Creating HDR Images in Lightroom

by Ken Milburn

Lightroom is such a rich program with such an apparently simple interface that, at first, you may not appreciate how powerful it really is. Wonderful as it is to be able to process one's images non-destructively, the further you can push it to do as much of your work, the more good it does to have the work done non-destructively (meaning that all of the information recorded in RAW format remains completely intact).

Some things you supposedly couldn't do non-destructively, Lightroom now can do non-destructively. For instance, in the latest beta versions, you're able to straighten, crop, and re-scale to full-size. You can also spot and heal (though you can only do that inside a circular shape, so you're pretty much limited to fixing sensor dust and zits). Also, you can also do initial sharpening (fixing the slight "smearing" that interpolating the sensor's Bayer pattern causes) and some repairing of color and luminance noise.


Christopher Kriens
2007-02-15 11:45:40
Technically the term "HDR" refers to an image that contains a higher dynamic range than a single image is capable of (by combining multiple exposures, etc). Creating an "HDR" image from a single exposure is simply not possible. You have merely properly mapped the tones that were always available in your RAW file.
Ken Milburn
2007-02-15 12:28:22
You seem to be unaware that a RAW file carries a great deal more brightness information than can be seen on screen or in print at one time. So it is entirely possible to make several different "exposures" from one RAW file. In fact, it is done frequently and recommended by several other experts in the field.
2007-02-16 09:47:37
Very interesting post. Perhaps in a future post you could explain exactly what you did step by step?


Ken Milburn
2007-02-16 12:50:00
I pretty much did. First, use the Recovery and Fill Light sliders to get as much detail into the highlights and shadows as possible. Then go to the Tone Curve panel and click the Icon in the upper left corner that looks like two small, concentric circles. Move the cursor into an area in the photo that you want to lighten or darken. Drag up to lighten, down to darken. Repeat for other areas you wish to correct.

One thing I didn't mention: You can also place the cursor on any part of the Histogram and drag to make a specific portion of the Histogram lighter or darker.

2007-02-18 10:56:17

This is a very useful method.

To me it has nothing at all to do with the conventional meaning of HDR. When you work with a single image (RAW or otherwise) you can not increase the dynamic range of the information content in that image. Increasing the dynamic range requires additional information (another photograph recorded with a different exposure). A single-exposure image has only one dynamic range, you can't make something (another exposure) out of nothing. If the dynamic range in the image was 50% less due to how it was exposed, this method would not improve the image.

The example you show is a skillful adjustment to make full use all the dynamic range information you recorded. I consider this technique to be FDR (full dynamic range). It can not increase the dynamic range in the data. The dynamic range is not higher.

No matter what you call it, this is a great tool.

Ken Milburn
2007-02-18 15:18:55

Arghh! You can make two very different interpretations in brightness range from the same RAW file and process the results using any of the traditional HDR methods. The RAW file records over 4K shades of brightness, a standard 8-bit file records only 256. The only thing that makes a difference with two different RAW exposures is that you have even more brightness range to combine. But the only thing that really matters is how the final image looks given the brightness range of the output media.

Call it what you like.

2007-02-20 02:50:20
Can't make an HDR from one image? Well it might not be 'true HDR' but fwiw I can get a reasonable result from one image, either raw or jpeg, although the former is obviously best.
Using the Lightroom exposure slider I create one overexposed and one underexposed version - then haul these and the original into Photomatix to create an HDR, or tone mapped image.
Whether it's true HDR is debateable, and while it's not for every image, for some at least the result has more pop than the original.