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Lightroom HDR Merge

High Dynamic Range, HDR, images are coveted not only because they add drama to your images but also because they can be used to recover overblown details. HDR images are created by combining the lightest and darkest parts of images to create a new image with an overall rich dynamic range and clarity. Back in the day, you would need to buy a plug-in if you wanted to get a high-quality HDR. But now, you can get the Lightroom HDR Merge feature in Lightroom 6 or Lightroom CC. You can still use the popular plug-ins, Photomatix, and HDR Efex Pro but the advantage of using this is that you get it for free with Lightroom and it creates natural-looking images.

Getting Started with Lightroom HDR Merge

As mentioned above, HDR images are made by merging different photos and then stitching their lightest and darkest parts together. Therefore, the first step of Lightroom HDR Merge is also to get a few images that can be merged. For this purpose, the bracketing technique is used. The idea behind this technique is that you capture a few images with varying exposures. You should make sure that each part of the frame should be well-exposed. It just means that your images should be captured in a manner that each image should have a well-exposed part.

Photos Needed for an HDR Image

Now, the main question that might have arisen in your mind is the number of images needed in order to create a good HDR. Well, guess what, there is an exact guideline for this that can help you capture just the exact number of images.

Let’s start with only two images. The advantage of using Lightroom HDR Merge is that it can create great HDR images using just two images, unlike those other plug-ins. However, two images can only be used if your f-stops separation is from –1.5 to 1.5. In this case, the middle exposure is naturally zero, therefore, it is better to not waste time on it. You can just take the lightest and darkest extremes and merge them.

If you work with ± 2.0 or even ± 3.0, then you can take only three images to make an HDR image.

Similarly, if you shoot ± 4.0 or ± 6.0, then you previously had to work with 5 and 7 images respectively. But here again, Lightroom HDR Merge reduces this number and allows you to work with 4 and 5 shots respectively.

How to use Lightroom HDR Merge

Let us now see how these images can be used in order to create an HDR image.

Step 1

The first step just involved selecting all the images that you need to merge. It can be done by pressing Ctrl or Command and then clicking on the images.

Step 2

After the selection of photos, you can start the merging process by pressing Ctrl+H. Alternatively, you can either right-click or go in the top menu to go into Photo, then Photo Merge, and lastly HDR.

HDR green landscape edited with Lightroom HDR merge

Photo edited in Lightroom.

Step 3

The process will start with an HDR Merge Preview dialog box. As the name suggests, it offers you a preview of two functions which are Auto Tone and Auto Align.

First of all, let us talk about Auto Tone. It makes sure that the final merged image has an overall even tone.

Next, Auto-Align, you can somewhat guess its use. It is more useful when the images have been taken using a hand-held camera as it is used to align images with slight movement. But there is no need for this if you used a tripod.

However, you can deselect these options if you think they are not necessary for your images.

Step 4

As you can see, using Lightroom HDR Merge is pretty straightforward. This is the only step in which you would have to do something so pay attention. When you merge images, some areas might result in semi-transparency but not to worry. A deghosting option can easily cure it. 

Low can be used if there is very little movement from frame to frame. Try using this first and then move onwards if it does not work.

Similarly, Medium helps if there is more movement than low but not too much. If there is too much movement, then you can use High.

The best part is that these options are also present in the preview dialog box of Lightroom HDR Merge so you do not have to go anywhere else.

Step 5

Moreover, the images are now merged but now you can place the images and the final merged result in a stack. You can do it by enabling the Create Stack option.

Step 6

This is the last step and now you know how to use Lightroom HDR Merge. You just click on Merge and Lightroom will create the HDR image and place it in your catalog.

Conclusion - Lightroom HDR Merge

In summary, Lightroom HDR Merge is a great feature but it would be better if it allowed some more control over the process. Let’s hope for some additions in it, till then, it is better to have something than nothing.

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