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How to Process HDR Images in Lightroom

Lesson 23 from: Travel Photography: The Complete Guide

Ben Willmore

How to Process HDR Images in Lightroom

Lesson 23 from: Travel Photography: The Complete Guide

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

23. How to Process HDR Images in Lightroom


Class Trailer



Course Introduction


Camera Gear for Travel


What Camera Gear Should You Buy?


Gear Bags for Travel Photography


Location Research and Pre-Trip Planning


Importing and Naming Conventions in Lightroom


Processing Images with Presets in Lightroom


Lesson Info

How to Process HDR Images in Lightroom

So sometimes you're out shooting and you're walking around, you see a scene you take. You like, I wanna take that picture. Pick up your camera, point it at it. Click, take the picture and then you chimp it. You look at the screen in the back and go, ooh look at that. The problem is, this might have been what your eye saw. But then when you pick up your camera, hit the shutter, this is what your camera captured. And you can always adjust your camera settings and say, oh well, that's kinda dark. And so you take this shot. And you're like, well I still can't see the people all that well. So you take another shot, and you're like, now I can see the people that are close to me in it but the sky is blown out. You come to another scene. Here it is. You're standing there and you got no problem seeing all the details that's there. Pick up your camera though, point it at the same scene, and, oh. Your camera can only record a relatively narrow brightness range but your eyes can see a much wider r...

