How the Perfect HDR Workflow was Born

image:HDR Wall Street - Arches National Park

Wall Street – Arches National Park (Yes, I know it’s really called Park Avenue) Looks like a wall to me.

News on Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom 4 is a major improvement over Lightroom 3.  The new version is so good that HDR photographers are rejoicing and it’s changing, for the better, our HDR photo processing workflow.  So let me tell ya what’s new about Lightroom 4 is what makes my Perfect HDR Workflow possible.

What’s the Excitement About Lightroom 4?

When I first got this new version of Lightroom it became immediately clear that the develop module had really undergone a major improvement.  The single most exciting new feature  for me is that now it’s possible to directly edit floating point 32 bit TIFF files within Lightroom 4.  YIKES, this is starting to sound way too technical and what do you need to know about 32 bit floating point files anyway when all you really want to do is make pretty HDR photos? Don’t let that gobbledygook scare you, here’s what that means.

When creating HDR photos the image which is created from the merging of your bracketed shots is a 32 bit file.  Until now, that file was pretty much unusable. So, we took it and just processed it within Photomatix Pro 4. It’s always been possible to save the intermediary 32 bit file that’s created in Photomatix Pro, but nobody ever did because what’s the use?

Well, with Lightroom 4, suddenly now we have the capacity to directly develop that 32 but file right in Lightroom!  I don’t know how many HDR photogrpahers saw this as a big deal, but I did.  This was an opportunity for me to finally teach beginners in HDR photography how to make really beautiful images without spending a lot of money. My idea is to use Adobe Lightroom 4 as the mothership for cataloging and post processing everything.  What I needed was a simple, elegant, inexpensive and reliable way to get that pesky 32 bit file from the merge of my bracketed photos.  That’s where I got stuck. I looked at Enfuse (a free Lightroom plugin) and several other solutions but none of them gave me the ease of use or the quality output I was looking for.  Only by using Photomatix Pro and the 32 bit file it creates could I achieve what I was looking for. The only thing about that was the cost of Photomatix Pro at $99.  I wanted a complete solution for under $200 and these two pieces together cost $250.

Why not use Photomatix Pro to also do the tonemapping?

The problem with using Photomatix for the tonemapping is that it almost always leaves bits of grungy stuff to clean up in another software package, not the least of which are those dreaded halos.  It’s not possible to make a final awesome finished HDR photograph directly inside of Photomatix. You need to use Photoshop or something similar to clean up all that.  But, by using only the saved 32 bit file from Photomatix and then processing THAT inside Lightroom 4, I have been easily and consistently making exceptionally nice and richly detailed HDR photographs in less time than ever before!  Here is the very first one I made back in June.  It’s the Gothic Study at Hearst Castle.  Click on it to or enlarge and just check out the richness of this image.

HDR Photography for Beginners

Here’s my stand.  I’m committed to teach HDR photography to beginners in such a way that it’s inexpensive, state of the art, and makes awesome images that any photographer would be proud of, even your Mom.  Having seen so much mediocre and really bad HDR online, it’s my mission to rid the world of that stuff so there’s no more suffering. Making really great HDR isn’t easy… or hasn’t been until now.  I’ve spent the past two years learning how and there aren’t a lot of people out there who are dedicated enough to care to invest the kind of time and passion into this as I have.  Yet, everybody still wants to make awesome images.  That’s just what we’re going to do.  We’ll be using Lightroom 4 and Photomatix Pro.   

 A New Photomatix Product is Coming!

I have been in discussion with the Geraldine and others at HDRSoft, the makers of Photomatix, and it seems that they have seen the same opportunity to create a new product that I did.  Guess what that product is going to be? A simple Lightroom 4 plugin which merges your bracketed photos into a 32 bit floating point file so you can proceed to tonemap it right inside of Lightroom.  No muss, no fuss.  The price I suggested to them for such a product is even the same price they they were thinking, $29! (In  2014 the price went up to $39)  This is just an amazing opportunity for HDR photographers to get the deadliest software combination to make amazing HDR images using very simple, and now, inexpensive software!  When this comes out it will fulfill my goal to get you the HDR tools you need for under $200!

Here’s an excerpt from Geraldine’s email to me this week:

“Hi Keith,

Thank you very much for your suggestion as I am the person who decides new features and products.

I think you must have read my mind.  Not only because I decided to offer such new product that just creates a floating point 32 bit file (and it is almost ready now), but also because, after thinking about it for some time, the price I am considering for it is $29 precisely.

The product is a Lightroom plug-in with a name ‘Merge to 32-bit HDR’.  If you have a better idea for the name, please don’t hesitate to let us know.”


That was a cool email to wake up to and it totally validates my idea.  The tool isn’t here just yet, but until it is, you can get the same output by using Photomatix Pro 4 and Lightroom.

Showing 3 comments
  • David A. Dobbs

    This is so great to be able to develop 32bit floating point .tiff images in LR4.
    Now Canon 6D has brought hdr to in-camera processing.
    Would it be even greater if the camera saved in 32bit.
    I would hope canon would upgrade the firmware to create a 32bit raw file.
    Maybe photomatix software masters could tweak the firmware

  • Anthony

    Does this mean if i get Lightroom all I need to do is purchase this $29 plugin rather than the full version of photomatix?

    • Captain Photo

      Yes. In the beginning, all you really need is the plugin to merge your shots. The tonemapping is then done entirely within Lightroom. Later on, if you decide you like HDR and want to do more, you can upgrade to Photomatix Pro. I still use the plugin with Lightroom for many of my HDR’s because it’s fast, easy, and the images I get are very clean and realistic.

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Contemplating the 12 incarnations of Vishnu at the Vishwa Shanthi Ashram in Bangalore, IndiaThe Vine and the Arch-Balboa Park - San Diego