HDR tutorial: how to create HDR photos with free Qtpfsgui and GIMP

HDR tutorialIn this HDR tutorial you’ll find out how to create HDR photos using Qtpfsgui and GIMP (you can use Photoshop as well). Both Qtpfsgui and GIMP are free, open source and available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. With free Qtpfsgui you can get more impressive HDR photos than with paid HDR software competitors. Though Qtpfsgui interface is not so sllick as in commercial HDR products and this app is not fast by tone-mapping, the main drawback from my point of view is its ridiculous name which no one could remember.

Before start with Qtpfsgui and HDR processing you should have at least 3 so called bracketed photos, i.e. photos taken with different exposures. One photo should be underexposed (EV-2), one photo with normal exposure (EV 0) and one overexposed (EV+20). If you don’t right bracketed photos right now you could download samples of photos for this HDR tutorial (sample photos for HDR 1 © Bartłomiej Okonek, these photos are used for this tutorial and sample photos for HDR 2)
bracketed photos

1. Download and install Qtpfsgui. Don’t forget to extract DLL package which you should download separately into the app folder if you’re using Windows.

2. Click New HDR. In the window that pops up, click Load Images and choose 3 photos you prepared before. Qtpfsgui now try to determine automatically the exposure value from the EXIF metadata in the image; if it failed which happens sometimes for various reasons, you have to set it manually.
load hdr
3. Click Next and skip the next window. You can try to use antighosting feature in this dialog box but developer says it’s experimental and buggy.

4. Skip the next window too. There’s number of predefined profiles to choose from and they give you slightly different results but the default option usually works well. Click Finish. Now you have a HDR image and you need to tonemap it to be displayed correctly in a low dynamic range, i.e. JPG format.

6. Click Tonemap HDR button in the toolbar. A window will pop up with a number of tone mapping algorithms and parameters.
tone mapping
7. Chose Fattal tone mapping operator and click green button Apply. Save your image File -> Save as. Make sure to give your file a jpg extension. Experiment with smaller than original version of your photo until you get the appealing results to speed up the process. You can pick a smaller one from the dropdown box of different sizes near the top left. You can fine tune the result by clicking Adjust Levels button.

8. Chosse Drago tone mapping operator tab and repeat the previous step.

9. Put two tonemapped JPGs into GIMP. Use image tonemapped with Drago for the first layer and the Fattal tonemapped image for the second layer. Change the Layer mode to Overlay. Play with the Opacity to achieve more pleasant look.
gimp layers

You can also put the Fattal applied image down as the first layer and the Drago applied image put on the top in Overlay mode with ~50% opacity.

You can get good looking HDR photos with Fattal+Mantiuk tone-mapping technique as well. The process for tone-mapping of two images with different algorithms is the same as in previous step. Just instead of Drago apply Mantiuk tone-mapping to the second image. Put Fattal image on the first layer In GIMP and Mantiuk on the second one. Change Layer mode to Soft light and play with Opacity. You could also apply some Blur to the top image to get dreamy look.

10. I recommend to post-process your HDR photo in GIMP (you can use Photoshop as well). Increase contrast by applying Levels or Curves, adjust the colour/white balance and apply light Unsharp mask. You may also got weird ghosting artifacts during processing HDR photos with Qtpfsgui and fix it using Layer mask and original image.
hdr photo

How to create fake HDR photo from one JPG or RAW file
Though there’s little sense you can try to achieve fake HDR look with single jpg or raw file. You can load directly a raw file in Qtpfsgui via the File->Load HDR and tonemap directly single raw file. If you don’t like how Qtpfsgui handles your raw file, or if you want to process your raw file before loading it in Qtpfsgui (white balance, color profile, etc.), you can use Ufraw (as standalone or GIMP plugin). Tweak the color settings of your raw file and then save the result as a 16-bits (important!) tiff tile and then load it into Qtpfsgui.

If you would like to make fake HDR photo from one jpg file, create 2 additional versions of this file. Open your normal.jpg file in GIMP and use Curves to make underexposed photo (click in the middle of the curves dialog and drag it to the bottom), then save it as underexposed.jpg and overexposed photo (drag the curves in the same way to the top) save as underexposed.jpg.
curves gimp

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28 thoughts on “HDR tutorial: how to create HDR photos with free Qtpfsgui and GIMP

  1. This is an excellent tutorial, as noted in the Cambridge in Colour Website. Could I be so bold as to add two or three points that may help others not so familiar with the qtpfsgui software?

