Lightroom 6 and HDR? #WTFAdobeHDR

Aurora HDR 2018

Roughly 18 months ago I partnered with the amazing team at Macphun to develop an entirely new HDR software tool called Aurora HDR. I worked closely with them to include all of the features I felt was missing from Photomatix, Lightroom and other tools in my quiver. Since it’s release over 1.5million people have downloaded it. I’m blown away! Thank you for believing in us!

Aurora HDR 2018 is now available for both Mac AND Windows! Make the switch now.

Lightroom 6 Unreview

This sensational blog post is brought to you by Trey’s Lightroom Presets, which are mega awesome and were made by Trey, the guy writing this in the third person that thinks these presets will bring you happiness and enlightenment on your deathbed.

I’m a huge fan of Lightroom, but this HDR addition is mega lame. Mega Lame Dot Com.

I’ll also talk about some of the other big additions, which everyone seems to rave about without hesitation. I’m actually fascinated by the internet and how Adobe can make the slightest little change or improvement that should have been there several years ago, and everyone goes nuts like Moses has found a third tablet with five new commandments. I think actually there may be a hidden Adobe commandment that says, “Thou shalt cripple Lightroom so more plebeians must buyeth Photoshop.”


But first, since everyone probably wants to know about the new HDR functionality, we’ll get started with that. I’ve been doing HDR stuff for about 8 years and used just about every product. Every day I put up a new image here on the blog… so that’s 365 images a year, most of which have some element of HDR in them. It all started a long time ago with the HDR Tutorial, which I continue to update.

About 3 or 4 years ago I switched from Aperture to Lightroom and I never looked back. I really do love Adobe Lightroom and even made an Organize Your Photos! video tutorial here to show how I use it.

Here’s five of my favorite HDR images so you can see the kind of work I like to do. My work is not for everyone, and if you don’t like it, what you don’t realize is that I’ve already ignored you even before you’ve thought about it.

Inception Reflection New York

Taking the Yacht for a Midnight Spin

Exploring New Zealand on the way to the Antarctic

New HDR in Lightroom

In short, here are the three things I’ve found (I expand on each one below):

  • The results are a bit boring (often, quite boring)
  • LR HDR appears to be 60-90% slower than Aurora HDR 2017 for Mac
  • LR HDR appears to be 30-80% slower than Photomatix for Windows
  • There are absolutely no options for you to adjust the intensity of the HDR image. Even more surprising is the resulting new image has many siders pre-moved (including the highlight slider completely to the left), meaning there is little or no more recovery there.

Try This Yourself and try not to type #WTFAdobeHDR

It appears that you could save time by simply taking the middle exposure, dropping the highlights, and amping up the shadows. And by save time, I mean up to several minutes. I have a fast computer and using the HDR Merge on Lightroom is is pretty slow. If you just move THREE sliders on the middle exposure, you appear to get the exact same result in 2 seconds.

Tell me if I’m crazy; tell me if I’m wrong. I mean, I’m not, and I won’t listen to you anyway, but feel free.


Here’s the new image that is created after merging in Lightroom HDR. You’ll see those three sliders on the right, each of which are automatically moved for you during the process. This took about 30 seconds on a Really Fast Computer.


Here’s one I made from the middle exposure in 2 seconds by simply moving those three sliders myself.

I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out why they made something so underwhelming. Personally, I don’t want to have to use another tool in the process… I know the people at Adobe are smart, but I’m actually confused how such a big team can take so long to make something so uninteresting. The team at Nik made a great HDR product in a small portion of the time. The team at Photomatix made something better than Adobe many years ago (and way way faster).

It’s actually surprising to me that a big company is so far behind these small companies. Why didn’t they just buy Photomatix and get their uber-fast and much-more-interesting algorithms? I don’t own any of Photomatix, btw… but just wondering about the decision processes of Adobe. They do a lot of strange stuff, but I figure this is because many decisions are made by committee, and this is why we never see a statue of a committee.

Lackluster HDR Results

When processing the photo, there is literally ONE option to adjust the look of your photo, which is “Auto-Tone.” That is basically ZERO options. And I don’t even know why it is an option, because if it is not selected, your photo does not get HDR’ed! It’s like having a Gaussian Blur dialog with a checkbox inside that says “Gaussian Blur.”

I’ve tried about 10 different images in there. I toggle on and of the “Auto-Tone” image and I haven’t been impressed once. Again, I can get the exact same result by just moving those three sliders on the middle image.


The Before Shot


The HDR Results from LR


One of 20 different results from Photomatix

Like, why not have Presets with lots of options? Pretty much all modern filter programs out there have presets now with little thumbnails. Maybe you’ve seen the awesome MacPhun Intensify stuff for example? Honestly, it’s not that hard to do, and Adobe could have made some Very Interesting HDR Presets that could give you a lot of different looks.

For example, here’s a screenshot of Photomatix featuring some of the Vaingloriously Named Trey Ratcliff’s Photomatix Presets. These are recommended by 2 out of 3 doctors.

Before Photomatix Photo

Before Shot


How presets look in Photomatix

Slow HDR Boat to China

I’m not gonna write much about this other than to say that in my 10 tests, it was always quite slow. It averages 30-80% slower than Photomatix. Maybe I’m just used to speedy Photomatix or other fast tools like MacPhun.

I have a fast Macbook Pro and I have used Lightroom to HDR merge many times. On average, for 3 RAW photos (each one 36 megapixels), it took 17 seconds to get into the dialog and then an additional 10 seconds after clicking merge. For 5 RAW images, it took 44 seconds to get into the dialog and an additional whopping 104 seconds after clicking merge.

Compare that with Photomatix (see my Photomatix Review) with the exact same photos. For 3 photos, it took 10 seconds to get into the dialog and then 4 seconds to process. For 5 photos, it took 16 seconds to get into the dialog and 5 seconds to process. That’s an amazing savings of over two minutes. TWO MINUTES DOT COM. (sorry I’ve been doing robot-voice lately).

I think one reason it is slow is because it’s converting everything to DNG first. So maybe if you’re already DNG it will be faster… personally I don’t covert to DNG. This is another topic… people ask my why I don’t convert. My short answers are: 1) It takes quite a bit longer during import. 2) In practice.I don’t really see the size savings as being material. 3) I’m not worried about my RAW photos going obsolete, and just in case they do, I can convert to DNG in 5 years or whatever when my computer is 50x faster.

