Advanced 32 bit HDR tutorial – Return to the Hammer House

Article by Andrew Steel

For me one of the best things about HDR and especially 32bit HDR processed images is the huge scale of lighting that can be captured whilst still retaining crisp well defined features. Nowhere is this truer than when shooting inside dimly lit buildings where the main light source is the daylight pouring in through the windows. I was recently lucky enough to have what I can only describe as ‘the most amazing church I have ever been into’ all to myself for a couple of hours.

This particular church has two sides to it. As you walk in you are greeted by a fairly ordinary looking place of worship. As I approached the alter and small choral the back wall seemed disproportionately far away. Walking past the alter I was amazed to find a room full of tombs. A quick scout and I had already decided what the final images were going to look like. I guess that growing up in an era when ‘The Hammer House of Horror’ was the churning out new films in what seemed like every other month and my biggest heroes were Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee it was inevitable that to me tombs = creepy. So the look I wanted for this particular shot was a shadowy crypt contrasted by the magnificence of the stained glass window.

The following work flow details the stages taken to get to this final image.

Set up and equipment used:

Sony NEX7 tripod mounted with 10-18mm super wide zoom set at 10mm, ISO100 and an aperture of  f9.

Nine exposures from -4 to +4 in one stop increments, exposure times from 1/20th to 13 seconds.

Into the Darkroom

The software used was Photomatix Pro4, Lightroom 4.2, Nik Silver Efex Pro2 and Photoshop Elements.

The first stage of the editing process takes place in Lightroom, accessing both Photomatix and Silver Efex Pro2 from within Lightroom.

  • Open Lightroom and locate the images:
  • Select bracketed photos from either the Filmstrip or the Grid.
  • Right-click to invoke the contextual menu.
  • Select Export and then Merge to 32-bit HDR
  • Select the desired option and click on the Merge button


In case the merged image does not show once the merge has completed, click above the filmstrip and check All Photographs.

You can then adjust the merged image on Lightroom’s Develop module

The first part of the editing to to get the stained glass more or less how I want it to look on the final image, depending on the outside light these setting can vary quite significantly. For this image I adjusted the following:

  • Highlights -71
  • Shadows +100
  • Saturation +31


 Export the Image at this stage (I always save the images as PSD files during the editing process) and rename it to something that makes sense, in this case; window.psd

Continue to edit the open image , the next set of adjustments made were:

  • Highlights -100
  • Clarity +100

With the Saturation and Shadows left from the previous edit.

 Again Export the image, this one was saved as; colour.psd

Continue to edit the open image, next is to create a black and white version with high texture and contrast, for this I used Nik softwares Silver Efex Pro2. From the top menu bar select Photo, Edit In, Silver Efex Pro 2, this will open a dialogue box, ensure that Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments is checked, this will then open the Nik software for the next stage of editing.

There are several really useful pre-sets with Silver Efex, the one I find works best for the look I am trying to achieve is Wet Rocks, for this image I also pushed the Structure slider up to 61%.

 Hitting the save button returns you to Lightroom, export this image and rename, this one was mono.psd, close Lightroom.

For the second stage of editing open Elements (or Photoshop), generally I usually grab the images from the folder I have exported to and drag them into the open workspace in Elements, so for this the grab was window.psd, colour.psd and mono.psd, this gave me three open files within Elements, at this stage I will save one of the images to a different name and use it as a working copy, this maintains my three files should I require them again, in this case I saved the mono version as working.psd.

Okay, now I’m trying to achieve the creepy look, choose colour.psd, from the top menu – Select, All then again from the top menu bar – Edit, Copy, now choose the working.psd and from the top menu bar – Edit, Paste. The working.psd is now contains two layers with the colour being the top layer.

From the Layers Panel Bin select Hard Light as the blending mode and for this I pushed the opacity slider to 70%.

 From the top menu bar – Layer, Flatten Layers.

Next is to get that stained glass popping, choose window.psd, from the top menu – Select, All then again from the top menu bar – Edit, Copy, now choose the working.psd and from the top menu bar – Edit, Paste. The working.psd is now contains two layers with the window being the top layer. For this part of the editing the working image needs to be the top layer, first unlock the working part of the layer by double clicking it in the Layers Panel Bin and the rename it, this will remove the padlock, then drag it up so that it is now the top layer.

There are several ways to achieve the next stage, for me the simplest is just to erase parts of the top layer to let the background layer through. Set the pallet to Black and White with black being the foreground colour, select the eraser tool and set the brush to a soft type with an opacity of 100%, the size of the brush will vary as you are working through the edit. Bring the zoom up to at least 100% and start to erase the parts of the image where you want the background to show (make sure the top layer is selected), in this case the windows, just the windows, not the pillars in between.

 Once satisfied, from the top menu bar – Layer, Flatten Layers.

Save the image and close Elements.

The third and final stage of this work flow takes place in Lightroom.

Import working.psd into Lightroom, the next edits are to achieve the final textures:

  • Exposure +0.12
  • Contrast -24
  • Highlights +14
  • Shadows +5
  • Shadows +29


 Next is to take those global changes out of the stained glass using the Adjustment Brush.

With the Adjustment Brush selected the settings should be a inverse of the global changes just made:

  • Exposure -0.12
  • Contrast +24
  • Highlights -14
  • Shadows -5
  • Shadows -29


Using the brush paint over the windows again trying to keep only to the glass, although here the changes are so small that straying on to the pillars will not really show up.

Finally a minor vignette was added of 12 towards black and the final image was exported.

Window Detail:

Final Image:

The intent when first looking at the scene and deciding on the composure was to create a sense of foreboding, I hope this has worked.

My other works can be found here: