Lightroom HDR Enhancements (Graduated Filters)

In this post I wanted to show how you can enhance your HDR images using graduated filters in Lightroom. The first image is the completed image. For this image I used 9 exposures and combined them in Photomatix.

HDR Sunrise, Taylors Falls Sunrise, Interstate Park, Graduated Filter in Lightroom

Lightroom enhanced HDR with graduated filters.

Below is the flat image processed in Photomatix before any other enhancements were made. I could have chosen a more aggressive preset like painterly or grunge in Photomatix but that can lead to unnatural light/dark transitions especially in clouds or around the sky and trees.

Because I didn’t go too far with the tone mapping (grunge is too far in my book) I now do some basic adjustments in Lightroom. See my post Single Photo HDR to find out what I normally do to all my photos.

Now here’s where you can make things really stand out by using graduated filters. We usually think of either physical grad filters or software to adjust the exposure of the sky vs. the foreground. In Lightroom I often use it for other things like Color Temperature, Clarity, Noise Reduction and sometimes Highlight/Shadow adjustments. Usually I’ll use two filters, one to adjust the top portion (sky) and another from the bottom to the top to adjust the foreground.

In the photo above I used two grad filters in a vertical orientation. I used one from left-to-right to make the left half more blue by adjusting the color temperature. Then I applied another grad filter right-to-left to add a warmer color temperature to bring out the gold rays of the sun.

Of course you can also use the local adjustment brush but the grad filter can apply a smoother transition a lot of times. I wish I’d started using them sooner than I did.

Graduated Filter, Lightroom, Color Temperature

Sunrise before graduated filters applied in Lightroom.

I should also mention I used a few Color Efex Pro filters to the image. This gave the clouds some more punch and some glamour glow for the sun but the main punch came from the grad filter in Lightroom.

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