Many photographers today are becoming more and more familiar with HDR photography. If you don’t already know what an HDR photograph is though, it stands for High Dynamic Range. What that really means is creating a photograph that contains an increased dynamic range than what you camera can normally capture. Sounds like a great idea doesn’t it. The typical process for creating HDR images is widely known, but many are not familiar with the technique of creating HDR images in Lightroom with 32 bit files. Let me explain a little about this.
Normal HDR Image Process
The typical process for creating an HDR image is this. You capture three, five, seven, or more images that cover the entire spectrum of light in a given scene. These images are then taken into some sort of processing software such as Lightroom to do some basic edits to the images. At this point your images are brought into a dedicated HDR processing software. This can be accomplished with Photoshop or with other HDR specific programs such as Photomatix (Free Trial Available) or Nik HDR Efex Pro. These programs then produce the HDR image that you can then put the final tweaks on within Photoshop or Lightroom. Seems like a pretty simple process.
There are two main points to make with using this process. One is that of noise generated in the image when creating the HDR image and the other is that of the typical HDR look you will tend to see. The typical HDR look can be combated with the newer versions of the above mentioned software. They are really getting quite good at producing realistic HDR images depending on the settings you use within the program. The noise though tends to be a problem in my experience. HDR processing software tends to create a lot of noise within your photos. You can reduce this by using other software to eliminate the noise, but sometimes the amount of noise reduction you will need to apply produces unwanted effects. This method is still a great way of creating HDR images though, so don’t discount it.
HDR Images in Lightroom with 32 Bit Files
The alternate method I’m talking about today is one that is good to have in your post-processing bag of tricks. Lightroom has the capability to process 32 bit files. Many aren’t aware of this. What that means is that by using a 32 bit file, you can have a photo that has a drastic amount of information in the one file. You essentially compress the dynamic range of light from three plus photos into just one.
This can be accomplished using Photoshop to create the 32 bit file or also by using the Merge to 32 Bit HDR Plugin from the creators of Photomatix. This 32 bit file is then brought back into Lightroom for the final touches. What you end up with is a clean, realistic looking HDR photo. That may seem like a lot to process from reading this. I’ve put together a detailed video tutorial on just this very technique. Follow along to see the steps and the final results of what you can accomplish using this technique.
Now you’ve seen what can be done by creating HDR Images in Lightroom with 32 bit files. It’s a great little technique for creating realistic HDR images. The image at the top of this article is the final result from the video for a more visual reference at what can be accomplished. Try it out next time you have some HDR images to process and see the results you can come up with. You may be pleasantly surprised.