Make city lights glow with HDR in ACR

HDR (High Dynamic Range) is the biggest leap in image quality I’ve ever seen. It lets you truly show the full dynamic range of your camera without compromise. Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) v15.1+ makes it incredibly easy to process your RAW images as HDR on an HDR-capable monitor.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to setup and use HDR to get the most out of your images in ACR.

See my HDR page and e-book for much more detail on how to setup HDR. You’ll need to enable the tech previews shown in the video above and restart Photoshop to get support. HDR is supported in ACR for all computers at this time, but layer-based editing outside ACR in Photoshop is only supported on MacOS at this time. See my related videos on HDR in ACR and how to export HDR images for the web using the AVIF file format.

Be sure to see my tests and monitor recommendations to make sure your display supports HDR. If you’re viewing the video on an SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) monitor, it will be “tone mapped” to give you a relative sense of what’s possible. In other words, you’ll get a simulation of the effect on an SDR monitor, but need to view it on a true HDR display to really appreciate the benefit. Try viewing using Safari or Chrome on an M1 or M2 MacBook Pro to see just how truly stunning it can be. Also, I would avoid FireFox for this video if it looks strange (you may incorrectly show the wrong version of an HDR YouTube video on that browser).

Please also note that I’m still learning how to optimally render HDR video, and what you see in this tutorial isn’t quite as good as the real experience. I highly encourage you to try it for yourself.

How to soft proof easily in Photoshop

Whether you edit your photos in a huge colorspace like ProPhoto RGB or even a small one like sRGB, you’re eventually going to run into issues with “out of gamut” colors when your image is printed or viewed on another computer. For example, a vibrant Adobe RGB green may be a little more dull on a monitor that supports P3. Or a vibrant sRGB magenta may not be printable. Knowing how your images will look like on the web or as a print is extremely valuable. That’s exactly what “soft proofing” is, a preview of how your image will look will look on another monitor or as a print.

Soft proofing helps you:

  • Optimize your images to look their best when printed or shared on the web.
  • Consider various print options, such as the ideal paper to preserve the colors or shadow detail of your image.
  • Be more aware of how your image will appear. Whether you try to make changes or not, the  final result will be different if some pixels are out of gamut (by definition, out of gamut colors cannot be reproduced on the monitor/paper in question).

Other than standard color spaces like AdobeRGB, you will need to install ICC profiles for anything you wish to proof (such as your monitor or specific papers/printers). You can create your own profiles with tools like the XRite i1Studio or download them from your the printer manufacturer or your commercial print lab.

Lumenzia (v11.3+) and Web Sharp Pro (v4.0+) include options for soft proofing. They are designed to make the soft proofing process faster and easier, as well as tools for correction in Lumenzia. These panels take different approaches, as Web Sharp Pro is only intended to output images for the web.


How to soft proof in Web Sharp Pro:

  • Go to Settings / General and set the “proof when hovering over sharpen” to either soft proof or gamut warning. You simply choose one or the other, and “soft proof” is going to be the best option most of the time.
  • The “colorspace” you choose in Settings / General is what will be used for proofing. So you can proof as sRGB, P3 (on MacOS), or Adobe RGB. You cannot proof other colorspaces because they are irrelevant (since these are the only options for exporting the image).
  • Just hover over the “Sharpen” button in the main panel, and the soft proof or gamut warning will be shown (unless your colorspace is set to “do not convert”, as there is nothing to soft proof when the output is unchanged).
  • If you wish to change the color used for the out of gamut warning, go to PS prefs / Transparency & Gamut and click the color swatch.

If you wish to confirm the profile when using the out of gamut option, you can go to the flyout menu (top right of my panel) / tool tips & info and turn on “Document & PS info”. This will show proof/gamut info as extra text below the normal panel area (be sure to click and drag down the bottom edge of the panel to see it).

Note that Web Sharp Pro does not include corrective tools, but you may use Lumenzia or add a top group layer named “soft proof” and Web Sharp Pro will toggle the group on and off with your proofing (see the Lumenzia demo in the video above to learn more).


