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Photography Basics: How to Use HDR in Lightroom

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You have an intense passion for photography and it’s nearly impossible to see you without a camera hung around your neck. Agreed! But, does that make you a skilled photographer? Does that help you click perfect pictures that anyone would drool over? Probably not. Because, to become an expert photographer, you need to learn certain techniques used in photography, like the HDR feature offered by Adobe Lightroom.

HDR in Lightroom
Lightroom: A Beginner’s BFF

Once you know how to handle your camera properly and how to take amazing photos, you need to learn to work with tools like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Every amazing photo you see has an ‘x’ factor that sets them apart than the rest. As a beginner, Adobe Lightroom’s HDR feature is your ‘x’ factor, so you need to know how to make the most of it.

What is HDR

The acronym HDR stands for High Dynamic Range where the term dynamic range refers to the difference between the brightest and darkest areas in a photograph. This technique allows you to merge three or more photographs of the same subject with varying exposure levels to create one photograph. This photograph will feature the brightest and the darkest elements without compromising on the detailing of either.

Why Do You Need HDR

HDR in Lightroom
Just Not Right!(Source)

As a photographer, your aim is to capture what you see as realistically as possible in a photograph. However, in many cases, parts of the photograph appear overexposed or underexposed. For example, if you were to take a picture of your living room, the lamps may appear too bright and sans detailing while the rest of the room may appear duller. Alternatively, you may be able to capture the details of your lamp but the rest of the photograph will seem dark.

Sounds familiar?

This is because the exposure can be determined either by the lamp light or the light levels in the rest of the room. The easiest way to correct this is while editing the photograph. This is where HDR comes to your aid.

The Magic of HDR

So, how does HDR make photographs look so good?

To create an HDR image, you need at least three photographs of the same frame. These are taken at three different exposure levels. The first is 2 stops under the normal exposure, the second is at normal exposure, and the third is 2 stops overexposed. Using an editing and merging tool or software, you can merge these photographs together so that the details of the shadows and highlights are visible.

HDR in Lightroom
3 Different Exposures for One Perfect Photo(Source)

HDR can be great for photographs of architectural details, outdoor portraits, and landscapes. However, this technique is not suited to all types of photography. When photographing a moving subject, it can make the photograph appear blurry. It could also reduce contrasts and hence can make silhouetted photographs appear less interesting.

What do You Need to Create HDR Images

Every good photographer needs good equipment. Here is what you need to create an HDR image:

A Good Camera

There is no end to the features available in a camera today. However, to take HDR images, there is one feature you must look out for. Your camera should have an Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) mode. In this mode, your camera will take three photographs in succession at different exposures. If your camera does not have this feature, you can still take three photographs manually but it will take more time and effort. Additionally, this increases the chances of your subject moving between shots.

Livingit Tip
Remember to shoot in RAW format to get high quality images.

A Tripod

Any kind of movement will make the photograph appear blurry. Hence, a tripod is a must-have for every photographer. Alternatively, you may have a table that you can place the camera onto stabilizing it. Even the most experienced photographers rely on a tripod.

Photo Merging Software

Once the three photographs have been taken, you need to merge them together. This is where the role of a photo editing software comes in. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are both great for this purpose. Most photographers prefer Lightroom as it allows more manual tweaking.

How to Create an HDR Image in Lightroom

To a passionate photographer, the term Lightroom needs no introduction.

What Microsoft Excel is to an accountant, Adobe Lightroom is to a photographer!

This image management and editing program developed by Adobe has been helping millions of professional and amateur photographers to sort, organize, and process large quantities of images. Here is how you can work with Lightroom to create high-quality HDR images.

HDR in Lightroom
Get Ready to Create Magic!(Source)

Creating the Photo

Step 1: Ensure that you have the latest version of Adobe Lightroom. (Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC).

Step 2: Load all your images into Lightroom.

Step 3: Select the three photographs you want to merge. Right click on any of them and select Photo Merge – HDR.

