HDR Merge in Lightroom - how I do it

The next job is to merge all the bracketed sets of images in Lightroom.

Remember these three photos that I posted on Friday?

 Travel photography, Santroini, Greece by Rick McEvoy Photography
 Travel photography, Santroini, Greece by Rick McEvoy Photography
 Travel photography, Santroini, Greece by Rick McEvoy Photography

Well here is the fourth image - the HDR Merged image.

The caldera of Santorini by Rick McEvoy - photographer in Santorini

The caldera of Santorini by Rick McEvoy - photographer in Santorini

This is the new file, which is the HDR merged image.

How I do this? Well its quite straightforward.

First - how do I take the images?

Firstly, I take three photos using the auto-bracketing function in my Canon 6D.

  • The first images is the correct exposure - 1/40th second, F22, ISO 400
  • The second image is two stops under exposed - 1/160th second, F22, ISO 400
  • The third image is two stops over exposed - 1/10th second, F22, ISO 400

As this is all about processing images in Lightroom I will this here for now - the point is that I want to capture more of the lights and darks than are in the original image capture.

How do I do an HDR Merge in Lightroom?

According to Scott Kelby, and he should know, the way Lightroom has been desigend you only need to merge the under and over exposed images. There is no point in using the correctly exposed image. Try it and see.

The new images are exactly the same.

So I select these two images, and use the Lightroom keyboard shortcut Control H (H for HDR - nice one Adobe).

And this dialogue box appears.

Lightroom HDR Merge box 13072018.PNG

There are a couple of options here.

Auto Align - I leave this checked. It does exactly what it says it does. Even though I take most of my photos on a tripod I still leave it checked.

Auto Settings - If you check this box Lightroom will give you a preview of the processing it thinks the image needs.

You can see the difference with Auto Settings checked.

Lightroom HDR Merge box 2 13072018.PNG

With the first image I try both ways, and go with what works for. More about doing this to more than one image in a minute.

Deghost Amount - I leave on high. Any areas where there is movement from one image to another will have a red mask over it. This is things like trees that have moved in the wind - we all want them sharp after all.

I always leave the Show Deghost Overlay selected - as there is no red on this image there is no deghosting, so I should turn this to None.

But I don't - this doesnt do any harm to an image (as far as I am aware), it just takes longer as Lightroom has more work to do.

The last check box is Create Stack - this is a new feature in Lightroom that I have not used - I stack the bracketed sets of images when sorting them out after import, and add each new image to the stack. As I am only using two of the three bracketed images if I select this option it puts the new merged photo in a new stack, leaving the original image on its own, so I do this manually - it doesn't take long.

And then I had a thought - this new feature could work for me.

I said before that you only need to use two of the three images - if I use all three images I get exactly the same results, and if I use Create Stack this will put all four images in a stack. And this is one less thing to do.

And yes I have just tried this and it worked nicely. And Lightroom even collapsed the stack after - that is two things less for me to do.

Sorry for the digression - back to the creation of the first HDR Merged file

The message "Photo Merge added to tasks" appears, and Lightroom creates the new image in the background. I wait for this message so I know that this is happening.

Once I am happy with the first image, this is what I do to the rest of the images.

How to HDR Merge lots of images quickly in Lightroom

This is the good stuff. There is a not so well known keybaord shortcut

Shift, Control H

I select the next two images, use this keyboard shortcut and guess what - Lightroom starts the HDR Merge process in the background using the last settings. There is no dialogue box. It just gets on with it.

And once you have done that - as I said above - I wait for the message "Photo Merge added to tasks" - select the next two images, hit the shortcut again and Lightroom starts working on the next HDR Merge.

And then I just keep on going.

I can do more than 30 merges at a time.

I tend to select as many bracketed sets as I can and then go for a cuppa or a beer and leave Lightroom to it.

When I get back I add the new image to the original stack - this is quite quick - select the four images, click on the newly created new file, which has the extension -HDR.dng, then use the shortcut Control G and the four images are in the stack with the new image at the top! I do this for all the images, it doesn not take long, and that is HDR Merge done!

That is what I wrote before I realised that if I use the three images, and the new Create Stack feature, I don't need to do these two last things - Lightroom does them for me!


I hope that this helps, and that you now know how to use HDR Merge in Lightroom - please ask any questions in the comments box or email - check out my home page for details.

Rick McEvoy Photography - How to use Lightroom

How am I getting on editing my photos of Santorini in Lightroom? Post 1 of 2

This is not going according to plan. By now I was hoping to have edited all the images.

I have not quite got that far, so this is post number 1 about editing my photos of Santorini.

This is how I edit a set of images from a photography trip - step 1

Having imported the images into Lightroom, and selected the images I want to work on, I put the images into stacks as part of the image selection process (so there is only one image on view and not all three).

Now I need access to all the images again.

The first job is to create the HDR Merge files. This is very much a mechanical process, and one that I wish I could automate in Lightroom. Thinking about it I am sure there is something called actions in Photoshop that I could use.

Regular readers will know how much I love Photoshop, and that this is not going to happen.

How do I create the HDR files in Lightroom?

This is how I create HDR files from a photography shoot. It does not matter if it is 10 images or 100 images – the process is exactly the same and is just a case of getting through the process as quickly as possible.

Deal with the stacks.

Having put all the images into stacks, I have to collapse all the stacks to get the picks that I want to edit. The picks that I am going to edit are in a folder called picks by now, so all I need to do is this.

