HDR from multiple exposure bracketed raw files

How to develop an HDR bracketing with DxO PhotoLab and
Rediscover HDR with Luminar Neo

Does DxO PL6E complete have any internal HDR merge as described by Skylum Luminar? The YouTube video shows preparation for merging TIFF exported PL file using Aurora HDR, not PL.

PL has never been able to assemble multiple images because it is mainly a non-destructive RAW processor and not a pixel editor. My opinion is that Affinity Photo is the best for assembling multiple HDR files.

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Have you tested both Affinity 2 and Luminar Neo for bracketed exposures to make a HDR image? The Nikon Z9 has Z9 HDR Overlay . I have Affinity 2 but I have compared the noise and detail “output” quality from Z9 lossless compressed NEF in Affinity 2. In my opinion it is not as good as what I can get from PL DeepPRIME XD plus smart lighting plus … . Presumably if I spent more time on images that are of particular interest (typically, to clients) in Affinity, I could get most of the same quality as in PL6E complete. But, the “full automation” with my presets (I have several of these, depending on the image subject and goals) with a bit of “slider adjustment” in PL does a quick job of most workflow from NEF, albeit DeepPRIME XD can be very time consuming in export to the final output image.

I export my photos from PL6 with lens correction and noise reduction (if necessary) as DNG files then load them in Affinity 2 for merging - works really well.


Are you using DeepPRIME XD? If so, assuming that one uses the Z9 HDR mode to produce a set of NEF files, rather than using Nikon HDR post, how does one disable any of the exposure corrections that DeepPRIME typically does? That is, one wants DeepPRIME noise reduction, sharpening, lens correction, etc, but no exposure corrections as a HDR set will have some images that are for the dark (with “blown” pixels) and others for the highlights (for which essentially no “dark recovery” of pixels would be useful), combined by whatever mechanisms Affinity 2 HDR uses. I assume these are non-raw DNG files (why DNG rather than TIFF?) as PL will not output into a raw (non de-mosaiced) format.

DeepPRIME from within PL doesn’t do any exposure corrections. That might be the case in PureRAW but that isn’t worth buying or using if you already have PL.

If I were to multi-image HDRs, I would work out any corrections, even to exposure if necessary, etc to one of the images and then copy the corrections to the others.

Then, as @KeithRJ says, export to DNG and pass those files to Affinity.

I assume you are using totally manual exposure settings on your camera?

You could apply the DxO Optical Corrections Only preset (which won’t adjust exposure, nor apply Smart Lighting) - then manually activate your preferred NR setting … then export to Affinity.

  • You could even combine those steps into one custom Preset - to make it even simpler.

Now, with PLv6, I’m exporting to Affinity (and Nik tools) via TIFF, with ICC Profile = ProPhoto RGB


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In general, I use M with auto ISO to separately control motion blur and DOF in so far as possible. My only major exception to this is with wide angle lenses (such as the Sigma 14-24 2.8 Art or fisheye lenses), particularly when I am doing a panorama using a pano head on a tripod, in which case I typically do P in matrix metering with exposure compensation – but not yet HDR bracketing. Often the contrast ratio in wide angle scenics is so large that I use P for that purpose, particularly as the EVF on the Z9 shows what actually is “in” the image (with caveats), plus the RGB"gamma" histograms. I have used gradient ND filters but HDR bracketing seems a superior method (not being constrained by the limitations of emulsion/film).

I agree that Affinity Photo does a fine job on the exposure-fusion step. But I find AP awkward compared with alternatives mainly because you can’t “pass” intermediate images directly to AP for HDR or Pano merging, as far as I know. Instead, you have to save the intermediate files somewhere and then load them into AP using its import dialog. I find this an inconvenient extra step. Finally (I don’t mean to be disagreeable), I find DNG an irrelevant format for external processing. I think that DXO-PL exported DNGs merely encapsulate TIFF files (or equivalent bitmaps) with added overhead.

