What The HDR Auto Button Does

Hi, folks — and greetings from London. I’m still on vacation (day 13), and my son Jordan is with me, but we’re heading home today).

I have a ton to share from the trip (which started in Paris), — lots of great stories and plenty of pics, but I’ll have to cover that on another day. I did but want to let you know where I’ve been and why I’ve been missing in action here on the blog the past week or so.

Today we’re looking at something that I hope you’ll find helpful — it’s about the Auto button in the HDR Preview window; what it does, why it’s helpful, and a little about the advantages of creating HDR images in Lightroom.

STEP ONE: Here are three images from a subway stop (I think I took these in Budapest a few years back). Let’s select all three images (according to Adobe, you actually only need the two-stops over-exposed image and the two-stops under image, but for this example, it’s important that I show all three, even though using three won’t make a better combined HDR image). I selected all three; right-clicked and from the pop-up menu, I went under Photo Merge and chose HDR (as seen here).

STEP TWO: When the Merge to HDR window appears (seen above), the Auto Settings checkbox is on by default, and you’ll notice that this image looks quite a bit different than any of the three original thumbnails I chose in the previous step. That’s because what you’re seeing here is not just the three images combined into a single image — you’re seeing that, but on top of it you’re seeing the image toned the same way it would look if you took this image into the Develop Module’s Basic Panel and clicked the Auto button in the Basic Panel. So, if you’re not the kind of person to ever use that Auto Button in the Basic Panel, you probably shouldn’t turn it on here either, but I think it’s really important to know that is what’s happening with that Auto Button. It applies the same Auto settings as if you clicked the Auto button the Basic panel.

STEP THREE: If you turn off the Auto Settings checkbox in the Merge to HDR Preview window, you’d see just the merged HDR image (the three images with different exposures combined into one), without any Auto toning added. It looks pretty much like the Normal exposure image (the first image on the left) from the three thumbnails you saw back in Step One.

STEP FOUR: Just for example sake; I went ahead and opened that HDR image without the Auto Settings checkbox turned on, but then once the HDR image appeared in Lightroom, I went to the Develop Module and click the Auto Settings button. As you can see, it looks like the image in Step Two, which was the HDR image with the Auto button turned on. So, if without using the Auto button the HDR image essentially looks the same as the normal exposure image, why would want to take these extra steps to create HDR images at all? It’s because there’s a somewhat hidden advantage (and it’s a big one).

STEP FIVE: Here’s just the normal exposure image (not the HDR), and in the Basic Panel I dragged the Exposure slider all the way to the right — to +5.00 and you can see most of the image turned white. OK, so? Well, look at the next image.

STEP SIX: Here’s the HDR image with the Exposure slider dragged all the way over to the right. It’s solid white because the tonal range of the HDR image is so much wider than the normal image. So much so in fact, that now the Exposure slider doesn’t just go to +5.00. It now goes to +10.00.

So, what does that mean for us?

You might be thinking, “Scott, I’ve never wanted to turn an image solid white.” I know. Me, either. That’s just for example purposes, but what this expanded tonal range does do is allow us to be able to open up the shadow areas in our image, and reveal all kinds of detail, but all with very little increase in noise in our image. You’ll be amazed at how much you can crank open the shadows, and it’s Lightroom’s HDR secret advantage (I’ve written about this before here on LRKT), but today’s post is really about the Auto button, and what it does, but I couldn’t resist sharing this awesome advantage of HDR in Lightroom. You can push things farther, with less noise or damage to your image.

Hope you found that helpful. It’s time to board my flight. Here’s wishing you a great Monday, a fantastic week, and smooth sailing all the way. 🙂

-Scott

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 http://scottkelby.com

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5 Comments

  1. Can RAW images at different exposures be combined to yield a raw image? Or is the HDR merge necessarily saved as a jpeg, gif, Tiff, etc?

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    • A DNG file is created after after every HDR merge. You can find it in the folder where the source images are stored. The DNG format is technically a raw format, so the answer your question is yes, but I’ve generally found DNGs less editable in other software than the unaltered raw files from my (Sony) camera.

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  2. I keep forgetting about the expanded tonal range that HDR provides. Thanks for reminding me Scott.

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