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32-bit HDR: one of Lightroom’s hidden killer features

Photography / No Comment / August 1, 2013

‘Bad HDR’, typified by halos around edges and unnatural colours, is a look I abhor. HDR nevertheless has its place in the photographers toolkit; the problem for me hitherto has been that my attempts just didn’t look very good. Then I came across this video, which provided the answer:

In short, you can send raw files from Lightroom to Photoshop’s HDR Pro module, creating 32-bit .tif files that can be processed in Lightroom to generate stunning, naturalistic images.

Here, I use it to bring out the ground detail without blowing the highlights in the sunset:

From 32-bit HDR

I chose not to bring up the exposure in the grass too much, lest the result looked unnatural. Turning around, I shot a pylon on the edge of the field:

From 32-bit HDR

Processing the 32-bit file enabled me to bring out the vibrancy of the trees without losing colour in the sky.

A few weeks ago, I shot some landscapes near Shaftesbury in Dorset. HDR enabled me to bring out detail in the foreground:

From 32-bit HDR

Finally, it can also be used successfully for architectural shots, such as this one of the nave of Romsey Abbey, Hampshire:

From 32-bit HDR

Combining exposures enabled me to retain detail in the stained glass above the high altar whilst bringing out detail in the roof vaulting.

The downside of 32-bit files, however, is their size. Combining three 9Mb raw files in Photoshop for editing in Lightroom resulted in a single .tif file of 120Mb! It also takes a couple of minutes for Photoshop to produce the image. Hence this isn’t a technique you’d want to use for every occasion – and once you’ve exported a high quality .jpg and are sure you won’t need to rework it, you might need to consider deleting the .tif, should disk space be an issue.

That said, as a means of producing ‘good HDR’, there is much to commend it.

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