HDR Workflow

What is it?

HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography uses post-processing tools to produce an image with a very large range of values between white and black. The workflows described in this e-paper produce an enhanced photorealistic image.

My HDR workflow

First I should not call it “My” workflow as it has come from a number of sources. High on the list are the tutorials by Tray Ratcliff available at www.stuckincustoms.com.   I guess it is “My Workflow” because I have taken what I like from many sources, added to them and modified them to my liking. Software is always advancing and my workflow changes with them along with changes within myself. Possibly these are the greatest changes, but new software makes the process so much easier!

Today all of my true (multi shot) HDR images are made using “Aurora HDR 2019” by Skylum Software. With the state of the art digital images today most of my HDR photos are created from a single shot then either processed in Aurora or directly in Lightroom by Adobe.

Single Shot HDR (in Lightroom)

For a good single shot image you must have exposed the original well in camera. In particular you must not have blown out any highlights! Often this means under exposing. Photographers typically call this pushing to the right meaning exposing so that a histogram is as far to the right as possible without saturating anything. These images often look bad (dark) out of the camera but when post processed produced great final images. A second thing that needs to be done in camera is to change from using jpg images to RAW images. Most cameras and even some phones can do this. These two steps will create image files with the greatest amount of details.

By simply compressing the highlights and increasing the shadows one can create a HDR image in Lightroom. To make it look good you need to make a few more adjustments:

Here is how it is done:

Highlights: -100 (slammed to the left)
Shadows: +100 (slammed to the right)
Adjust the Whites by holding the alt and adjusting the slider until you just start seeing specks on the screen
Adjust the Blacks by holding the alt and adjusting the slider until you see patches on the screen

The art in the above is leaning how many specks of white and patches of black. I find that after doing the above that then further adjustments of the whites and blacks without holding the alt key to be useful. The above steps gets you a simple HDR image. Finish it (using only Lightroom) as you would any image with at minimum adjusting the Presence sliders (Texture, Clarity, Dehaze, Vibrance, and Saturation), Detail sliders (Sharpening, Noise Reduction), and possibly Effects sliders (Vignetting).

That is it!

Single Shot HDR (using Aurora)

The process of producing a single shot HDR image in Aurora is the same as using multi images except you only send one image to Aurora rather than several. So for this move on to the next section for multi image shots.

Multi image HDR (using Aurora)

Aurora HDR is a full feature HDR editing tool. Simply importing an image to it makes the image look better! I try not to over bake them so use just a few of the tools and use even them lightly. First, this is not a tutorial on Aurora, but on how I use it most of the time. My workflow is to start by importing all images into Lightroom. Then from Lightroom, I export to Aurora (using it as a plug in). For multi images I select “align images” even if I shot from a tripod. Aurora then automatically makes a HDR image. If you wish you can simply then click Apply and are done. However there are a couple sliders I normally use. I try each to see what I like in the following order:

Smart Tone: adjust left and right to get the image you like
Color Contrast: I try a little. Generally less than 30
HDR Smart Structure: Again I try a little

That is about it. There are many controls and you can get very creative. But using just these 3 controls can make a very good looking image.

Using just the above here is an example. On the left is original image with not editing. On the middle is the output of Aurora using only the above three controls. Now normally I would do a bit more post processing (like any image) but starting with the HDR. I would likely warm it up a bit, add some vibrance and saturation,  sharpen a little and add a little vignetting to get the final. This was all done back in Lightroom and is the right image.



The last word of advice (yes): practice, practice, practice. Read every free tutorial and if you have the money get some of the ones you have to pay for.

Do publish your pictures at least on one social site and brace for comments. Criticism help you grow but do not take it too seriously as it is another person’s opinion and may be true for that person and not for you!

There may be errors in this and better ways to do many of the operations. I always appreciate feedback!


Gary Mansperger