HDR techniques are usually associated with surreal landscapes and architectural photography, but you can create HDR Efex Pro portraits for some unique and powerful effects. This works best with male subjects because it creates a dark, brooding look where every pore and wrinkle is emphasised.

HDR Efex Pro portraits

I’m starting with this informal photograph taken in the family conservatory and I’m going to turn it into something quite different with just a handful of steps. It is just a single exposure rather than an exposure sequence, but as long as your image has a full range of tones, you don’t need to merge a whole series of images for a great HDR effect. HDR Efex Pro is just as happy working with single images as it is a whole exposure series.

01 Choose the right preset

HDR Efex Pro portraits

If you can find a preset effect that’s already close to the result you want, you’ll need to do less work with the manual settings. I really like this one. It’s called ‘Sinister’, appropriately enough, and it’s already given my portrait a really powerful look.

02 Lighten the eyes

HDR Efex Pro portraits

One of the keys to making this technique work is to lighten your subject’s eyes. I’ve added a control point (1) right on my sitter’s iris, reduced the size so that it just covers the eye area, then I’ve increased the Exposure and pushed the Contrast and Structure right up to maximum. When I got the settings just right, I duplicated the control point and dragged the duplicate over to the other eye (2).

03 Check your mask

HDR Efex Pro portraits

HDR Efex Pro’s control points automatically mask the area you’ve selected, but you can check by ticking the mask display button in the tools panel on the right, in the Control Point section. The areas affected by the adjustment show up white while the rest of the image is black.