It’s impossible to take a photo with well-exposed details in both the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows. I know you’ve experienced this frustration! Either the highlights are blown out or the shadows are so dark that you can’t see what’s in them. Luckily, we can fix exposure in Lightroom using its Photomerge tool.
In my Guided 365 Project Online Photography Workshop, we recently covered how to use Exposure Bracketing for photos when you aren’t sure what proper exposure should be or when you know that you’ll need to create an HDR photo in order to expose properly for the darks & the brights. Luckily, we can fix exposure in Lightroom using its Photomerge feature.
An HDR photo is essentially a combination of several photos, each of the same subject, taken at different exposure levels. Most people use between 3 and 7 photos for their HDRs. You combine them using post-processing software like Lightroom or Photoshop Elements.
The combination of these photos will incorporate the best-exposed parts from each of your shots.
I used Lightroom to create the merged photo above. Lightroom created it using the following three files.
I had one underexposed photo:
I had one photo with middle-of-the-road exposure:
And I had one overexposed photo:
How to Fix Exposure in Lightroom with HDR Photomerge
I created the photo above using these images:
To combine them, I selected the photos I wanted to combine in Lightroom. And then I selected the Photo Merge menu item from the Photo menu.
After selecting Photo Merge > HDR, Lightroom will need to process a little while:
(This isn’t a fast process!)
Next, you’ll see the following options:
Here’s what you need to know about those options:
- Auto Align is helpful if you didn’t use a tripod when shooting the bracketed photos. I keep it on, even if I did use a tripod.
- Auto Tone is the same as using the Auto button in the Tone section of the Develop Module’s Basic panel. It usually works well, especially if your photo doesn’t have people in it. And, you can always adjust or remove the Auto Tone settings completely after creating the merged file.
- The word “Deghost” always looks like a typo to me. It would be easier for me to read if it were written “de-ghost.” It attempts to remove any ghosting caused by the movement of your subject between photos. It’s best to keep it turned off, as in the screen shot above. If you do have a moving subject, use the lowest setting possible here. A ghosted subject will look something like this:
After configuring your options, you’ll click the Merge button at the lower right corner of the window. And then you’ll wait some more. This time, you’ll be returned to your Lightroom workspace, where you can continue working on other photos. You’ll also see this progress bar in the top left corner:
Once the file is finished, you’ll find it in the filmstrip at the bottom of your Develop Module. It will have the name of the first file you selected for your Photo Merge with “HDR” added to the end of the file name. In addition, the file will be a DNG file type.
DNG is Adobe’s proprietary Raw file. This is a great feature – if you shot your bracketed images in Raw, you’ll retain the Raw editing power of your originals.
So, that’s the process for creating HDR photos in Lightroom. It’s a great way to make sure all parts of your photo are well-exposed. On the other hand, it’s not a quick process – I don’t use it often. Also, you have to make sure that your subject is as motionless as possible between your bracketed shots.
But, if you know you are going to shoot a high contrast scene with tricky brights and darks, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and use this HDR method to fix exposure in Lightroom.