Five More Tips For Lightroom’s Built-in HDR


Happy Monday, everybody! I thought I’d follow-up my post from Friday (it was about how creating an HDR image allows you to really open up the shadows without seeing a bunch of noise, because of the greater dynamic range), with 5 (or so) tips or things you might not know about Lightroom’s awesome built-in HDR feature. Here we go:

  1. Wait to do your editing until after you merge
    When you create an HDR image, Lightroom ignores any tweaks or toning you did in the Basic Panel to your individual images before you created the HDR, so save yourself some time and do all that stuff after the merge. Also, it ignores any cropping you did to the original images, so save that for after the merge, too. However, if you do apply a Lens Correction, it does honor that in the resulting HDR file.
  2. You only need two images to create an HDR
    I remember reading a comment from one of the Lightroom engineers before it was released saying you only need two images, the one two-stops darker and the one two stops brighter — you don’t even need to include the normal exposure. Advantage: your HDR will preview on screen, and render much faster!
  3. You can skip the Preview Window altogether
    Just hold the Shift Key before you choose “Photo Merge: HDR,” and it will just merge in the background so you can work on something else. If you shot it on a tripod, and there’s no movement in the photo (so you don’t need the Ghosting correction), it really doesn’t serve any purpose to see the preview, so why not just let it rip in the background, right? The keyboard shortcut is Ctrl-Shift-H to merge in the background.
  4. Your HDR image winds up being a RAW DNG
    I know, it sounds crazy that combining three RAW images into one single image, and the resulting file somehow becomes an RAW file again…but that’s what happens. You have that giant dynamic range, and all the benefits that includes. The HDR file is quite a bit larger than any one of the individual bracketed files you chose, but the good new is that it’s WAY smaller than the same HDR high-bit TIFF file you’d wind up with if you went over to Photoshop and converted those files to HDR there. By the way — just for fun: after you’ve created your HDR file in Lightroom; go to the Basic Panel Exposure slider and drag it all the way to the left then all the way to the right. The expanded range is now -10 to +10, instead of -5 to +5. That’s how much more depth this new HDR file has.
  5. The Auto Tone checkbox is the same as clicking the “Auto” button in the Basic Panel later
    So it doesn’t really matter if you turn it on in the HDR preview window, or after in the Basic panel; the result is the same.

Hope you found that helpful.


Have a good one!


P.S. I took over our KelbyOne YouTube page, and I’ve been posting some tips from our classes; trailers on our new classes; quick photo tips, and all kinds of other stuff. I’d love it if you’d subscribe — I’ve got big plans for it. Here’s the link if you’ve got a sec. Many thanks in advance. 🙂

Author: Scott Kelby

Scott is the President of KelbyOne, an online educational community for photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. He's editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine, Editor of "Lightroom magazine"; Conference Technical Chair for the Photoshop World Conference & Expo, and the author of a string of bestselling Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography books. You can learn more about Scott at

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  1. Scott, thanks so much. Very helpful page. i have a question: can Lightroom automatically identify sets that were taken for HDR? I have a very large catalogue — within that catalogue there are many sets shot bracketed for HDR.

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  2. Thank you very much Scott . it is a great tips for us. This Featured are very much attractive and eye catching. I will do this because it very much attractive to me.

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  3. Still, with only one shot correctly exposed on my D4 I get equally much tonality in the picture, as the highlights and shadow sliders max out with a HDR picture. I don’t care that you get -10 to +10 with the exposure slider. What is the point of that? In a HDR picture I want a wide range all in the SAME picture, meaning all shadows and highlights. Today that can not be accomplished with LR the way shadows and highlights sliders are limited.

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  4. Great Tips!
    I keep forgetting the shift key tip, I’ll do this next time. Thanks!

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  5. Scott, I don’t know how you do it, but you must sleep, eat and drink Adobe. Awesome hints, as usual!

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  6. Thanks Scott,

    Great tip about the HDR creation with only two exposures!

    BTW You’re spamming my Youtube subscription feed 🙂

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    • Hi Michael. That was my mistake. I uploaded a ton of videos, and I didn’t know that we had the notifications turned on. I fixed it. Sorry about that.

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  7. Great tips Scott. Thank yo very much. I particularly like the one about creating the HDR in the background.

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    • You are very welcome, Mark. 🙂 [that background thing is one of my favorite, too!] 🙂

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      • Same backgrounding function on panoramas – CTRL-SHIFT-M.

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