I’m a big fan of bracketing and merging into a single HDR image. It’s great for having images with amazing detail, as well as recovering highlights and shadows. So when I had the chance to take Luminar Neo’s new HDR Merge extension for a test drive, I jumped at the opportunity.
What is Luminar Neo HDR Merge?
Luminar Neo’s HDR Merge is a new extension that will allow you to digitally merge three or more images together to create an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image.
For example, if you take a 3-image bracketed series of a landscape, you can merge them to bring out the best of highlights, mid-range detail and shadows. Doing so brings spectacular levels of detail in your image, and helps you recover things like highlights and shadows in tough exposures. HDR Merge supports up to 10 bracketed shots.
HDR Merge will also auto-align your images (whether on a tripod or handheld) and remove ghosting (movement of objects in your frames) if trees, clouds or people move, preventing blurred areas.
Where to find it in Luminar Neo
Open Luminar Neo and on the top left you should see a little puzzle piece. Click on that, and you should see the HDR Merge extension to install. It’s a fairly simple process to install from here.
What images work best to merge?
Pretty much anything that has a high dynamic range is great for HDR Merge, including landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes. Astro or night photography could even be created as a merged image.
You will need at least three images of slightly different exposures of the same scene. You can actually use up to 10 images in HDR Merge. This will give you amazing detail, recovering any lost detail in highlight or shadow areas. In a standard single shot of the same scene, you would probably have lost large amounts of detail by keeping your middle range exposed, blowing out shadows and highlights.
How do I merge images?
Import the images or folder you wish to work with into your Luminar Neo catalog. Then, open your folder and select 3–10 images you wish to merge. These need to be slightly different exposures of the same scene, often referred to as brackets.
Now, drag them to the right to the HDR Merge panel. The selected images will then appear in the panel. Click on the Settings icon in the upper right of the panel to further enhance your settings.
There are a few settings to consider:
Whether handheld or on a tripod, there are often small discrepancies, so it is best to check Auto Alignment for the best results. HDR Merge will line images up so there is no overlap when merging the images together.
When shooting outside, there is often small to large amounts of movement, from the wind blowing trees or clouds to people moving in the shot. Checking the Ghost Reduction means that any movement will be minimized or removed, as Luminar Neo will use the reference image (selected next or leave at default) to remove any ghosting or movement in your merged photo.
As a part of this, you can also select the amount to minimize the movement being removed in your merged image. Low will mean that there will be very little pixel changes, meaning that you might still end up with some overlapd On the other side, High will adjust a higher number of pixels as necessary. While High might be an obvious choice, choosing it can sometimes sharpen or define areas that might not need it. I usually set mine to Medium, as it works quite well for most images I tried.
Once you’re out of the settings, click the purple Merge button. This merges your images together, which might take a bit depending on your machine, and how many images you selected to be merged. You will find your finished images in an HDR Merged folder in your catalog, ready for editing.
What do I do once the images are merged?
Now your image has been merged the fun can begin. Select your image from the HDR Merge folder, then jump into the Edit panel.
I visited the Enhance panel, as well as Develop, Structure, Color, Landscape and Dramatic. I also used the Remove Dust spot feature in the Erase panel to remove several dust spots (Ghost Reduction does NOT remove those, as they do not move from frame to frame). I also added some fog in the Atmosphere panel, as there was quite a bit of fog and I wanted to accentuate it.
I really only did a few basic tweaks, as the HDR image gave me loads of detail. Any further editing you do really does come down to personal choice. You can also apply presets to your merged HDR images, before editing further. If you are editing more than one HDR merge in a folder consider saving your edit as a preset by clicking on Actions down the bottom. You can then apply the same edit to further images. It’s such a time saver.
How much is HDR Merge?
If you’re an Aurora HDR 2019 user, you can get HDR Merge for free. If not, you can get the HDR Merge extension for $49.95.
Don’t have Luminar Neo yet? Get a bundle with HDR Merge and a special HDR Merge Pack — full of skies and presets — for $139.90.
Easy to use, with great results
I found HDR Merge really easy to use. It’s simple and quite intuitive, it certainly isn’t overwhelming and the end results were terrific. I never had any issues while testing this product.
For Luminar Neo customers I really think this is a worthwhile, value-packed feature — especially if you shoot landscapes, seascapes or cityscapes and like to bracket your shots.