ange. So, when you get to a situation where there is a huge brightness range. Let's say you're in a building. The interior of the building is not overly bright but there's a window. And out the window, you can see an extremely bright scene that's there. Well, you have no problem looking out the window and seeing that and looking around you and seeing what's there. But with your camera, you're gonna get something more like this. And for those of you in the audience, just so you know, most of this image looks black on my screen. The people in the audience, you can see some detail there. So, you can take this shot or you can adjust your camera settings and get this one, or this one, or this one. But regardless of what I set it to, not gonna give me what I want. I wanna see the blue sky and I want to see the interior at the same time. So when it's one of those kinds of situations where you have an extreme brightness range and you need to see details in all those areas, then you need to take more than one photo. It's known as bracketing your shots. Most cameras have an auto-bracketing setting where if you turn it on, it will automatically take the number of shots you tell it to. Usually you can set it to take three, five, seven, nine. Depending on the camera, you can go up really higher. Some cameras have more limitations And then you can tell it how much of a difference should there be between those shots and brightness. Measured in stops. And usually, most people set it to two stops between. And you can capture that when you press and hold the button it takes automatically three shots and they vary in brightness. I wanna show you how you can combine those shots together using Lightroom. I should mention that this is a new capability and the newest versions to Lightroom. And is not available in older versions. And there's something special about it that makes it much better than alternatives that you have. The old ways of doing things. Before I get into some of the methods for doing this, I should mention what's going to be better about it. And it's also good information in general. And that is when we're done with this, the end result is gonna have the same qualities that a raw file has. Whereas with all other processes of doing this using any other software, and from best of my knowledge it's not that way, instead, it's the equivalent of having a TIF file. What's the difference? Well, a raw file is the raw data that came directly from your camera, unaltered. And because it's unaltered, there's a lot of things we can do to it that we can't as easily do to other files like TIFs and Photoshop file format or JPEG or any other file format. The main advantages of it in this particular situation is things like white balance. White balance is for doing color correction where you can shift your image to make it warmer or cooler. And those changes will have the same quality as if you made the change on your camera itself. Whereas, if you have a TIF or a JPEG or any other file format, if you ever try to shift the color of your image the quality is nowhere near as good as if you actually made the change on your camera by changing the white balance setting. Not in this case as much but in the case of a normal photograph, a raw file, you can also get more highlight detail to show up. If an area looks solid white, you can move the highlight slider around and get an area that was solid white to suddenly have detail come back into it. Same thing for areas that were solid black. But if you have a JPEG, a TIF, or any other file format, that's not true. So that's some of the reasons why this is kinda special. So let's learn how to process HDR images in Lightroom I'm gonna click on one of my exposures that I took. I'll hold down the Shift key and click on the last of that sequence of images. The image on the far left is an HDR image that I've already made. I've already combined these three together to produce that. Now I'm gonna go to the Photo menu, I'm gonna choose Photo Merge and that's where I find the choice of HDR. Now if you don't find this in your version of Lightroom it means you have an old version of Lightroom. And you would need upgrade to the current version of Lightroom in order to find that menu. So when I choose HDR, now let's see what it presents with me. It'll take a while for it to create the preview. While it's doing that, let's look at the right side. First, up here at the top, there's a choice called Auto Align. And that's going to make sure that if there was any camera movement in the scene that it's going to line up the elements that are found within that scene. And therefore, you can shoot HDR handheld. Whereas, if it didn't have that option you'd have to be a on rock solid tripod. Because each picture would have to be exactly aligned. So that's great. This choice called Auto Tone, it's just going to make the preview, that we get here in a moment, look good. Whereas if that's not turned on the preview usually looks somewhat dark. And so it's nice for it to do that. In order for it to give you that preview though, it's similar to being in Lightroom's develop module where there's an auto button and it automatically moves the sliders around for you. If you have that turned off when you went into Lightroom afterwards all the sliders would still be at default settings. Whereas, with this on, they will be moved around. Cause it's trying to make the preview look better. Then down here we have Deghost Amount. And that's if there was any movement, not in the camera, but in the scene itself. Let's say there was a flag flapping in the wind. Well, between those three shots, the flag's not gonna hold still. It's gonna be at different positions. Or if somebody's walking through the scene, they'll be in slightly different positions in any shot or if there's water that's in like a river or something else, it'll be moving. And if we don't play with this stuff, we're gonna get multiple images there. Where we see somewhat of one flag position, somewhat a hint of another flag position and so on. But with Deghost, it's going to try to figure out where there was motion and only pick one of the exposures to use for that particular area. So here, you have to decide if that's necessary. In this case, there are people walking around and things so I'm sure there was some movement. I'm gonna go over here and set it possibly to low. Then it'll take it a little while to preview and you can turn on a checkbox down here, called Show Deghost Overlay. And if you do, it'll put color on top of your image to show you where precisely within the image it thought there was motion. You see here, there, and so on. And if you find it doesn't put color on top of an area that you were worried about, like if these little hanging flags were moving in the wind. If it was windy. Then you can increase this deghost amount to force it to be more aggressive with that. But since there was motion, I'll do that. You don't have to have the Show Deghost Overlay turned on but you know, it's a nice feature. And then you can click Merge. And that's when Photoshop, or Photoshop Lightroom I should say, is going to create a brand new file. That brand new file will be in the DNG file format, which is Adobe's version of raw. It will take a moment, you see a prior rest bar happening over here. Once it's done, it should also import that image into Lightroom for you. And I'm actually not sure if it's going to show up here in what we're viewing because we're viewing a collection right now not a folder. And I'm gonna see if it automatically adds it. Yeah, here it is. But there it is. I'm going to then take this and let's say I wanna organize my pictures a little bit and I'd rather not see those three exposures that this one was made from. Well, I can click on that first one, hold Shift, click on the last one. And then if I go to the Photo menu, there's a choice called Stacking. Then I can group it into a stack. Now, I actually never use this menu. I'm so used to typing this keyboard shortcut. Cause Command-G for Group is really easy to remember so I just type Command-G. And now we just see the end result. And if we wanted to see the individual exposures we could click on that number and it would expand to show it to us. Or I can click that again to collapse it. The other alternative would be, instead of doing it that way, just drag these three pictures into your outtakes. Because you now have it's result. It's up to you how you deal with that, how you like your end results to be. So, now let's take that image. I'm gonna press the letter D to go to the develop module. And now we can process it. We can process it using either presets or moving the sliders. For now, I'm gonna move the sliders just cause I want the more control. I find I, on HDR images, I don't use presets quite as much because usually, I use HDR in extreme situations exposure wise and usually they need to be tweaked manually. So anyway, I can come up here, maybe I bring up clarity a little bit. I can bring out a little bit more in the shadows and make it a bit more colorful. And I can adjust my white balance. Now, adjusting white balance will still give you really high quality with this method. Whereas, with anything else, any other method for converting to an HDR image, you usually want to do white balance first. There's usually a lot of other settings you'd wanna make sure you did first before you ended up merging the image together. One of those things would be under Lens Corrections, that choice called Chromatic Aberrations. Because traditionally those things, those little halos you get, would be exaggerated when you did an HDR. But with this new version where the end result is just like a raw file it doesn't matter if you do it before or after. Doesn't matter if you do anything beforehand. You can just do it all after, which is very