I recently posted about Lightroom’s new Photo Merge to HDR tool. Lightroom refers to this as Enhanced Dynamic Range. HDR is High Dynamic Range by the way. I believe that since Lightroom uses a floating point math that uses RAW files to produce a 16-bit HDR as opposed to Photoshop’s pixel based 32 bit HDR.
Plus or minus Ten stops
The first thing that truly differentiates an HDR file from a regular RAW one is the extreme dynamic range or number of available f/stops of exposure control. The out-of-the-camera RAW file provides a plus or minus four f/stops of exposure control in the Develop module. The HDR file really ups the game allowing ten f/stops under (black) through ten stops over (white.)
Since the HDR offers a greater amount of exposure control, it stands to reason that the process of creating the file ignores the original exposure settings. The same holds for Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks and Presence. Local adjustments are also not applied. Lens Profile Corrections, Black and White conversions, Sharpening and Vignetting made to individual files are honored.
All of the Develop modules tools work on these enhanced dynamic range DNG files including Lens Correction, Gradient, Radial and Adjustment brushes work exactly as they do on RAW files.
This flat looking photograph shows that tweaking in Develop is very desirable. I added some Clarity, Vibrance, Saturation for starters. Then a gradient to make the sky more dramatic. Finally a Lens Profile Correction for the Sigma 15mm f/2.8 fisheye lens on my Canon 1Dx straightens thing out a bit. OK a lot!
Here’s another version made by applying Upright’s “Full” button.
The amount of data in HDR files allow changes that are simply impossible with a “regular” RAW file (amazing though they already are…) Here’s an HDR merge I made handheld with a Canon 5DMark 2 with Sigma’s 12-24mm f4.5-5.6 at 12mm f/8.0 inside the train station at Liege, Belgium. On the left is the original merged HDR.DNG. On the right is the adjusted version. The sky lights are completely white in the original. The finished version shows the lights reflecting in the panels. Think about that. There is so much information that highlights from the lights in the station are visible even though in the original they are completely blown out. Where the original colors of the sign are yellow letters against an orange-ish background. I liked green for the alpha numeric symbols against red. The possibilities are pretty much endless.
Kevin is a commercial photographer from Atlanta. He works for fashion, architectural, manufacturing and corporate clients. When he’s not shooting, he contributes to Photoshop User magazine & writes for Photofocus.com.