HDR PhotoMerge

Updated: May 14, 2019

HDR is a photography term that carries with it more opinions than most. It seems photographers either

“ Love it or Hate it “ when talking about HDR. High Dynamic Range ( HDR ) is a large difference between the lightest light and darkest dark you can capture in a photo.  Using an HDR process to edit your photos allows you to bring out detail in dark shadowed areas and keep the detail in the highlight areas.

The HDR look is often characterized by heavy saturation of colors, strong “haloing “along high contrast edges , and a general sense of unreality to the image.  I have always thought of the works of Maxfield Parrish when I see a “heavy” HDR photo.

By Maxfield Parrish, an early 20th century American painter

But like most editing parameters, if you use a light touch when using HDR software, you can make a dramatic change to a photo while maintaining a normal appearance to your work.

To process in HDR, you will need special software. This can be stand alone software, or the process can be included in your editing software, such as in Adobe Lightroom Classic, or the DXO software. Two of the most highly recommended stand alones are Photomatix, and Aurora HDR; these have to be purchased. A free option is Luminance HDR; the reviews I read on it stated that “It offers six different photo-blending algorithms for you to mess with, so no matter if you’re going for a more realistic or surrealistic look, you should be able to achieve it with Luminance.”

HDR software seems to use two processes, presets and photo merging. Presets take one photo and make changes to it according to the preset recipe. The other technique, photo merging, uses 3 or more photos and merges them together. These photos should have a range of exposure to them, one with correct exposure for the shadows, and at least one with correct exposure for the highlights.

I used to use DXO software; it included 3 different levels of HDR presets, light, medium and large HDR effects. It seemed to most of the time result in the surrealistic look; This is my first HDR effort.

Pre DXO HDR edit using preset. Note the dark shadowed area under the tree at the right edge.

Post DXO HDR edit with preset. Again note the area under the tree, and the surrealistic look to the distant sky.

1st of three shots to be merged in Lightroom HDR merge. This one is the closest to normal exposure Closely evaluate the exposure of the tree trunks in each of the 3 photos.

This shot was the overexposed one, the distant rock is much lighter in this photo.

The third photo was underexposed, note how much darker the tree trunks are, and the distant rock is darker. The easiest way to get the 3 or more photos is to use Auto Exposure Bracketing.

This is the Lightroom drop down box that you use to merge the photos. First select the 3 or more photos in the strip under the library page, then use this drop down to start the merge. The auto align check box will pop up on the next page that comes up in the merge process.

This is the finished HDR result. Both the trees and the rock seem to be properly exposed. After the merge, you can also do further editing if you wish.

I now use the photo merge technique in Lightroom and in my opinion, I am getting more realistic looking results. An additional advantage of the LR technique is that it includes an auto align feature that helps if your photos were taken free hand, off tripod.

HDR is not something you will use often, but it is another arrow in your quiver that you should be aware of and know how to use, and when to use it. Hopefully the pictures I have included will help you with that. Please take the time to study them, especially the exposures of different parts of the scenes.   


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