Crippled Sliders

Here’s another surprise (the hits keep on comin’!). After the photo has been HDR processed, you’ll notice that the sliders have been pre-slid for your pleasure.

Maybe some of you know about the Photoshop “Merge to HDR” functionality. Now, I’m not really a fan of that either. However, there is one good feature that I was SURE Lightroom would include. In Photoshop, when you drag in a bunch of images for HDR, you still get a lot more control over the shadows/highlights and this sort of thing. Yes, you can add some gradients and adjustment brushes in LR, but it’s not on the surface. Even when I do that, I’m not seeing any more recovery.

And when you compare the HDR functionality in Photoshop to Lightroom, again, there is no comparison. At least the Photoshop one gives you some options to tweak out the intensity or variety of the effect. The only options the LR version gives you is around the ghosting.

Good stuff about the New Lightroom

It seems generally faster. Their marketing speak is “up to 10 times faster” which could mean literally anything (like the Help dialog loads 10 times faster whereas the curves tool is 1.2 times faster). But I do notice one of my biggest pet peeves is way faster — the crop tool. Before, when I would make a lot of changes to a photo, it was extremely sluggish during the crop.

Also there is a panorama merge, so that is handy for quick panos or people that want to only live life in LR. I still use Autopano because it is more powerful and lets me do HDR panoramas.

There are other features that I don’t use like facial recognition and advanced video slideshows. There are also some updates to mobile, but I don’t use those much, if at all.

What I wish they had added

Even though I love Lightroom, I find Adobe to be a frustrating company. It’s so obviously that they purposefully cripple Lightroom so people will keep using Photoshop.

A really good example is the content-aware healing brush. It’s Really Amazing in PS, and the spot-removal tool in LR is just not good enough. It’s literally Very Easy to add into LR, but they don’t do it.

Another good example is layers. Layers would not be that difficult to add (especially with their team of engineers that are using their time instead by working on such killer features as “Advanced Video Slideshows”).

I’d also like to see better catalog control and organization. I have it figured out, but it’s inscrutable to many people. I can’t tell you how many people, especially beginners, are super-confused about how to manage your LR catalog, especially if you travel and you have too many photos for one computer or drive.

In Sum

Obviously the thing THEY were most excited about was the HDR functionality. All their marketing material and blog posts begin with this amazing announcement. But it’s by far one of the most underwhelming features.

  • pmw

    hehe i saw that someone posted “i edited this with the new hdr in adobe” and i was smiling laughing thinking to myself hmmmm wonder what trey thinks, now i know…take care 🙂

  • Joseph Mina

    You’re being way too kind using a word like “underwhelm”. I’d add other words such as “clueless”, “obtuse” and “pathetic”. LR 6 is quite the disappointment.

  • Totally with you, Trey. The update is mostly good, but the HDR feature blows. I will also be sticking with Photomatix

  • I did a few tests of the HDR and Pano functions in LR myself. Like you, results were flat and showed very little benefit of merging. I did see a difference though beyond just sliding hightlights and shadows, the merged file had more controlled highlights but still fell far short of a Photomatix tonemapped file. I’ll take the speed improvements and other minor changes, but the new version of LR won’t change my HDR workflow.

  • Jay Pierstorff

    Trey, I am going to go with whatever you say regarding HDR. Lame it is! 🙂

  • ec lundburgh

    Don’t you think much of the bru=haha was in part b/c it’s been 2 years since a major update?

    And yes, there are disappointments; for me the importance of this new version is about performance: GPU processing now in BOTH ACR and LR ==> finally!

    If you want to have even MORE fun with LR/HDR, take the file back into ACR(through ps) or LR, and try making further adjustments. On a win7 box with a big GPU, the tools function but with unexpected (and rather amuzing) results.

    Thought LR would replace ACR in my workflow but just keep liking Bridge=>ACR=>PS more and more … even if it means not using the LR presets.


  • Thanks!

  • hehe thx @Jay Pierstorff:disqus 🙂

  • hehe thanks – glad it’s not just me!

  • Blake Rudis

    Loved hearing that Trey! I was thinking the whole time that Lightroom HDR would be all hype and hoopla. Glad it came to fruition as such.

  • John Chandler

    agreed LR hdr is not a tool i would use at all because the result is to bland with no way to fine tune it. its as if the hdr feature in LR was meant for newbies who never heard of HDR, thats my guess. I’m sticking to photomatix and nik google HDR efex pro. those two plugins work so well. Good points of view Trey.

  • ianrobertknight

    I agree with you, @treyratcliff:disqus
    I was underwhelmed. It was such a big announcement, with such a disappointing experience.
    I tried several image sets, and in each case, it was a sad result.
    The ‘finished’ photo was pretty much useless.

    I will continue to plod along as we always have, using the best available tools out there, and doing the work that is necessary to get the results we want. Nice try Adobe. Better luck next time.

  • Raj

    Trey, I’ve tried the same thing as you and gotten flat images as well, but I thought something else was happening. I think adobe is making a higher dynamic range RAW file from the others and then you take into Lightroom for the processing. Photomatix and Nik have the tone mapping built into the process. Isn’t Adobe just using LR for tone mapping after their HDR image comes out of the new tool? Am I missing something?

  • seansebastian

    The HDR feature in Lightroom 6 is simply combining all of your 16 bit images into a 32bit HDR image. It is exactly the same as merge to 32 bit in photoshop cc. The combined outcome image is then in LR for you to work on. Normal exposures can be adjusted – or + 5 stops but with 32bit image it will allow for -or+ 10 stops. The highlights and shadows sliders can be pushed far more than a standard 16 bit image. The more images/exposures that are combined, the more range you will have to work with and difference you’ll see in adjustments. HDR with only 3 images is lacking in tonal range and latitude. Works much better with 7-9 or even more shots. I have been using this process for over a year now and it creates a much more natural and realistic HDR image. More along the lines with what the eyes see. I love you’re work Trey but I’ve never seen crazy saturated and psychedelic colors mixed with glamor glow in real life. I much prefer the most realistic and natural approach to HDR. HDR simply refers to the latitude of the scene. Has nothing to do with loud colors and micro contrast. Every artist has their own idea of art and what they want it to look like. I respect that and that’s why I’ve created several images that use your method of HDR. It works for some scene and ruins others. The shot I’ve posted below is nothing amazing but is an example of the 32bit HDR that lightroom and photoshop produce. No tone mapping, no glow, no added sharpening. This is with a slight color adjustment and little lifted shadow. 9 exposure HDR. Let the criticism begin.

