HDR Photo Merge

In part 1 we explored how eyes and cameras see highlights and shadows differently and shot bracketed exposures of someone in front of a window. Now let’s make an HDR photomerge from them and I’ll explain why, the differences and show you how I’d retouch it to get the look I want.

I wouldn’t recommend shooting an HDR portrait. If the light’s ‘bad’ and outside the camera’s dynamic range to capture in one go I’d either…

  • Choose an exposure for the person and let background highlights blow out
  • Modify the light with a reflector or puff of fill in flash so it balances. (The most natural look is to have the outside one stop brighter than inside)

I photographed a person in front of a window because it’s the most common scenario where eyes and cameras see light differently. At some point in our photography learning we’ve all wondered why we can see both them and the background - but the camera made a silhouette. This was done as a demonstration, not a recommendation.

I’m using Lightroom Classic CC because it’s my preferred image manager and developer, but the principle is the same regardless of what you use.

For our eyes to see a silhouette the difference in light falling on subject and background is around 10 to 12 stops, but for the camera it’s only 4 or 5 and and that’s why HDR photo-merging can save your bacon.

How many bracketed exposures are needed to make an HDR?

It depends on the dynamic rage (difference between the brightest and darkest areas) of the image you’re taking. In the video it was only three because the difference wasn’t huge. As you saw, it was possible to make an image from one shot but the shadows had to be pimped hard and went ‘noisy’.

In this image from my 7 Steps To Perfect Pictures Lr course I merged six bracketed exposures to ensure the histogram was packed at each end so there’d be plenty of data to work with.

HDR Photo Merge Image 1


HDR Photo Merge Image 2



In the Merge Preview of Lightroom the ‘Auto Tone’ gives you the option to get Lightroom to do a  retouch of the new merged RAW file for you. I always check it because it’s a good starting point but remember, Lr has no more creativity than your camera does. It still your job to retouch the image and add your own interpretation to it. Creativity is not a camera or software skill - it’s a photographer skill.

Even if you think you’re not creative I promise you are at some level. It just needs to be exercises and strengthened. Go check out the video on the 7 Steps To Perfect Pictures page and I’ll explain more…

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