How to soft proof in Lumenzia:

  • Click “Gam” to see a popup window with options. Note that the “Gam” button is disabled if there is no image open or your active image is in 32-bit mode (soft proofing is not accurate for HDR images, you should convert to 16-bits and then soft proof).
  • Choose your desired profile from the dropdown. You’ll notice that the list is much shorter than what you see in the Photoshop setup dialog, as the majority of the options are not useful and Lumenzia is automatically reducing the clutter to help you find relevant choices. Both RGB and CMYK profiles are supported. You may click the filter checkboxes to help shorten the list of options further.
  • In the hover options section, check the soft proof or out of gamut warning options as desired. You may select both.
  • When soft proofing is enabled, you may have the option to choose the perceptual rendering intent. If the option is greyed out, the currently selected profile does not support it. Most of the time, “relative colorimetric” is best. However, perceptual may be optimal for images with color gradients which are out of gamut (such as the soft color transitions of a rose petal).
  • When the gamut warning is enabled, you may also click on the color swatch to set the color used for the warning. Middle grey is often the best choice, as it clearly stands out in the middle of out of gamut colors.
  • Click “Done” once you’ve selected the options you wish to use and then just hover over the “Gam” button to see the soft proof and/or gamut warning.

Just like Web Sharp Pro, you can go to the flyout menu (top right of my panel) / tool tips & info and turn on “Document & PS info” to see red text describing any soft proof you use through the panel.

The “Gam” button also includes an option to “add soft proof corrections group“. This creates an HSL adjustment layer with a layer mask biased towards out of gamut pixels for the selected profile. This group is automatically made visible when you hover for a soft proof, so that you may directly compare your original image (without proofing) to your corrected image (with proofing). The mask utilizes density to help ensure smooth results (see this tutorial to learn more about why density is so useful and how to adjust it). The easiest way to use the proof corrections group is to hover over “Gam” and hold <shift> as you move away (to make activate the soft proof and the corrections group), adjust the HSL layer as desired or add other corrections to the group, and then hover over Gam again to compare your corrections to the original.


How to soft proof with Photoshop:

Soft proofing in Photoshop is setup through View / Proof Setup / Custom:

  • You can then select the color profile you wish to use for proofing (this is the “device to simulate”).
  • Rendering intent is often best as “relative colorimetric”, but some images benefit from “perceptual”. Note that while Photoshop always gives you a choice, many profiles do not support it and you’d get the same results as relative colorimetric (if the ICC profile file isn’t 1MB or larger, that’s usually a clue that it does not include the lookup tables for perceptual intent rendering).
  • I recommend leaving “black point compensation” checked and leave the other options alone unless you understand them fully.
  • Then check View / Proof Colors to soft proof or View / Gamut Warning to see which pixels are out of gamut.
  • You may change the gamut warning color via PS Prefs / Transparency & Gamut / Gamut Warning Color. Middle grey is often the best choice, as it clearly stands out in the middle of out of gamut colors.

Whenever soft proofing is active, the proof profile name will show in the document tab (ie the file name at the top of your image). This only applies for soft proofing, not gamut warnings. You can confirm the status of the gamut warnings by reviewing the View menu.


How to compare different profiles with MacOS ColorSync Utility:

If you use MacOS, you can use its “ColorSync Utility” to view and compare ICC profiles. This is a great way to compare gamuts for different profiles. A few quick tips:

  • Select the profile to review in the “profiles” tab.
  • Click and drag to view the gamut from different angles.
  • <option>-click and drag up to zoom out (or down to zoom in). This is helpful to see very large spaces like ProPhoto.
  • Right-click and choose Yxy to view the color space with the traditional horseshoe plot of spectral colors (these are the most saturated colors we can see).
  • Right-click and choose “hold for comparison” and then click on another color space to compare the two gamuts directly. You should hold the larger space (which will show as a colorless wireframe) to make the comparison easy to view.

Exporting AVIF files from Photoshop

Adobe Camera RAW (ACR v15.1) just added support for a new file format: AVIF. In this tutorial, you’ll learn what AVIF is, why it is significantly better than JPG, why you should consider using it now, and how you can easily take advantage of it with Web Sharp Pro.

What is AVIF and when should you use it?