  • I’m not using Photomatix, but HDR Expose, so I’m comparing to this app. I found that resulting DNG images in LR have much better noise control. This DNG converted to 16-bit TIFF image can then be taken into Topaz Adjust and Topaz Detail to add atmosphere. Overall result might not be as good as HDR Expose, but images don’t have any noise and are silky smooth.

  • Tasos Papazahariou

    Hmm,the new lr hdr seems to offer the dynamic range someone would need to process the image the way he wants later on,no?

  • G’day Trey! My experience resonates with yours. But before that, I’m glad to read somebody shares my opinion (exactly) of the “convert to DNG” mantra…

    Anyway, I was caught up in the “HDR, Pano and 10X faster” groundswell and eagerly downloaded LR CC and converted my catalogue. The first feature I tried was Panorama: (on some of our Namibia images)

    Wait! What is that ugly colour cast gradient from left to right? Hmmm I never think about White Balance anymore (because I control it in post) but could that be it? Sure enough I shot the images on Auto WB. Rats! So I went back and synched the WB on the RAW files in LR and merged to panorama in LR again.

    Same result!

    Oh, and it was very, very slow.

    So I gave up at that point. But I suspect LR ignores it’s own Developer settings when constructing the pano. Independently, another friend used Spot Removal to remove dust spots prior to merging to Panorama. The dust spots REAPPEARED in the result.

    We both concluded: “Fail in most subjects, can do better in everything else.”

  • petervandever

    I use a mixture of Photomatix Pro and HDR Efex Pro. Photoshop’s native version is a joke.

  • Well, the HDR module is obviously done for beginners/once-a-year users of HDR process who do not want to invest in a proper plugin. I could have bet that it won’t be a full blown HDR processing module as powerful as Photomatix is. And I would have won 😀
    However it’s true that it’s quite disappointing too. For example the Nik HDR plugin is closer to the LR one than to Photomatix (less exhaustive kind of plugin), but offer much better results. I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be improved soon.
    Overall I like Lightroom 6/CC, at first for the better performances it offers, even on a 5 yo MBP. But the new features should have been more polished (the face recognition tool isn’t great at finding faces…). At least it gives room for the next updates 😉

  • Elf

    Right on Blake, Trey and all the others that smell the skunk in the “robbery” of our pocket books by PS.

  • Mika

    Thank you, for the information about 32-bit rendering. I simply had no time to check out the CC update in the last two days… I always wished, there was an easier way to do (realistic) HDR adjustments, than to export a 32-bit TIFF from Photoshop back into Lightroom. So, from my personal point of view, I’m glad to hear about that step Adobe has taken. Let’s see, if I’m happy with the workability, when I finally can get my hands on Lr CC on my own…

  • Nico Kaiser

    Your answer pretty much nails it! It’s a matter of expectations in the end. People are used to fancy presets and colorful outputs. LR just creates the 32bit HDR and makes it look balanced. The further processing is up to you…

  • Hi Trey, I agree with your comment on this new HDR module. it is a non sense to add this option as you can do the same with a original RAW file. I tried it in different way even using one of the Lightroom HDR version to blend it with other from Photomatix but it does not bring any better. I hope they will improve this new option which was a really good idea as it makes the workflow easier.

  • Trey, I understand your points completely based on the style of HDR that you do, as the Lightroom HDR is not designed to produce the stylized HDR look that other programs provide and is a hallmark of your work.

    However, your test examples don’t show any change from a single file because you’re testing on scenes that fit entirely within the DR of the camera. Overcast days like the ones you tested with only have about 7-8 stops of difference between brightest and darkest parts of the photo, which can easily be contained in any shot from a modern DSLR or mirrorless camera.

    Lightroom’s HDR is designed to produce natural looking photos with expanded dynamic range, which is something a lot of photographers want. I’ve tested it on scenes where the DR of the scene wildly outstrips what a single file can hold, and LR produces a file that captures all of it and looks very natural. It will also produce much cleaner shadows than massively pushing a scene that barely fits in the DR of the camera.

    I know the natural HDR look isn’t your style, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t make it useless for those who want wider dynamic range without the stylized effects.

  • Jochen Römling

    Agreed! I don’t have the same artistic approach as Trey has and for walk-around-touristy-shots I don’t want to process each image as Trey shows in his HDR video tutorial. I don’t want to export, merge, move a lot of sliders, import again, but I simply want to tweak each image and find it very convenient to get a self-contained DNG with a huge dynamic range. This makes it much easier to process those two sunsets in my gallery of tourist shots from my weekend vacation and get a much better quality than simply moving the highlights/shadows in the middle exposure, because that reveals a lot of noise while the DNG HDR thing doesn’t.

  • HKMatt

    Trey, yes… did the same as you… with my Nikon Df, I had similar results comparing my shadow/highlight adjustments to LR HDR.. btw, LR CC is real slow on my MBP… trying to sort that out right now…

  • Pippo

    Yesterday I arrived to the same conclusions as yours, and then made a demonstration to my wife…
    And today I read your piece… What a lol! Really Adobe is just fooling us!…

  • Charlie O’Brien

    Was looking forward to GPU improvement in the develop module but couldn’t even get it activated in my PC. I spent 2 hours in line waiting for Adobe chat and they had no help for me. I couldn’t log into Adobe to finish setup. On my laptop it took just a short bit of time to get it installed and activated. While I don’t do much photo processing on the laptop unless travelling – it is there. I hear LR6 is the last standalone LR product and I can see how it’s really wrapped in CC B.S. The chat guy spent a bunch of time giving me a CC sales pitch – fer cryin’ out loud – is that why I need help? To hear a cloud pitch. LR 5.7 may be on my machine for a while. At least I have Photomatix already.

