What Is High Dynamic Range? Why Would You Want To Use It?

Making the most of light can sometimes mean making the most of a less than ideal situation. When your subject is in one light and the background is in another, your exposure can be thrown off and you have to make the choice between blowing out your highlights or underexposing your image. Not a fun choice.

That is where High Dynamic Range photography steps in. If you’ve been into photography for a while, the idea of HDR images might conjure over processed, unreal looking faces, landscapes, and architecture.

Like all things, photography has evolved.

Take a look at Deirdre’s image from the January Prompt List. This isn’t one image, but rather two she’s merged together to create an even exposure on the Lady Liberty AND keeping the sky its beautiful blue.

365 January 18 With the Sky DH

So, how did she do it? She had to shoot and process her image for Hight Dynamic Range.

Shooting HDR

Begin by setting up your camera for a consistent series of photos with Auto Exposure Bracketing. Where can you find that?  You’ll find your bracketing settings in your camera’s menu. It’s a little bit different dependent upon your camera, so grab your camera’s manual to make it easier. You will set it to take a series of photos “bracketed” to different exposures. One will be for the sky and one for your subject.

  1. Set your camera to Aperture Priority Mode (AV or A) this will ensure your aperture doesn’t change in your photos creating a different depth of field in your images.
  2. Choose your aperture. HDR is typically used for landscape scenes. Selecting an aperture around f/16 will work well.
  3. Set your ISO for the light in your scene. Lowest is best. You aren’t going to change this setting.
  4. Adjust your white balance and metering mode if needed. Don’t change these when you shoot your images.
  5. With your camera on a tripod, you are ready to shoot your image! With AEB set you’ll take a series of photos without changing your settings. Your camera’s shutter speed will change to “bracket” different exposures. DON’T move your camera! A remote release is ideal, but not required.

Processing HDR

So, now you have multiple images. It’s time to create one. There are many programs you can use for HDR. Let’s focus on one, Lightroom.

  1. In Lightroom Library Mode (Short cut key = G) select the photos you want to combine.
  2. Go to Photo > Photo Merge > HDR
  3. Select Auto Tone and Auto Align
  4. Select Merge
  5. Done!

At this point you can edit your merged image in Lightroom if you want to make other changes.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

I’m looking forward to seeing what you create! Questions? Let me know in the comments below.




  1. I was trying to use this on my photos today and ran into a snag. I am using LR4.4 (I know I need to update it) and the HDR merge sent it to Photoshop. Does the newest LR allow for this type of editing right in LR? Or did I not follow the directions correctly? It looks like a cool process to try. Thanks in advance for your input.

    • Older versions of LR do require a plug in to handle HDR images. Lightroom CC will let you do this processing. Let me know if you have more questions! You’ll be happy with the upgrade 🙂

  2. Rhadonda

    I tried this but only shot jpeg. Does it have to be raw? And I only have LR5 and not CC. I’ll try again someday!

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