Tone Mapping in Adobe Camera Raw… Really?

In Photoshop CC you can use Adobe Camera Raw as a filter (Photoshop CC users only, I apologize in advance CS6er’s) and if you are creative enough with it you can do some tone mapping.  This may sound odd as Adobe Camera Raw is not HDR software, but there is a way to increase the contrast enough with it to map out your tones like you would with Tone Mapping.  While this may not be true tone mapping it does give you a great deal of control over the tones in your photograph, more so than a simple curves adjustment would.  However, this requires the ability to think in terms of tone when editing your photos.

Before and After Adobe Camera Raw as a filter

Lets look at the Wikipedia term for Tone Mapping particularly the Anchoring Theory of Lightness Perception:

This theory explains many characteristics of the human visual system such as lightness constancy and its failures (as in the checker shadow illusion), which are important in the perception of images. The key concept of this tone mapping method (Lightness Perception in Tone Reproduction[9]) is a decomposition of an HDR image into areas (frameworks) of consistent illumination and the local calculation of the lightness values. The net lightness of an image is calculated by merging of the frameworks proportionally to their strength. Particularly important is the anchoring—relating of the luminance to a known luminance, namely estimating which luminance value is perceived as white in the scene. This approach to tone mapping does not affect the local contrast and preserves the natural colors of an HDR image due to the linear handling of luminance.  – Quoted from Wikipedia page on Tone Mapping

The process I will discuss today will do exactly as the this anchoring theory suggests, but with the adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw you have a ton of control over the localized contrast.  This style of tone mapping will produce more realistic HDR images that appear natural rather than contrived or pushed too far, but that option is still on the table.  for this process I need to teach you to see in terms of tone and understand what happens to colors when tones are applied with Blending Options.  Specifically, Soft Light.

What you will learn in the video:

  1. What the blending Option Soft Light is and exactly how it affects your images.
  2. How to use Adobe Camera Raw to simulate an HDR photo with a natural looking appearance.
  3. How to use Smart Objects to edit your images in Photoshop
  4. How to decrease the contrast in the photo using the same principles to create a dreamy or whimsical effect.


Blake Rudis
f.64 Academy and f.64 Elite are the brainchildren of Blake Rudis. While he is a landscape photographer he is most passionate about post-processing images in Photoshop and mentoring others.

For Blake, it is less about the art and more about the process. He dives deep into difficult topics and makes them easy to understand through his outside the box thinking.
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