This post is part of the Make It Happen Blog Hop. On a monthly basis, myself and a group of fantastic bloggers challenge ourselves in different ways and then write it up. This month’s theme was photography and I decided to explore a technique called HDR. In this post I am going to walk you through an example of how to create an HDR image using only Adobe Lightroom and your original photo!
So what is HDR…? HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range” Photography. But what does it mean? To really understand what High Dynamic Range is, we first need to understand what a regular picture is.
All about Exposure
Exposure, in basic terms, determines how bright an image is. When you take a picture, the exposure is determined by how much light is let into the lens, which is controlled by three camera settings called shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Shutter speed controls how long the light is let into the lens for (the slower the shutter speed, the brighter the image), aperture controls how big the opening is that the light enters the lens through (weirdly, the lower the number, the wider the opening and the brighter the image) and ISO controls how sensitive your camera is to the light source available (the higher the number, the brighter the image). That’s a real basic summary of exposure and understanding how the brightness of an image is determined.
If you’re interested in learning more about photography from a real professional (ie. not me) then check out my friend Tommy Reynolds YouTube Channel here. Tommy is a photographer based in the UK and has some fantastic video tutorials on all sorts of techniques!
So what is HDR, and why do you need it?
HDR is a useful technique when you have a picture with a high dynamic range. What this means is a picture with a range of different exposures. A good example of this is something like a sunrise or a sunset. When you take a picture of a sunset, if the sky is well exposed, the foreground is probably underexposed and therefore looks silhouetted, and if the foreground is well exposed, the sky will probably look blown out and over exposed. An HDR image contains layers of differently exposed versions of the same image in order to expose each part of the image optimally. For a basic HDR image, you only need 3 images; the original image, 1 under exposed and 1 over exposed. This gives you the ability to create an image rich in colour and detail and extremely interesting and impressive to look at.
So now let’s make an HDR image together
For the example, I want to show you a picture I took at sunrise while I was travelling in the US earlier this year through Death Valley. Read more about my US trip here! To create this HDR image, I manually created the overexposed and underexposed images from the original using Adobe Lightroom to show you just how powerful this program is. A more advanced way to create the images is to use the bracketing settings on your DSLR. I am not going to go into this in this post, as I want to show you how to create an HDR image using only Lightroom and your original photo.
IMPORTANT TIP: Always shoot in RAW Format – I’ll write about why another time as it’s a whole subject in itself, but in short, this is an uncompressed format which means you keep all the data from the photo. If you shoot in JPEG, your camera has already compressed the image and you have already lost some of that detail.
Here’s the image straight out of the camera… It’s already a pretty good image, but it is a little flat. It’s one of those pictures that I feel doesn’t do justice to what I was seeing in real life. Those rocks in the foreground really looked like a painting, so I wanted to play around with it.
Step 1 – Creating your under and over exposed photos in Lightroom
First of all I created two more images at -1 exposure and +1 exposure using the exposure slider in the develop panel and exported them. You may want to adjust how much the images are under and over exposed depending on the range of the photo you are editing. At this stage I didn’t do any further processing. I labelled them HDR -1, HDR 0 and HDR +1 for ease and saved them in a folder on my desktop. Here are the under exposed and over exposed images I created:
Under exposed – what you will notice in this picture is that the foreground is too dark, but in the sky, you start to see more detail in the clouds which will allow the sky to have some nice definition post processing:
Over Exposed – in this version, the foreground looks well exposed, bright and full of detail, but the sky has blown out and lost all detail altogether
Step 2 – Creating an HDR Image in Lightroom
1 – Import the 3 images into your library.
2 – Select all 3 images, right click and select Photo Merge –> HDR on the menu
3 – Tick “Auto Align” and “Auto Tone” if necessary, and if there are anything like people in your images that crept into only one shot, there is a “Remove Ghosts” option which you can select at different intensities from Low to High.
4 – Click Merge!
Lightroom will then work it’s magic and you’ll be presented with an initial image which you can edit. For this particular image, these are the following post processing adjustments I made:
And now, the final before and after that I know you’re all waiting for!
So there you have how to create an HDR Image using only Adobe Lightroom! I just love how much detail is included in this image, it’s a super enhanced version of the original. Let me know if you have a go at creating your own HDR Image, and be sure to share your pictures with me!
Please check out the other posts in this month’s Photography #MakeItHappenBlogHop!