I’ve attended a Lightroom sharing session recently and one of the topic which I found interesting is with regards to working with bracketed shots in Lightroom. Lightroom itself is not really “user friendly” in terms of handling bracketed shots. Most photographer will resort to other software such as Photoshop or Photomatix to merge their bracketed shots and post process it. I don’t use Photoshop, most of the time I’ll use Photomatix for bracketed or HDR shots, but I don’t really like the interface of Photomatix, I would prefer to edit the picture more “naturally” than those dramatic effect provided by Photomatix. After a few tries I almost gave up in shooting bracketed shots as the post processing work is such a pain and I don’t really get what I wanted in the end. However, things changed after the sharing session. During the session, the speaker actually showed us how to make use of the collaboration between Lightroom and Photomatix to get the job done. It’s not really a complex process, and I’m sharing it here to help those who always having trouble doing it just like me.
Make sure you have Lightroom and Photomatix installed in your PC.
Prepare 3 bracketed shots (at least, more are welcome) in Raw file format.
1. Get the bracketed shots ready.
It’s simple to do it nowadays as camera has auto bracketing feature built in. Just select how many stops of light difference you wish to shot for the 3 shots (e.g. First picture at 0EV, second picture at +1EV, third picture at -1EV) and the camera will do the rest for you. Some cameras allow 5 shots to be taken, some allow more stops of light difference, or you can even do it manually by stoping down the light yourself and take the shots one by one. For this example, I shot 3 bracketed shots (with +- 1EV) with my Fujifilm X-T1. Once ready, load the 3 bracketed shots into Lightroom.
For this example I’m using Raw files. Yes, it is advisable to use Raw files when you want to play around with bracketed shots as it just has more data of the scene for you to play/edit with. You can see from here, for each individual picture, the maximum allowable dynamic range (I guess this is what they called it?) is +-5EV. At times, such range can be limiting and therefore there’s a need to shoot bracketed shots… to expand the dynamic range.
2. Merging them in Photomatix
Now, select the 3 shots and right click. You will get the option to “Export to Photomatix Pro”, hit it and another dialogue box will pop up.
If your shots are taken on tripod, select “Taken on tripod”. If handheld, select “Hand-held” instead. If there’s ghosting in your picture (movement of object within the shots you have taken), select “Show option to remove ghost”. If you are not sure what is ghosting, you may refer to the picture below:
Hit “Export” after done with your selection. If you have chosen to remove ghosting, you will be prompt with a new pop up window. Follow the on screen instruction to select the area where there is ghosting. Then hit “Preview deghosting”. Alternatively, you can let the program to do it automatically for you.
Once done, hit “OK” and the 3 shots will be merged into one. You will then be greeted by the Photomatix editing interface. We are not using this now, so just close it.
Then, you will see your merged bracketed shot displaying on screen… don’t worry about it being ugly, wash out, over exposed and etc., we’ll get that fixed later. Now head to File > Save As to save the file.
When you want to save the file, select the file format as “Floating Point tiff”, select where you want to save the file, you will get a warning message that the file size will be huge, so just click OK. Remember to check the box “Open saved image with Lightroom” before hitting the “Save” button.
Once saved, the tiff file will automatic be loaded into your Lightroom for the next step.
3. Edit in Lightroom like how you have been doing so
Ok, we are almost there! Other than the merged picture looks a bit weird, you should now be able to realize the increase in dynamic range (from +-5EV to +-10EV!). Other than that, everything is pretty much the same as how you normally would edit a picture in Lightroom. So just head on to do the usual Highlight, shadow adjustment, gradient tool, dodge & burn, spot removal and etc. and that’s it!
Picture after a few simple adjustment. Note that I forgot to remove the ghosting on this picture 😛
Do note that Lightroom will no longer permit the film simulation to be adjust on the merged tiff file, so if you want to apply any film simulation, please do so on the 3 bracketed shots before merging them via Photomatix.
Alright, hope this quick and simple guide helps. Sorry if some of the terms or explanation are not accurate, but I hope at least I got my point across to you. Happy shooting!