HDR in Lightroom – Explained; Camera Settings to Edit!

High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is a technique that allows you to capture a wide range of tone, colour and detail in your photos. HDR images are visually striking and bring out the full beauty of a scene. And in combination with Lightroom, HDR photography helps get perfect, vibrant exposures every time.

Adobe Lightroom provides powerful tools to create HDR images effortlessly. In this blog, we'll walk you through the process of creating stunning HDR images in Lightroom, from shoot to edit, what HDR is, and why you should try it.


What is HDR Photography?

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. HDR is a feature within Lightroom that allows you to create high dynamic range images by merging multiple bracketed exposures into a single, enhanced image.

A bracketed image is a set of images taken at different exposures. These bracketed exposures typically include a range of photos taken at different exposure levels, including one underexposed to capture details in highlights, one overexposed to capture details in shadows, and one at the correct exposure. See examples below:

Dark image of mountains with camera settings at -2 stops
Base exposure image of mountains with camera settings at the base exposure
Bright image of mountains with camera settings at +2 stops

Learn how to expose photography correctly here

When you have at least 3 good, bracketed pictures you can then merge these into a HDR image via a program like Adobe Lightroom. It’s also worth noting at this point that you can merge a 5-image bracket or even a 7-image bracket and your images should be at least 1 stop apart. If you don’t know what stops are in photography, click here.

The HDR in Lightroom feature is designed to address the limitations of a single exposure when dealing with scenes that have a wide range of lights and darks, such as landscapes with a bright sky and dark foreground. By combining these bracketed shots into an HDR image, you can achieve a photograph that preserves detail in both the brightest and darkest areas, resulting in a visually striking and well-balanced image.

Picture of mountains processed HDR in Lightroom

Processed HDR in Lightroom image using 3 bracketed shots 2 stops apart. Please view the video above to see the full edit.


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How to create a HDR in Lightroom – Step 1

Capture Bracketed Exposures

To create an HDR image, you'll need a series of bracketed exposures. This means taking multiple photos of the same scene at different exposure levels. At least 3 different exposures are needed.

Here's how to do it:

1. Use a tripod: To ensure that your images align perfectly, mount your camera on a tripod before taking your bracketed pictures. This prevents camera shake between shots. If you don’t have a tripod, it is possible to hand hold as long as you are using fast shutter speeds and are using your auto exposure bracketing mode. Learn about shutter speeds here.

Photographer taking picture using tripod

2. Set your camera to auto bracketing mode: Most modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have an auto bracketing feature. This feature allows you to take a series of shots at different exposures automatically.

Bracketing settings on a Fuji camera

Bracketing setting on Fuji camera

3. Determine the number of shots: Decide how many exposures you want to capture. A common bracketing setup involves three shots: one at the correct exposure, one underexposed (dark), and one overexposed (bright). Commonly you will separate your exposures by 1 or 2 stops. Experiment to see what works for you. It’s also common for photographers to do a 5 or 7 shot bracket. 

4. For cameras that don’t have auto exposure bracketing; Adjust your settings: In manual mode, set your aperture and ISO settings. Keep your aperture constant for all shots to maintain consistent depth of field. Adjust your shutter speed to control the exposure between in pictures. Learn how to use your camera in manual here.

5. Take the shots: Capture the bracketed exposures by using are remote trigger or put your camera on its 2 second timer.

Example of a 3 image bracket for use in HDR

Example of a 3 image bracket – As you can see, the darker exposure has detail in the highlights and the lighter exposure has detail in the shadows.


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How to create a HDR in Lightroom – Step 2

Import Photos into Lightroom

Once you have your bracketed exposures, it's time to import them into Adobe Lightroom:

1. Open Lightroom: Launch Adobe Lightroom and create a new catalog or use an existing one.

2. Import photos: Go to the Library module and click the "Import" button. Locate and select the bracketed exposures you want to merge into an HDR image.

3. Import settings: Choose your import settings, such as file organization and file handling options.

4. Click "Import": Lightroom will import your photos into the catalog.

Screenshot of imported photography into Lightroom

Images imported into Lightroom

How to create a HDR in Lightroom – Step 3

Merge Bracketed Exposures

Now that your bracketed exposures are in Lightroom, you can merge them to create an HDR image:

1. Select the bracketed photos: In the Library module, hold down the Ctrl (Windows) or Command (Mac) key and click on each of the bracketed exposures to select them.

2. Right-click and choose "Photo Merge": Right click on one of the images and go to Photo Merge > HDR > A HDR Merge Preview window opens > uncheck the Auto Align and Auto Tone options if necessary.

Auto Tone - Provides a starting point for an evenly toned merged image. Generally, leave this off to give you full control in the develop module.

Auto Align - Useful if the images being merged have slight movement from shot to shot.

