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Lightroom CC Tutorial: How to Create HDR Images (Part II)

In part I, we looked closely at the exposure bracketing function and how it can help in photographing high contrast scenes. Once you have three or more photos of the same view with different exposures, the next step is to merge them into one High Dynamic Range (HDR) image with details in both shadows and highlights. While bracketing is easy to do in camera, until recently creating HDR images in Photoshop was quite a challenge. Luckily, the newest Lightroom CC offers a new feature of merging HDR images that is surprisingly easy to use even for a beginner photographer. Let's have a look at the workflow.

The new HDR feature of Lightroom CC has several significant advantages:

  • HDR images can be created from unedited RAW files. This means that there is no need to edit each photo first, then convert it into JPG or TIFF format before merging.
  • If bracketing is done without a tripod, Lightroom will automatically align the details in the photos (aligning images manually is often a very time-consuming task)
  • Once the HDR image is merged, it can be edited just like any other photo in Lightroom.

Let's start with the same photo of the Bir Hakeim bridge taken at sunset as in the previous article. Since I knew I was going to create an HDR image for this scene, I had set the camera on continuous shooting mode and used the exposure bracketing (AEB) function to take three photos: one exposing for highlights of the sky (underexposed), one exposing for the details in the construction of the bridge (overexposed), and one with average exposure.

HDR 01

After importing all three RAW files into Lightroom CC, I selected them by clicking on them while holding down Command key on Mac (CTRL key for Windows).

HDR 02

In the Lightroom menu, I then clicked on Photo --> Photo merge --> HDR to merge them into one file (the same can be done by hitting Shift+Ctrl+H on Mac or Shift+Alt+H on Windows).

HDR 03

This opens a new window HDR Merge Preview. It usually takes a few moments for Lightroom to generate a preview of the merged file. You can now see that Lightroom did a pretty good job on seamlessly merging three photos into one, where both sky and bridge details are perfectly visible.

HDR 04

In the panel on the right, several HDR options are offered:

  • Auto Align will automatically align the images taken without a tripod and crop the edges
  • Auto Tone will enhance the resulting image without affecting the original files
  • Deghost feature will help to identify details that have changed between three exposures, such as people, birds or leaves. You may also choose the amount of deghosting.

If you use the Deghost feature, you may also check where exactly it was done by ticking the "Show Deghost Overlay" box. The deghosted areas will be highlighted in red. Note, however, that in general the HDR technique usually works best for scenes without people, such as landscapes or cityscapes.

HDR 05

Once I was happy with the preview, I clicked on the Merge button and Lightroom generated an HDR image (this also usually takes a few moments), automatically renamed it by using the same filename and adding "HDR" in the end, and added it to the same folder as the original photos. This means that I can easily find the resulting HDR image in the Library module and take it for further editing. Note that HDR files are usually way heavier than regular RAW files as they contain much more information.

HDR 06

Now, even if all the details both in shadows and highlights were visible, I noticed that the overall image was lacking some contrast and impact. I therefore took it to the Develop module by hitting the "D" key and edited it as usual: corrected the distortion and perspective, cropped the image slightly to get rid of unnecessary details, played with Highlights/Shadows/Whites/Blacks sliders, and added some Clarity and Vibrance to reveal the colours.

The resulting image looks correctly exposed and natural, just like it I saw it with my eyes:

Try the exposure bracketing and the HDR technique, and share your results with us!

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About the Author

Nadia Gric

Nadia Gric

Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.

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