  • Paul

    Trey “Even more surprising is the resulting new image has many siders pre-moved (including the highlight slider completely to the left), meaning there is little or no more recovery there.” is it because the image you used to start the merge had adjustments done already?? it looks like if you take untouched images to merge, then you get all the sliders available to be moved around..

  • Andrew

    Lightroom appears to be heading the same way as Photoshop and will just become bloatware, Adobe need to keep adding to software that is now very mature and very hard to add any real new innovations too. I believe this was one of the reasons we saw Adobe move to their subscription only option (currently excluding Lightroom, I can’t understand why you can still purchase Lr but other software can’t be available too!?!) So we see limited and weak additions, not sure how many users would be rushing out to upgrade for these new additions, if you had to pay? On a whole a very disappointing upgrade…

  • Totally agree with you here. Just cuts out sending to Photoshop to create a 32bit image in the first place. You still need to add your own recipe afterwards (Trey’s images out of Photomatix are not finished either)

  • ryfter

    I’ve seen the performance improvements shown on a graph. I guess skewing an image gets a HUGE boost. Many other actions get a good boost as well. Hey, found the graph: (×0/filters:no_upscale()/ (Yea, that is a god awful link, sorry).

    I have not played with HDR. I thought in the first iteration of HDR in Photoshop it mostly sucked, too. In later iterations it got better. It almost seems like Adobe likes to give us a cool feature, that doesn’t quite work up to snuff, and put a feather in their cap the next time around when they make it worth while.

    If I want Quick and dirty HDR, I just do it in PS. If I want quick and decent, I do it in Nik. If I want great, I go for HDR soft. (Though, I don’t have the latest version)

    I shoot events at work, and I am personally looking forward to facial recognition. It’ll make finding certain people easier. I can see that feature being meh for many. Most of the features in this upgrade, are kind of lame. The one awesome one, though, is the speed improvements. I think that is well worth it.

    I will make one comment on your article. I don’t know that Adobe wants to turn LR into the new Photoshop. Adding layers and some “kill features” of PS in LR seems a little counter to what the tool is. This is just my opinion, but I don’t think layers should be in LR. Would I like them, sure… but from an accessibility/ease of use standpoint, I don’t think they would be a good fit. (Content aware, I am 100% with you, though).

  • Andrew Freeman

    Not played with the HDR feature yet, but after seeing this all I can say is “oh dear”. Hopefully there is something you missed, but, err.. I doubt it! Nice work by the way. Not a huge fan of some HDR but your work is pretty cool.

  • Jeremy Salda

    I have to agree with this. I don’t do shoot a lot, as it’s not the main focus of my business. But I was able to use the LR HDR feature just today. I had a client that wanted some interior shots of their event center. The room was overall, dimly lit, but there were multiple light sources and different WB of each (LED can lights & tungsten chandeliers). I used the LR HDR on the shots and they came out natural looking, more like what my eye saw but the camera was not going to be able to capture in a single shot. I was even able to extract the detail from the chandeliers!

  • davestavros

    Nice picture. I also feel like Trey missed the point. His example picture is not even an HDR image. I imagine that this implementation is the same as the one in photoshop. I sometimes shot 9 images +3ev to -3ev and merge them in photoshop. You can then adjust it with camera raw filter. I don’t want presets that make the sky look like it has been dyed blue, I just want a high dynamic range (32 bit) file. That is what Adobe have done. I am not going to buy lightroom 6 because I already have lightroom 5 and photoshop 6, but if I din’t have photoshop, it would be probably be worth the $80 to upgrade.

  • thanks!

  • No – there were no movements before… all clean

  • No – I used 3 pictures to make that… it is HDR

  • Kyle VanEtten

    Lol – I made it all the way to TL;DR and poopydiapers then lost it. I haven’t been overwhelmed with the update either, and like you mentioned I really have been pretty underwhelmed with the merge to 32 bit in the past. I get the people that are saying it is focused on a “natural” HDR look, but that is something you could already get with LR without the big update (as you also point out). If the HDR feature is the one you emphasize with the release announcements – make it awesome, not just ok.

  • You seem to start so many articles already on the defensive, Trey – “I’ve already ignored you even before you’ve thought about it.” Seriously? I found myself mostly agreeing with you, but phrases like that make you look like a bit of a dick. Rise above the criticism! Anyway – I’ve been using HDR software for a similar time-frame to you and I found myself similarly underwhelmed by this update to Lightroom. The HDR function is as you describe and I was similarly surprised at the pre-slid sliders thing. The results I’ve got are terrifyingly bland, like some milky mid-ground of exposures with all the life sucked out of the image. That said I prefer Photoshop Merge to HDR to Photomatix – the results look far more natural even if you use Photomatix’s exposure fusion mode. I love Photomatix but I prefer the convenience of Photoshop and the changes I can make to the 32-bit image in Camera RAW. I’ve found this Lightroom update to be a huge disappointment and I certainly haven’t noticed any of the claimed speed improvements and I have a new Macbook Pro. Keep on keeping on.

  • x

    You say “It’s Really Amazing in PS, and the spot-removal tool in LR is just not
    good enough. It’s literally Very Easy to add into LR, but they don’t do

    I would like it too, and was expecting it in version 6, but I am not sure it’s actually very easy. Obtaining similar results in a photo editor like PS and in a non-destructive environment like LR requires a different approach from a programming point of view.

  • Dave Joyce

    Well, If you want the artistic HDR, sure there are several plugins. LR certainly isn’t a plugin, but I found that a bang on single exposure versus a 3 blend based HDR LR6 created image, suffered tonely once brought into photoshop and adding some tonal contrast and detail extraction via NIK Colour EFEX Pro. Using some curves and or Lvls in photoshop locally brought out flat parts to the image to suit my liking. So for me, there is definately greater tonal range depth to be extracted from LR HDR files once significant localised processing occurs in PS.

  • Thank you for all the comments…

  • rebecca

    “Even though I love Lightroom, I find Adobe to be a frustrating company. It’s so obviously that they purposefully cripple Lightroom so people will keep using Photoshop.” Agree completely. I use Lightroom and Photomatix 90% of the time and just need Photoshop for those 10% of things that require Photoshop. I’m not a graphic designer, I don’t need Photoshop for any other reason than very minor, nitpick tweaks. I really wish I could finish up that last 10% in Lightroom and save myself the 9.99 each month.