The AVIF format (aka “AV1 Image File Format”) is an open standard developed by the Alliance for Open Media (Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, etc). It offers substantial benefits over JPG, including:

  • Vastly smaller file sizes than JPG, PNG, and webP at the same quality. You will typically see an image shrink by 20-25% when saved as AVIF, and you can often do much better. I’ve seen several images become 85% smaller. The results are about 10% smaller than webP as well. These are substantial gains that will translate into websites loading faster, reduced bandwidth costs, faster uploads, smaller email inboxes, etc.
  • Support for HDR (“High Dynamic Range”). Monitors which support this new standard offer vastly improved image quality. There is no suitable alternative to AVIF for sharing HDR images on the web, so this is definitely a format you’ll see more often as HDR adoption accelerates.
  • Higher bit-depth encoding (up to 12-bit for AVIF vs 8 for JPG). This can help avoid banding in smooth gradients like blue skies.
  • Transparency. This makes AVIF an ideal replacement for PNG, as the files are much smaller.
  • Lossless encoding. These files are of course not nearly as small when encoded this way, but this offers a great alternative to sending TIF when quality really matters. I expect this will be a great way to send images to print labs in the future.
  • Support for animation (AVIF is based on a video format). This offers vastly better quality than an animated GIF.

AVIF was only finalized in 2019 but already has widespread support in Chrome, Safari, MacOS, multiple browsers for iOS / Android, etc. However, support for AVIF does not imply support for HDR versions of AVIF images. At this point Chrome, Brave, and Opera support HDR, but we’re waiting for other browsers to catch up. HDR is going to be significant and AVIF is clearly the format which we’ll be using for it (especially now that Google removed support from the competing JPEG XL format from Chrome development). The only real benefit of JPG at this point is a wider range of browsers and apps which support it, and that difference is shrinking steadily.


When should you choose AVIF?

  • You should use AVIF for exporting all your HDR (32-bit) image.
    • This is the only realistic option for sharing HDR images on the web and a key reason to start using AVIF now.
    • If you’re concerned about how HDR images will render on some browsers or screens, you can set your page to load SDR or HDR versions of your image (or create separate pages). I have an example HDR gallery which automatically detects whether your screen supports HDR or not and then loads the HDR or SDR version of the image as appropriate. See my free e-book for more information on CSS and JavaScript methods to help facilitate this.
  • In the future, AVIF will be a better choice than JPG for the rest of your images. But you probably should not use it to replace regular JPGs  (yet). While 80% of browsers already support AVIF, you still don’t want 20% of visitors to be unable to see your image.
    • I would expect that by mid to late 2023, we’ll be at a point where browser adoption is high enough to start switching all images over to AVIF.
    • You can use it reliably now to upload to many social media sites. If it uploads, you’re fine (as the image will be converted to JPG as needed).
    • You can use AVIF in controlled situations such as putting them on your iPad for display or emailing friends you know can view AVIF.
    • The missing 20% are a combination of the MS Edge browser and people who haven’t kept their browser current. You could simply add “alt” tags whenever you feel comfortable that adoption is high enough. See the “can I use” page for latest adoption numbers (hover over the various blocks to see share of total browsing).
    • If you’re a web developer, you can use the HTML <picture> tag to specify an AVIF as your preferred file and fall back to JPG (to ensure everyone sees the image). Of course you’ll need to do a bit more work (including exporting two copies of each image), but this would enable much faster page loads for 80% of your viewers (and possibly better search ranking).
    • Note that WordPress does not support AVIF in its media library, but you can add images to your server and link to them by URL in your WordPress posts. Support in WordPress is inevitable, but I’m not aware of any specific plans to add support (and support is likely to require PHP v8.1 on your server as it adds support for processing AVIF to create derivative images such as thumbnails, etc).


How does AVIF quality compare with JPG?

AVIF is better, hands down. You can export as a lossless 12-bit image, which means it will be effectively identical to a flattened TIF. In contrast, a JPG will always use a lossy compression and 8-bit encoding, which creates artifacts and risk of banding. Of course, you’ll mostly use a form of lossy compression and probably 8 or 10-bit encoding to get smaller AVIF files. So you can always get a better result with AVIF, and most of the time you’re going to get both better quality and smaller files at the same time.

