Lightroom makes it easy to store, edit and process your images from one central location. With a few plugins, it is the perfect hub for your HDR workflow. I use Photomatix Pro for my HDR processing, but I’m sure that other HDR software works in a similar fashion.
First you will need to download and install the Photomatix Pro plugin for Lightroom. The plugin is included with Photomatix Pro. Once you have done that, select the three or more photos in your Lightroom catalog that you want to combine into an HDR image. Go to ‘File > Plug-in Extras > Export to Photomatix Pro’, or right-click on one of the selected photos and click ‘Export > Photomatix Pro’. In the Photomatix Pro dialog box select ‘Generate HDR image’ , ‘Automatically reimport into Lightroom library’, and ‘Stack with first selected photo’. I usually send TIFF files to Photomatix, but JPEG’s are OK too (that’s what Trey Ratcliff uses). Now process and tone-map your HDR image with Photomatix Pro (there is a great Photomatix tutorial on Trey’s website at http://www.stuckincustoms.com). When you click ‘Process’ your image will be saved and automatically imported into your Lightroom catalog.
There are several options after your HDR image is back in Lightroom. I like to use plugins like Nik Software’s Color Effects Pro or Topaz Adjust to make adjustments to my HDR photos. Both of these plugins work with Lightroom on a Mac, but the Topaz plugin doesn’t work on Windows yet. To use plugins inside Lightroom, go to ‘Photo > Edit in’ and select the plugin you want to use. You can also right-click on the photo and choose ‘Edit in’ to use a plugin. You can edit your original HDR file, or have Lightroom make a copy for you to edit. I prefer to work on a copy so I still have my original file. Your photo will open in the plugin window, you make your adjustments, then Lightroom reimports the image when you’re done. Easy! This workflow works well for single-shot HDR images. Just process the image like you want it with the plugins, then fine tune the result in Lightroom.
It is also easy to go from Lightroom to Photoshop for more involved editing. If you want to composite your tone-mapped HDR image with one or more of the source files, simply select the files you want to use and select ‘Photo > Edit in > Open as layers in Photoshop’. This will create a single Photoshop file containing your photos on separate layers. When you have finished your editing and masking just save the file (command/cntrl + S) and it will be saved back into your Lightroom catalog.
Using plugins for Lightroom is a great way to streamline your workflow. For more plugin tips and tricks, check out Rick Sammon’s Plugin Experience website.