    First, when working from RAW files, if the PC software that came with your camera has any noise reduction facility apply this to your three bracketed images before proceeding. The reason is that HDR and tone-mapping can lead to extra noise in the resulting images. Thus reducing the original noise to begin with is helpful.

    Second, with the Fatal algorithm I find that increasing the “noise reduction” slider from its default of 0 to between 0.05 and 0.5 gives better results especially if you reduce the beta value slider.

    Third, if you use the Mantiuk option, then adjusting the pre-gamma slider to about 0.5 gives a lighter image. Also increase the saturation slider to about 1.0.

    Fourth, be careful to set the size of the image in the tone-mapping window to a good size, say about 3000 by 2000 (or whatever it is)before you save because you are saving the image you have created whatever its size.



  2. Good tutorial. Nice to know there are free programs out even if the name is impossible to remember. Personally though I don’t really see anything more impressive than photos I’ve seen with Photomatix.

  3. Thanks a lot for this great tutorial.
    I got a question, my HDR results after Fattal mapping always render a “pixelized” image. any ways to avoid this ?

  4. Very, very nice! Just five minutes ago I discovered that Qtpfsgui program, and am currently installing QT to use it. Then I read this article, and I saw what the program can do! Thanks!

  5. Okay, just wondering. In Qtpfsgui, I can’t figure out how to upload more than one photo at once. Can you help me?

    And other than that, VERY nice tutorial. I’ve been looking for a way to do HDR without buying other software,but couldn’t find if GIMP was proper. Thanks!

  6. I stumbled upon this nice tutorial of yours. i was trying to use Fattal alone. Nice thought of combining two algorithms. is it possible to apply two algorithms one after another on the tone mapping section.

    I was trying to recreate this one

    but was not sure on those parameters. Maybe i will explore more.

    Thanks for the tutorial

  7. can you send the original, hdr, fattal and Dargo settings? I appreciate your help in advance. Just a thought, you can post Dargo’s output in this tutorial so that everyone can get to know what the Dargo output would be.


  8. Thanks for the tutorial. Was trying to figure out how to get started with HDR photography without having to pay for photoshop and photomatix. This tutorial fixed that!

  9. Thanks for this tutorial. I will begin to try it and thanks to you, and to the people that made it possible: GIMP and QTPFSGUI (Funny name, but very good program to get as involved in the HDR world)

  10. Great tut, thanks! Can’t wait to experiment. Just thought I would mention a typo though. In the second paragraph, you talk about bracketing. For the overexposed photo you say to have a EV of +20, I believe you mean +2! Thanks again.

  11. “Okay, just wondering. In Qtpfsgui, I can’t figure out how to upload more than one photo at once. Can you help me?”

    Hi Omar
    If you are using a PC press and hold shift to allow you to make a multiple selection of your 3 photos.
    Good Luck

  12. After the HDR is made..when I push the tonemap button, I just get a blank screen.. no picture shows up where it is supposed to.

  13. Looks like the Windows version of Qtpfsgui isn’t free via the provided link. Am I wrong on that?

  14. Thank you for this tutorial, and thanks to David_Ws for the additional pointers.

    In my experience so far, I am finding better results (less grainy) using 5 photos rather than 3, bracketed as -2, -1, 0, +1, +2. (Note: My originals are LDR JPG, not HDR RAW)

  15. After few experiments I ended up to use from top to bottom:

    Mantiuk (soft light 20%)
    Fattal (overlay 20%)
    Drago (base layer)

    With this combination clouds and autumn leaves started to look more natural to me.

  16. This is a great tutorial and I would love to use it, but when i download Qtpfsgui it downloads as a .tar file and no matter what i do I can’t get it to extract. Very frustrating.

  17. This is a great tutorial! I’ve been wanting to get into HDR for a while now but didn’t know how to go about it without spending money on software. Now that you’ve provided me with this I’ve successfully created my first HDR image. :) Thanks so much!

  18. @ erika you have probably got it working by now, but I would check that you are downloading the right version for your computer/operating system.

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