How to use Lightroom to create HDR photos

HDR photographs are produced by combining multiple copies of the same image recorded at different exposures. Adobe Lightroom is one software package that makes it very easy to combine these multiple exposures into a single HDR image. It’s so simple in fact, that it can be done with literally 2 clicks.

The reason why we use HDR

This tutorial on using Lightroom to create HDR photos assumes that you already have a photo recorded in multiple exposures. If you don’t (or don’t know what that even means), be sure to check out my other tutorial:  HDR Photography using exposure bracketing. That will show you how to use your camera to record the same photo at number of both underexposed and overexposed images.

For this tutorial, we’re going to use a simple photo of my living room. I set my camera up and took this photo on an average day.

Original image: Classic example of camera unable to properly expose the dark interior and bright windows

Original image: Classic example of camera unable to properly expose the dark interior and bright windows

As expected, the camera was not able to properly expose both the interior and the windows because it doesn’t have enough range. It looks terrible! The sofa is too dark, and the windows are completely blown-out. The solution will be to combine multiple exposures into a single HDR image using Lightroom.

Taking the photos

After determining that you want to create an HDR photo, you’ll need to create multiple exposures of the same image, including some that are both under and overexposed. One method of doing this is to use the auto-exposure bracketing (AEB) feature of your camera.

For this example, that’s what I used, and in addition to the standard exposure above, I produced these two additional shots. One of them is underexposed by 2EV to capture the details of the outdoors, and the other is overexposed by 2EV to show off the details in my lovely sofa.

Same photo as above, but underexposed by 2EV to capture the details of the much brighter outdoors

Same photo as above, but underexposed by 2EV to capture the details of the much brighter outdoors

 

Same photo as above but overexposed by 2EV to capture the interior details

Same photo as above but overexposed by 2EV to capture the interior details

Using Lightroom to combine into an HDR Photo

Now that we have our photos in order, it’s time to use Lightroom to combine them into an HDR image. It’s really a very quick and easy process.

Step 1: Import all the photos into Lightroom

Connect your camera to the computer and import the photos into Lightroom. You’ll want to make sure to import all exposures into the same folder or collection.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 4.28.33 PM

Step 2: Shift-Click to select all photos and go to Photo -> Photo Merge -> HDR…

Now we’ll actually tell Lightroom to merge the multiple exposures into a single image using its built-in HDR functionality.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 4.39.00 PM

Step 3: Tweak settings and execute the HDR merge

An HDR merge preview window will pop up allowing you to fine-tune a few settings. I have rarely found a need to deviate from the default, but if for some reason you didn’t want Lightroom to auto-align the images or auto-adjust the contrast you can turn those settings off.

Deghost is for special cases where parts of the image appear semi-transparent. If that happens you can try turning on deghost to see if it fixes the problem.

Once you’re happy with the settings, go ahead and merge! It will produce a DNG file which contains the merged HDR image. A DNG file is just Adobe’s version of a RAW file.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 4.41.57 PM

Step 4: Fine-tune your histogram

Lightroom usually does a pretty good job with it’s auto-tone option to produce a reasonably balanced image. In the case above, I felt that the windows were still a little bright, so I used lightrooms levels adjustment features to bring it down a notch. The photo below is my final result.

HDR Image produced using exposure bracketing and Lightroom

HDR Image produced using exposure bracketing and Lightroom

See also: HDR Photography using Exposure Bracketing Tutorial

Do you use Lightroom to create HDR images? If not, what software do you use? Let me know in the comments!

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *