Make an HDR Photo in GIMP with the Exposure Blend Plugin

Use this plugin to quickly make an HDR image in GIMP.

Early Autumn snow on the surrounding peaks, Monica Meadows, Kootenay region, BC, Canada
Greg Osadchuk / Getty Images

High Dynamic Range (HDR) refers to an imaging technique that delivers a wider range of luminosity than standard digital photography. Said another way, HDR captures greater lighting details at both the light and dark ends of the spectrum.

HDR allows photographers to combine differences in exposure that occur over depths of field. For example, rather than having the background blown out with foreground subjects underexposed, an HDR image combines two or more photographs with different exposures to create a more colorful image.

There are a few ways to produce an HDR image in GIMP. Here we cover how to make an HDR image in GIMP using the Exposure Blend plugin.

Install the Exposure Blend Plugin

First download a copy of the Exposure Blend plugin. While the GIMP Plugin Registry is no longer available, you can still find old versions of the plugin from the GIMP archive on GitHub.

After downloading the plugin, you will need to place it in the​ ​Scripts folder of your GIMP installation. On a Windows device, the path to this folder should be C: > Program Files > GIMP-2.0 > share > gimp > 2.0 > scripts. You can find oath instructions for a Mac device here.

If GIMP is already running, you'll need to go to Filters > Script-Fu > Refresh Scripts before you can use the newly installed plugin, but if GIMP isn't running, the plugin will automatically install the next time you run the program.

How to Run the Exposure Blend Plugin

Here's how to run the Exposure Blend plugin to create an HDR image in GIMP.

You will need three identical images with three scaling exposures. These exposures may be taken from three separate shots, or a duplicated image with three exposures set during post-processing.

  1. On the GIMP menu, navigate to Filters > Photography > Exposure Blend.

  2. Next to the Normal Exposure label, navigate to your image files and select Open. Select the Short Exposure and Long Exposure images in the same way. Once the three images are selected, select ​​OK. The plugin will begin running.

How to Tweak the HDR Effect With Layer Opacity

Once the plugin has finished running, you will be left with a GIMP document that consists of three layers, two with layer masks applied. These images combine to produce a complete photo with a wide dynamic range. In HDR software, Tone Mapping would be applied to the image to strengthen the effect. That isn't an option here, but there are some ways to improve the image.

Often at this stage, the HDR photo can appear a little flat. One way to counter this is to reduce the opacity of one or two of the upper layers in the Layers palette. In the layers palette, select a layer and adjust the Opacity slider to see how the brightness is affected.

How to Increase Contrast

Follow these steps to adjust the HDR image contrast.

  1. From the menu bar, select Layer > New Layer to add a new layer. Press the D key to set the default foreground and background colors to black and white, respectively.

  2. From the menu bar, select Edit > Fill with FG Color.

  3. In the Layers palette, change the Mode of this new layer to Soft Light. You can see the Mode control marked in the accompanying image.

  4. Add another new layer. Fill this layer with white by navigating to Edit > Fill with BG Color and again changing the Mode to Soft Light.

You should now see a strengthened image contrast for the two layers. You can tweak the setting by adjusting the opacity of the two layers. For an even stronger effect, duplicate one or both of the layers.