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Preparing Images in Lightroom

For the most part, HDR programs are standalone programs that operate independently of your primary editing software. Most will also “plug in” to many of the more popular editing programs, such as Photoshop and Lightroom.

Editing programs

A plug-in allows an HDR program to work in concert with your base software. For example, you could download, organize, and edit your images using Lightroom. When you want to blend a series together using HDR, you would export the series into an HDR program such as Photomatix. Photomatix then blends the images and sends the final image back into Lightroom.

Using these programs as plug-ins is a real time saver and helps keep your photographs organized. HDR software typically comes with the plug-in module. Look for the directions on how to install the plug-in for your particular computer and program. If you missed this step or are unable to find the plug-in, a trip to the manufacturer’s website will supply you with step-by-step directions for the installation process. Lightroom 6/Lightroom CC has an HDR feature built right into the program. I discuss the pros and cons of Photomatix versus Lightroom in the next chapter.

Lightroom and Photoshop are professional-level programs that have a great deal in common. With these programs you can download images from your camera, organize, edit, export to email, create books and slideshows, and, with Lightroom, even prepare a website.

I use Adobe Lightroom for its rich feature set and intuitive interface. This means I start and end my images in Lightroom. Here is a sample of a basic workflow:

  1. Import using the Lightroom Import dialog.
  2. Add keywords, labels, and ratings in the Library module.
  3. Use the Library module to organize photographs.
  4. Perform basic and advanced global edits in the Develop module.
  5. Create an HDR image either by using Lightroom’s Photo Merge > HDR command or by sending images to Photomatix via File > Plug-in Extras > Export to Photomatix Pro.
  6. Use Lightroom or Photoshop to further edit the completed HDR file.
  7. Use Lightroom to export images to email, Web, or print.

Import settings

Whichever program you use, you will need to get the images from your camera onto your computer. There are many ways to accomplish this, but I prefer to use Lightroom’s Import module. The Import module allows you to rename images, generate thumbnails for them, and import them into a folder of your choice in any location you desire. More importantly, it allows you to import your images with a Develop preset. This means that the moment the images are imported, they have already been edited to your specifications! For the most part, each image will need individual attention, but the following edits can be applied to every image:

  • Applying clarity
  • Removing chromatic aberration
  • Applying sharpening

The Clarity slider is similar to sharpening. It performs a separate function, but the look is similar. I apply a little extra clarity to almost all of my landscape and architectural images—regardless of whether they will become HDR images. Negative clarity is great for portraits.

Chromatic aberration is the presence of a colored fringe around edges in your photograph. Although it may not be noticeable at small magnifications, such as on a website, it becomes glaring when you make larger prints. Removing chromatic aberration is accomplished in the Lens Corrections panel.

There are two types of sharpening: input sharpening and output sharpening. Input sharpening is applied to fix the inherent image softness that accompanies image capture. No lens creates perfectly sharp images, and all photos are a little soft the moment they are made. Input sharpening, then, corrects the photo’s initial inherent lack of sharpness. Output sharpening is applied to images that have lost softness due to enlargement. Downsizing an image to, say, a JPEG for email, a Web page, or a 5x7 print rarely requires output sharpening. Upsizing an image to a 16x20 print, however, will result in a loss of sharpness. This is where output sharpening comes in. But we’re interested in input sharpening at this stage.

Creating a preset is easy, and applying the preset during import is even easier. Start by choosing an image that is already imported, and move to the Develop module.

  1. In the Basic panel, set Clarity to +8 (Figure 4.1).

    Figure 4.1

    Figure 4.1 Setting Clarity to +8

  2. In the Lens Corrections panel, click the Basic tab and then select the Remove Chromatic Aberration checkbox (Figure 4.2).

    Figure 4.2

    Figure 4.2 Removing chromatic aberration

  3. Input sharpening can be done in the Detail panel, but it’s much easier to apply a ready-made preset. The Presets panel is on the left side of the screen (Figure 4.3). Click the arrow next to Lightroom General Presets, then click Sharpen–Scenic. This moves the Sharpening sliders to preset positions (Figure 4.4) that work well for scenics, landscapes, nature, and architecture. I apply this preset to all images but portraits.

