HDR (a different way)

I’m not a fan of HDR images.  Well, let me clarify that statement.  I’m not a fan of the all-too-typical HDR images I see.  Over-saturated cartoonish colors, with halos around edges, and lots of noise.  No thanks.

But there is a quick and easy way to create naturalistic looking extended dynamic range images, by using Photoshop’s HDR Pro to first create a 32-bit file, and then using the adjustments in either Camera Raw or Lightroom’s Develop module to work on that file.  To be honest, I thought many photographers already knew this trick, but on a recent Van Os Photo Safari which I was leading I discovered that very few of the participants seemed aware of it.  So…OK, here goes, step-by-step.

  • Shoot a series of images varying the exposure by one or two stops between shots, just as you would for any HDR composite.
  • In either Lightroom or Camera Raw make whatever basic adjustments are necessary.
  • Select all the images, and open all in HDR Pro.  From Lightroom: Photo > Edit In > Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop.  From Bridge: Tools > Photoshop > Merge to HDR Pro.
  • In HDR Pro, check Remove ghosts, and select 32 Bit as the Mode.

  • And now you have a choice to make.  If you normally work in Camera Raw, check the box to Complete Toning in Adobe Camera Raw.  If you normally work in Lightroom, just click OK at the bottom of HDR Pro, and then save the file as a TIFF.  Make sure you save it as a 32-bit file.

  • If you’re going the Lightroom route, import this new file into Lightroom, and then open it in the Develop module.
  •  With either method,  process the file in Camera Raw or Lightroom as you normally do… but check out the range of the Exposure slider.  It’s now plus or minus 10 stops either way, double what it was before.  Wow!  That’s a 20 stop exposure range, definitely an extended dynamic range.


  1. James Doyle August 11, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

    Thanks for the tips John.

    I’m sure you have talked about this one some time ago.



  2. Ash August 17, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

    Many thanks for the great tip.
    Best Regards,

  3. Satish Menon September 1, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

    John, this is a great tip. I worked this method and got stuck when I could no longer use “Color Range” based selection in Photoshop CC on the 32-bit Tiff. Any idea how to get that working again? Thanks

    • John September 7, 2014 at 11:23 am #

      Work on the 32-bit image in ACR or Lightroom, then open it as a 16-bit TIFF in Photoshop. Now you can use “Color Range.”

  4. Ashley Gram September 5, 2014 at 5:36 am #

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