When I was writing the 11 tips for Lightroom, I also thought to include how one works with 32-bit files in Lightroom. But as this is a little bigger subject, in the end I decided to give it a separate blog post. So here it is.

Lightroom is a great photo editing too, and since few versions ago, it can also edit 32-bit tiff files. If you remember my What is HDR post, 32-bit files can contain a huge dynamic range, so being able to edit them directly can create some very nice results.

Of course, same as with all the different ways of editing, it’s not perfect, and does not work well for every photo. But it’s an interesting technique and I suggest you give it a try.

So how to do it?

1. Merge the files in Photoshop

Yes, you still need Photoshop (or Photomatix Pro or other program that can create 32-bit files), as Lightroom can edit 32-bit files, but can’t create them. So first, once you select the files you want to merge, I would suggest correcting chromatic aberrations and lens distortions. You can do this also alter, but the results are not so good.

HDR in LightroomChoose merge to HDR Pro
HDR in LightroomMerge to HDR dialog

After that, select all the brackets, right click on one and choose Merge to HDR in Photoshop. Once you do this, all the files will be exported into Photoshop and the Merge to HDR dialog will open. Here you will probably see the 16-bit version, but that’s not what we need. Change to the 32-bit mode and just confirm (in the case you need to remove ghosting, choose also that option).

HDR in Lightroom32-bit file in Photoshop
HDR in LightroomSave as 32-bit

The file will be opened in Photoshop in 32-bit mode, and can be saved as a 32-bit tiff file from there.

2. Merge the files in Photomatix Pro

Another option to create a 32-bit tiff file, is to use Photomatix Pro. Just exporet the files you want to merge from Lightroom, or use RAW, and open them in Photomatix. What you need to do, is check the Show 32-bit image and choose merge. In few seconds, you will see the 32-bit file, which you can save as 32-bit tiff.

HDR in LightroomMerge in Photomatix
HDR in LightroomSave as 32-bit tiff

You can also find a Lightroom plugin from Photomatix, that does this step directly and you never have to leave Lightroom. You can find it here: Merge to 32-bit Plugin

3. Edit the 32-bit file in Lightroom

Once you have the 32-bit tiff file, you can import it back into Lightroom. You will see that nothing changes in the interface, and you can edit it as any other photo. The only change that is there, is that the Exposure slider goes from -10 to +10 instead of -5 to +5.

HDR in LightroomNegative exposure
HDR in LightroomPositive exposure

You will notice, that you can go really to extremes with all the sliders, and still you get a lot of detail and very little noise. That’s because, where Lightroom normally tries to works with information, that is not in a photo. But with the 32-bit file, there is just much more of it there.

HDR in Lightroom32-bit tiff file, with no edits
HDR in LightroomAfter few edits (but could be better :))

So from here you can use any of the tools available in Lightroom, to get the result you want. But before you start, I suggest playing a little with the Exposure, and find a good start in that huge dynamic range. For some photos it can happen, that you will start with a completely dark or white photo, so just move the slider up/down until it’s ok.

There are some problems with HDR photos, and it’s sad that that’s how most HDR is characterized. And since I think, we all should strive for better results, and showing everyone that HDR can create stunning results if used correctly, here is a list of most common HDR mistakes, that I think one should avoid.

Before I get to the list, two more notes first. I will be using my older photos to illustrate the problems (as I did the mistakes myself at one time or another) so don’t expect any great photos here :). Secondly, if any of the results I describe here are the results you desire for your photos, that’s doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong, it just means you are going more towards the artistic HDR and that’s your decision. I would probably not like that, as I go more towards the realistic result, but again, style is very personal and is different for everyone, so keep doing what you like :).

That’s all for this, and let’s look at the list :)

1. Lost contrast

The most common problem I see all the time. It’s the result of what HDR is and why you actually using it. Just think about it. If you have a proper exposure for every part of the photo, there are no highlights and now shadows. And that’s actually what a HDR result is. But a photo like this is very bland and boring. Nothing stands out.

