Digital Photography School has an article today about a way to create more balanced results when processing multiple exposure images (commonly referred to as HDR) but without the often over-the-top effects normal HDR processiong can produce.

The DPS article suggests you use a new plug-in from Photomatix – a common tool used for HDR image processing. However if you have Photoshop and Lightroom 4 or above you don’t need anything else. (If you don’t have Photoshop then pop over to the Photomatix page to grab the plug-in which is free). I won’t go into the method using the Photomatix option as both their own site and the DPS article cover that quite well. Instead I’ll outline the method I use, using Photoshop.

  1. First make sure when you export to Photoshop that you export as TIFF not PSDs. If you use PSDs then the file returned will be a 32 bit PSD file and Lightroom seems to have problems with that! You can check this under Edit > Preferences > External Editing.
  2. Now select your images in Lightroom, then right click and choose Edit In > Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop.
  3. Your photos will open in Photoshop and you will be shown the HDR Pro dialog and preview of your image. Don’t worry if the image doesn’t look good at this stage. All we are doing here is converting to 32 bit, so make sure the mode dropdown is set to 32 bit. The slider below it is for the preview only so again don’t worry about it at this point.
  4. Click OK on the HDR Pro dialog and your selection of images will be converted to a single 32 bit image and you’ll be taken back to the main Photoshop interface. Again, don’t worry about the look of your image at this point. Just close the image making sure you save it, and it will appear as a TIFF in Lightroom.
  5. It might still look rough – highlights too blown or shadows too dark – but you now have an awful lot more information hidden in the image and your normal processing, using things like highlights, shadows, contrast, whites and black will give you far more latitude in bringing things back the way you want. As a result you end up with a far more natural looking image despite the huge exposure differences between highlights and shadows in your original. If you want to see what I mean then check out the examples at the end of the DPS article.

Natural images without all those halos. Have fun!