  • TroyMcClure

    Since Trey is confusing us by saying he won’t listen to us and couldn’t care less, yet still asks what we think at the end of the post, I will reply with my opinion to commenters instead. A lot of what I’m writing has been pointed out already in previous comments:

    The reason why Trey doesn’t like this is because he’s got his own very specific workflow he’s used to, and which gets him great results; as in, very superior results, but these cannot be obtained any other way. Not with PS alone, not with Photomatix alone, not with PerfectPhotoSuite, not with whichever PS plugin he uses (and/or advertises), and certainly not with Lightroom alone. He always needs a combination of these, so do probably the rest of you if you want to get to results approaching the quality of these images posted at the beginning of his post.

    I gave it a go myself and I think it is a valuable addition to LR. I tried on a couple of images and here are my observations:
    – processing time: I processed a couple of pictures and didn’t think it was taking very long on my early 2010 macbook pro. I wasn’t bothered, and if I didn’t have a couple of minutes to work on my pictures then I’d have a different sort of problem. Anyway this has to be a remark relevant for pro photographers only, not for the rest of us. If you don’t process dozens of HDR images a day then that small processing time loss really doesn’t matter at all

    – lacklustre results: Yup, and that’s a good thing if you ask me. Input raw files are bland by nature, feed it to LR’s “merge to HDR” function and you get a bland output. But why would you stop there? You should do the same thing that you do in Photomatix, which is play around with the sliders until you’re “90% satisfied with the result” (I’m actually quoting from Trey’s course here), and probably do the rest in PS like you’re used to. Also I cannot understand the remark on presets, these should be avoided in most, if not all cases, in pretty much any software. The Photomatix presets in particular are absolutely awful.

    – crippled sliders: I didn’t quite see what is crippled, it works exactly as the merge to HDR function of the previous version, after it was reimported into LR. Does it really not?

    – Adobe marketing: nothing new there.

    No one said anything about noise yet. From what I’ve seen on my images, the results are fairly noise free in LR, and that’s a good point. Using third party software usually creates a fairly large amount of noise, which you have to deal with eventually. That also takes time, probably more processing time in the end than whatever LR is taking. Sometimes you have to remove it selectively which takes even more time.

    If I summarise my view, it would sound like this:
    For whom is this functionality recommended: Amateur photographers who want to experiment with
    HDR without investing into a boatload of plugins and software, and who want to get noise-free, natural looking pictures with a good level of recovery in shadows/highlights.
    For whom is this functionality not recommended: Pro photographers like Trey who process a lot of pictures with a well defined workflow, using third party software and plugins, jumping back and forth comfortably between these and extracting the best of each different software’s functionalities along the way.

    I will also second JordanCS13’s comments on LR’s results on scenes with a very high DR. The sample image used in Trey’s post doesn’t look like a good candidate for HDR to start with.

    Disclaimer: I am a customer of stuck in customs / Trey’s video tutorials.

  • Michael Leadbetter

    Gotta make the switch to Lightroom, I’m using that dead pice of rubbish Aperture

  • Troy

    You mean a program that does as much as Lightroom does; its new little feature doesn’t match a piece of software built specifically for that type of thing?!?! Say it isn’t so!
    Next will be an article about how Photoshop’s video editing doesn’t hold a candle to Final Cut Pro.
    Though honestly, I’m the stupid one, i clicked and read it; and i knew better.

  • A_Colloquy_of_Neurons

    I still say alpha-channels aka Luminosity Masks are a far more accurate (and manual) way to get the right HDR look!

  • yeah I agree

  • hehe thx for your feedback — by “crippled sliders” – maybe I will make a video to show what I mean

  • Cool review, Trey. I’ve been a long-time Photomatx user and feel the same way you do about other software. I have been, however experimenting with manually-blending images strictly in Photoshop using Luminosity Masks. Have you tried this?

  • Gus Bird

    You can be a bit passonate and over the top about these things – is that the artist coming out? I don’t love Adobe but do continue to buy their stuff. I remember some of the earliest (very painful) digital darkroom software (pre PS even) and still can’t get over all the great tools that are available today. The interesting thing about HDR to me is the decision-making process one goes through deciding what final image makes the cut. I really like most of the stuff you put up and some of it I don’t like but it ever has much to do with how “far out” the shot is/isn’t. Someone old school like Ansel Adams didn’t settle for everyday, boring and “realistic” shots anymore than you do. He just maybe had to work a lot harder/dirtier post processing to get there 🙂

  • Coenrad Morgan

    I am an Adobe CC subscriber yet have had Lightroom as a stand-alone since I started using it (LR4 ), as I depend on lightroom as my catalog. I wanted to ensure that I always have access to LR, thus, I purchased the LR5-6 upgrade. First thing, purchasing the LR6 stand-alone was difficult as I was continuously pushed to log into my Adobe CC account, at which point the option to purchase the upgrade was suddenly invisible, eventually I had to lie and claim not to have had a cc account, in the end I paid, got the serial and installed; ONLY FOR IT TO ADD ITSELF AS LIGHTROOM cc and NOT LR6. In short, I don’t have another computer to install it on but I am guessing that in order for LR6 to be LR6 and thus, a true stand-alone, you need to install it on a computer sanitized of a CC application install to avoid it being sucked back into cc ( I could have installed it anyway from cc, all paid for and on offer as an application but I INSIST on securing my catalog by having LR as a stand-alone ). None of this was an issue prior to LR6, Upgrades and Installs of LR as a stand-alone where unhindered by the very same version being available on CC, NOT SO ANYMORE. So, despite Adobe’s marketing budget, as a loyal customer, I was pissed even before I got to be underwhelmed by any feature. As a low end PC user, I must state that LR6 / LR CC is much more responsive, that much I am very pleased with, its almost as fast as Adobe is in grabbing ones cash and then whipping you for not seeing things their way. I WANT LR6 , more specifically, my catalog to remain stable, no matter what my Adobe CC status may be, apparently, yes you can pay for it, NO you can’t have it.

