Please Visit the all new Digital Outback Photo

Outback Photo Handbook: HDR and Tonemapping

The Art of HDR Photography: Highlight Recovery in Lightroom can save your day

essay and photos by B+U Steinmueller


Recently we had a chance to photograph at the abandoned Gilroy Hot Springs. This is a part of Henry Coe State Park but is most of the time closed for the public. We hoped for some overcast (we started with overcast in San Juan Bautista). At the Springs we we had the worst light possible (10am Summer sunlight). As usual we shot these photos bracketed and handheld (here a Sony NEX-5 with its very limited EV spacing of 2/3EV). To be honest we thought these images would be mostly a lost cause (especially the image we feature here). Fortunately the Highlight Recovery in Lightroom 3 saved our day.

Our default Basic settings

The 3 shots at default settings with histograms

We look mostly at the histogram for the underexposed photo. Even if there is no fatal clipping visible this is too much for our taste. Clipping in the underexposed photo cannot be recovered in the final HDR image and results in bad highlights after tone-mapping.

Using Highlight Recovery in Lightroom 3

Highlight Recovery applied

The 3 shots using HR with histograms

We first try to find out a good Highlight Recovery for the most underexposed photo and then sync the settings to the other photos in the bracketing series.

Note: You cannot use these settings directly with Lightroom 3 "Edit in" -> "Merge to HDR" because in this case Photoshop will bypass these corrections to get otherwise better data directly from RAW. Create TIFF files instead and work with them.

As mentioned this saved our day and we got the result we wanted after merge to HDR and tone-mapping.

Final image

Note: The final look and frame of this photo was created using out DOP Texture Blending technique.


We use this technique for quite some time now and also recover highlights in more extreme situations. This time it helped us to save a whole series of images from that day. The images in the gallery below were shot with three different cameras (Canon T2i, Canon 5D2 and Sony NEX-5). Most of these images are HDR and we often used this Highlight Recovery technique..

We hope it shows two things:

  • HDR is a very useful technique to handle bad light situations
  • Lightroom 3 Highlight Recovery is indispensable to get good results in critical situations.


We want to thank the Henry Coe State Park administration for their help.


Save on HDR Tools

Besides of course Photoshop CS5 these are our core HDR Tools we use.

You get 15% off all Nik Software photographic filters (excluding upgrades and bundles). Be sure to use code OUTBACK when checking out to receive your discount.

Photomatix is our core HDR tool. Use coupon code DOPphotomatix for your 15% discount.

Read more here.

You get a 20% discount through this link unless a better promotion is in effect. You support DOP using this link.





Featured E-Books




Featured Tuning Filters