Deke’s Techniques 074: Preparing an HDR Zombie in “The Lab”

Hey, gang. Today marks the second of my two-part work of hardscrabble investigative journalism into what makes Halloween so dag-gum scary, graphics-wise. Last week, I showed you how to make Scareflakes. (Wow, was that terrifying or what?) This week, I show you how to begin the process of turning the near-dead living into the living dead. It starts with a faux-HDR technique that relies on The Lab Mode. How’s that for Halloween irony? Whatever, here’s a before-and-after comparison, submitted for your approval:

Deke's Techniques: The Photoshop zombie makeover

I’d love to explore it with you in more detail, but the official description from tells it all:

In this week’s free movie, Deke continues the theme he began last week: presenting timeless techniques in seasonally appropriate situations. For instance, the faux HDR technique that Deke shows you this week is useful throughout the year for invoking a photographic ambiance. But as Deke demonstrates, such an ambiance is particularly suited to the creation of zombies. And what better time of year to turn photos of your unsuspecting friends into the ever-timely undead? (No one expects to become a zombie. Trust me on this one.) Consider this admittedly hapless but clearly unscary fellow below:

Deke's Techniques, Photoshop undead: The original living

Deke begins by converting this guy to The Lab (ooh, italics are so scary!) color space and then applying a Shadow/Highlight adjustment to exaggerate the, well, shadows and highlights. (Ow-woo!) Then Deke shows you how to protect your Lab-based modifications, by placing a layer inside the protective covering of a smart object. Before sinking the midtones with a pass of the Levels command, Deke creates a mask with the Color Range command. And when Deke describes a face covered with marching ants, you can be comforted by the fact that he’s really just talking about creating the best-possible selection outline.

Apply some sharpening and the result is this:

Deke's Techniques, Photoshop undead: Faux HDR in

For members of the Online Training Library, Deke takes this effect to ever more macabre extremes, ultimately going full-zombie with the following:

Deke's Techniques, Photoshop undead: The final zombie

So let’s review: The Lab mode, a dash of smart object, the application of a mask, and the final annihilation of everything as the flesh-eating marching ants rise over your corpse. In other words, Photoshop has everything you need for a creative and creepy Halloween. Join Deke to learn why.

Okay, so I saved the actual zombification of the dude for the library. For you members, click here to watch the follow-up movie. For you others, not to worry. You can pick up a free week, any time you like, by visiting And that works all year, btw, even on Tarantula Day.

(I realize that, so far, T-Day does not exist. But, perhaps, if we work together and defy all odds, we can make it so.)

Update: Oops, I forgot to include the gradient file that I used to create the zombie in the OTL-only movie. Right-click here and download to get my Zombietones.grd file.

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