    *** In order to fully test my gripe, I will need to uninstall ALL cc related apps, then re-install LR and hope that it comes back as LR6 and not cc, but, should I have to when this was not a problem before, for accuracy, the answer is yes, which I wont do, bandwidth is expensive and I have no intention of trashing everything and then re-downloading and installing everything. Maybe someone without CC could give me some idea of what LR used to be like, did the LR6 upgrade install work as expected, does it announce itself as LR 6 or CC (as in my case )?

  • Steve Vaughan

    Having had a look at Trey’s comments and some of the responses, my conclusion is

    * if you want to do the type HDR artwork which Trey is in to the Lightroom upgrade is not the place to go looking – and neither is the HDR tool in Photoshop
    * a few informal tests suggests that Lightroom HDR is significantly less noise prone than even 32 bit HDR in Photoshop
    * the images which Trey posted are (as others have remarked) not exactly the extreme range images which I would consider using HDR with – as he says, you could get the full dynamic range with adjusting a few sliders in Lightroom or Camera Raw
    So as usual with developments in software it depends what you want the software for – and not everything is good for every purpose.

  • I’m only an enthusiastic amateur but the pathetic effort at HDR merge was the first thing that struck me. I thought I was missing something until now. I will continue to use the Photomatix plugin which works brilliantly.

  • Mike Dale

    I would fire your ghost writer because this review is not from one who describes themselves as “I’m a warm-hearted, old-school gentleman explorer with really cool toys”. You used to have a little humility but these days not so much.

  • Anthony Luis Solis

    Unclick the Auto Tone and the sliders will be at 0 with a 32-bit DNG file. No tone mapping. I suppose you could take that file into Photomatix from there, but if one is going to do that, you might as well do the whole thing in Photomatix.

  • dbur

    In all fairness I had some pretty good luck with LR6 HDR merge and pano stitching. I’ve only done a couple in LR6 so far but this image was entirely merged, stitched and tone mapped in LR6 (did have to do a 49% vignette correction on all images before stitching). In PS HDR images need to be manually adjusted to match exposure after merging, but a common recipe for all images worked great in LF6. This image would be totally garbage without multibracket HDR. There is no exposure that does not have totally blown highlights or solid blacks. 5 exposure brackets, 10 images. Yes, it was kind of slow, and automating the whole thing would be nice. If more extreme tone mapping is desired you can always export the HDR pano to NIK or OnOne for more work, since LR tone mapping seems more suited to realistic renderings than anything more extreme.
    or search flickr for 3269-Huangshan

    The full size is 21522×4809, and many interesting walkways can be seen at 100% view. (Circled in red on the small view)

    I see your points but I guess this is somewhat of a defensive response in favor of LR6. I’m happy with what it does so far. Haven’t tried the sperical panoramas yet and am a bit more skeptical about that working well enough without any manual control points.

  • davestavros

    If you could have used 1 picture to capture the exact same tonal range, it is not really HDR as your dynamic range is the same. All you will get is slightly cleaner shadows, all of the other detail would have been there with your middle picture. You can see from the histogram in your before shot that you had no clipping. I’m sure if you printed it big you could see the reduction in shadow noise, but at 600px wide on the internet, there is no discernible difference.

  • Dennis Manske

    Strange Trey. I figured if anyone would appreciate this update, it would be you. Unlike photomatix or whatever, the HDR in LR remains a RAW. That isn’t a good thing for your workflow?

  • You’re showing quality differences with JPG files? Seriously? E.g.×599/02-900×599.jpg
    I can barely read the text, it’s so blurry.

    Yes, it seems that the HDR feature in LR6 is not suitable for the colour-vomit look you’re after. It’s a special look, and it can sometimes work, but in general I don’t like it. But for just getting more dynamic range (one could maybe call this feature “high dynamic range”), my initial review is that LR6 does this awesomely: (this is jpg because I have no choice)

    In the past I’ve not bothered with HDR much, since Photomatrix is just too much work. Maybe its workflow is better nowadays though.

    But really: Tone mapping is not the same thing as HDR.

  • I’m glad you mentioned the speed issue Andy. I was wondering if I’ve done something wrong because LR6 is definitely slower than LR5.7 on my PC. Thank you.

  • Whatever you mean Trey I’d like to know how it is possible to do basic adjustments in LR6 after you’ve done an HDR merge because as you say the sliders prevent you.

  • Peter Slupski

    After reading this I played with LR CC and was impressed. I have never been impressed with Photomatix, or NIK, but then I’m not looking for nuclear images either. The results I got were pretty natural with LR CC and even though it is slow, it’s tradeoff you have to make between quality and crap. So if you don’t mind a little wait, don’t dump the program yet, play with it a little.

  • Pavol Sojak

    my understanding is that you will got those speed improvements through graphic card acceleration. you may need to check Menu – Edit -> Preferences -> Performance, ensure that the “Use Graphic Processor” is enabled, and hit the “System Info”. Look for lines similar to those:
    Graphics Processor Info:
    AMD Radeon HD 7400M Series <- this will be your graphic card
    Check OpenGL support: Passed <- if you see Failed here, LR failed to initialize. I needed to downgrade my graphic card drivers to older version to get this work. Adobe is still working on compatibility for some cards.

    Then the performance increase is mainly visible in Develop module, when you play with basic exposure settings. In the LR5.x the changes were always refreshes with delays of some seconds. With graphical processor acceleration this it almost real-time (honestly I do not see any delay when moving the sliders up & down).

    For other actions I do not noticed any real speed improvements. Or they are really non-significant.

  • Michael Newberry

    Trey, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments on LR-HDR. Adobe only gets this result by corporate intent, not by accident or lack of tech talent. To anyone having much experience in HDR, this new tool is a joke. Being quite astonished at its lameness, I actually hit upon your review by googling “lightroom HDR sucks”! I use other apps for HDR anyway, but I thought I would give the new “feature” a try after the latest lr-cc installed. German has a word for it: Schrecklich!

  • Wow!! And now I find that after using the crippled LR6 upgrade it doesn’t work unless you are connected to the internet. So when I wanted to do some processing during a period when my internet connection was down I couldn’t. How good is that. Do you have any ideas Trey or anyone?

  • Trey I’m not a hater, love your work and brand – but Lightroom pushes better images out that Photomatrix. Period.

