Lightroom and Capture One offer HDR tools with a difference. They don’t create wild and exaggerated HDR effects. Instead, they create what I would call DNG ‘super-negatives’ with extended dynamic range that you can then exploit however you like.
There are two ways to use HDR imaging. One is the more usual route, creating hyper-saturated, hyper-real fantasy images which do look spectacular but there’s no mistaking the technique that’s been used.
The other is to use HDR behind the scenes to give you a much wider dynamic range to work from during editing and where you’re not trying to produce an obvious HDR effect. If anything, you’re trying to hide it.
This is where Lightroom and Capture One work differently. Other programs apply HDR merge and effects tools as an irreversible process. You choose the tonemapping method, add some structure, local adjustments and whatever else you want to do and hit the Save button.
In Lightroom and Capture One, however, what you get when you merge an HDR stack is a regular editable DNG (RAW) file but with greatly extended dynamic range compared to a single exposure.
There are no fancy effects, no wild HDR looks, just a regular-looking RAW file that you can edit how you like.
That’s what I used for the main image in this article. I shot a series of bracketed exposures a 2EV intervals and merged them into a single DNG file. I like to call this a ‘super-negative’ because of its extended dynamic range.
I could then do some basic shadow and highlight recovery to make the best use of this extended range, particularly in the sky, then I sent it to Analog Efex Pro for the final effect.
1. Merge your HDR images
I’m merging my HDR stack in Capture One, but you can do exactly the same thing in Lightroom – though Capture One insists on RAW files and Lightroom doesn’t.
I shot these handheld on a Fujifilm X100V, which has an electronic shutter and a fast burst speed, so the complete capture took less than a second and there was hardly any framing variation, so Capture One could align them easily.
You just select all the images in the series, right-click and choose Merge to HDR.
2. Do some basic edits
This is my merged HDR DNG file (left), but I’ve created two virtual copies to display alongside it so that you can see the extended dynamic range.
In the center shot I’ve reduced the Exposure value to -4 (stops) and the sun is still showing as a solid white. (It’s never going to shrink to a disc, whatever your exposure settings, not at this time of day.) With a regular RAW file, you can expect to see the brightest areas start to turn gray with just a 1-2 stop reduction. This merged DNG has a massively increased highlight range.
In the shot on the right I’ve increased the Exposure to lighten the shadows. I haven’t used such an extreme adjustment because it doesn’t need it, and you could probably get this kind of shadow recovery from a single RAW file. However, the shadows here are noise-free, thanks to the lighter exposures merged into the HDR stack.
3. Editing in Analog Efex Pro
I’ve now sent the edited image to Analog Efex Pro, choosing 16-bit TIFF as the export option from Capture One. This will give more editing leeway if you want to do some more editing work in your external software.
I used one of my own Analog Efex Pro presets to create this high-contrast, framed sepia look, and the only other adjustment I made was to use the Detail Extractor slider in Analog Efex Pros’ Basic Adjustments panel, just to add some clarity and structure.
4. My ’super-neg’ versus the finished image
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of my HDR ‘super-neg’ on the left and the image I created in Analog Efex Pro on the right. I could probably have got fairly close to that final result with a regular RAW file, but the merged HDR DNG has provided extra dynamic range which has definitely made a difference.
- How HDR works: exposure bracketing, merging, tone mapping and effects
- How to use HDR merge in Capture One 22
- Lightroom HDR: how the HDR Merge tool works
- How to use Aurora HDR with Lightroom as a plug-in
- Using HDR Efex Pro for everyday enhancement
- Transform tricky shots with tone mapping in Affinity Photo
- HDR can work wonders on interiors
Best HDR software
- Adobe Lightroom/Lightroom Classic: Not perfect, but not far off. Lightroom will merge both JPEGs and RAW files into a natural-looking DNG file with extended dynamic range that’s perfect for further editing.
- Capture One: Like Lightroom, Capture One can create merged high dynamic range DNG files from a set of bracketed exposures, but it will only work with RAW files, not JPEGs.
- Affinity Photo: Easily overlooked, Affinity Photo’s Tone Mapping persona is exceptionally good at HDR, creating both natural looking results and more dramatic special effects.
- Aurora HDR: Still on sale, though without a major version update for some time, Aurora HDR offers a powerful set of HDR effects tools, together with layers and local adjustments.
- HDR Efex Pro: Part of the DxO Nik Collection, HDR Efex Pro can be used as a standalone tool for merging bracketed HDR images and applying a range of different effects, many of which are very good.
Adobe Photography Plans
• Adobe Photography Plan: $9.99/month
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Lightroom Plan (1TB): $9.99/month
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