We don’t need no stinkin’ HDR Hassles!! – Use ACR instead …



Want to take advantage of the positives of High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography, while bypassing all of those confusing HDR plug-ins and software (with their sometimes unpredictable and “plastic-looking” results)?

Then you’re going to love this – you can make all of your adjustments in the powerful Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) plug-in that comes with Photoshop, instead of confusing third-party software…

First, what is HDR? From Wikipedia“It’s a set of techniques used in photographic digital imaging to reproduce a greater dynamic range of luminosity than possible using standard digital imaging or photographic techniques.”

Here’s how this technique works:

Start by shooting your subject in RAW, with 3 or more bracketed exposures of the same subject, preferably using the Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) function of your DSLR.  Then these exposures are merged together in the ACR plug-in, giving us increased Dynamic Range, resulting in quite a bit more digital information to work with.

•  What I’m going to show you in the accompanying video is mostly procedural, so you’ll need a working knowledge of ACR and AEB, plus the steps listed below.

•  For more on working with Adobe Camera RAW, here’s Part 1 of my 2-part Apogee Photo Magazine article on RAW fundamentals – or better yet, buy my Photoshop Book 🙂

•  For more on setting up your Automatic Exposure Bracketing, consult your camera’s user manual, or simply Google “Automatic Exposure Bracketing” and you camera model number.

Here are the steps, feel free to follow along in the video above:

1) “File” -> “Automate” -> “Merge to HDR Pro …”

  1. Browse for RAW Files
  2. Check: “Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images”
  3. Press “OK” button
  4. (Automation Begins)

2) “Merge to HDR Pro” Dialog Box Opens

  1. Check: “Remove Ghosts” (3 or more images)
  2. Choose “32 Bit” from the drop-down menu
  3. Check: “Complete Toning in Adobe Camera Raw”
  4. Press “Tone in ACR” button
  5. (Automation Begins)

3) Opens as 32-Bit merged File in ACRMake necessary RAW adjustments

  1. Save settings: Your settings are NOT automatically saved, so once all of your adjustments are made, go to the “Presets” tab in ACR, and choose “Save Settings …” under the “Options” drop -down menu – Save as a .XMP File (NOTE: Choose an appropriate name – If you need to reload the .XMP file , you will need to manually use “Load Settings …”)
  2. Press “OK” button in ACR

4) Opens as 32 bit file in Photoshop

  1. Flatten Image: “Layer” -> “Flatten Image”
  2. Convert to 16 Bit: “Image” -> “Mode” -> “16 Bits/Channel …”
  3. “HDR Toning” Dialog Box Opens
  4. Choose “Exposure and Gamma” from the Method” drop-down menu
  5. Press the “OK” button, save file as your 16-bit Master File (TIFF, PSD, PSB)

 Questions? Email me: john@wattsdigital.com  – Oh, and comments below are always welcome!

Thanks again, and cheers!

John 🙂


Photoshop vs Lightroom? Wrong question!

LR vs PS


Lately, I’ve been asked a version of this question over and over – “For working on my images, should I use Lightroom or Photoshop?”

To me, that’s the wrong question, perhaps not even a fair question.  Photoshop and Lightroom are not designed to replace each other; they’re designed to complement each other – they’re two different programs, with two different purposes.

So, what are the right questions?

“For enhancing my image and getting the absolute most out of my digital capture, which is the better program?”  Answer:  Photoshop

“And for critically editing and managing my collection of images, which is the better program?”   Answer:  Lightroom

Here’s another way of thinking about it:  Photoshop is your “Digital Darkroom”, whereas Lightroom is your “Digital Library”.

Let me explain – and to do so, let’s first define each program, both products from Adobe.

What is Photoshop? It’s an image manipulation & enhancement software program – or for you propeller-heads out there, it’s a “raster graphics editor”.  It’s an industry standard for a reason: it’s an incredibly powerful (and complex) program.

What is Lightroom? I like this definition from Wikipedia – it’s an image management application database which helps in viewing, editing, and managing digital photos.  It’s also powerful for what it’s designed to do, but not near as complex as Photoshop.

Is there “crossover” in what each program can do?  Of course, and therein lies the confusion – for instance, the program “Bridge” comes free with Photoshop, and it’s a very good “file browser”; Lightroom has a “Develop” and “Print” module.

But you should never confuse what you can do in Bridge with the organizational power of Lightroom, nor should you even remotely confuse the “Develop” module to the full capabilities of image enhancement capable in Photoshop.

With that in mind, you have 3 choices when choosing which program(s) to use.  In my comments, I’m going to focus (pun intended) on getting the absolute most out of your digital capture, which is my passion and area of expertise.

1) Use Lightroom Only:  The best “Digital Library” out there, but for critical digital output, I don’t consider this the best choice. It’s a fallacy that the “Develop” module in Lightroom is “just as good” as Photoshop – in fact, the “Develop” module is exactly the same as the Adobe Camera RAW Plug-in in Photoshop, and no more.  In this regard, Photoshop is a “NASCAR race car” to Lightroom’s “passenger car” – no comparison.

Another question I get asked: Should a newbie try Lightroom first to enhance their images, and then step up to Photoshop later?  Unless you need the power of Lightroom (Digital Library), I would recommend against it.  If you want to start right and truly discover the power of digital capture, learn Photoshop first (Digital Darkroom).  The learning curve is a bit higher than Lightroom (see below), but the results to your digital output are worth it.

2) Use Photoshop Only (with Bridge):  As a custom photographic printer for over 30 years, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and Photoshop is the best – no serious pro would consider not using the best in any discipline.  A downside: Photoshop can be a bit harder to learn than Lightroom, no doubt – but as a photographer, you only need to use about 10 to 15% of this complex program, and you can pretty much ignore the rest.  Oh, and it’s not nearly as complicated with the right instruction designed for photographers (hint-hint: shameless plug – click here)

3) Use both Lightroom and Photoshop:   Now, I confess – I’m not a Lightroom fan and don’t use it, but I also don’t shoot hundreds of images a week.  If you do, then you may want to consider using Lightroom, too.  Keep in mind the added complications to your digital workflow, as well as having one more program to learn.  If you don’t need the power of Lightroom, why learn a second program?

My approach?  As I’m big on keeping things simple (and don’t shoot hundreds of images a week), I rely on Bridge as my file browser, and use Photoshop exclusively.  Oh, and I don’t run every image through Photoshop – only those that, after critical editing,  I’ve decided need a Master File – click here for more on Master Files from an article I wrote for ApogeePhoto.com.

My recommendation?  If your goal is to get the absolute most out of your digital capture (for print in particular), you should include Photoshop in your arsenal.  If you’re a newbie, I’d suggest that you start with Photoshop (Digital Darkroom), and use Bridge as your Digital Library… If Bridge is not getting the job done, step up to the better “Digital Library” – Lightroom.

By the way, you can download both programs from Adobe’s Creative Cloud for Photographers, for $10 a month – click here … You can also read more on Photoshop CC on my blog here


John 🙂



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