convenient. So let's look at this other version. This is just the merging of the other series of images. Let me hit Reset though to get to our defaults. That's what it would usually look like if I did not have that checkbox turned on that was called. What was it called? Auto... No, it was, when I was merging it together it was a checkbox it said something like auto enhance, I think, or something like that that I said would make the preview look better. This is what it would look like without that. But now I can just adjust this. Most of the time if I want to adjust it and my sliders are zeroed out, here's how I go about it. I'll take my Highlights and bring them all the way down and my Shadows and bring them all the way up. And then I grab Exposure to control the overall brightness. Like that. And then it doesn't mean that I'm gonna leave my highlights all the way down or leave my shadows all the way up. At this point I can evaluate the image and decide if I need that. So I might in this case want just a little bit less shadow details so I'll bring shadows down a little bit. Get the mood I want. And then maybe a little clarity to pull out the detail and a little vibrance. So you get the sense that you process it just like a normal image with the exception of, you can move these sliders to much greater extremes because you have the aco-men to three exposures, the brightness range of three exposures, here in one. And so you can move them to greater extents and you're going to find that you're probably going to end up needing to have the highlights and the shadows pushed to relative extremes. But that's HDR. Remember the processes you select, your exposures, go to Photo, Photo Merge, HDR, and then these are your options. And that's the one I was talking about, Auto Tone. If I didn't have that turned on, when you merge the image together it would have started looking really dark. Like that one did. I'm gonna cancel that though cause we'd already had the end result. Uh, any questions or comments about HDR in Lightroom? Well comments from folks in the chat were saying, it is incredible that you can do this in Lightroom. Is this something that you would previously have to do in Photoshop and is it sort of, as good as? What are you doing with it yet? In many ways it is much better than what you used to be able to do in Photoshop. I still occasionally need to do it in Photoshop though because there are some limitations on what this can handle. And if you want to do it in Photoshop you... I think it's still in there, you can select the images. You choose Photo, Edit In, and there's a choice down here called Merge to HDR Pro. If you have an older version of Lightroom where you don't have this new feature this is where you'd have to go to do this. When you do that it should launch Photoshop and then eventually present you with, not this picture, but with a dialog box. It'll take a moment for it to show up. That gives you some options. And the main thing about that dialog box is sometimes when you end up doing merging in Lightroom there are fewer options available when you're doing your merging. And when you merge your images using Photoshop, you have a little bit more with the deghosting. Remember with deghosting we had the choice of just, I can't remember the wording but slight, a lot, and a whole bunch. You know, it's the equivalent to what they were worded. In Photoshop when you have the same thing happening, what you have is, first off on the right side, you're going to want to set this to 32 bit. And there's a checkbox right here, called Complete Toning with Camera off. You did that. But right here there's a checkbox called remove ghost and it looks like there's less to it in that it's just a checkbox. There's not like three different levels you could use. But what happens when you turn on remove ghost is in the lower left, this shows you all the exposures that you're asking it to merge. And you notice one of them has a green border. The green border is being thought of as the master image. That's the one where it's going to keep the position of whatever was in motion. And I can move that to a different one by clicking on a different one. And so, I have the choice. So if I know that there's the flag flapping in the wind and it looked perfect at one particular position I can click on the image where the flag looked perfect and it's going to force it to use that image as the master, compare that image to the others to figure out what to remove for ghosting. That's sometimes useful. But anyway, this is where you'd do it. When I click on the button in the lower right, which is called Toning in ACR, you'd be able to process it. But the end result is not as high quality, I find, as what Lightroom is capable of in the new version. And that's because, with the new version it is a raw file and it has much more fidelity to it as far as your adjustments are concerned. Couple of questions. I have a question. I learned how to do a lot of photo manipulations and alterations in Photoshop, create um. For me, Lightroom, I use it for very basic manipulations. But for example let's say you wanted to, for some crazy reason, remove the ladder, right. Do you edit your photo first here, and then remove the ladder in Photoshop? Is that how you, or you would do it first in Photoshop? First off, if you remove the ladder you can't get out. (audience laughs) I would not suggest removing the ladder. (laughs) Also, be careful when going down the ladder because on the next one of these, there was a rattlesnake right here. I thought there was like a sprinkler system going on somewhere in the area. In the desert? Yeah, well, now I literally thought there was, there's green stuff up above and everything. I wasn't thinking rattle. And I'm going down this ladder, and my head gets to right here. And I look straight across at a rattlesnake. It's like, you know, a foot and a half in front of my face. Um, that wasn't as enjoyable. But anyway, if I was going to do that, your question, answer in general, I would do as much work as possible on the image here in Lightroom because while it's in Lightroom, it's still a raw file and it has the advantages of a raw file. Where I can shift the colors around, I can get more highlight detail, more shadow detail with higher quality than I could if it wasn't a raw file. The moment I open it in Photoshop unless I'm working within the dialog box that's called Adobe Camera Raw, it's no longer a raw file. And therefore, the changes I make to it, it can't work with as much information, it can't work with as pure of information. It's all been manipulated to get it into Photoshop and it makes it so any adjustments I do are more, I wouldn't use the word difficult but they're not gonna give me as pure and clean of a looking end result. So I'm gonna do much as I can here within the limitations of Lightroom. And only when I run into a limitation of Lightroom, it's either something Lightroom is absolutely not capable of doing or Lightroom is simply inefficient at doing. Then I'm going to send it to Photoshop. But I do as much as I can here. But it would be overly hard to get rid of that ladder in Lightroom so I'd pop over to Photoshop. But only when it looks like this. I would not do it when it looked like this. If you did it there, good luck getting rid of that or getting that image to look good. Did you have a question? Yeah, so my question is about more the HDR and the ghosting. So I know that traditionally it's used for like landscapes and not people, but with the capabilities if you took three or four shots. Say for example, we're in Seattle. A family on a pier where there's green grass and there's the Olympics and there's the bright blue sky and the sun is beaming down at 12 o'clock, could you take HDR photos and ghost people? Like, to where they're moving or blinking or is that possible? You can do it with people. I've done it many times with people. It's just best if they hold still. And when it comes to blinking and things that's where you can run into some issues. If the blinking happened to happen where their eyes are only open on the darkest exposure, then when it merges them together, you say hey you must use this darkest exposure for that. Might not look as ideal. Often times what you end up doing is you merge it as HDR. You do the best you can and then you go back to the original raw files. And you say which raw file has the faces closest to the right brightness. And you adjust that raw file as if you're making the image out of just that image. Then you layer the two on top of each other and you mask it so that the raw file that is just their faces, is used where the faces is. But the HDR version is used for all the background. And therefore you can get the detail in the sky or where the light is or something else. But where their faces are, it looks more natural because from a single shot and the eyes weren't involved. So I don't know if that makes any sense. Would that be the best? Cause the way I'm doing it right now, is, you take the best photo of their faces. And then you take your adjustment brushes and I like bring up the detail in the sky. And then I do another adjustment brush of the grass or the rocks or whatever and I kinda segment it by the background. Would the HDR option be better than doing it that way? I'd have to look at what you're up to there cause my brain wasn't following along as well as it could have. So it's hard for me to say. We can talk more during the break about that particular one. Okay.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Lightroom Presets Quickstart Guide
Lightroom Preset Sampler
Pre-Trip Planning
Actions Sampler Guide
Travel Photography Handbook
Actions Sampler
Lightroom Keywords
Big Set of Lightroom Presets
Practice Images
Travel Photogtaphy Mobile Guide
Gear List
Lightroom Tips and Keyboard Shortcuts

