HDR images made easy

When asked whats new in Lightroom CC/6 the first item on the list is how easy it is now to make HDR images. What makes it easy is now we don’t have to go outside of Lightroom to achieve it. In a lot of cases this will satisfy most users but the veterans of the HDR world and the more scrutinizing among you may not be too impressed – all the time.

With as few as two images the process is simple.
Example 1 of 2.
Select the images from the Grid. Then Photo > Photo Merge > HDR…

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In a few moments a preview will appear. You’re still inside Lightroom and to make things faster the preview is limited to 1024 pixels so don’t think you can zoom in or anything. In fact the dialog could not be simpler (see below). Selecting auto tone will apply some toning to get you close to where you want to be.

The resulting HDR compared with the results of a few adjustments to one of the Raw files.

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Hard to see the fuss right? Why do an HDR when you can get very pleasing comparable results with a single file.
Lets look at a few detail areas. The HDR file is on the left.

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The HDR file already has adjustments, thanks to the auto tone selection, which may limit further adjustments. In this case the Whites are already at -100.

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Adjusting one of the Raw files achieves very similar results.
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So apparently that image series wasn’t challenging enough for Lightroom to create an HDR that was significantly better than a single Raw file. The reason is partly due to how good the actual processing engine is and the incredible latitude digital “film” has. But there are situations where even the best processor cannot recover everything in one shot.


Example 2 of 2
In this case we have extreme exposures. Still only working with two images.

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The Preview dialog. Its hard to deny the WOW! factor when you bring some variable exposures together.

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Trying to coax the shadow details from the Raw image fails rather quickly in this case. The color shifts an the detail shots clearly show how ugly things can get.

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Again, the HDR is on the left. But it obvious in this series.

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In both cases it would seem that the most difficult area for Lightroom to tackle is the extreme highlight shadow edges. The sun over the mountain and the entrance of the cave walls. As I said in the beginning, “In a lot of cases this will satisfy most users but the veterans of the HDR world and the more scrutinizing among you may not be too impressed”. Displaying small on the web or as part of a slide show, these issues are not really a problem but Lightroom has a way to go to match that of an independent HDR application. Master HDR aficionado Trey Ratcliff has some stern words about the new feature noting “lackluster results” and lack of presets. I cannot disagree with what he says but then Im not a huge HDR fan or user but in those rare instances I need something then Lightrooms HDR feature will likely cover MY bases.

Why not give it a try, a fair run, and post your results to our Flickr Gallery.