So the goal should be, that the shadow areas are still a little darker than the average area of the photo, and the bright areas are still a little brighter. With this, the contrast is still there, but you don’t have extremes. Also, the human eye is drawn to the highlight areas, and if you have none, it just moves randomly around the photo. And that’s not what you want.

Close to the lost of contrast, is also the lost of all shadows. There are very few instances when a scene has no shadows in it, and a photo looks just strange without any.

HDR mistakesMissing all the contrast
HDR mistakesJust too much color

2. Too many saturated colors

First of all, I think that you can have saturated colors in photos. There are enough examples of objects , that are just very colorful. But, if the whole photo consists only from strongly saturated colors, this is very tiring for the viewers eyes, and one can’t look at it for a longer time. If you include areas where the saturation is not so high, the eyes can move to them, and rest for a while.

So having a nice balance, between saturated and unsaturated color, is the best way to go.

3. Too much detail

Similar to the colors, one can have also to much detail. Not every part of the photo has to be super detailed, and if one wants to highlight the subject, it’s even better if the remaining areas are a bit less detailed, so they don’t pull the focus away from the main subject.

The human brain does not work in absolutes. It compares stuff. So something looks the sharpest when there is something blurry near by. Something looks detailed, when there is something less detailed near by. And actually same goes for color saturation.

HDR mistakesJust too much detail
HDR mistakesLight inversion

4. Light inversion

Another very often seen effect of HDR. This is when the dark parts of a the scene, are brighter than the light parts of the scene in the finished photo. This looks just strange and very artificial. If you want your photo to look realistic, the shadow areas should be darker than the light areas. Always.

5. Grey whites

This is also a classic result of HDR editing programs. What they do, is, that they try to darken the bright areas of a photo. But if an area is white, it can not be darkened while keeping it white, and from this the ugly grey color is created. Either don’t use HDR when taking photos of white objects, or blend the area back from the non-HDR photo.

HDR mistakesThe clouds should be much whiter
HDR mistakesNo real sense of composition

6. Forgetting about composition

Just making a photo HDR, will not make the composition better. If you are shooting a normal or a HDR photo, the first step should always be to decide the composition. If that’s bad, HDR editing will not make the photo better. Feel free to go over my list of composition tips for more.

7. Bokeh HDR

A place where HDR just looks ugly is bokeh. The reason is simple. Where bokeh created a soft transition between shapes, HDR usually creates a hard, very defined transition. It’s always better not to create HDR from the out of focus areas of a photo, or blend them manually, not by using any of the HDR tone-mapping software.

HDR mistakesThere is no need for detail in the Bokeh
HDR mistakesThe edit is visible everywhere

8. Processing artifacts

There are many HDR processing software and many techniques on how to blend images. Each of them can create really ugly artifacts in a photo, hard transition, strange shadows, out of place outlines and much more. Usually when one sees this, one needs to tone down the settings in the respective software or play more with the masks when manually blending. It’s hard to get rid of them, once they appear, so try to avoid them as much as possible.

Also, photography errors, like chromatic aberrations, not properly focused areas and noise, are more visible after HDR processing and should be dealt with before one even goes into HDR processing.

9. Using HDR when it’s not needed

As with every technique, HDR is not always needed. Don’t force HDR on every photo. Especially photos of people are a great example, for when to avoid it. Some photos just look better, when there are strong shadows, overexposed areas, and lost detail. Photos, where you just want to show a feeling or mood, are the ones where you usually just don’t need HDR

HDR mistakesThe mood would be enough without HDR
HDR mistakesOveruse of Topaz Adjust

10. Using HDR filters

A filter named HDR is not the same as a HDR photo. They usually create very grungy, unrealistic looking, a lot of times ugly, results. Even the better ones, can’t really have the best results, if they don’t have the information they need in the image file. And usually when one uses a filter like this, one does not have the brackets required for the dynamic range.

I personally try to avoid these, as a real HDR looks always better.

11. Just going overboard

One can use anything while editing photos, but everything should be used sparingly. Just throwing a bunch of filters on a photo, and thinking that that will make it great, never works.

For instance this photo. It’s just so over the top in detail, colors, just everything. I actually still like it, but probably only because it’s old and I’m nostalgic about it :)

And that’s all for this post and feel free to ask if you have any questions.

