Lightroom HDR Presets are the key factors for creating and maintaining an efficient HDR workflow.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) editing is one of the most important parts of my photography. I shoot a lot of landscapes and cityscapes where HDR photography is the only way to capture the entire light range of the scene starting from the very dark areas in the shadows to the brightest highlights of the sun.
To be honest, how I shoot and edit my HDR photos has drastically changed in just two very short years. This progression is easily tracked through the photos I have posted on my blog over the years.
In the beginning, I was shooting with a Canon DSLR and edited my HDR images using Photomatix. At the time, I typically shot between three and nine bracketed shots and was able to produce decent results in Photomatix. However, I was highly unsatisfied with the deteriorating quality of my images and how time-consuming the process was overall.
Striving for something more efficient, this is when I started to lean towards Photoshop HDR Pro for combining multiple bracketed photos into a single HDR image. While it allowed me to improve the quality of the final image, the process was not ideal as Photoshop produced TIFF files that were enormous in size. On top of that, the entire process was still extremely cumbersome.
I tried to simplify my HDR workflow in Photoshop by testing different HDR programs like HDR Expose. I really liked the application, but it still required a dedicated HDR program.
Then, a string of events occurred that completely changed my approach to HDR.
First, I switched from a Canon DSLR to a Mirrorless Sony. The sensor on my new Sony a6000 has an enormous dynamic range, exceeding my old DSLR by almost two stops. This change affected the way I shoot for HDR. Now, even in the most complex conditions when the light is extremely dynamic, I can cover the entire dynamic range by shooting only three brackets. There is no longer a need for nine, seven or even five brackets. This resulted in a faster process of capturing photos and less unnecessary files on my hard drive.
The next event was just as revolutionary to my HDR photography—when Adobe introduced the HDR Merge module in Lightroom 6. Initially, I thought it was just another "cool feature" that distinguished the need for a dedicated HDR program or Photoshop for merging photos to HDR. But, it was not until later when I realized that Lightroom HDR Merge produced an image in RAW format without rasterizing the original images. This allowed me to continue working in a nondestructive RAW workflow even after the merge process.
It was huge!
At exactly the same time, I was inspired to work on a brand new concept in editing—the Lightroom Rapid Editing System. This is my preset based editing approach, which you can learn more about here.
I knew that the combination of three factors—the Sony sensor in my mirrorless camera, the Lightroom HDR Merge module and my Lightroom Rapid Editing—would allow me to drastically simplify and streamline my HDR workflow.
I created Lightroom HDR presets as a collection to satisfy photographers with nearly any approach to HDR imaginable from natural looking HDR processing to surrealistic and out-of-this-world, Photomatix-like artistic style.