HDR processing can be a great option for creating powerful photographs, but you may not always have multiple exposures of the same shot. In a case where you don’t have 3, 5, or maybe even 7 different exposures to create a true HDR image you can still replicate the HDR look in Lightroom or Photoshop using a single exposure.

We’ll take a look at the process of creating HDR-like effects in both Lightroom and Photoshop in this one article. Lightroom is a little better for this purpose, so I recommend using Lightroom if possible, but for those of you who do not have Lightroom we’ll also show how it can be done in Photoshop.

HDR in Lightroom

Let’s start with Lightroom. The effects we’ll be using in this tutorial are the same settings used by our HDR Strong preset from our set of 40 HDR Lightroom Presets. You can either apply these settings manually or use the presets if you want to save some time.

We’ll be working with this sample photo:

Creating HDR Effects in Lightroom and Photoshop

And here is how it will look after our changes in Lightroom:

Creating HDR Effects in Lightroom and Photoshop

First we’ll edit the settings in the Basic section of the Develop Module. Change contrast to +25, highlights to -65, shadows to +70, whites to -35, and blacks to +20. The highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks will form the foundation of the HDR effect by expanding the dynamic range of the image.

Creating HDR Effects in Lightroom and Photoshop

Next, set clarity to +75 and vibrance to +35.  These settings are pretty strong, if they are too strong for your photo scale back a little.

Creating HDR Effects in Lightroom and Photoshop

That completes our HDR-like effect. Here is the result:

Creating HDR Effects in Lightroom and Photoshop

HDR in Photoshop

Photoshop includes functionality to for creating HDR images with multiple exposures of the same photo, but that is not what we will be using in this tutorial. If you have multiple exposures then by all means create a traditional HDR image if this is the look that you want. But if you only have one exposure you can still increase dynamic range follow the steps show below.

We’ll be using the same sample photo, and here is how it will look after our adjustments in Photoshop.

Creating HDR Effects in Lightroom and Photoshop

The steps we’ll be taking here are the same steps used in our HDR Strong action that is part of our set of 30 HDR Photoshop Actions. If you want to create HDR-like effects very easily please check out those actions.

The first step is to duplicate the photo layer. The reason for doing this is to avoid making any changes to the original layer so you can always revert to it if you don’t like the changes. Next, convert the duplicated layer into a smart object. We’re going to make some changes to the shadows and highlights as well as applying some sharpening, and by converting this layer to a smart object we will be able to go back and make changes to those settings later if needed.

Go to Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Use the shadows and highlights settings shown in the screenshot below. This will lighten the shadows to increase the dynamic range. You can also edit the settings of the highlights if you’d like, but Photoshop tends to do better with shadows than highlights.

Creating HDR Effects in Lightroom and Photoshop

Next, go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask and apply the settings shown below. This will add some sharpening to the photo.

Creating HDR Effects in Lightroom and Photoshop

Next, add a brightness/contrast adjustment layer and set the contrast to 40.

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The last step is to add a levels adjustment layer and set the midtones input setting to 0.85.

Creating HDR Effects in Lightroom and Photoshop

And here is the result:

Creating HDR Effects in Lightroom and Photoshop

If you’d like to be able to create HDR-like effects easily please see our HDR Lightroom Presets and HDR Photoshop Actions.