Some time ago I did a post with few tips for Oloneo Photoengine, and today lets look at few features of Lightroom, that you may have missed. Lightroom is for me one a very important software, and I think there isn’t a single photo on this blog that wasn’t edited in it to a certain degree. There are of course many more things in Lightroom, but that’s for next-time. So let’s get started :)

Btw. I’m including a lot of screenshots, as I think that any article about photos should include many of them. And same when talking about a software, one should include screenshots of what I’m talking about. So I hope you don’t mind.

1. Personalize the header

Ok, this one wont help you to make better photos, but give a little sense of the Litroom being more personal. It’s also great if you plan to share screenshots from Lighroom (like I did in this post :)). To change the header, just go under Edit / Identity plate setup. Btw. you can also make the selection menu in the top right bigger, which I find to be very useful.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips


2. Stop scrolling

As all the adjustment panels, are placed in one long list to the side of the photos, it can lead to a lot of scrolling and searching. Luckily, the creator of Lightroom noticed this problem, and you can switch to a so called solo mode. What this does, is, that all the panels are collapsed, and only one can be opened at a certain time. So anytime you open one, all others close automatically. This makes it so much easier to find what you need, with minimum of scrolling. To switch to the Solo mode, just right click on any empty space under the panels, or on a name of a panel and choose Solo mode.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips


3. Change the crop grid

Since all cropping in Lightroom is not permanent (you can change it at any time later), its a great tool for that. To make it easier, you can choose different overlays to help you with it. Options like thirds, golden ratio, golden spiral and more are available. To change this, first open a photo and choose Crop (in the Develop mode). After that you can go under Tools / Crop guide overlay to choose what you prefer.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips


4. Sync, sync, sync

Sync is the best feature in Lightroom. If you are not using it, you are using it wrong :). What sync does is to copy all the settings from one photo over to another (or to how many one needs). One can copy all, or only some of the settings. This is so useful when one edits HDR brackets, or timelapse series, or any other series of photos where you need to do the same edits. You can sync from the Develop module, but also from the Library one. There you can also sync metadata if you need to. It’s also possible, to just right click any image and choose Settings / Copy settings, and then paste it onto another image.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips


5. Stack photos

If you have a huge library of photos, grouping some of them into a stack can really help to get a better overview. At the start I tried to stack HDR series, but that just take too much time, so I setled to stacking timelapse series and HDR panoramas. You know, the 10+ series :). To stack photos, just select the ones you want and press Ctrl + G (Ctrl + Shift + G to unstack) or right click and use the options under Stacking. You will also notice that the highlighted photo (the one with a little whiter background) will be used as cover for the stack.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips


6. Create virtual copies

Another great thing that you can do Lightroom is to create Virtual Copies of your photos. What this does, it creates a copy in Lightroom, but you still have only one file on the HDD. So you can create multiple edits of the single photo, without having to duplicate the file. Again, can be very useful in blending, where you want to create a version for the highlights and another one for the shadows.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips


7. Double click to reset

Moving around slides can be so time consuming. But to make this faster, there are two things you can do. First is, when you want to reset a setting to default, just Double-click the name and it resets. The second is, when you want to move a slider only a very little, move you cursor above the number value (it will light up) and use the Up / Down keys, to adjust the value.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips


8. Hold Alt to see the clipping

This one is similar to how it works in Photoshop. If you hold Alt while draging on sliders, the photo changes, to show you where you are clipping highlights and shadows (change pixels to complete black or white). This is extremely helpful, when you are trying to set the black and the white points for a photo, or are trying to adjust the exposure, without loosing any information.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips


9. Export with the watermark

Especially if you need to export many photos at once, it can be very time consuming to add watermarks to all of them. Here is where this option comes in. You just create one (or select a picture to be applied) and use it as many times you want. You can even create presets for you watermarks, to make it even simpler. To get to this, just choose File / Export and look for the Watermarking option. I don’t use this for my landscape photos, but if I’m exporting photos, for instance from a party, this is what I do.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips


