Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lightroom Only HDR?

Last summer, an Ephraim sunset and 2 adirondack chairs gave me a gentle push into the world of HDR.  This year, another Ephraim sunset and 2 different adirondack chairs raised a new question - Can you pull off an HDR image in Lightroom without any plug ins or 3rd party software?

The first step was establish a baseline for comparison.  The above image is the composite of 5 frames shot +-1 EV apart and then run through the ever popular HDR Soft's Photomatix Pro with the default settings and no further adjustments.

The next step was to take 1 of those 5 exposures and see how close I could come to the above by processing it within Lightroom.  The shot below (-1 EV) was the starting point.

As you can see, the exposure for the sky isn't too bad, but the foreground is nearly blacked out. How do you adjust just the foreground? When you're talking about a localized adjustment of this type in Lightroom, 3 development tools come to mind - Fill Light, the Graduated Filter, and/or the Adjustment Brush. Fill Light is still really a global adjustment so toss that one out. 

As I have a fairly defined line delineating light from dark, I decided on the Graduated Filter - 2 of them in fact.  The first I used to drive up the exposure of the foreground rocks, chairs and sidewalk.  The second one focused on reducing the brightness of the sky.  Here's the end result.

...and one more side-by-side for comparison... Photomatix HDR on the left, LR image on the right.

Click for Larger Image
Not too bad?  There are some obvious pluses and minuses for each.  For example, the Photomatix image on the left has a nasty halo around the sunlight reflecting on the lake, but the colors in the sidewalk are more intriguing than what appears in the Lightroom image on the right. 

Now to be fair, one doesn't usually just throw 5 exposures into Photomatix and then accept what comes out the other end without a little more "tweaking".  The point of the experiment is, however, that if you are shying away from HDR because you don't have Photomatix or one of the many other HDR applications, you may just be surprised by what you can pull off using just Lightroom.

Until next time, keep on click'n.


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