Deghost amount – Used if you have moving objects in your scene. If this happens some areas in the HDR image may appear unnatural or semi-transparent. You can select one of the deghosting options to correct this. You can preview the corrected movement by checking the ‘Show Deghost Overlay’ box.

3. Click Merge to create the HDR image > adjust the image as normal.

Lightroom will now merge the images together, create your HDR image and place it in your film strip with the post text ‘HDR’ at the end of the image name e.g. ‘IMG_0001-HDR.dng’.

HDR merge preview in Lightroom

Merge in Lightroom


How to create a HDR in Lightroom – Step 4 & 5

Step 4: Edit Your HDR Image

Now that you have your HDR image, it's time to make it shine with some post-processing. How you process your image will be personal to you and your style of photography. To see how I edited this picture, watch the video above.

1.       Basic adjustments: In the Develop module, start with basic adjustments such as exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, and white balance. Tweak these settings to achieve the desired look.

2.       Graduated filters and radial filters: Use these tools to selectively adjust exposure, clarity, and colour in specific areas of your image.

3.       Tone curve: Fine-tune the tonal range by working with the Tone Curve panel. This allows for more precise control over highlights, shadows, and midtones.

4.       HSL/Colour panel: Adjust individual colours to enhance the vibrancy of your image.

5.       Detail panel: Sharpen your image and reduce noise as needed.

6.       Final touch-ups: Apply any creative adjustments like vignetting, cropping, or adding filters for a unique look.

Step 5: Export Your HDR Image

Once you're satisfied with your HDR image, it's time to export it:

1.       Go to the Library module.

2.       Select your HDR image.

3.       **Go to the "File" menu and choose "Export".

4.       Set export settings: Configure the export settings according to your intended use. This includes choosing the file format, resolution, and quality.

5.       Choose export location: Select the folder where you want to save your HDR image.

6.       Click "Export": Lightroom will process and save your image with the specified settings.

Image of mountain before HDR editing

Base exposure before editing

Image of mountains after being HDR processed in Lightroom

Processed HDR in Lightroom created from 3 bracketed exposures

Why you should try HDR in Lightroom

Creating HDR (High Dynamic Range) images in Adobe Lightroom or any other photo editing software is done for several compelling reasons:

1.       Expanded Dynamic Range: The primary motivation for creating HDR images is to capture and display a wider range of brightness levels in a single photograph. Our eyes can perceive a broader dynamic range than a camera sensor, so HDR helps bridge that gap. It retains details in both the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows, resulting in a more realistic and visually pleasing image.

2.       Balanced Exposure: Many real-world scenes have a high contrast between their brightest and darkest areas. Without HDR, you might have to choose between properly exposing the highlights or the shadows, leading to lost details in the other. HDR allows you to balance the exposure, so you can see both the details in a bright sky and those in a shaded landscape, for example.

3.       Artistic Control: HDR enables photographers to exercise greater artistic control over their images. By merging bracketed exposures, you can choose how to render the scene creatively, emphasizing certain aspects or tonal ranges to convey your intended mood or story.

4.       Enhanced Realism: HDR can be used to create images that closely resemble what the human eye sees. This realism can be especially valuable in architectural and interior photography, where maintaining the integrity of lighting conditions is essential.

5.       Reduced Noise: When you underexpose an image to capture details in highlights, you may need to boost the shadows during post-processing. This can introduce noise into the darker areas. HDR minimizes the need for such adjustments, resulting in cleaner images.

6.       Richer Colours: HDR can bring out the vibrancy and richness of colours in a scene, making your images more appealing and immersive.

7.       Creative Expression: HDR isn't just about realism; it's a tool for creative expression. You can use HDR to create surreal, dreamy, or dramatic images that go beyond what the naked eye can perceive, allowing you to express your unique vision as a photographer.

8.       Challenging Lighting Conditions: HDR is particularly useful in situations where you have challenging lighting conditions, such as scenes with bright sunlight and deep shadows or indoor environments with mixed lighting sources. It helps you capture the scene as you envision it, without sacrificing critical details.

9.       Archiving Data: HDR images often contain more data than regular images. This extra information can be useful for post-processing, retouching, or making changes to the image later without compromising quality.


As we conclude our journey through the captivating world of HDR photography in Adobe Lightroom, we hope you've gained a deeper understanding of this remarkable technique.

HDR empowers photographers to capture the full spectrum of light and detail in a scene, transcending the limitations of traditional photography and enabling the creation of images that are as breathtaking as the moments they portray.

Throughout this blog, we've walked you through the steps of capturing bracketed exposures, merging them into HDR images, and applying creative post-processing in Lightroom. Armed with these skills, you now have the tools to transform your photographs into masterpieces that evoke emotion, tell stories, and leave a lasting impression.

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About the author

Hi, I’m Marc Newton and I’m a photographer, educational speaker, author, teacher of photography and the founder of The School of Photography. Follow my personal work on Facebook, Instagram.