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HDR Photography, Merge to HDR in Adobe Camera Raw Tutorial

New in Photoshop CC 2015 release is the ability to merge bracketed photos together in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw).  In the past, we have merged our photos in Photoshop using Merge to HDR. Lightroom 6/CC gave us the ability to merge HDR photos together directly from within Lightroom. A lot of people didn’t realize that we can now to the same thing in Camera Raw.

If you are new to High Dynamic Range Photography, AKA HDR Photography, see the very popular, detailed tutorial I have written on it here: Colin Smith’s HDR Tutorial.

I am a huge fan of HDR and have been for quite a while now (about 10 years). If you haven’t looked at it before, or it’s been a while, there really has been an evolution in this technology.

The limitation of megapixels

While a lot of people are still chasing megapixels, the real innovation is in dynamic range. Megapixels give you a larger image, but that doesn’t means it’s better, just larger. If you need to print larger, or crop in tighter than your camera allows, you need more megapixels.  mp is just pixel dimensions, nothing more.

The advantage of dynamic range

When you want your photographs to encompass more of what you see, that is called dynamic range. Dynamic range is the amount of details that can be captured in the shadows and in the highlights at the same time. A small dynamic range will allow perfect capture of shadow, but lose all the detail in highlights, or vice versa. A photograph that is said to have a wider dynamic range is able to capture more of the shadows and highlights at the same time.

HDR explanation for beginners

Cameras are getting better and RAW has opened up the ability to capture a much wider dynamic range than was possible in the past. The camera still falls short of being able to capture all the detail that you can see. To get around this we “bracket” our photos. This means shooting the same thing but with different settings to capture the darkest shadow detail and the brightest highlight detail on separate photos. Most cameras can be set up to shoot this automatically by using AEB (Auto Exposure Bracket) mode. Hold down the shutter button and allow the camera to capture all the frames. Typically 3 shots. -2EV, 0 and +2EV. You can do a minimum of 2 and much more, usually never more than 7 or 9 are ever needed.

At this point the photos are merged together. In the past, I would use Photoshop Merge to HDR or Photomatix (still great options). Now we can use Lightroom for HDR Photography or Camera Raw to do the actual merging.

Here is a video that I have put together (from the Photoshop CC for Digital Photographers training). This will show you step-by-step how to do HDR in ACR. Don’t forget to read the additional information and resources on this page after watching.

HDR in ACR Video

(see a sneaky tip at the end in converting to true 32 bit files)

Tone Mapping, the key to beautiful HDR Photography

Tone mapping is the 3rd step of the process. This is where you actually style the image. In the past, it was very popular to do a stylistic tone mapping that almost looked illustrative. This takes a lot of practice and know-how to get something that looks very good and is easy to botch up and has been botched a lot! Because a lot of early HDR images were poorly processed, sadly it turned a lot of people away from HDR prematurely.

3 HDR Sins

There is still a place for stylistic HDR if it enhances the story, such as my HDR Times Square photo below. This photo is very busy, but so is Times Square, so it helps with the story -telling. Notice that:

  1. The colors are clean and not muddy
  2. There aren’t halos (glows) around the large areas of detail.
  3. You will also notice that there is good contrast in this image.

These 3 HDR sins are the major pitfalls that many beginning HDR photographers fall into.



A return to HDR

What is becoming increasingly popular in modern HDR photography is going for a more natural result. Adding in the Shadow and highlight detail without the photograph looking so artificial.

Here is one of my more recent HDR creations, looking more like what my eye saw when I was at the location. The tone-mapping tools in Lightroom and Camera RAW can really help produce a more natural result.

See Colin Smiths HDR Gallery here


HDR Resources

Check out our free HDR resources at PhotoshopCAFE

Colin Smith’s HDR tutorial

Basic HDR explaination (Video)

Written tutorial on HDR in Camera Raw (What’s new)

HDR in Lightroom

Tone Mapping HDR in Lightroom and ACR

If you are ready for deeper learning see my Premium training on HDR as well as Photoshop and Lightroom which cover these topics in greater detail for those of you who really want to master the subject.

Thanks for reading / watching and don’t forget to share these resources with your friends.

See you at the CAFE!



HDR, Panorama and Timelapse.

Colin Smith

If you want to learn exactly how to make HDR, Panorama and Timelapse images, this is the training for you. Even if you have never created these amazing (but complex) images before, you will learn exactly what you need to do, start to finish in this new course by Colin Smith.  The crazy thing is, he breaks it down and makes it so easy, that you will wonder how you didn’t do this before. You will very quickly learn how to shoot these images, and more importantly, get in-depth, step by step instructions on how to process and make your masterpieces in Photoshop. Get ready for the next chapter of your photography.

Instant download Available now!

3 responses to “HDR Photography, Merge to HDR in Adobe Camera Raw Tutorial”

  1. Thank you very much. It helped me a lot. I had the intuition that making the HDR through Camera Raw it was going to give me the chance to edit the HDR photography in a closer way of my vision, and it was. Big help. Thank you vermuch.ç

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