  • Select all the images – Control A
  • Right Click, select Stacking, then Expand all stacks.

And there are all the sets of bracketed images. Three per bracketed image capture.

Getting the view right for a mass HDR Merge in Lightroom

Next, I press Control D, so no images are selected, and slide the zoom slider so the number of images in view is right for what I am about to do.

This will vary depending on the size of your monitor – I now have a BenQ 32” monitor (which is fantastic by the way).

Something like 6 images on a row is plenty – this gives me 3 rows as well – plenty to go at.

Next, I right click on the second and third images in a bracketed set, then select Control H. This brings up the HDR Merge Preview box.

I select the following options.

  • Auto Align – I check the box
  • Auto Settings – I check this box too
  • Deghost amount – I normally leave this on None.

Deghost during an HDR Merge process fixes a problem with movement between frames – check out this helpful page on the Adobe website all about HDR Photo Merge.

Then I hit Merge, and Lightroom makes a start with the first HDR Merge.

And that is the first HDR Merge started.

Why only two images I hear you say? Why do you not use all three?

The way I take images, and the way my Canon 6D operates, the three bracketed images in a sequence are

  1. Correctly exposed image
  2. Two stops underexposed image (darker)
  3. Two stops overexposed image (lighter)

I will talk about this more in the image capture post, but for now all you need to know is that to create the HDR Merged file in Lightroom you only need the last two images, not the first.

Try it and see. The HDR file is identical with 2 or 3 images.

Back to the editing.

Once Lightroom has done its thing, I check that the first edit is ok. If all is fine with the settings and I am happy that these will be ok for the rest of the images I am working on then this is what I do next.

And this is the good bit.

I go to the next set of three images, and select the second and third images as before, but this time I use the special secret keyboard shortcut

Shift, Control H.

This starts up an HDR Merge in the background.

Then I go to the next set of three images and do the same. And then just keep on going. I get to somewhere between 20 and 30 before my computer starts to groan. At this point I go and do something else, like make a coffee, or if I am working in the evening grab a beer.

And I leave Lightroom to it.

I pop back after a bit, and if a good number of these HDR files have been created I add some more, topping up the workload I give Lightroom/ my PC.

I know that when I am going to be doing this I am going to leave my computer for periods of time, so I plan this accordingly.

It does not take long to get 30 HDR merges going, just a couple of minutes, so this can be built into normal life.


Rebuilding the stacks with the new HDR files

Once this is all done I remove any flags or ratings from every image, and add the HDR file to the stacks.

What is the new file that Lightroom has produced?

When I say HDR file what Lightroom is actually creating is a new .dng file, which is in effect a new RAW file.

This is quite amazing on its own.

The dng file is a new RAW file, and the starting point for my editing.

Sorry - back to the stacks

First though I have to add these new files to the stacks – Lightroom does not do that for you, although it would of course be nice if it did.

I have fond the quickest way to do this is one by one. If you try the auto-stack by time you have to move them to the top of the stacks and it is just more cumbersome.

I select the three original images along with the new dng RAW file. Once the four images are highlighted I have to click on the dng file so that is highlighted lighter than the other three images, and then I can use the keyboard shortcut Control G to make them a single bracketed set of images. If I click on the image before creating the new stack the dng file is put to the top of the stack, which is where I want it.

If I did not do that, or if it did not work, I add the new file to the top of the stack by clicking on the number 4 on the thumbnail.

And I do this to all the bracketed sets.

Don’t worry – it does not take too long.

When done, and assuming that all the HDR merges went fine and there are all these sets of 4 images in bracketed sets, all I need to do is collapse every stack and I have the new HDR files in view.

Last thing to do - add the files to Lightroom Mobile

Last thing in this section is to add these dng files to Lightroom Mobile – this is the first time I do this usually, as these are the images I want to look at.

What I have described in this post is pretty much the first stage of my image editing, which I do to every image.

Next is the editing, image by image. I will come on to that next week – this is as far as I have got to date. That gives me a week to get the edits done.

One last word – these files are the ones that I add the metadata to, which is

  • Filename – I rename the files to relevant descriptions of the image
  • Title – I just use the filename for this.
  • Caption – this is a description of the image in words
  • Keywords – 20 – 30 keywords that also describe the image.

Now time to get some editing done of these pictures of Santorini, which I will write about next Friday, when I have a set of fully edited images.

Rick McEvoy Photography

Lightroom Tip of the Week - what exactly is the HDR Merge feature in Lightroom

HDR Merge in Lightroom.

This is where you merge together different exposures of the same scene to produce a natural looking HDR image. 

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. I will write a post all about HDR, but for now just think of HDR using Lightroom like this. 

If you take a bracketed set of images, using my Canon 6D as an example, the camera takes three images. 

The first image is the correct exposure. 

The second image will be two stops under exposed. Or darker. 

The third image will be two stops over exposed. Or lighter. 

The HDR Merged file using Lightroom will have the darker bits of the dark image, and the lighter bits of the lighter image, and all the other bits in the middle. 

Thats all. 

So that is HDR using LIghtroom explained in a nutshell. 

The point of this post is HDR Merge in Lightroom. I do not use other HDR software. I do my HDR Merges in Lightroom.


Because I like the natural effect and the fact that Lightroom is extending the dynamic range captured in a natural looking image. 

It works for me. 

Have you tried it? If not, do. It's great. And easy to do honest. 

Rick McEvoy Photograpy

Lightroom Tip of the Week- HDR Merge in Lightroom explained.