Many times in my travels I’ve happened upon a beautiful scene spread wide before me with a huge dynamic range that just begged to be photographed. It would require HDR to capture the range but also need to be stitched together as a panorama. I’d set up my tripod, snap the sequences, then get home and say “Verm, it’s time you give HDR another try.” Which would last about two minutes until the first bracketed set of shots made it into Photoshop HDR Pro and gave me a result that looked like someone painted a coat of gray primer over it.
I’d look at the slider panel and have no idea where to start.
I’d randomly play the sliders until I felt the stomach contents crawling up my throat then give up in disgust.
Those files languished about until now. Enter Lightroom 6.
For me the biggest new addition with Lightroom 6 is its HDR and Panorama features. Both are very basic and easy to use. But do they yield good results? Let’s drag some of those old files out.
Ah, sunset over the Grand Canyon. Bright sun, deep dark canyon, huge dynamic range. As you can see, capturing the glory in one shot is a losing proposition. The above was shot at 31mm with a 24-120mm. The sky’s blown out in parts and what you can see of the canyon doesn’t look all that grand. So I set up a tripod, leveled the head (bubble level in head), then took five sets of bracketed shots, each set having five exposures a stop apart for a total of 25 shots. I panned between each set of brackets yielding about 50% overlap, which in this case was overkill (30% would have been fine).
Back on the computer I opened the 25 shot group in Lightroom 6 and went through the following steps:
- Select all 25 files, go to develop module and check “Enable Profile Corrections”:
This straightens out any distortion. Click “sync” at the bottom of the window:
- Select first set of five bracketed images:
Go to Photo>Photo Merge>HDR and click HDR:
You can do this straight out of the library module if you wish.
- In HDR mode you will get this screen:
Even though I was shooting from a tripod I leave auto align checked in case there was some subtle shift between exposures. Note: I have tried auto align with some handheld HDR attempts and it did a good job lining up the shots – handy to know if you leave the tripod at home or don’t have time to set it up. When it comes to auto tone, sometimes I like the result, sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t hurt to leave it checked because if you don’t the result, just take the HDR file into develop module and hit reset. This will remove the auto tone, but leave all the data to work with giving you the same file you would have had if you didn’t check the box.
- Choose how much deghosting if any. Deghosting tries to correct for the presence of moving objects. For example, if there is a person in the sequence who doesn’t stay perfectly still or if there is wind blowing leaves about. If no moving objects, click none. Click low for slight movement, medium for medium movement and high for lots of movement. Checking the deghost overlay box shows a light red overlay on the image where deghosting has done its magic. This red overlay does not show in the final HDR file so it doesn’t hurt to check it and it’s kinda cool to see how the program picks out data to merge into the final file.
- Click merge, wait about a minute, and out pops your first HDR file.
- Repeat steps 1 to 5 for the other bracketed sequences.
After following the steps above, I’ve got five HDR files to stich into my pano. Here’s one.
What’s great is these HDR files are DNGs, meaning they are still RAW files I can nondestructively edit to my taste later. Had I created my HDR’s in Photoshop, I would have ended up with TIFFs which would be huge and cumbersome to deal with or JPEGs I couldn’t tweak nondestructively.
Note: at this point, if I forgot to apply lens corrections I still can to the HDR DNGs.
- Select the five HDRs.
- Go to Photo>Photo Merge>Panorama and click “Panorama”
Again this can be done from library module.
- You only have a couple choices to make. Insert screen shot. Going with auto-select projection usually yields good results but let’s learn what the other choices mean. Adobe’s website explains them thusly: “Spherical: Aligns and transforms the images as if they were mapped to the inside of a sphere. This projection mode is great for really wide or multirow panoramas. Cylindrical: Projects the panorama as if it were mapped to the inside of a cylinder. This projection mode works really well for wide panoramas, but it also keeps vertical lines straight. Perspective: Projects the panorama as if it were mapped to a flat surface. Since this mode keeps straight lines straight, it is great for architectural photography. Really wide panoramas may not work well with this mode due to excessive distortion near the edges of the resulting panorama.” Shortly I’ll show examples of how all three look with our Grand Canyon pano. Before that we need to decide on auto-crop. Again you can check this and change your mind later (to do this don’t hit reset as this will reset any other changes like auto-tone – just go to the crop tool and you’ll see the entire uncropped file). I leave it unchecked in this case because it looks like my tripod is a degree askew and I’ll need to go into the crop tool anyway to straighten it later.
- Click merge.
A couple minutes of computer crunching and out pops this.
Looks pretty good and it appears auto-select chose spherical projection this time. From step one through step ten only took 10 minutes.
Here’s what cylindrical projection looks like:
And here’s as close as I got with perspective:
Super stretched and distorted at the corners and when I tried to save an uncropped version it crashed Lightroom each time.
So both spherical and cylindrical gave great results but a different feel. For the feel of the wide-open expanse of the canyon, I like the spherical projection. However, the cylindrical projection gives the canyon depth and that vertiginous feeling you get leaning over the lookout railing. Either way it comes down to a matter of taste.
Now we get to the part I really like about how Lightroom 6 handles HDR and DNG. The HDR-pano it just cranked out is also a DNG file, so I can mosey over to the develop module and fondle my beloved sliders as much as I want.
Add a little contrast, a nip of vibrance and a dash of saturation to get rid of the RAW blah and voila:
Photos all © John Sherman. Text © John Sherman except as attributed elsewhere.