Learn how to create HDRs, Panorama, and HDR Panoramas using the Photo Merge feature

Lightroom desktop lets you easily merge multiple exposure-bracketed photos into a single HDR photo and standard exposure photos into a panorama. Moreover, you can also merge multiple exposure-bracketed photos (with consistent exposure offsets) to create an HDR panorama in one step. 

You can see a quick preview of the resulting HDR, panorama, and HDR panorama created and make further adjustments to it before the final merged photo is generated.

Create HDRs

How many photos are required to process a quality HDR merge?

Read these guidance notes and tips by Rikk Flohr (Software Quality Engineer for Lightroom ecosystem of apps, Adobe).

HDR photos are used to capture scenes having a large dynamic range. However, using more number of photos can lead to unwanted artifacts from poor alignment or ghosting. For optimal HDR merge, the aim is to capture photos in a manner that each part of the scene is well-exposed, that is neither blown-out nor under-exposed in at least one of the photos.

Use the following guidelines to identify how many photos work best for your case:

  • If your HDR bracketing is less than 3.0 stops in total separation (-1.5, 0, +1.5), use only the darkest and brightest exposures to generate an HDR. Capturing the middle exposure, or zero exposure, is not necessary for generating a quality exposure blend in such cases. If you exceed the 3-stop separation between the darkest and the brightest exposures, an additional exposure offset becomes necessary to process a good quality HDR photo.
See the chart below to quickly determine the number of photos required for processing a quality HDR merge
Camera Bracket settings Optimum number of exposures for merging photos to HDR
-1.5 to +1.5 2
-3.0 to +3.0 3
-4.5 to +4.5 4
-6.0 to +6.0 5
  • If you are a photographer using the ± 1.5 exposure bracket, you can ignore the zero or middle exposure. This helps in faster render and improves alignment odds in the resultant HDR by reducing the chances of potential camera movement between the exposures. However, the zero exposure can be useful in scenarios where the capture scene is within the acceptable range of a single exposure and can be developed independently.
  • If you are a standard HDR shooter using a ± 2.0 bracket, you ideally require only three photos to merge into an HDR. 
  • If you are a 5 shot ± 4.0 stop shooter, you can now drop from 5 shots to 4 shots for merging and processing HDR. However, if you are a 7 shot ± 6.0 stop shooter, you can now get the optimal HDR blend with only 5 shots (-6.0, –3.0, 0, 3.0, 6.0) provided your camera has three-stop stepping in the exposure bracketing function.

Capture photos for HDR merge

Keep the following tips in mind when you take photos to be combined into an HDR photo:

  • Set your camera setting to use Automatic Exposure Bracketing. 
  • To ensure minimal movement, use a tripod while taking photos. Try to minimize movements as much as possible when not using a tripod.

Note:

For Automatic Exposure Bracketing, check your camera’s manual for instructions on how to use this mode on your specific camera model.

Merge photos to create HDRs

  1. Command-click (macOS) or Control-click (Windows) to select multiple exposure bracketed source photos when in Photo Grid () view or Square Grid () view, or from the filmstrip appearing at the bottom when in Detail () view.

    Multiple exposure levels ("-1" and "+1" images)
    Photos of the same objects at different exposure levels ("-1" and "+1" images)
  2. Do any of the following to merge your selected photos into a single HDR photo:

    • Go to Photo > Photo Merge > HDR
    • Control-click (macOS) or Right-click (Windows) your selection of photos and then select Photo Merge > HDR from the options displayed.
    HDR merge exposure bracketed photos
    Select multiple exposure bracketed photos to merge into an HDR.
  3. In the HDR Merge preview dialog, you can choose to enable/disable the Auto Align and Auto Settings options and adjust the Deghosting Amount if necessary.

    • Auto Align: Useful if the images being merged have slight movement from shot to shot. Enable this option if the images were shot using a handheld camera. Enabling this option may not be necessary if the images were shot using a tripod.
    • Auto Settings: Provides a good starting point for an evenly-toned merged image. You can preview the effects of these settings in the preview dialog. Also, you can continue to edit the image using the Edit controls.
    • Deghost Amount: Some areas in the merged HDR photo may appear unnaturally semi-transparent which generally occurs when there is frame-by-frame movement in the HDR source photos. Adjust the Deghost Amount slider to - NoneLow, Medium, or High, to correct these anomalies. Initially, try low deghosting to obtain a clean merged image and move to higher settings based on the generated preview. Avoid using if your preview is free of ghosting artifacts.

        Low: Cures little or minor movement between frames
        Medium: Cures considerable movement between frames
        High: Cures high movement between frames

    Select Show Deghost Overlay or press the O key on your keyboard, to see where deghost corrections appear in the merged HDR photo.

    HDR Merge preview dialog box
    Choose to apply Auto Align, Auto Settings, and adjust the Deghost Amount in the HDR Merge preview dialog.
  4. Once you've finished making your choices, click Merge to create the HDR image. By default, a stack containing your source files and the merged photo is created, with the merged HDR photo visible on the top of the stack. A suffix HDR.dng is appended to the filename of the merged photo.

    Merged HDR photo
    The resulting merged HDR photo. The merged photo is stacked with the source files.

You can apply all Edit panel settings to the merged HDR photo just as you would apply them to individual photos.

Create panoramas

Capture photos for Panorama merge

Keep the following tips in mind when you take photos to be combined into a panorama:

  • Do not use the Automatic Panorama mode.
  • To ensure minimal movement, use a tripod while taking photos. Try to minimize movements as much as possible when not using a tripod.
  • Try to keep consistent exposure for every shot taken in a scene. Consistent exposure helps to create a seamless final panorama.

