Lightroom 4 HDR Processing of Japanese Cave

Lightroom 4 hdr processing of Japanese Cave - Bukittinggi, Sumatra Japanese Cave – Bukittinggi, Sumatra

Lightroom 4 G+ Group

Recently I joined another photography community on Google +. There are a lot of them and I limit mine to those either featuring HDR photography or iPhoneography. So this new group I joined is called Lightroom and Photoshop Users. Sounds boring, right?  Would only geeks, like me, ever be in such a place?

Well, yes, actually.  I need Lightroom 4 for HDR and occasionally Photoshop, to do what I do. There is always new fun stuff to learn and use in my art so I joined this group to find out what I can learn and what I can give back from what I know.  To introduce myself to the group this morning, I posted this photo and some sparse processing notes for it. People seemed to be interested in this HDR photo and I was asked if I had the original file so he could compare it with the finished version.  See? Geeky! I warned you.


The Whole Messy Geeky Truth of This Photo

It’s cool.  If you’ve gotten this far, you are officially a geek too.  So celebrate that about yourself! I’m pretty sure that any geek would also want to know:

  • Lens: Tokina 11-16.  This shot was full wide at 11mm.
  • Aperture: f 5.6. My usual if f 8, due to lenses being sharpest at that aperture.  It was really really dark down there., so I opened up a little and hoped my depth of field would still be okay.
  • Shutter speed: 1.5 seconds (yes, on a tripod, of course)  That is the speed of the middle exposure.  The other exposure times of the bracketed shots were 1/3 second and 6 seconds.  This gave me a bracket set of three shots 2 stops apart: -2,0,+2.  I didn’t use exposure compensation.  Sometimes I do though since my camera only can bracket three shots and there are many shooting situations where I needs 6 or 8 stops difference.  That gets messy and one day I may upgrade to something like a Nikon D 800 to make it easy on myself.
  • ISO: Sorry to say I had to crank it up to 800.  Didn’t really want to do that because of all the noise to deal with in post processing. Good thing I have Topaz DeNoise for situations like this.

I Digress

Topaz DeNoise does a really great job but, YIKES!, it can take a long time to go through all the settings for all the different noise types and color channels.  I guess all those little sliding controls is like being in heaven for a geek though? Anyway, then you have to repeat that on all THREE photos since we’re doing HDR!  I’m not complaining, just letting you know the pains I go to because I love making these photos so much and I value the quality of things with my name on them.

Also, if I’m going to tote a tripod all the way to Sumatra and then actually USE it down in this cave, I figure I need to honor all that work, planning, & care becuase, only now, do I have the opportunity to process the best quality that I can coax out of my present gear.  By the way, I don’t have a professional grade camera,  It’s a Nikon D-90 I picked up about three years ago when I resumed my passion for photography and wanted something decent to shoot with.  That shiny new Nikon showed up in my life just a few months before the day I saw my first HDR photo.

Like a true geek, since that day, I have been in love with HDR photography and finding out all I can about it. So I join Google+ HDR groups, to see what others are making and always open to learning how to do new things.  Because Lightroom is the Mothership of my workflow, I wised up and also joined the Lightroom group on Google+.  I will learn more there too.

  • Processing: There is no doubt, Photomatix is the best software for merging your bracketed photos.  To make my workflow as easy as possible, I use the Photomatix merge-to-32-bit Lightroom 4 HDR plugin.  I’m surprised that not many HDR photographers have figured that out yet. It’s so simple, cheap, and it elegantly makes really really clean HDR images.  This is a super bonus for beginners to HDR who are challenged with dirty-sky-halo-syndrome in their HDR’s when they haven’t yet learned to control Photomatix Pro.


When HDRsoft released their Lightroom plugin last summer I was pretty excited, like a true geek would be, right?  I even wrote a special blog post about processing Lightroom HDR with it. By the way, if you decide you want to give Photomatix a try, you can save 15% if you use the promo code “PerfectHDR” when you buy. Before you buy, download their free trial.  It will leave a messy watermark on your photo but you’ll get a chance to see how cool it is before you buy.  So make an HDR and impress Mom.

After merging the three shots in Photomatix, I did everything else right inside Lightroom 4.  I happened to be on my Macbook Air, processing this while I was still on my trip.  With the smaller screen, pared-down digital darkroom, and my bad eyes, it’s much harder to process than here on my 27-inch iMac.  The only other filter I used to process this shot was Color eFex Pro 4 by Nik Software. I find that the Contrast Color Range module is very helpful and I used it here.

If I missed anything, just ask me in a comment below.  By the way, *wink*, commenting on my blog earns you a do-follow link to your blog because I use CommentLuv.

Long Story Short

Sorry I sort of meandered.  My right brain is growing these days and some evenings it just seems to take me where it wants to go.  I’m fine with that and use those right-brain energy surges to light some candles, dim the lights,  sit at my iMac, and process another HDR photo or two.  I will be doing that as soon as I finish writing and post this.

Remember, back up at the beginning of this post I said that this nice guy on Google+, Zach Spangler, wanted to see the original file to compare? Here it is.  Simply exported the RAW from Lightroom 4 as a TIFF.


Japanese Cave – Sumatra

In case anybody wants to know about this cave, let me fill you in some.  It’s located in a very cool town of Bukittinghi in the mountains of West Sumatra.  It’s actually UNDER the town.  This is part of a huge network of tunnels that the Japanese dug when they had business there in Indonesia a lot of decades ago.

In this photo, the big lit tunnel going off to the right behind the bars is where the Japanese kept the things that blow up.  See the red sign over the arch “Buang Ammunisi”?

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Showing 4 comments
  • T.J. Powell

    Nice shot and processing. Would you mind sharing the slider settings ilightroom? I started planting with the plugin after seeing you mention it in another post.

    • Captain Photo

      I can give you a good starting point with the sliders.

      First thing, it’s funny about that plugin. Sometimes the merged files come back into Lightroom very dark, other times very blown out but, either way, just hit the “auto” button to get the exposure to a reasonable starting point. Fine tune the exposure to your liking Then, in most cases, I adjust the highlights slider most or all the way to the left and the shadows slider far to the right and nudge up the clarity a little. These settings give me a point of departure for the fun & creative part of the processing.

      I make heavy use of the “adjustment brush” to locally enhance colors, textures, etc. Sometimes I will also use the NIK or Topaz plugins, depending on what I am going for.

  • Mark Martin

    Nice post production on that image. I love the improved colours as well. I am not a total fan of HDR but it really works on this image and is a definite improvement. Thanks for sharing. I am also trying out several of the Topaz plug ins like Adjust and Clarity. So far just sticking with the presets and not toying with the sliders too much.

  • Ari

    Your explanation are very good and in depth. I did learn a lot.
    I never knew about the 32 hdr plugin.
    Have you a link to that follow up video?

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