Lightroom: Creating HDR Images

Lightroom provides photographers with a powerful postproduction tool that can be used to create HDR like images. Most people assume that they need Photoshop skills to create and produce HDR images. This assumption is far from the truth.

The following article conveys the basics on creating high dynamic range images by using Adobe Lightroom and a single photograph in RAW format.

Step 1: Taking the Shot

To begin creating a high dynamic range (HDR) picture, you will need to first take a shot that can be imported to Lightroom to begin the process. It is advisable to take the shot using the RAW format. This is important because the RAW format captures much more tonal information than the standardized JPG format. JPG is compressed and hence will provide a much lesser amount of information. There will be only so much you will be able to do before the image quality starts eroding. Shooting in RAW format gives you a much wider scope of carrying out the postproduction work like adjusting Color Temperatures, Saturation and Brightness.

Hence, try to shoot in RAW if you want to create an HDR effect by using a single image. You will make sure that while taking the shot, you will not clip any shadows or blow any highlights. This will save all the highlights in the image and save a significant level of detail in shadows.

Step 2: Image Processing

You will connect the camera or its memory card to the computer and then download the image to the hard disk. You will now launch Lightroom and load the image into it. You will notice that Lightroom automatically applies certain default settings to each image that you load. You do not want this, so you will make sure that all the Lightroom sliders are set to zero and the image is effectively zeroed out.

You will now proceed to adjust the image brightness by setting up +80 as a suggested baseline. This is the first step to creating an HDR image. This is because if you set the exposure before the brightness, their basic natures will conflict. Exposure selectively highlights darker areas and tone in the picture while Brightness adjusts all of the tones equally. You will keep your focus on brightening up the darker areas of the picture.

Step 3: Post-Production

You will now proceed to adjust the contrast on the image and then move on to adjusting the blackness level in the image. You will need to darken the black areas to produce the HDR look. However, make sure that you do not lose too much detail on the image by taking blackness levels too high. You can get a preview of all areas that will be clipped on adjusting black levels.

Once done with above mentioned steps, you will proceed to re-adjust the brightness lost and then use the recovery tool to tone down the highlights in the photo shot. You will now finish the HDR look by burning the overly bright areas and performing extras like noise reduction, sharpening and lens corrections.