There are some differences in the details, which matter if you use aggressive compression or plan to zoom into the details of the image. I’ve generally found:

  • AVIF tends to show much more subtle artifacts. Depending on how you gauge quality, you can really push the compression.
  • The higher bit depth of AVIF not only helps avoid banding, but also eliminates the need to add dithering (noise) to hide banding, which helps reduce file size.
  • I see less color noise with AVIF.
  • The first place I notice loss of detail with AVIF is in subtle fine texture. Things line the lines between marble blocks in a building may go missing. You can hardly tell the difference at 100%.
  • Occasionally (such as around a star on a clear blue night sky) you’ll see a block of noisy artifact. It’s less common than what I’ve seen with JPG, but a good reminder than you should test a variety of subjects and images before you push compression to the most aggressive levels.


How to convert an image to AVIF with Web Sharp Pro

Web Sharp Pro v4 added support for Windows users to export any image directly from Photoshop (PS) as an AVIF**. This includes source images with HDR content, layers, or transparency. Simply go to Settings / General / Format to select AVIF and use the panel like normal. That’s all there is to it. If you have not installed the required 3rd-party plugin, you will see a prompt during export with guidance to download and install that plugin.

There is also an option in Web Sharp Pro to recompress existing files (such as a folder full of JPGs) to AVIF to quickly reduce the size of hundreds or thousands of images on your website or computer. Go to the flyout menu at the top-right of the panel and choose “Recompress images to AVIF”.**

Note that exporting directly via Web Sharp Pro offers a few advantages. It offers 12-bit encoding (at ultimate quality), improved quality for fine color details, and supports transparency.

** AVIF support in Web Sharp Pro is facilitated by use of a free 3rd-party file format plugin which is only available for Windows. As a result, Web Sharp Pro does not offer an AVIF export option for MacOS (and I am unaware of any development to add MacOS support). However, you can still use Web Sharp Pro to facilitate exports using the ACR method described below.


How to convert an image to AVIF with Adobe Camera RAW (ACR v15.1+)

If you are using MacOS, you should use ACR v15.1 to export your images as AVIF. This offers support for HDR content. However, you will need to create a flattened copy of your source image and transparency is not supported.

You need to set a couple PS preferences to use this workflow:

  • You need to enable AVIF support, which is part of the HDRO tech preview. Go to PS Prefs / File Handling / Camera RAW Preferences / Tech Previews, check “HDR output” and restart PS.
  • You also need to ensure that ACR is used to open your image, as the file export options in ACR are only offered when opening the image.  PS Prefs / File Handling / Camera RAW Preferences / File Handling and set the TIFF dropdown to “automatically open all supported TIFFs“. You do not need to restart PS after making this change (which may be handy if you wish to toggle back and forth to avoid seeing the ACR dialog when opening some images).

Once you’ve enabled those settings, you can then export either using Web Sharp Pro to facilitate the process or export manually. The key is to generate a single-layer TIF file (which ACR can open for export and which also supports HDR). You cannot open a layered file or one using a Smart Object directly into ACR, so this flattened TIF is a requirement. This TIF is only intended as a temporary file, which you can delete after you’ve converted it to AVIF.

To export using ACR:

  1. Export a flattened TIF
    • If exporting manually: Go to File / Save a Copy, select TIF and make sure “layers” is not checked.
    • If exporting via Web Sharp Pro: Go to Settings / General / Format to select TIF as your export format and export with the panel as you normally would.
  2. Open your temporary TIF or TIFs (you may shift-click to select and open multiple images at once for bulk conversion).
    • If you’ve set the preferences as required above, your image should open directly into the ACR dialog.
    • If you exported manually, review every image which should be HDR to ensure that the HDR button is active in ACR. If you are using Web Sharp Pro, the image will always open correctly and you do not need to do this review.
  3. If converting multiple images, shift-click them in the filmstrip so that all are selected.
  4. Click the “convert and save” button. This is an icon with an arrow pointing down, and will be located near the top right by the gear (settings) icon.
    • ==> If you do not see this button, it is because you did not open the image directly and immediately into ACR (you cannot save when invoking ACR later in the edit), it wasn’t a single-layer file (no Smart Object), or one of the above preferences was not set correctly.
  5. Choose export settings:
    • Setting the destination dropdown to “save in same location” is very convenient, or you can choose a new location.
    • Set the file format dropdown to AVIF. Set the quality between 7 and 11. A safe general choice is around 8 for a good balance of size and quality.
    • Make sure “enable HDR display” is checked if exporting an HDR image. I recommend setting the space to “HDR Rec 2020”.
    • You may may leave metadata set as you like (you can choose “all” and control the metadata through Web Sharp Pro).
    • If exporting via Web Sharp Pro, do not use image sizing or sharpening as Web Sharp Pro does this for you and offers optimized results.
  6. You may delete your temporary TIF file(s) now.

