Lightroom 6 HDR Comparison

Lightroom 6 is out and one of the new features is the ability to merge photos to HDR within Lightroom. There’s a bit of controversy about this as many people consider the results to be pretty blah. Blah being the technical term for not the fuzzy, radioactive tone mapped tour de force that other programs employ (at least their presets).

Let’s compare the differences between the middle (correct?) exposure and a few different HDR merge methods and then I’ll tell you how to best use the function in Lightroom 6. These were all merged with what I would consider conservative settings to get a natural HDR look much like what I believe Lightroom is doing. I then applied my common starting point preset in Lightroom for HDR photos. The preset I use is Highlights -100, Shadows +100, Whites +15, Blacks -15, Clarity +15 and Vibrance +15.

Middle Exposure – I did need to bump up the exposure to match the output of the other methods. It was only about 1/3 of an EV bump. Not a bad starting point for a high dynamic range scene.

HDR Comparison, Lightroom 6 HDR

Lightroom 6 HDR – Here we have what people are talking about. If you compare this to the middle exposure above there’s really not much difference.

Lightroom 6 HDR Comparison

Photoshop HDR – Next is Photoshop. I suspect Photoshop and Lightroom are processing the same way and could give you the exact same results. Photoshop has more adjustments which I believe is why it looks a bit different from the Lightroom output. Photoshop has less contrast here and also notice the difference between the sun to that of Lightroom.

Lightroom 6 HDR Comparison, Photoshop HDR vs Lightroom HDR

Photomatix – Contrast Optimizer (Vibrant) – It really flattens out the image and notice the exposure on the broken down dock shows more detail. It does have flaring issues shooting into the sun though.

Lightroom 6 HDR Comparison, Photomatix vs Lightroom, Contrast Optimizer

Photomatix 32-bit HDR – This has been my go to method for awhile. Instead of tone mapping in Photomatix I reimport the 32-bit file to Lightroom and then adjust from there. In this case you see the dock has pretty good shadow detail but it doesn’t suffer from the splotchy sky of the Photomatix Contrast Optimizer version.

Photomatix 32-bit HDR vs Lightroom 6 HDR, Lightroom 6 HDR comparison

Conclusion: I have a more natural style of HDR and I try to avoid the artifacts in the over the top HDR you often see. For me the Photomatix 32-bit HDR is still the best option. It has good shadow detail without introducing a lot of splotchy banding, halos or reverse halos (black smudges). The Lightroom 6 HDR output didn’t seem to be much better than the middle exposure which is probably why people are underwhelmed.

How to use Lightroom 6 HDR (and Photomatix 32-bit HDR): These two methods, and maybe the Photoshop method depending on settings, are really a starting point for expanding the dynamic range. After that you can add more Clarity in Lightroom or export to programs like Topaz Clarity, Color Efex Pro or back to tone map in Photomatix. Hopefully Adobe will add more options to the Lightroom HDR function so we can tweak to our preferences.

Final Tip: If you’re not happy with how Lightroom adjusts the sliders after creating the HDR just turn off Auto Tone when creating the HDR. It will leave the sliders at the default position.

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