Ratings and Reviews


This was simply an amazing experience! Without a doubt the best investment of time and money I have experienced in quite awhile. Ben's complete command of the subject, the practical tips, suggestions and reference information was outstanding. I have enjoyed point and shoot photography for some time and recently decided to invest in some decent DSLR equipment (Canon EOS D70). I have a trip to Cape Town and Johannesburg South Africa rapidly approaching and thought it might be a good idea to take some classes and make an effort to get up the learning curve ASAP to take advantage of this travel opportunity. "Discovering" Creativelive and Ben Willmore's class was literally an answer to prayer! There is nothing like sitting at the foot of wisdom, taking notes, and having numerous "ah-ha" moments! This was great....looking forward to more classes. Thanks for the high quality effort!

a Creativelive Student

Genius! Ben is a brilliant master teacher - focused, clear and holds back no information. The best! This course has condensed the equivalent of 10 courses into one. He is a perfectionist in his approach and knows how to present the material. He is the leader in photoshop and photography "par excellence". Highly recommend any of his courses. Save your time and start with the best - everyone loves Ben!!!!

Nichole Sams

I feel the title of this class, Travel Photography, is much to limiting for what you are really going to get. As a wedding photographer, who dreams of traveling, I attending the class live in Seattle, and was hoping to get some inspiration for on location shoots. What I got, however, was a WHOLE LOT MORE. I would recommend this class to anyone with a camera and Lightroom. What I learned about how lightroom works and how to integrate it with photoshop is invaluable. I actually think they should charge WAY more for this course. The bonuses with purchase from the keywords (we are talking every key word you could possibly imagine) and the presets (holycow everything you would ever need) are worth exponentially more than the course price itself. Ben is a gentle easy going teacher and nice to listen to. His ease of teaching pretty complex ideas was truly wonderful. If you are reading this you must buy this course, it is well worth it!

Student Work