Process Your HDR Images in Lightroom UPDATE

Last month I wrote about how to Process Your HDR Images in Lightroom using a new feature in Lightroom 4.1 that allows you to import 16, 24, and 32 bit TIFF and DNG files into your catalog. One of the methods I covered used Photomatix Pro to create the 32 bit TIFF file. I had a small problem with the resulting file not accepting metadata updates. The workaround was to convert the TIFF to a DNG. I contacted the good folks at HDRsoft about the issue and was not surprised by their swift reaction and excellent customer service. I am happy to report that this issue has been addressed and the fix will be coming out in the next update to Photomatix Pro. I had a chance to test out a beta version of the update and can confirm that the resulting files no longer have the metadata update problem.

I also had the pleasure of testing a new plugin for Lightroom, Merge to 32-bit HDR, which HDRsoft released yesterday! If you have a license for Photomatix Pro you can download the plugin for free. Otherwise, you need to purchase the Photomatix Pro Bundle to get it. These guys really pay attention to the HDR workflow discussions out there. Regular readers of Lightroom Secrets already know that I am a huge fan of Photomatix Pro and it remains my HDR tool of choice. I am happy to announce that Lightroom Secrets readers can now get a 15% discount when purchasing Photomatix. Just use the coupon code LRSecrets when you checkout.

So what does the new plugin do? The short answer is that it makes the process I outlined in the previous article even simpler. It removes the need to open any external application to create the 32-bit file. You don't have to save and import the new file. Everything is done for you and your resulting 32-bit TIFF is deposited into your Catalog and, if you like, stacked with the original source files.

Here's how it works.

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Select the exposures you want to combine into a 32-bit TIFF file. Here I've chosen three (0 EV, -1 EV, and 1 EV) to process. You can then activate the plugin in one of two ways. You can right click on the images and choose Merge to 32-bit HDR from the Photomatix section of the Export contextual menu.

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Or you can use the File menu and select Merge to 32-bit HDR… from the Plug-in Extras menu.

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Either way will bring up the plugin's dialog.

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Here you can make all of the Pre-processing, Merging, and Saving choices you would normally encounter in Photomatix Pro. Of particular interest is the last option Scale pixel values to fixed range. This option really comes in handy when the overall tone of your source images it either bright or dark. The resulting image will be adjusted to yield a better exposure based on Lightroom's default settings.

Once you have made your choices press Merge to process your images. You will get a progress dialog letting you know where you are in the process. Photomatix Pro does not open and you don't have to do anything else to get the 32-bit TIFF! When it's finished your new file is in your Catalog ready for you to work your Develop Module magic on it!

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Pretty neat!

The images I chose have a darker tone to them so I opted for the Scale pixel values to fixed range option in the dialog. Here is a comparison of the results with that option off and on.

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With the option off you can see that the 32-bit TIFF created is rather dark. All of the information is still there but I have to boost the exposure in the Develop Module to get to the starting point of the image with the option turned on. In testing this with different groups of images I found that this option really works well for darker images. Bright images will also benefit but not as much.

This new plugin really speeds up the workflow when processing HDR images. Yet another reason I remain a Photomatix Pro fan! You can download a trial if you aren't familiar with it. And remember, if you decide to purchase a copy don't forget to use the coupon code LRSecrets to save 15%.