Today’s Question: How do you recommend assembling a high dynamic range [HDR] image in Photoshop?
Tim’s Quick Answer: There are essentially three methods for assembling a high dynamic range (HDR) image in Photoshop. For a streamlined workflow that involves only using Photoshop, I recommend creating your HDR image in Adobe Camera Raw.
More Detail: A relatively recent update to Adobe Camera Raw added the ability to assemble HDR images directly within Camera Raw. It has also been possible for some time to create an HDR image within Photoshop. You might also consider the use of a third-party plug-in to create your HDR image.
Assembling an HDR image in Adobe Camera Raw is actually quite easy. You can start by opening multiple raw captures in Photoshop. As you may already be aware, when you open a raw capture in Photoshop, the Camera Raw dialog will appear so you can adjust the settings for processing the raw capture. When you open more than one raw capture, you will see a filmstrip in Camera Raw that enables you to select which image you want to work with at any given moment.
To create an HDR image you’ll first need to select all of the images on the filmstrip in Camera Raw. You can do so by clicking the popup menu button at the top-right of the filmstrip and choosing “Select All” from the popup menu that appears. To then initiate the process of assembling the HDR image, click the same popup menu button and choose “Merge to HDR” from the menu.
In the dialog that appears, I recommend turning on the “Align Images” checkbox as well as the “Auto Tone” checkbox. The first will help ensure the multiple images you are merging into an HDR will be properly aligned, and the second applies an initial set of adjustments to the resulting image, which you can then fine-tune.
If there had been any movement among elements in the frame when you captured your bracketed exposures, you can choose “Low”, “Medium”, or “High” from the Deghost popup. If you are going to apply ghost reduction to the image, I recommend turning on the “Show Overlay” checkbox so you can see where the deghosting effect will be applied. Choose the setting from the Deghost popup that results in an overlay only over the areas of the image where movement would have occurred.
You can then click the “Merge” button, and Camera Raw will assemble your HDR image. You’ll need to choose where to save the actual HDR result, and then the HDR image will appear within Camera Raw. At this point you can fine-tune all of the adjustments within Camera Raw to interpret the final image. Clicking the “Open Image” button will then cause the result to be opened in Photoshop for additional work, or you can instead click the “Done” button to save the updates without opening the final HDR image in Photoshop.
It is worth noting that there are a variety of third-party tools available for creating HDR images from Photoshop (or as a stand-alone application). In addition, Lightroom Classic provides the same ability to assemble and adjust an HDR image as is possible from Camera Raw. That said, using Camera Raw to assemble and apply adjustments to and HDR image can provide excellent results with a relatively streamlined workflow.