One RAW File vs. An HDR Composite?


Updated: 09/21/21, & still relevant today!

BONUS – See more at this post, WITH VIDEO:





Here’s a letter from one of my clients:


Hi John,

Thanks much for the post on HDR – that looks like wonderful software!  A question: If I shoot in RAW, isn’t there enough dynamic range in one RAW file to achieve the same results?  Just wondering…

Ann S.


Great question, Ann!


The short answer: Not always. Even shooting in RAW, & depending on the scene to be photographed, one file cannot always get the full dynamic range available to you in a composite HDR image.


To further explain, let’s talk about the dynamic range of the sensors in most modern digital cameras…


A typical D-SLR (shooting in RAW) has a dynamic range of approximately 7 to 11 stops, depending on the camera model.  When you shoot in HDR (shooting between 3 and 5 different exposures that are 2 stops apart), you’ve increased that dynamic range by 11 to 17 stops.


Here’s a “Real-World” example:



The above image is one RAW image – – Not a bad image, of course – – pleasing to the eye, good dynamic range, well-exposed and so on.



Now, the same subject. which is actually 5 images combined into one single HDR image. Notice the tremendous increase in dynamic range, especially the blue sky and the shadow detail. Pretty dramatic difference, don’t you think?


Oh, and I spent less time overall “massaging” the HDR image on the computer to achieve much better results!


Bottom line: When you are shooting RAW files of different exposures and combining them into an HDR image, you’ve increased the amount of information to work with tremendously – – Hence, a much better-looking image!




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•  By the way, this is all based on my Photoshop book designed for photographers, “Not just another Photoshop Book”, available exclusively on Amazon:


Questions? Please contact me – also, feel free to comment and tell your photography friends!


Thx again, and cheers,


John Watts ?



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