Merge photos to create panoramas

  1. Command-click (macOS) or Control-click (Windows) to select a series of standard exposure source photos when in Photo Grid () view or Square Grid () view, or from the filmstrip appearing at the bottom when in Detail () view.

  2. Do any of the following to merge your selected photos into a single HDR photo:
    • Go to Photo > Photo Merge > Panorama
    • Control-click (macOS) or Right-click (Windows) your selection of photos and then select Photo Merge > Panorama from the options displayed.
    Select photos to merge into a panorama
    Select a series of standard exposure photos to merge into a panorama.
  3. In the Panorama Merge dialog, choose a layout projection:

    Spherical

    Aligns and transforms the images as if they were mapped to the inside of a sphere. This projection mode is great for really wide or multirow panoramas.

    Spherical layout projection
    Spherical layout projection in Panorama Merge

    Cylindrical

    Projects the panorama as if it were mapped to the inside of a cylinder. This projection mode works really well for wide panoramas, but it also keeps vertical lines straight.

    Cylindrical layout projection
    Cylindrical layout projection in Panorama Merge

    Perspective

    Projects the panorama as if it were mapped to a flat surface. Since this mode keeps straight lines straight, it is great for architectural photography. Really wide panoramas may not work well with this mode due to excessive distortion near the edges of the resulting panorama.

    Perspective layout projection
    Perspective layout projection in Panorama Merge
  4. You can use Boundary Warp slider setting to warp panoramas to fill the canvas. Use this setting to preserve photo details near the boundary of the merged photo, that may otherwise be lost due to cropping. The slider controls how much Boundary Warp to apply.

    Higher slider value causes the boundary of the panorama to fit more closely to the surrounding rectangular frame.

  5. Select Auto Crop to remove undesired areas of transparency around the resulting merged photo. 

  6. Once you've finished making your choices, click Merge to create the panorama photo. By default, a stack containing your source files and the merged photo is created, with the merged panorama visible on the top of the stack. A suffix Pano.dng is appended to the filename of the merged photo.

    Panorama merged photo
    The resulting merged Panorama photo. The merged panorama photo is stacked with the source files.

You can apply all Edit panel settings to the merged panorama photo just as you would apply them to individual photos.

Create HDR panoramas

  1. Command-click (macOS) or Control-click (Windows) to select a series of consistent multiple exposure bracketed source photos when in Photo Grid () view or Square Grid () view, or from the filmstrip appearing at the bottom when in Detail () view.

    Review the requirements for merging to HDR panorama.

  2. Do any of the following to merge your selected photos into a single HDR photo:

    • Go to Photo > Photo Merge > HDR Panorama.
    • Control-click (macOS) or Right-click (Windows) your selection of photos and then select Photo Merge > HDR panorama from the options displayed.
  3. In the HDR Panorama Merge Preview dialog, choose a layout projection:

    • Spherical: Aligns and transforms the images as if they were mapped to the inside of a sphere. This projection mode is great for really wide or multirow HDR panorama.
    • Perspective: Projects the HDR panorama as if it were mapped to a flat surface. Since this mode keeps straight lines straight, it is great for architectural photography. Really wide HDR panoramas may not work well with this mode due to excessive distortion near the edges of the resulting panorama.
    • Cylindrical: Projects the HDR panorama as if it were mapped to the inside of a cylinder. This projection mode works really well for wide HDR panoramas, but it also keeps vertical lines straight.
  4. You can use Boundary Warp slider setting to warp HDR panoramas to fill the canvas. Use this setting to preserve photo details near the boundary of the merged photo, that may otherwise be lost due to cropping. The slider controls how much Boundary Warp to apply.

    Higher slider value causes the boundary of the HDR panorama to fit more closely to the surrounding rectangular frame.

  5. Select Auto Crop to remove undesired areas of transparency around the merged image. 

  6. Once you've finished making your choices, click Merge to create the HDR panorama photo in a single step. By default, a stack containing your source files and the merged photo is created, with the merged HDR panorama visible on the top of the stack. A suffix HDRPano.dng is appended to the filename of the merged photo.

You can apply all Edit panel settings to the merged panorama photo just as you would apply them to individual photos.

Requirements for merging to HDR panorama

To successfully merge your selection of photos to an HDR panorama, ensure that all the requirements listed below are met. If any of these requirements are not met, Lightroom displays the Unable to create HDR Panorama dialog box with a message 'Unable to create an HDR Panorama with your selection. Attempt to create a normal panorama instead?' when you try to merge the photos.  

  • All the images in your selection must contain the exposure metadata - Exposure time, f-number, and ISO.
  • Each set of bracketed exposures in your selection must have the same number of images. For example, if you chose to bracket with three images, then all the sets in the selection must also use three images. 
  • Each set of bracketed exposures in your selection must have the same exposure offsets. For example, if your first set has exposure offsets of (0, -1, +1), then all other sets in the selection must follow the exposure offset pattern. The image sets can have different exposure values; only the exposure offsets pattern must be consistent across all the sets.
  • Each set of bracketed exposures must be captured contiguously. For example, if you've considered a bracket size of three while capturing the images then the first three images in the sequence become part of a bracket set, the next three images in the sequence become part of another bracket set, and so on.
  • Within a set of bracketed exposures, the images must not have the same exposure value.

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