Who Says You Need Multi-Exposure for HDR? Create great Single-Frame HDR effects with JPEG or RAW images… and Sagelight.




Sagelight has a number of HDR functions to help you create HDR effects, both photo-realistic and artistic, or any level in-between.

You don’t need multiple-frame exposures or RAW to create great HDR effects.  Of course, RAW and multi-exposure images definitely help in the HDR process.  You can use RAW directly with Sagelight or import a multi-frame exposure for use with Sagelight HDR functions.

You can also use JPEG for HDR with Sagelight and create effects that rival the multi-frame exposure images you see on the Web – and in just a few minutes.

All images in this article started off as 8-bit JPEG images and took just a few minutes each.

With the latest Sagelight Noise Reduction release, Sagelight’s ability to create nice, clean, and glowing HDR images has increased.

What is HDR?

HDR has a very wide range.  The term “HDR”, meaning High Dynamic Range, is just that – the idea that you can bring out the shadows, bring down the highlights, and have an image that isn’t washout or too shadowy, showing all the great details in one image on your screen.

The term HDR tends to suggest artistic, but artificial-looking images.  This isn’t the case with the original idea of HDR. 

Google’s image search with the term “HDR” returns with this result (screenshot):


The above image suggests that the term “HDR” tends to be evocative of the artificial.

But that isn’t always the case.  HDR is varied and can help you with your images, creating the artistic/artificial images above, or keeping your image looking authentic while working wonders with the light.

Sagelight contains HDR functions that can help bring out the most in your image while keeping it photo-realistic, and can also help you create more artistic effects.

Photorealistic HDR


Above is a dark, flat picture.  It’s hard to deal with, but HDR can help.  Either through the Light Blender or HDR details function, this picture can quickly be transformed into a nice, bright, and colorful image:



This was done with the HDR Details function.  However, the Light Blender can also be used for a similar result – a little less defined and the utmost in photorealism (i.e. “HDRish”), but still technically HDR. 


Artistic HDR

Sagelight can also create the more artistic form of HDR.  The above example is very dark – in fact, it’s a photo that I originally passed on a couple years ago because it was too dark.  What to do with problem images?  One thing to do is to HDR them! 



I was able to do something nice with this image, and this is from a single-frame JPEG source, right from the camera.   Imagine what can be done with RAW.

Black and White Images

HDR also excels at helping you with your black-and-white images.  Here are two examples, both created in the Black and White HDR function:


This example uses more of the artistic approach.  Also used was the Bokeh and Vignetting.


This image is more of a photo-realistic approach.  The Sagelight HDR process added great contrast.

Before and After Examples


This is an example of creating a very bright and clean HDR.  Everyone seems to do stairwells with HDR, so I joined the crowd with this one, too.



Another image where HDR was used (HDR Details) to bring out a dark picture, but also keeping it photo-realistic.  A over-smoothed it with the NL Wavelet NR to give it a slight clean, smooth and artistic look.  The expression on the dog’s faces are priceless, and now that can be seen!





You don’t need multiple exposures to create great HDR.  In fact, you can do it with JPEGs.  RAW will help you create better HDR effects, but if you’re working with JPEG, there is quite a bit you can do with HDR.  In fact, all images in this article originated as JPEG images, many in only medium resolution.

Sagelight’s HDR functions can help you create great photo-realistic and artificial effects, or anything in-between.  With the Light Blender, Black-and-White HDR, HDR Vivid Photo, CLAHE, and many other tools, Sagelight has the functionality that brings the most out of your image with HDR. 

With other functions, such as the Undo/Redo Brush (which allows you to mix HDR results with the original image), Sagelight NR, Dodge and Burn, Vignetting, etc., you can do more than just HDR – you can continue with the creative process and create your entire result. 

With Sagelight’s HDR and other tools, you can achieve high-end, professional-level HDR effects using RAW, imported multi-frame exposures, or even use a JPEG.

Try out the following tools in Sagelight for HDR:

  • Light Blender.  Depending on how you use it, the Light Blender can work wonders on your image.  It works well to keep HDR photo-realistic, and in many ways is more “HDR” than other HDR functions.  It can also be used to create more artistic effects, depending on settings.
  • HDR Details.  This is a great function to help create HDR effects. Try hitting the “Brighten HDR shadows function”.
  • Power Details.  This can be a great function to get HDR form your image.  Small settings can bring out details from your image in a powerful manner.
  • HDR Vivid Photo.  This is a great function that can help you keep your image photo-realistic, but also can give it a nice, well, vivid look!
  • HDR Black And White.  This function works great for turning images into stark black-and-white pictures.
  • Artistic HDR.  Go all out for the artistic with this function.  You can use the HDR Details for the same effect, but may require more settings
  • HDR Panel.  An advanced function, this has all you need to create HDR images, both artificial and realistic.
  • Retinex.  A very interesting and varied function.  Try the presets – this can make a big difference.  After the presets, then fine tune it for better effect,.
  • Sagelight Noise Reduction.  This can help immensely in getting the right HDR effect.  Try using minimally before the HDR process.  After the HDR process, try the NL Wavelet in small settings, or very large settings to smooth the result and give your image that soft, glowing HDR look.
  • Highlights and Details (CLAHE).  This is a great function to recover highlights, but also to create HDR definition in your image.  Use with the Blend Curve for nice effect.
  • Soft Glow.  Soft Glow is a great function to help bring out the details and light in your image.  This can be used by itself, but also makes a great function to use after you’ve HDR’d your image
  • Smart Contrast (in the Smart Light Controls).  After you’ve worked on your image, try just a touch of the smart contrast – this is in the Smart Light Controls.
  • Focus and Definition.  Located in the Power Box (Definition is labeled ‘1’, and Focus is labeled ‘2’, until the next release, where they will be labeled with their names), this can give your image a lot of details after you’ve used some HDR functions – or all by themselves without using any HDR effects.

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