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In our previous tutorial, How to Shoot HDR, I explained the process of taking bracketed photos for conversion to High Dynamic Range (HDR) images. This lesson will explore the process of creating a single HDR image from a series of bracketed exposures, using Adobe Lightroom®, Photoshop® and Aurora HDR software from Macphun.
Aurora HDR 2017 is the best software for HDR photos creation.
Before starting, you'll need photos, of course. If you haven't yet captured bracketed photos for your HDR images, see the tutorial linked above to learn how. Once you've captured the images, download them to your computer for processing. Then follow the instructions below for the application you choose. Remember that for the best results, you'll want to use the RAW files from your camera.
To work with images in Lightroom, you'll first need to import them. The most common way to do this is to create a library to give the program quick access to your files. I prefer to do this with the option to add images without moving them, so the photos remain where I originally saved them.
Once your images are imported, simply open the library and Ctrl/Cmd+click the RAW files you want to blend in to an HDR image. Then select Photo/Photo Merge/HDR from the main menu or use Ctrl/Cmd+H. This will open a dialog box allowing you select or deselect Auto Tone, Auto Align and the level of Deghosting* applied. When you like the looks of the preview, click the Merge button.
After waiting for the images to blend, a .dng (Digital Negative) file with the name of the first file selected should appear next to the original images in the library. (DNG is Adobe's RAW format, retaining most of the data from the original files.) This image can then be opened for further processing and saved in the format you wish to use for display.
Photoshop can be used to edit DNG files created in Lightroom, but you can also create HDR files directly from RAW files. The photo files can be accessed using Files/Browse in Bridge or File/Open, but it's often simpler just to use Merge to HDR Pro to select and open them.
From the main menu, select File/Automate/Merge to HDR Pro. Browse to your files in the dialog box and select them using Ctrl/Cmd+click. If necessary, check the box next to Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images, then click the OK button. You can watch Photoshop open a file and create layers from the images, then a preview will open allowing you to make several adjustments.
You can select one of several presets from a drop-down list that will determine the options you can adjust. “Local Adaptation” gives you the full set of options. Try these presets to determine which adjustments work best for the current image. If there are ghosts* in the image, check the “Remove ghosts” box to allow Photoshop to try to eliminate them.
Although it's available only for the Mac until the spring of 2017, Macphun offers another powerful program that lets you easily create HDR images from your bracketed shots. It offers a full, powerful set of tools for HDR image creation, starting with extended RAW and DNG file support. It's also surprisingly reasonably priced, especially for an application with all the features this one offers.
The fact is, there are too many features to list in this tutorial in addition to the standards like alignment, ghost reduction and chromatic aberration reduction. To give you an idea, however, Aurora HDR gives you luminosity masking, a polarizing filter, improved noise reduction, batch processing, presets created by pro photographers and an option to automatically create an HDR image from a single RAW photo. It saves your images as TIFF files, so they're universal and easy to work with in almost any photo editing software.
Aurora HDR operates as a standalone program or as a plugin for Photoshop or Lightroom. Using it to blend bracketed exposures is a very straightforward process. From the Open dialog box, Cmd+click to select the photos you want to use. Select the options you want in the preview window, then click “Create HDR” to complete the merge.
Once the photos have been merged, you can select from a wide range of presets to achieve the desired effects in the final image or you can tone map it yourself using simple controls.
Macphun provides some awesome video tutorials on using Aurora HDR and you can find them here.
As you work with your HDR images, you'll notice that the initial blending of your bracketed photos is often appear dull and flat. Many of the presets and controls you use to adjust the final image are using a technique known as tone mapping. While it's often confused with HDR image creation, it is a separate process that's important to displaying your High Dynamic Range images. We'll explore that subject in a separate tutorial.
* “Ghosts” are objects that appear blurred or doubled in merged HDR images due to movement in between exposures, such as the effect of wind on flowers, grass, trees, etc. “Deghosting” or “remove ghosts” are algorithms in HDR software that attempt to detect and remove the secondary objects.
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