HDR Lightroom Workflow

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HDR Lightroom Workflow” is part of the HDR Photography series on PhotoTraces. You can find the rest of the articles here: HDR Photography.

Sunset at Moonstone Beach (California)

HDR Lightroom Workflow -

USA. California. Moonstone Beach
Loc: 35.5866718, -121.1225215488

I took the featured image three years ago on the same evening I took photo below.

HDR Lightroom Workflow - Sunset at Moonstone Beach (California)

I published it three years ago immediately after I returned from my driving trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

The photo became my signature capture because I used it to illustrate my complete HDR workflow using Photomatix as the main HDR tool.


Complete HDR Workflow in Lightroom, Photomatix and Photoshop

A lot has changed in my photography over the last three years. My workflow is completely different now, not to mention that I shoot and process photos differently as well.

Today, I decided to use the photo I took during the same sunset three years ago to demonstrate the HDR workflow that I use today.

Two big changes contributed to the evolution of my HDR workflow. The first was the introduction of the HDR Photo Merge module in Lightroom allowing me to bypass dedicated HDR programs like Photomatix in my editing process. The second was the development of Lightroom Rapid Editing, which simplified and streamlined both my entire workflow and HDR.

If I started my editing in Lightroom three years ago, I would quickly jump to Photomatix. Next, I made additional adjustments in Lightroom and, in the final steps, I did some serious cleaning in Photoshop to remove any HDR artifacts introduced by Photomatix.

Today, I start in Lightroom by merging the bracketed shots in the HDR Photo Merge module. Afterward, I use the Lightroom Rapid Editing approach to bring life to a newly merged HDR image. Using Photoshop is no longer a requirement—it’s completely optional.

As a result of these changes, my workflow is much faster—I spend less time editing photos likely by a factor of three. Plus, the final image I create is much cleaner and sharper. I call this a “win-win” solution.


It was a typical sunset shooting setup. I used a tripod and took a series of bracketed shots, 5 shots in total at 1EV (one stop) intervals.

Camera: Canon 60D
Lens: Sigma 10-18mm
Focal Length: 10mm
Shooting Mode: Aperture Priority (A)
ISO: 100
Aperture: F8
Shutter Speed: 1/30s
Bracketing: 3 (-1, 0, 1)
Tripod: FEISOL Tournament CT-3442Check my FEISOL Tournament CT-3442 ReviewBallhead: FEISOL CB-40D

HDR Lightroom Processing

It was an HDR processing workflow when I take a multiple bracketed shots and merge them into an HDR image with the extended dynamic range.

Step 1

I used the Photo Merge for HDR module of Lightroom, which was introduced in version 6 to combine bracketed shots into an HDR image in DNG format.

HDR Lightroom Workflow - 3 brackets at 2EV (two stops) intervals

Here is the first change in my new HDR workflow; I do not have to use all 5 bracketed images to produce a clean HDR image. Now I only take 3 brackets at 2EV (two stops) intervals and Lightroom does not have any problems to merge them together.

This change allowed me to take less photos​.

Step 2

I used the Crop tool and the Lens Correction adjustments to improve the composition. I straightened the horizon, fixed the barrel distortion and made the composition tighter.

HDR Lightroom Workflow - Cropping in Lightroom

Step 3

I used the Lightroom Rapid Editing workflow next.

I used the Sunrise preset from my Landscape Collection first and after I used TOOLKIT to boost colors and contrast.

The Lightroom Preset Editing Formula: Sunrise (9, 13, 16, 21, 32)

Normally, I would jump to Photoshop for some cleaning and noise reduction with Topaz DeNoise, but I wanted to demonstrate that Photoshop is optional in this case and you can start and finish the entire HDR workflow in Lightroom.​

Before & After Transformation

HDR Lightroom Workflow - Before and After
HDR Lightroom Workflow - Before & After