    Figure 4.3

    Figure 4.3 The Sharpen–Scenic preset

    Figure 4.4

    Figure 4.4 The Detail panel after clicking the Sharpen–Scenic preset

Once you have made these adjustments, it’s time to make the preset. Return to the Presets panel and click the + button in the upper-right corner (Figure 4.5). A dialog opens that allows you to choose which of the adjustments you would like to include in the preset. Begin by giving the preset a name that will make sense to you. I have named this preset Scenic Import Preset (Figure 4.6). Next, click the Check None button at the bottom. Finish by selecting the Clarity, Sharpening, Chromatic Aberration, and Process Version checkboxes. (You should always keep the Process Version checkbox selected to keep all your images looking the same.) When your New Develop Preset dialog looks like Figure 4.6, click Create.

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5 Creating a preset

Figure 4.6

Figure 4.6 The New Develop Preset dialog

This preset can be applied in many ways. I primarily use it when importing images, but it can be applied at any time. In the Develop module it can be found under User Presets in the Presets panel. In the Library module it can be found in the Quick Develop panel under Saved Preset > User Presets. When importing, you’ll find the preset under Develop Settings in the Apply During Import panel (Figure 4.7).

Figure 4.7

Figure 4.7 Applying the preset during import

Labeling and stacking

Shooting for HDR generates a lot of images that look similar. You may shoot a series of five images and then change your composition and shoot five more. If the light gets better, you may even shoot another five. At this point, recognition of the individual series becomes important. Get into the habit of taking a picture of your hand in between series. This acts as a marker when you review your images on the computer. Just remember to reset your bracket after the hand image or your next series will be off.

Once back at the computer, you can distinguish the individual sets of images in two ways: labeling and stacking. Labeling is simply adding a color to the thumbnail. Figure 4.8 shows a folder of images that I captured while the sun came up over a mountain in Glacier National Park. I shot three separate sets of images (seven in each set). The first set is labeled red, the second green, and the third blue. Labeling the images in this way makes it much easier to differentiate between sets.

Figure 4.8

Figure 4.8 Color-labeled images

Try the following to add a color label to a set of images:

  1. Select the images. Click the first image, then Shift-click the last image of the series (this is called a contiguous selection and selects all the images in that series). To select non-adjacent images, click the first image, hold down the Option/Alt key, and continue to click the desired images.
  2. Choose Photo > Set Color Label, and select red, yellow, green, blue, or purple.

    Use the number keys on your keyboard as a shortcut to the menu. Press 6 for Red, 7 for yellow, 8 for green, and so on.

If the colors do not appear on your thumbnails, adjust your view options. In the Library module, choose View > View Options. Adjust your view options as seen in Figure 4.9.

Figure 4.9

Figure 4.9 The Library View Options dialog

Stacking your images is another way to alleviate confusion. This takes selected images and “stacks” them together (Figure 4.10).

Figure 4.10

Figure 4.10 A folder organized into stacks

  1. Select all images in the series.
  2. Choose Photo > Stacking > Group Into Stack. The shortcut is Command-G on a Mac and Ctrl-G in Windows.

Stacking is a great way to reclaim window space in the library. A couple of tips for working with stacks:

  • The number in the upper-left corner of each image indicates how many images are in the stack. To ensure that this number is visible, in the Library module choose View > View Options and select the Thumbnail Badges checkbox in the Library View Options dialog (Figure 4.11).

    Figure 4.11

    Figure 4.11 Ensuring that stack numbers are visible

  • Clicking the number in the upper-left corner of an image expands the stack; click again to collapse the stack.
  • When a stack is selected, press the S key to expand or collapse the stack.
  • The first selected image appears at the top of the stack. If you want a different image to show at the top of the stack, click that image and press Shift-S.
  • Move images up or down in a stack by pressing Shift-[ or Shift-], respectively.

Synchronizing settings

When you’re working with programs such as Photomatix to create HDR images, the edits you make in Lightroom can produce drastic or subtle changes to the final file. For example, you many want to change the white balance or increase saturation. Changes can be made to individual images within a series, but typically you’ll want to sync the change across all images. To sync changes:

  1. In the Develop module, make the desired changes to one of the series.
  2. While holding the Command (Apple) or Ctrl key (Windows), select the remaining images in the series.

    Notice that, although all the images are selected, the one you made the changes to is a little brighter. This indicates that it is the active image and that the changes from this image will be applied across the others.

  3. Press the Sync button in the lower-right corner of the screen.

    The Synchronize Settings dialog appears.

  4. Click the Check None button.
  5. Select the checkboxes of the edits that you have made. Click the Synchronize button to apply the edits to the selected images.
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