One of my workshop students requested I put together a step-by-step tutorial on how to do the HDR Merge process in Lightroom.

HDR Merge is used to combine a series of different exposures of the same composition. When shooting a scene with a high dynamic range, the camera may not be able to capture all the information. For example, depending on the settings you chose, either the highlights will be blown out, or the darks will be underexposed. In this case, you can take multiple shots with different shutter speeds (known as bracketing).

When you set up to take a set of bracketed images, generally, the ISO and aperture are kept constant, and the shutter speed is changed manual by you, or your camera automates this process.

I’m going to use a series of images from the Abraham Lake Bubbles workshop I held in December 2019 (the student request came from this workshop).

Select the images you want merge. In this case I have three.

Three images selected for HDR Merge in Lightroom

You can right-click over the selected images, or go to the Photo tab in your menu, Photo -> Photo Merge -> HDR Merge. A new window will pop up in Lightroom.

HDR Merge window in Ligthroom

In the HDR Merge Preview window, there are a few options. Auto-align will align the images if there has been any movement between them. On a tripod, this may not be necessary, but for handheld shots, this can help correct slight differences. Auto Settings will apply the settings that Lightroom thinks are “good” to your photo. I have it selected to show what it does.
The deghost amount is used to eliminate or minimize “ghosting” that may have been caused by any movement. The movement can be because the shot was handheld, the tripod was nudged, cloud movement, people walking through, etc. The more change there was through the series of images, the higher the amount you will need for the correction.

In this case, the program thinks it found some movement along the ice crack, which may have been water moving. This is illustrated by the red overlay.

Deghost overlay shown over the image in the lightroom HDR merge window

I did not apply the deghosting in this case since I did not see anything odd in the image. Click Merge when you’re done.

Final HDR Merge dng file in lightroom develop module with auto settings applied

Since I selected auto settings, Lightroom has made adjustments as you can see in the develop panel. I generally make all my own changes in the develop module before heading into Photoshop.