Trying a New HDR Technique with 32-Bit TIFFs

Today I came across a new high dynamic range (HDR) technique that combines Photoshop’s HDR tool with a feature that was included in the Lightroom 4.1 update that I hadn’t noticed before: the ability to edit 32-bit TIFF images. As a first attempt I processed this image (from a walk on the Lake Erie shore at Fort Erie on Christmas Eve):

DSC_9164-Edit-2The process I used was:

  • I took a series of images (minimum three) with different exposures to capture the full dynamic range of the scene. Using a tripod is best although the HDR tool in Photoshop automatically aligns the images. For the images used to create the HDR above I shot handheld with autobracketing on the D7000 for -1, 0 and +1 EV exposure compensation.
  • In Lightroom 4.1 (or newer) I did some minor tweaking of the images to prepare them for the HDR tool. First I applied automatic distortion, vignette and chromatic aberration corrections for the 35mm f/1.8 DX. Next I changed the calibration profile from ‘Adobe Standard’ to ‘Camera Neutral’ in order to reduce the contrast. Finally I adjusted the exposure settings to ensure that the darkest image included the full range of tones in the highlights and the brightest image covered the full range of tones in the shadows. The images looked like this:

DSC_9164 DSC_9165 DSC_9166

  • I exported the three images to the HDR tool in Photoshop using the ‘Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop’ command and saved the resulting combined image as a 32-bit image. Note that Lightroom cannot read 32-bit PSD files so it is best to configure Lightroom to export as a TIFF to Photoshop.
  • With the new 32-bit file back in Lightroom I could begin editing. At first glance, the image doesn’t seem to have any more information in it than before the HDR conversion but that is because all 32 bits of data can’t be displayed at once.  Instead, it is best to think of the file as a RAW with an enormous amount of information in the highlights and shadows. Pulling the Shadows slider all the way to +100 and the Highlights slider to -100 and a reduction of the Exposure slider to taste gives the following image. This is a good demonstration of the amount of data present, but not quite a final image. 32-bit Quick AdjustWith some further tweaking in Lightroom (exposure controls, curves, saturation/vibrance, sharpening) I got reached this point:

DSC_9164-ColourAt this point I wasn’t too happy with the banding in the sky… something I’ll have to figure out for future images. In the end I opted to convert to black and white for a darker feel.

DSC_9164-Black and WhiteAnd there it is, a simple HDR technique that doesn’t use any of the tone mapping features of common methods. I prefer this approach to those with tone mapping primarily because I have full control over the edit.

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