HDR in Lightroom


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I use HDR a fair bit and have noticed that people don’t quite know what it is so here’s my attempt at explaining before I show you how to do it in Adobe Lightroom. Firstly, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and it’s becoming very popular. In fact I’ve just searched for photos tagged ‘HDR’ on Flickr and it returned 3,325,592 results.

The human eye is always a great reference when explaining photographic terms and in this example it fits just as well as usual – the eye constantly dilates, constricts, focuses, exposes etc. Imagine when you go into a room which is dark and you look out of the window into bright daylight… Your eye exposes for both situations as you need to see them and you get a good exposure of each part. There’s a box in the room and it’s got objects in it, and you can see them because your eye has adjusted correctly, and then you look out of the window and you’re able to see the detail of the comparatively very bright clouds. HDR photography replicates this ‘across the range’ exposure by combining a series of exposures metered differently to take the best piece of each and combining them into one. In order to take a photo with this method you need a camera where you’re able to change the exposure either manually or by using a feature called ‘auto-bracketing’ on your DSLR and then processing the resulting photos in software such as Lightroom.

So, here’s the process for creating a HDR photo out of several other photos of differing exposure in Adobe Lightroom.

Firstly, select the photos you want to merge into an HDR. In this example I’m using 5 exposures of the Twisting Torso building in Malmö, Sweden.

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Don’t make any adjustments to these 5 exposures, just have them selected by holding the clicking on the first photo, then holding the shift key while clicking on the last one. Next up, find Lightroom’s built in HDR tool by selecting Photo > Photo Merge > HDR

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This will give you a dialogue box with several options available to you whilst the very clever algorithm inside the software figures out which of the photos have the best exposed sections.

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The options, from top to bottom, are as follows:-

Auto Align – this feature lines up the images correctly over the top of each other and then crops the ‘waste’ to leave you with a perfectly aligned shot. This is particularly useful if you shot your series without a tripod!

Auto tone – this feature automatically sets the exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks.

Deghost amount – this feature deals with things that are moving throughout your scene from shot to shot within your series. For example, if we had a plane in our sky it would be in a different position throughout the series, resulting in a semi transparent airplane landing in the final HDR shot.

When the algorithm has done it’s stuff, this is what you get.

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The result is a balanced exposure with a nice sky and a building which has the sun behind it (slightly to the right in this case) yet has a nice exposure throughout the portion facing us in shade. The highly contrasted scene has been dealt with by a procedure which is nowadays often reserved for ultra-surreal images, but it could pass as being a photo which hasn’t been manipulated. Here’s the finished photo with a (darker) band of the original middle exposure to show the difference.

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