  • Richard Adams

    I found this article because I searched for HDR LRCC noise. I believe that my LR HDR images exhibit far more noise than the base “camera” exposure. Adding two more exposures at +/- 2 EV and using LR HDR seems to really amplify the noise. I thought that it was acceptable since I have noise controls in LR and I still have a raw file to work with. After reading through these comments, I am starting to believe that maybe my images don’t need HDR and a perfectly good result can be had with the tools in the basic panel. Since LRCC has only been out for a few weeks, I would imagine that Adobe will be sensitive to the experience of its users and an update may fine tune the results.

    I am processing all of my images from a recent trip in LR and HDR, some with the pano function. If it weren’t for this version I would never have taken so many bracketed exposures, for this I am thankful because regardless of which tool I use to blend the luminosity, I forced myself to have all the data to use as I please.

    I have however noticed that when creating a panorama from HDR images, some of the final sections exhibit dramatically more noise then the sections on either side. The HDR versions were all created with the same settings in LR. I’ll scroll along a 20,000 wide image and go “Wow, where did that noise come from”.

    I hope that, as with all new tools, there is a period of learning, sharing, and understanding that will lead to better images. Thank you everyone for your comments, I learned a lot here.

  • Bruno Bartolotta

    I mostly agree this is a totally useless function when it comes to processing images you do for yourself or for art.

    But I personnaly found it usefull when I process commercial images. i work in real estate and i sometimes have to take nice and efficient pictures destined at promoting appartment or houses. those are cheap pictures that serve a basic need of showing the apartment, distribution and a general feel of the surroundings such as the view.

    This new feature has saved me a lot of time in post process as before I had to go into Photomatix and adjust levers on a one on one photo basis and most of the time had to blend parts of the original back into photoshop as parts came out too exagerated.

    For this purpose this is a usefull feature, but then I discovered recently photomatix had a 30 dollar plugin that was doing the job just fine, so I guess my CC subscription just saved me 30 USD !

    I do state that those images are not made to go into arrt magasines but to provide a clean and effective job for sales adds on dedicated real estate sites. Apart from that it is a useless feature.

    It did not strike me that lightroom had become so much faster on my imac. Plus the panorama function is nice but man, this is so slow, the merge takes for ever and then just showing the panoramas once edited takes also forever. So unless you do those on few occasions, this feature too seems useless.

  • Bruno Bartolotta

    Photomatix requires work and experience to get some good results but at the end of the day potential is way beyond what you can get out of the lightroom merge to HDR function

  • john andrew

    I can’t stand LR6, HDR aside. For me, it’s slower than 5.7 and crashes relentlessly! I still have 5.7 on the same maschine(s) and it works fine, though as most know, it’s one of the slowest image catalog/processing software out there. A pro-photog friend uses only (ONLY) Bridge to catalog and process photos and for that alone I may try it out. And Bridge is FAST. Comments/help?

  • john andrew

    yes, LR6 is slower and crashes. And no cust support/response from my emails.

  • Did all that before I made my comment

  • “I’ve already ignored you even before you’ve thought about it.”

    Way to go Mr. Humble.

  • ok so you basically don’t understand what HDR is. I guess that’s ok because not many people do given how bastardized its become over the years.

    You’re under the impression that HDR means something more than increasing the dynamic range of a photo through luminance variations in exposures.

    If you want your photos to be freaky colors that make a clown smile then go for it. Your photos above really do look great, they’re just blasted on all ends of the spectrum and tone mapped to shit in every regard.

    The HDR merge in Photoshop isn’t designed to do that. It’s simply designed to merge multiple exposures, thus increasing the effective dynamic range of the photo you’re editing. The advantage of the tool is that the combined photos, once merged into one, are fully editable as a DNG file.

    You don’t need to like it. I’m already taking photos with it that have a significantly higher dynamic range and MP than the stock camera. I’m actually averaging 51MP currently with most of my shots and if you don’t know how to figure that out, or calculate your results prior to taking the photo, then there is a bit more of a problem at play than simply Lightroom.

    Good luck either way, thanks for the review.

  • What I see is that Adobe simply added a feature to build those huge 32bits files with a huge dynamic range. That’s basically it. It’s up to you later to “switch on or off lights in the building”. That’s also the way if you were launching Photomatix Pro as a plugin from Lightroom, you simply get 32bits tiff file where exposure is from -10 to +10 stops.

    I think Trey is right about Adobe marketing policy, those features could be implemented long time ago. However, I don’t think this is money driven, 12€ for Photoshop and Lightroom is nothing. Coming up with such deal might be simpler and faster (to reach photographers faster) than merging functionalities between different applications (I’m sorry, half of me is a software engineer which’s talking now…).

    Now, what I think @treyratcliff:disqus is after are some default presets, something nice that display your HDR image looking cool right off the bat, just like in standalone Photomatix Pro. And I kinda understand that.

    I really like your work, Trey, and I agree, it’s not for everyone. New Lightroom may not let you get rid of Photomatix Pro (and I’m not saying it should, I still use mine) and follow the same workflow.
    But, on the other hand, hasn’t Adobe just opened the door for you to come up with a new product? Trey Ratcliff presets for Lightroom HDR which make look images as good (or even better) as in Photomatix (I’m sure that’s possible), can’t wait to see those! 🙂

  • Jared C

    I agree with you John. LightRoom simply tried to create an all in one HDR so that users don’t have to use Photoshop. Unfortunately LightRoom is found lacking for anything requiring deghosting. No matter what level it is set at, there is significant noise it the deghosted areas. I’ll stick to the ACR 8 for my HDR’s which create the most natural look. It’s still not perfect, but it’s better than PhotoMatix for creating 32 bit files.

    @treyratcliff:disqus isn’t thinking of the other uses of HDR when it comes to those that want a natural looking photo. The main reason I use HDR in my process is simply to gain as much detail in the highlights and shadows without the noise and without the exaggerated colors. When delivering professional architectural photos, the idea is to simply show the dynamic range of the human eye. It might seem boring, but it is an art of its own. I would buy a medium format camera if I could, but I don’t currently have $50k to invest, so this will work around will do for now.

  • true

    wait, just to clarify. If I use the merge to HDR option in the LR6 , it’s 32bit? I haven’t been able to test it out much, but the advantage of 32bit to DR should be very nice if true.