10. Load into layers in Photoshop

Another one that is great if you want to blend exposures in Photoshop. Just select the ones you need, right click and choose Edit in / Open as layers in Photoshop. This will export and load all the files into a single Photoshop file as layer. You can also merge panoramas, or into Photoshop HDR from here. If you don’t plan to use a program in between Lightroom and Photoshop (like Oloneo) this makes the process more straightforward and you create no exports you don’t need.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips


11. Create smart collections

If you have a huge library (like I have) creating smart collection will enable you to select photos from all over the place and have them in one shop. For instance. I like to have a collection of all already edited photos, so I can find them easily for my process posts. For that, each time I finish a photo, a give a 4 star rating to all the brackets. This is then automatically selected for that collection. I also include the year in the selection, as I have a separate one for different years. Of course you can create many different ones, one for photos from a certain location, one for you favorite photos, and many more.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

And that’s all for this post, but don’t forget to check out all the other guides and tips posts. You can find a list in the sidebar. And if you have any question about this post, feel free to ask.

Maybe some of you have noticed the little disclaimer on the bottom of the pages sidebar, that mentions that (almost) all my photos are shared under the creative commons license. Those of you who work with photos, probably know what that means, but some of you probably don’t. So in this post, I’m going to go through the basic licenses, and what do they mean, and what they allow or prohibit.

Entering the Chain bridge

All rights reserved

The All right reserved is the default license for every photo. If you see a photo on a page, and it’s not specified differently, it’s being shared under this licence.

What in means, in simple terms, is, that you can’t do anything with the photo, without a permission from the author. You can’t post it on you blog, you can’t post it on your facebook, you can’t use it for personal or commercial use.

Of course in the world we live in, where social media are very dominant, photographers usually don’t mind, even if you share their photos with All right reserved on social media, but never presume it’s OK. It’s still infringing on the copyright (think of it in a terms as sharing a full movie, or a song on your FB page). If you really want to share a work like this, share a link to it, it’s always safer.

Public domain

This is the complete opposite of All right reserved. With photo in the public domain, you can do anything. They can be used for personal or commercial use, can be shared, published and more, without needing to give a credit to the author.

If you ever need a use a photo for a project, and cant take it yourself, and don’t want to buy one, try searching for public domain photos.
Big Ben

Creative Commons

And we get to the creative commons licence (CC). You can think of it as a set of licenses, that were created for people who just don’t want to specify everything every time. When you share a photo, and you want to allow some use, and forbid different use, it much easier to quote a specific Creative commons license, that to create your own.

The creative commons license consist from three main parts, and each one specifies different rights, but already specifying that a work is shared under CC, you allow people to share and download your work. So the main parts are:


This is the most basic part. This means that everyone who share your work in any way, has to attribute it to you, in a way you specify. This is usually done via a name and link back to the source. If you ever share someones photos, even if you are not sure under what licence it is shared, always include this.


This part is about allowing or forbidding derivative work. For instance by photos, it is if you allow them to be used in other peoples photo manipulations. There is also a third option here, that is Share Alike, which means that people can use your photos, but have to share the final result under the same license.
Midnight Drivers

Commercial use

The last part is if you allow the free commercial use or not. If this is set to noncommercial, it means that the photos can be used for free only for any noncommercial purposes (your personal fb page, personal blog, tumblr blog…) and for everything else a license has to be purchase.

What is commercial use?

As many people don’t know (or sometimes play dumb) on what commercial use is, here a little explanation.

As commercial use, we view anything that creates direct profit, or help creating a profit in the future. Here are few examples:
– you use the photo on your product
– you use the photo on a free promo material (yes, the company makes no direct profit, but it promotes future profit, as every commercial)
– you use the photo on your company’s webpage, facebook page, or any other social media (again, this is a promotion for your company)

This all applies even for non-profit organisations, as they usually just create a profit for a different company or organisation. The simplest way one can think about is, if the person contacting the photographer gets paid for their work, so should the photographer :)

What I use?

So I use the most restrictive CC license, the Atributions, Non-commercial and No-derivs. It means, that I allow the sharing of my photos if one gives me proper credit, but I don’t allow modification of them, or any commercial usage.

