How to combine HDR photos in Luminar Neo HDR Software

Hey Photonauts… Luminar Neo is a powerful photo editor that helps me edit my images like a pro. In this video I’m going to show you how to merge an hdr photo in Luminar Neo fast and easy, so let’s get started!

What is HDR in photography

HDR photography is a technique for creating an image that to some extent will try to mimic how the human eye and brain works.  HDR stands for high dynamic range and our eyes will always see the world in HDR.

In other words when we(humans) look at a landscape for example, our eyes with the help of the iris and other parts of the eye will capture the entire luminance range of it.  

Then our brain will get these “images” and merge them in one in order to display a hdr scene. 

That is the reason that if you go to the beach at sunrise our eyes will see the sky, sand and ocean with the “proper exposures” in one frame.  But our cameras will not work the same way, we will need to hold the camera and shoot at least three photos.

Using the beach example, we will need to shoot a photo focusing the exposure on the sky, then the ocean and after the sand. In that way we have captured the “hdr” of the scene. 

So what ‘s next? The answer: Merge or combine them!

What is HDR merge

HDR merge is a technique for combining “photo brackets” into one image. In the old days it took a lot of work, photographers needed to shoot the photos in film, develop, cut and paste negatives and then produce a positive in hdr.

Luminar Neo HDR Merge module

Today with the digital revolution we have it easier. With the help of an hdr merge software, like Luminar Neo, we can achieve HDR results in no time.  The software will take the bracketed photographs and apply complex algorithms and AI to create an HDR photograph for us.

So what are these photo brackets that we need to merge an hdr.

HDR photo merge bracketing is the process of shooting pictures of the scene in different exposure settings(brackets).  It is recommended to have three “brackets” or two at a minimum for the HDR merge software to work.

These brackets are typically one or two stops up and down from your initial exposure settings.  Most of the modern digital cameras today have bracketing options, so check your camera manual to find how you go about it.

HDR photo merge best camera settings

There are not such “best settings” to shoot an HDR.  But one thing that has helped me a lot not only with HDR photos but in general is to use the automatic metering mode of the camera to get an initial idea.

I will then evaluate the exposure settings suggested by the camera and re-adjust to my liking and purpose of the photo.  Depending on the scene I will compensate to under/over expose the frame to suit my needs.

When readjusting the exposure settings, watch out for totally washed out highlights or complete dark shadows, remember that the camera will calculate the brackets based on your initial settings and these are “mathematical calculations” ´cause the camera is not seeing, it is using your initial settings to decide what would be the best settings for each bracket.

I will recommend calculating the initial exposure based on the main subject in the frame.  Depending on the composition principle you are using, you can easily figure out what that main subject or area of the photo is.

Shoot a photo not related to the HDR in between to visually separate bracket groups

Once you have the desired exposure it is time to set the brackets.  I recommend shooting ½ stop brackets first.  If the differences between photos are too subtle then move to 1 stop brackets and repeat the process until you get different levels but not too far from each other. 

HDR photo merge best practices

Below I share some best practices that have had work for me.  Remember, these are recommendations not rules:

For the photo shooting session:

  • Put your camera in a tripod: Fix your camera on a tripod to lock the frame and to avoid camera shake. 
  • Use a remote shutter trigger: It is not mandatory, but it is a good practice to avoid moving a button, a knob or the camera accidentally.
  • Use wide angle lenses: It is not mandatory but wide angle lenses work better for landscape, cityscapes and outdoor scenery photography.
  • Use small apertures: When possible use narrow apertures (f9 and up) to have a larger depth of field and get everything in focus.
  • Clean your lens:  Check that your lens is free from outer dust, stains or fingerprints.
  • Shoot in RAW mode: Please use RAW no questions asked!
  • Avoid moving objects: Try to locate scenes that are still.  Avoid moving cars, people or windy scenarios that will create “ghosting” or motion blurred brackets.
  • Shoot different bracket groups: Shoot the same scene at least in two different bracketed settings from the initial exposure settings.  I will usually shoot three groups using different initial exposure settings.
  • Separate bracket groups: Once I have taken the first bracket group I will disable the bracketing mode and put my hand or whatever thing in front of the lens and shoot a photo and then move to the second bracket and so on.  This will visually separate the groups when I import the photos to the software.

HDR merging in the software:

  • Use a specialized software: It is possible to mask and manually create your HDR in a photo editing software.  But it isn’t worth it to invest a huge amount of time, you can use a software like Luminar Neo to achieve it.
  • Analyze the photos:  Take time to check the brackets and select the ones that will have enough details from the brightest to the darkest points. Or simply use the bracket group that you like the most.
  • Don’t retouch or edit before: There is no need to edit the photos before merging them.  You can edit and retouch it as any other picture after it is merged.
  • Use auto align and deghost:  Most of the photo merge softwares have these options.  I always use it because the camera can change the aperture and the depth could change or something moved in the frame.
  • Test all bracket groups:  If you shot more than one bracket group “HDR merge” them separately and choose the one you like the most.

hdr photo merge before and after

I didn’t shoot these photographs with a tripod, so I used only two of the brackets to merge the HDR in Luminar Neo. After the hdr was combined I edited them using presets or direct edits as you will see in the video tutorial.

ISO 200 | f/11 | 1/125sec
ISO 200 | f/11 | 1/500sec

ISO 200 | f/13 | 1/125sec
ISO 200 | f/13 | 1/250sec

ISO 200 | f/9 | 1/100sec
ISO 200 | f/9 | 1/320sec

Check it out!

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