The Basics of Shooting Great HDR Photos

HDR—or high dynamic range—photography is a technique that blends multiple exposures together to get the maximum detail from both shadow and highlight areas. In effect, it increases the dynamic range of your images, which is impossible to achieve using any other technique. Phil Steele just updated his popular Lightroom training course to cover the new features of Lightroom 6 and shows you how to shoot these images and then blend them together in a few easy steps:

To create an HDR image you need three things: a camera to shoot the images, a tripod to keep your camera steady, and software that allows you to blend the images together.

Lightroom comes with a built-in option to blend images together to create HDR imagery. The question really is how to shoot these images in the first place.

How to Shoot HDR Images

Theoretically you can use any lighting situations to shoot images for later conversion into HDR photos. You just need some highlights and shadows in the scene. However, for this practical example, Steele heads off to the University of California in San Diego to photograph the famous Geisel Library building.

Camera Settings

Steele sets his camera to shoot in Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) mode to fire a fast sequence of multiple exposures, ranging from light to dark. He sets the camera to shoot a series of five exposures, each one 7/10 of a stop apart from the other, in terms of exposure.

He uses an infrared remote to fire the shutter release.

auto exposure bracketing for HDR

Three images from the HDR series

How to Process HDR Photos in Lightroom

Once the images were shot, Steele imported them into Lightroom to select the best series to work with. As you can see from the images, the under-exposed frames render more details in the highlight areas and the over-exposed frames render details in the shadows. The idea is to merge everything together to get the best of both worlds.

Merging

To merge the images in Lightroom, all you have to do is select the photos, click Photo in the main menu, select Photo Merge> HDR.

There are a few other options that you may wish to use.

hdr merge lightroom

  • Auto Align is particularly useful for hand-held shots.
  • Auto Tone is a feature that attempts to auto adjust your photo. You can change this later.
  • Deghosting is another step that you may want to use. It is especially useful when you have people moving across the frame in the different exposures.

Once you’re ready to fire, let Lightroom merge the images.

Refinements

The final set of refinements will depend purely on your taste. As Steele clarifies,

“HDR is really a matter of taste. Some people like really radical HDR, and some people like it much more natural looking so that you can’t tell it was HDR at all. I prefer more toward the natural looking end; and while this does look like HDR, it doesn’t look too extreme like something completely cartoonish—to my eye anyway.”

hdr processing in lightroom

Final HDR Image

Above is the final image. Isn’t it beautiful? Try these tips and share your results.

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One response to “The Basics of Shooting Great HDR Photos”

  1. I think in my eyes the key to a good HDR is that it isn’t very obviously HDR. Really not a fan of that very fake HDR look.

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