effect?

  • you need more information. Do you perform hdr by hand, use photomatix, or some other tool? What settings do you use? The best answer is probably to just dial back your contrast settings when merging.
    – reuscam
    Jul 15, 2010 at 19:32
  • At the moment, I've had the most realistic results by processing the same RAW file with differing exposures, and merge them with an opacity based on the luminance. Jul 15, 2010 at 19:38
  • Give us some examples shots maybe. Try doing actual bracketing instead of "faking" it, those always came out best for me. Jul 15, 2010 at 19:46
  • How do you merge them, in photoshop or with photomatix?
    – reuscam
    Jul 15, 2010 at 20:32
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    I think this is an interesting read: luminous-landscape.com/essays/hdr-plea.shtml
    – raven
    Sep 20, 2010 at 13:11

7 Answers 7


The key to a good hdr photo is to use the correct amount of processing for the feel you want to achieve.

If your goal is to get the "hdr look", then you're probably doing it about right, because there should be a slightly "fake" feel.

If you are only using hdr as a method to improve a photo, then just be careful and try to under-process it. If you can't quite tell what method you used to process the image then you've probably done it right.

This is a lot like sharpening, it's best if you can't tell that you did it.

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    HDRs are not supposed to look fake. It's common that they do, because users tend to use invalid settings. but the whole point of HDR is to make image more even without too strong over/under exposures. The effect of fakeness is a side effect of predefined settings people tend to use. Apr 8, 2011 at 6:48
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    @Robert I agree, but there is a significant group that actually intends to over-process using an HDR technique to achieve a fake looking effect. In most cases, you want to avoid that, but it is an individual preference. Keep in mind that there have always been people who "misuse" a form of processing to achieve a different look, for examples just look at cross processing.
    – chills42
    Apr 8, 2011 at 14:15
  • @chills42, Why should HDR have a "slightly fake feel"? Isn't the whole point of HDR to make things more real?
    – Pacerier
    Aug 18, 2015 at 22:29
  • I'm not arguing that it should have a "slightly fake feel", I'm saying that HDR can be over-processed and end up with that (whether good or bad is up to you). I'm actually arguing the opposite, that it should be unnoticeable unless you are comparing with an unprocessed version.
    – chills42
    Aug 20, 2015 at 15:28
  • What "HDR" (as we're using it here we're really talking about tone mapping) should be all depends on what the user wants the end result to look like. Some folks want their images to look like technicolored rainbows of vomit!
    – Michael C
    Dec 1, 2018 at 15:48

The simple answer is in order to get non-fake looking HDR, or good looking tasteful HDR you have to put lots of work in.

If you entrust artistic decisions to a computer program the quality is going to suffer. So expect to take a considerable amount of time in your tonemapping software adjusting the settings, and remember that's not the end of the process, you can further apply adjustments to contrast, colour balance and saturation to get the image how you want.

A simple way to stop HDR from looking too fake, is to pick the best single exposure back in afterwards, so you have say 50% of the tonemapped HDR multi-exposure and 50% natural looking single image.

Another way to get a more natural result is to do the exposure blending by hand. That is mask off the correctly exposed part of each image and layer them up. I know I've posted this example many times recently (as there seems to have been a lot of questions on HDR) but here it is again as it's a very good example of what I've described:

Try as I might I just can't get good looking results out of Photomatix, if anyone thinks they can do better I will provide the raw files!

Here's what I produced relatively quickly by blending only two exposures by hand, as follows:

I'd advise anyone to try manually blending images. It works very well when you have a dark subject bright background (or vice-versa). It looks more natural as each part of the image is a standard un-tonemapped photo.

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    No insult intended, but that first one should get you banned from posting for at least a week! I'd add a smiley, but I'm almost serious. Geeze that's nasty. Jan 28, 2011 at 22:23
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    I think I prefer the photomatix sky and possibly shoes, jeans. Perhaps you could do a mix and merge the photomatix result with the original exposure in photoshop? Jan 31, 2011 at 1:56
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    What you've done here is not actually HDR. It's just combining two images into one by taking some part from one image and other from the other. HDR is different. But I agree that HDRs are not supposed to look fake and should always be strived to look what you've done with two images and masking. So +1 from me as well. You've done a great job with these two images. Apr 8, 2011 at 6:51
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    @Robert I consider HDR is any technique which looks to extend the dynamic range by combining multiple exposures, regardless of the software/method used. But it's not like it's in the dictionary, and lots of people use the term to mean different things, such as tonemapping a single exposure to increase the "punch" of an image.
    – Matt Grum
    Apr 8, 2011 at 7:55
  • HDR is rarely flattering for people. :)
    – Eric
    Jun 8, 2012 at 21:50

If you use the Photomatix plugin, try to use a higher Light Smoothing value. I usually use the highest setting or one lower. This reduces the halo effect you described.


Always keep in mind that HDR is fake in itself. You are attempting to portray a dynamic range that is not possible, thus almost every picture will have a fakeness factor. You just need to decide how much fake is acceptable.

The best way is using bracketing and then merging everything in post-production. If you use an HDR software don't turn every knob you see :P

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    HDR is not fake. By definition, it is a more accurate capture of reality. And while tone-mapping could be considered "fake", pretty much every image you will see will have been tone mapped. Applying a tone curve is tone mapping. Lastly, local-operator tone-mapping is what most consider looking fake, but if done correctly, actually produces a response that is more realistic to the eye's constantly adjusting dynamic range as we scan an environment and our inherently logarithmic processing.
    – eruditass
    Jan 27, 2011 at 20:19
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    @Eruditass The eye is not that much more capable than a normal camera given the time you grant the camera, it needs also some minutes to make the chemical adaption to give you the big dynamic ranges. But! the brain makes the big difference you try to reflect with HDR-pictures: if you look at bright scenes, your eye will, like a camera, not be able to discern the dark parts anymore - but your brain replaces the noisy shadows with details you already have seen. Same with blownout highlights. People expect to see on a picture what they thought they saw in reality.
    – Leonidas
    Jan 27, 2011 at 22:21
  • In another question-answer there's example photos of exposure fusion. Might want to take a look at How does exposure fusion work? May 5, 2013 at 19:04

Use TuFuse to blend images. See my step by step tutorial for details.

  • I will have to try this TuFuse some day because it really looks great and especially the way it work is the way that every HDR software should work. Unfortunately it doesn't have a user friendly interface. Apr 8, 2011 at 6:54

HDREfx Pro is a good software, which provides different Settings.

The simple trick in my experimentation is to get different HDR algorithms in work. You should try qtpfsgui. Then use different algorithms for different aspects of the image. For ex: use fattal for saturation, mantuik for texture etc... and then combine them together. Also use enfuse as the base...

I have tried to explain these in the following tutorials: http://dejoe.tumblr.com/post/1637026681/open-source-hdr-processing


Lemme know if this helps


I really like the Nik HDREfx Pro plugin for HDR. Out of the ones I've tried, it gives the most natural result so far (with a "Natural" setting applied, there are a large range of presets to choose from).

Also one thing you can do is to finish and HDR and then overlay it with some opacity over an original middle-exposed version of the image.

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