Note that using Web Sharp Pro dramatically simplifies step #1 (along with offering options for watermarks, borders, cropping to social media templates, etc), helps avoid the risk of HDR images becoming SDR in step #2, and simplifies step #5 (as you won’t have to make changes in the ACR dialog after your first export).


  • If the image does not open directly in ACR, make sure you have set both preferences above and that you are trying to open a TIF which has a single layer (and that layer cannot be a Smart Object).
  • If you do not see the icon to convert and save in ACR, make sure you are opening the image directly into ACR. You will not see this option for any image or layer which was already open in PS.
  • To confirm your exported image, you may open an AVIF with Photoshop and it will show in the ACR dialog. Or you may open it with the Chrome web browser, which properly supports HDR (just drag and drop it into Chrome).

Note that there are numerous 3rd-party tools and websites available which also offer AVIF conversion, but almost none of them support HDR (ie they will produce an image which is clipped to the SDR or “standard dynamic range”). So it is important to use a tool which provides proper support for HDR AVIF exports. The above workflows are the only ones I have tested successfully, other than using some very complicated command line tools. In time, we should expect to see many more simple options become available.

ACR v15.1 adds AVIF exports and HDRO support for Windows

Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) v15.1 just added several major improvements:

  • HDRO support is now available on Windows too. This is one of the most substantial improvements to image quality in decades.
  • AVIF file export. This means you can directly save your HDR images in a format that looks amazing on the web. This also offers substantial size reduction of regular images over JPG for non-HDR images. I’ve seen images up to 85% smaller (though 20% size reduction is more common).
  • GPU acceleration for HDRO for faster performance.


How to use HDRO (High Dynamic Range Output):

High Dynamic Range Output (“HDR” or “HDRO”). This name might be confusing because we’ve used the term “HDR” for years, but now that same name is being used for a completely different display technology. This involves hardware, it requires a monitor capable of a minimum brightness of at least 400 nits. And when you see it, it is nothing short of spectacular. It’s the most significant improvement in image display I’ve seen in decades.

HDR editing and display results in:

  • Vastly greater dynamic range. Pixels are up to 4 stops brighter than anything before.
  • Glowing city lights.
  • Boosted brightness without losing saturation for gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.
  • Intricate details in the highlights for white cloud, flowing rivers, a bride’s white dress, stage lights at a concert, more colorful skin tones, etc. I’ve seen potential for improvement in every genre of photography I’ve shot for the last couple decades.

To enable support in ACR, go to  PS Prefs / File Handling / Camera RAW Preferences / Tech Previews, check “HDR output” and restart Photoshop.

All the great HDR features I demonstrated for Mac a month ago are now available for Windows (ie, the “Mac-only” comments are no longer relevant and everything I showed works exactly the same way on Windows now). I’ve gone back to RAW files from 2004 (when I got my first digital DSLR) and found details in highlights I never knew were there! If you’ve been properly exposing your images all these years, you’ll be amazed at how many of them look significantly better just by clicking the “HDR” button in ACR. And regardless of any hidden highlight detail, you can take your RAW or previously processed images and push them into the HDR range for some truly stunning improvements.

Be sure to also check out for example images, my free HDR e-book, details to properly edit and view HDR, troubleshooting tips, monitor recommendations and more.