  • true

    the anti-ghosting tool/brush alone that the photomatix offers is very good

  • Fox

    Not much to add to John G’s comment. Trey is simply wrong in stating that you cannot “adjust the intensity of the HDR image”, and he is also wrong in saying that you can get the same results by simply moving the hightlights and shadow sliders. Crank up the shadows in a normal RAW and you pay for it in noise, do it with a good HDR and the image remains clean. The HDR also allows for more highlight recovery and is sharper.

    Despite some people’s misconceptions, HDR ≠ surrealism. HDR is a simple technique to increase an image’s dynamic range, what we see in some of the images above is just intense tonemapping. The tool in LR 6/CC is great as it simply delivers a 32-bit image that allows for extensive editing without the usual downside of a loss in image quality.

    It seems that some people can still fail to understand what HDR really is even after having worked with it for years 😀

  • Bradley Stone

    Pretty sure it only checks license once every 30 days.

  • Deo Spackle

    Any one with Adobe Lightroom 6 serial numbers please help me out

  • true

    This new HDR feature slows LR very much, and dealing the the created DNG is slow too. I won’t recommend this feature, Adobe certainly should look more into this. The feature must’ve been hastily implemented, as there’s no deghost brush or anything.

  • Jon Williams

    By crippled sliders, LR did most people a favor by not entering into the ‘fake look’.

    If you want the photomatix look, which can’t be obtained by the limitations of theLR sliders, add a brush (or 2 or 3, depending on how surreal you want your image to be) and paint the vibrance, contrast, and clarity, etc., over the whole image, or even better yet, the parts that need it. Understanding what HDR and what photomatix does is half the battle.

    Also, presets in photomatix are just another way of adding or adjusting pixels, aka sliders. If you can convince me photomatix does something different, aside from presets, that LR can do, I’d love to hear it.

  • James P

    ?? 32bit files wipe the floor with the rest of the toned map mud

  • Ronc

    Fox, I agree. I do real estate photography and I find the LR HDR feature fabulous. It never renders an over the top result, AND it returns a RAW file! This for me is huge when I’m still able to use multiple copies of the HDR image to even out color temp differences in some scenes with huge windows and a lot of incandescent light in other parts of the interior. I actually prefer the muted, evenly toned final results I get in LR so I can take the image into Topaz or OnOne to add dynamic contrast and other tweaks to really pop the final result without overdoing it!

  • John G

    Did you switch yet? haha…

  • Scott

    I’ve played with this a lot and am extremely disappointed. Merging three +/- 2 brackets shots to HDR, the results are absolutely no different than the middle frame. None. Zero. I can’t find a single difference. Turning on Auto-Tone just seems to apply the same settings I would have applied to the single middle image myself (shadows up, highlights down, etc).

    If I take the auto-tone settings applied to the result, to the middle frame – the results are identical. It’s honestly bad enough I personally think it’s just not working at all.

    Boo, Adobe.

  • Scott

    Okay – I found ONE difference, that I hadn’t seen noted in other articles – the noise. I compared the middle frame, with typical shadow/highlight/clarity adjustments to the generated HDR image with the same adjustments.

    The noise in the shadows is almost non-existent with the HDR file, while typical, and visible at 100% on the middle frame (+/- 0 EB). These shots were all at ISO 100, so digital noise was minimal, but any time you crank up shadow detail, you’re going to see a bit of it. With the HDR result when I crank up the shadows – NO noise.

    That makes sense, as the resulting image is a combination of my three frames, hence digital noise would be reduced if not almost eliminated. Plus, if I understand correctly, the resulting DNG file is 16 bit, giving more headroom
    As frustrated as I am with the HDR results from LR, this alone could be really useful.

  • Scott

    An Adobe blog I read indicated 24-bit results – because 32-bit would result in ginormous files.

  • “Okay – I found ONE difference, that I hadn’t seen noted in other articles – the noise.”

    That’s not the only difference – try to pull down clipped highlights in a RAW file and you will recover close to no information, do it in an HDR and it all comes back nicely. This and the noise is exactly the point of HDR. I don’t understand why you are frustrated with the HDR results from LR as it does exactly what HDR is supposed to be – simply extent dynamic range, NOT turn your image into a surrealist painting.

  • Yes, you are missing the fact that LR does exactly what HDR is supposed to be – it gives you a file with higher dynamic range that allows for shadow recovery with little added noise and highlight recovery where a single RAW would have lost all information. You can then edit that as you please, either realistically or by tone mapping it do death like Photomatix encourages you to do.

    Maybe understand the concept of HDR first before you call a perfectly fine HDR tool a ‘pathetic effort’.

  • I agree Mr. Fox. My initial damnation was rather premature and your response rather late. My comment was made a year ago and based on Adobe’s over the top marketing of the addition which was then somewhat misleading. As always, time is a great healer and I see now that it is, as you say, “..a perfectly fine HDR tool…” A big part of the fun learning photography for me is experimenting, which I continue to do. But you may be pleased to know that I, now, seldom use pre-sets and never tone-map to death!!

  • Scott

    Agreed. I’m learning to love LR’s HDR – I don’t WANT surrealistic images, I want realistic images with lots of range to work with.

  • No worries mate 🙂

  • Joey Lenze

    I’m late to the party but I agree with everything you said in this tutorial. I got into HDR (from this blog actually) many years ago and I used Luminance, it’s predecessor, and many versions of Photomatix. I finally upgraded LR to get the HDR, thinking my workflow could now all be done in Lightroom. (I used go Photomatix and then adjust the final image more in LR). I’VE ALREADY LOST ALL OF MY ABILITY TO ADJUST HIGHLIGHTS AND SHADOWS. That is so much of what controls the “feel” of an image. If you’re shooting RAW, I don’t think anything is gained by their HDR merge. And don’t get me started on LR’s deghosting algorithm…even on low I had so much noise that it was unusable.

  • Read some of the posted comments in this thread and you’ll realise you’re completely wrong.

  • Keith D

    Maybe your middle frame didn’t have any blown highlights or burnt lowlights? In which case, the +/- 2 brackets wouldn’t add any information aside from potentially reducing noise.

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