I choosen this license, as I want to allow people to share my photos without being scared that they receive a copyright claim :)

There are very few photos on the blog, that are shared under All right reserved license. The reason for this is, that those photos were taken for a specific client, so I don’t own the rights for them.

There are few more licences, but there is already outside of the scope of this article. As a photographer, these three are the most important when sharing a photo on the internet. For more information on Creative commons, please visit their page: http://creativecommons.org/

Few weeks ago I posted an article about how to use manual focusing, and today, let’s look at the second part of every photo, how to determine the base exposure. I will go over how I do it, so this may not be the best, or the exactly right way, but it always worked fine for me. Also, this is how I determine the exposure for HDR series, not for single exposures. For those I usually let the camera decide, with the default metering, and I just tweak the exposure up or down as needed.

Just the TopsI will show this on my Canon camera, so this may not work as exactly on different cameras. Also this is not so easy to explain, so feel free to ask if there are any questions.

Using the live view

Same as with manual focusing, I also determine the exposure in live view. Most cameras have only few modes how to determine the exposure, and these fall into two categories. Either there look at the whole image, or they look only at the center of the image and base the exposure on that. In neither of those you can specify a specific point for the camera to look at, without moving the camera. So neither of those works for my workflow.

What I do is to get the composition (usually through the viewfinder), go into live view, focus, set the exposure and take the shots. So how to get the exposure for a specific area? Simple. But first be sure to be in the Manual mode (M), so you can set it, not the camera.

Choosing the exposure area

So to get the exposure for a certain area, go into Live view, and you will see a square on your screen. This is the square you zoom into when you zoom in live view, but it also determines the area for the exposure. If you try to move it around, you will see that the image on the screen changes brightness based on where the square is. So it always adapts, to show the proper exposure for that area.

Live view
Dark area selected
Live view
Bright area selected

So using this, you can choose the area for the exposure. Now you just need to find the values for this. To do this, you have to half press the shutter button and let go. What this does is, that it meters the exposure (normally it also focuses, but usually this is not done in live view, and also if you use manual focusing, this is turned off). After this is done, the camera will start showing the exposure under the live view (the small scale from -2 to +2). You can now change the aperture and time, to move the exposure to the 0EV position on the scale.

Which area to choose?

So now you know how to get an exposure for a specific area of a photo. Now the next decision is to choose the area of the photo. I tend to select the darkest area of the scene. This is because I want to have a good starting point, that is easy to find. Trying to find the middle exposure is just much harder, than just going directly for the darkest one. In the photos in this post, I outlined the areas I chosen for the exposure. There are of course also scenes, with very even brightness, then the area does not madder.

So when I do that, I know, the 0EV will have nicely exposed shadow areas. From this point, I usually take the -2EV to +2EV, but usually just the  +1EV is enough. As the shadows are nicely exposed in the 0EV, the +1Ev give enough detail in them and the +2EV is just to be safe, as in some scenes, there are very dark shadows, that cant be selected in live view.

For the brightest areas, the -2EV is usually plenty enough, but when shooting into the sun, I tend to also include the -3EV (very rarely the -4EV)

One of course can go also the other way, trying to choose the brightest spot, but in my experience, it’s easier to find the darkest one. Also, by selecting the darkest spot, you get a brighter image on the screen, which makes for easier focusing.

What to choose when taking only three exposures?

When using Magic lantern, it’s very easy to just take the number of exposures one needs. But when only doing 3 with the AEB of a camera and using my approach to choosing the base exposure, I would suggest setting it a little lower than 0EV (so the line is a little to the left). This is because, as I mentioned, the +2EV is not really that important, as the photo is already exposed for the shadows. So pushing it a little lower, lets say -2.5EV, -0.5EV and 1.5EV series, will give you a better result.

So this is how I choose the exposure. Not the simplest way, but after years of doing it this way, it take me seconds to focus and select the exposure. The more one does it, the faster it goes :)

Feel free to ask if you have any questions, and to find out more how to create HDR photos, check out my HDR tutorial and my video tutorial series Master Exposure Blending.

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