Step 4: Once a new window loads, select HDR options: Auto Align and Auto Tone. Auto Align eliminates movement and reduces blurriness. This is especially useful for photographs taken with a hand held camera. Auto Tone brings in the detailing from the brightest and darkest areas.

Step 5: Choose deghosting setting. Deghosting is an algorithm that replaces pixels that have changed with pixels from the new image. You can choose between none, low, medium and high.

Step 6: Like what you see: Click Merge.

Step 7: Edit your image in the Develop module. When your photographs are merged together, you will have a new RAW file with an extended dynamic range. In the Develop Module, you can play around with highlights, shadows, clarity, and vibrance using the sliders, till you get the photo you’re looking for.

That’s it!

Seven steps to take your photograph from good to great.

Livingit Tip
The new image will be saved along with your earlier images. If you can’t find it, sort the files by name in the grid view. Your new HDR image will be the first image.

What’s the Deal with Deghosting

HDR in Lightroom
Spook Away the Mistakes!(Source)

To create an HDR image, you need three photographs. While you can ensure that your model sits still and features like a house won’t move, some things are beyond a photographer’s control. For example, a bird may fly across the background or the breeze may blow a leaf into your frame. In such cases, when you merge the photographs you may see a vague form of the bird or leaf in your frame.

With deghosting you can remove this completely.

The ‘None’ setting is used when there are no features that need to be deghosted. If you choose any of the other settings, you will see a red translucent mask over the areas being deghosted.

Here are a few things you should look out for when deghosting an image.

  • Blurring

When merging photographs with intricate details, some parts of it may begin to appear blurred. In landscape photographs, this may be seen as blurred grass or leaves. These details may not be visible until zoomed in on.

  • Shadow Edges

A misalignment in the merging algorithm may create a separation between the shadow and light areas. This may not always be identified as a problem while deghosting and may need to be fixed manually.

  • Saturated Edges

A sharp contrast between a light and dark area may create an over saturated outline. This may not be clear even on a full-screen but will be noticeable in prints.

  • Deghosting Mistakes

In images that involve numerous elements, deghosting one area could create ghosts in another.

  • Noise

Deghosting at a high setting may create additional noise in the frame.

LivingIt Tip:
Most photographers recommend selecting the medium setting. Remember the advice!

Advantages of Using Lightroom for HDR Images

There are a number of software applications you could use to edit your photographs. When it comes to creating an HDR image, Lightroom is often the most preferred software. One of its biggest advantages is that it has easy-to-use commands. Other advantages that make this software a popular choice of photographers include the following:

  1. Lightroom 6 or CC has an in-built HDR command. Thus, you do not have to buy any additional plugins.
  2. It creates HDR images that look natural. These images do not look oversaturated or surreal.
  3. It does not need many bracketed images. At most, you need three bracketed photographs to create a HDR image in Lightroom.
    One should be exposed at -2 stops, one at normal exposure and one at +2 stops. Once you’ve got comfortable with HDR you could even use just two photographs.
  4. HDR images are saved as DNG RAW files. This option is not available in most other software such as Adobe Photoshop or Photomatrix Pro.
    A DNG output file allows you to adjust shadows, highlights, etc. as you would with any other RAW file.
  5. Lightroom allows you to touch up the brightest parts of a photograph without affecting the other elements of the photograph.
  6. No exporting needed. Lightroom’s HDR feature allows you to blend images within the software without having to export them and reimport them into third-party software.

This makes Adobe Lightroom ideal for Landscape Photographers and other photographers who want to create HDR images that look natural.

Summing Up

Adobe Lightroom has many features and settings that can help you, as a beginner, get better at photography. Once you master those features, your photos will go from being good to exceptionally good.

HDR in Lightroom
The Magic is in You!

But, it’s important to remember that these tools are just here to help you, you are the one who has the talent to capture beautiful pictures, so keep clicking and keep learning, because when it comes to photography, there are no shortcuts!

Have you tried creating an HDR image in Lightroom yet? What do you think of it? Do you have any tips that will help other photographers like you? Do let us know in the comments!

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