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HDR Merge in Adobe Lightroom: How to Use It

HDR merge is a powerful feature in Adobe Lightroom that many people don’t know how to use. This article will discuss hdr merge and the ways it can help you edit your images more easily.

What Is High Dynamic Range (HDR)?

HDR is a way to photograph the same scene in different exposures so that you can pull detail from both shadows and highlights. This will allow for photos with much more depth than traditional editing techniques where only one exposure is used.

How To Use Lightroom’s HDR Photo Merge

The first step is to choose the photos you wish to combine. You may either generate “true” HDR by combining several photographs that have been shot with varied exposure settings (or bracketed) or you can simulate it by starting with a single image and making virtual copies using various exposure levels. RAW files are best utilized with this function (more on this later).

If you’re using any develop settings, it’s usually a good idea to sync them across all of the pictures you want to combine. That’s especially true for settings that alter the image shape, such as cropping or utilizing the lens profile distortion corrections.

Option 1: Auto Align Or Auto Tone

The first two merge options are “Auto Align” and “Auto Tone.” If your photos are off-kilter (not perfectly in line with each other), then Auto Align will correct this. The Auto Tone function will attempt to automatically adjust the photo levels so that they look more natural.

Optionally, you can use the “Create HDR Photo” preset which contains many of the same adjustments as the auto functions but also gives you more control over things like saturation and luminance values.

Option 2: Deghosting

Deghosting is a great way to get rid of any moving objects that might be in your images. This can be helpful if you’re using HDR photos where one shot has been taken from the left and another from the right, resulting in an object that appears twice but should only appear once. It basically takes the best bits of each image so it’s about as close to flawless hdr merging as possible without utilizing multiple exposures. If there are large areas with little movement (such as sky or water), then this option may not work well for you since nothing would change between different exposures – therefore it will just average out all similar pixels which could result in a less than desirable photo. The same goes for very small areas with lots of changes (such as leaves in trees).

In the Deghosting Amount menu, you can select None, Low, Medium, or High. Check the box to Show Deghost Overlay if you’re selecting something other than None to show a red semi-transparent overlay of where the effect is being applied.

Select The Merge Button

Once you’ve selected your option, you simply hit the merge button within Lightroom.

The processed, merged image will be imported into your Lightroom catalog along with your original photographs with a filename that includes “-HDR” at the end. The final HDR picture is saved as a DNG RAW file with its own develop settings, regardless of whether you started out with JPG or RAW photos.

After that, you can tweak your photos once it’s back in Lightroom.

When To Use HDR Photo Merge Function

There are many times when hdr merge can be useful, but there are also some things you should avoid doing. For example, if your original photos have noise in them or the light has changed significantly since they were taken (even just an hour later), then hdr merge might not work as well for that photo.

It’s usually best to use hdr merge on images with lots of detail – especially outdoors where sky, trees and other scenery is concerned.

When Not To use HDR Photo Merge Function

This function works poorly on very flat surfaces like concrete or asphalt because it averages out all of these small details instead of taking bits from each exposure which will look fake at this point. Also, hdr merging isn’t ideal for landscapes during twilight hours before sunset/after sunrise because there’s usually not enough light difference between the exposures.

It’s also best to use HDR Photo Merge with the RAW originals, rather than JPGs, to maintain the best overall quality.


HDR merge can be an incredibly useful tool for photographers who need to get the best quality hdr photos. Give it a try today!