AVIF file export:

AVIF (AV1 File Format) is a next generation image format which offers numerous advantages over JPG, including:

  • Support for HDR (JPG will not properly show the brighter image content of your HDR images)
  • Dramatically smaller file sizes (for any image, not just HDR). This means much faster web page loads, reduced bandwidth and storage costs, and probably higher search engine ranking due to improved page speed. This is a major improvement.*
  • Support for transparency. Couple with the smaller files, this is a much better option than PNG when you need to show product images or anything with a transparent background.

* I would predict that this ultimately replaces JPG for most use as it offers so many compelling benefits. The only limitation compared to JPG is Edge and legacy browsers or importing to other third party apps, but that will almost certainly improve substantially in 2023. Support for AVIF has been growing rapidly. AVIF is supported on roughly 80% of all web browsers now (for SDR or standard dynamic range images, HDR support is currently limited to Chrome/Brave). Once MS Edge supports AVIF, this image format is likely to take off significantly.


To export images as AVIF from ACR v15.1, you should do the following:

  • Enable the HDRO tech preview: PS Prefs / File Handling / Camera RAW Preferences / Tech Previews, check “HDR output” and restart Photoshop
  • Open your image directly into ACR and there will be a convert and save icon at the top-right of ACR (right next to the gear icon). This will ONLY show if you open the image directly into ACR, not if you invoke ACR from within Photoshop.
  • Opening a RAW image in ACR is pretty straight forward, just double-click it from the Finder or Explorer.
  • If you’ve created a TIF, you’ll need to:
    • Update a preference so that ACR will be used to open the TIF: PS Prefs / File Handling / Camera RAW Preferences / File Handling and set the TIFF dropdown to “automatically open all supported TIFFs”
    • Note that this preference will use ACR for any single-layer TIF (as long as that layer is not a Smart Object). Layered TIF files will never open in ACR.
    • The easiest way to generate the required flat TIF is to use Web Sharp Pro to export as a TIF. This will ensure ACR opens an HDR image properly, which may not happen with a manual export. Additionally, it lets you choose image size, sharpening, borders, cropping, watermarks, etc.
    • To create a TIF you can manually: save a flattened (single-layer) copy of the image and then open that new TIF.

Great deals for Black Friday 2022

There are some great deals this week for Black Friday on some of my favorite tools for photography, including:

  • $300 off M1 MacBook Pro with 16GB RAM, or $200 off the 32GB RAM version.
    • The 1600 nits screen on the M1 Macbook Pro is absolutely stunning for HDR. The Black Friday deals seem to be for models up to 16GB RAM and 1TB SSD, which is a great for photography. These machines are super quick at any level. See my review of the M1. Getting one of these machines for $2k is an incredible deal.
    • While the savings aren’t as great, I recommend 32GB RAM for those with larger budgets.
    • The amount of discount seems to be changing daily, so I wouldn’t delay (this was $500 off yesterday).
  • Save up to $1000 on Nikon bodies and lenses at B&H.
    • I’m starting to migrate to mirrorless and am buying a Nikon Z7ii, 14-24mm lens, Sandisk 128GB CFexpress for 50% off, and a Sonos speaker (B&H has lots of great home entertainment gear).
  • 68% off the Topaz Everything bundle
    • This includes Gigapixel, Sharpen AI, Denoise AI, and more.
    • See my Gigapixel tutorial.
  • 50% off Nik Collection (throgh midnight Nov 28).
  • 40% off new SmugMug accounts. This is a great service for sharing your portfolio, both publicly or privately for clients. You can easily sell prints or purchase digital images right from your gallery.
  • $50 off Sandisk 4TB Extreme PRO SSD.
    • This portable drive is incredibly small (easily fits in your pocket) and incredibly fast. This is a perfect way to add more storage to your laptop or help stay backed up when traveling. I’ve owned several of these over the years.

And you can save 25% off all my software and courses (Lumenzia, Web Shar Pro, my new Focus Stacking course, etc) with discount code BF2022 (through Nov 28). You can also use that code with the bundles to stack multiple discounts.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. See my ethics statement for more information. When you purchase through such links, you pay the same price and help support the content on this site.

Greg Benz Photography