So I export TIFFs from DXO (using CMD-J on the Mac) after setting the profile (“camera natural” or “camera muted”), setting the white balance, applying optical corrections and “Deep Prime” processing (I use a preset that does all of these). The export of a 5-image exposure bracket for HDR fusion takes about 30 seconds on my iMac (Intel, 2019).

I use an external fusion program that accepts TIFFs (or even DNGs) passed directly by DXO and that will re-export the resulting image directly to DXO for final toning. There are several HDR programs that will do that on the Mac. I use PhotoMatix but Easy-HDR will also do a good job. I don’t use the NIK suite but HDR-Effects has its fans. Finally, for HDR panoramas (or even single HDR images) PT-GUI is very reliable, ‘automatically’ detecting which images to fuse and which groups to stitch for the pano.

In any case, it’s important, in my view, to use the least amount of toning (or ‘tonal compression’) possible in any of these external programs (I use Photomatix ‘neutral’ setting), because toning the resulting TIFF in DXO, especially using theTone Curve and DXO-masks for e.g. Clear-View, exposure-values and saturation/vibrance, gives a far superior result.

There’s no ‘Deep Prime’ for the export of the processed TIFF files, of course, but the final image probably won’t need it.


Actually, so do I, but my fingers typed DNG :roll_eyes:

As I have said, since acquiring my Nikon D850 with 14.6 stops of DR, I no longer see the need for multi-shot HDR.

If I can take a night shot that looks this on the back of the camera…

and process it in PL to give me this…

All in one RAW file from a single exposure.

Or this, more typical use of HDR for a church with stained glass windows…

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I export DNG because I found the file size to be smaller than tif. I am not sure why but if you want to save disk space then use DNG. I mainly use Affinity Photo for stitching panoramas where the Mesh Warp feature is really good for fixing straight lines which are not quite straight when stitched. After switching I save the Affinity file for future possible edits and delete all the DNG files as they can easily be regenerated.

With the D850 and Z9, I too use the “dark recovery” of PL that has improved with the most recent release of PL6E complete. I also have used it with a fisheye to get a pseudo-pano crop, particularly for high dynamic range subjects (sunsets over a dark land/seascape). However, despite the high dynamic range of the current professional Nikon bodies as recorded in NEF, there may be better rendition if a HDR technique (such as provided by the HDR bracketing regimen of the Z9) is used. For night sky images, the starlight mode of the Z9 I have found to give superior results for a non-astronomical setup (ie, not using a lens system specific designed for astronomy). For images in which a tripod is not allowed (eg, many interior imaging situations), does anyone have opinions of the dark recovery PL6E for the Z9 versus the Z9 bracketed HDR? I will do some experiments myself assuming that Affinity 2 does a satisfactory job of HDR (the claim made for Luminar NEO), or if there are other recommended non-Mac/Apple environment applications (I do not own any hardware with the Apple logo).

I don’t possess a Z series camera so can’t answer that but, does it compose the HDR shots to RAW or to a JPEG like the D850?

In 2010 and with DxO Optics Pro 6, HDR was on trial for a while but has never re-emerged so far…

Yes, these are impressive results. Nikons are justly famous for their dynamic range.

I use an OMSystems OM-1 that also has great dynamic range although much lower resolution than your Nikon. With the help of DXO-PL I, too, can recover a surprising amount of data from areas that seem to be black in the RAW images. But I find there’s always some penalty in the quality of the result: I suppose for the obvious physical reason that the photo-sites are under-saturated. There’s no free-lunch.

That said, I still wouldn’t bother with HDR if it weren’t so easy to do. The OM-1 (and many other cameras, I think) will make the exposure brackets automatically in RAW (and will composite JPEGs in camera if you want: I don’t), shooting them at very high speed, and stabilized to minimize ‘ghosting’, over a predetermined EV range with the ‘base’ exposure set at anywhere I wish (I use +/- 2EV between the images in each bracket). I have it set-up as a toggle-button-press on my camera.

So with no effort on my part I end up with (say) 5 images that make a composite that is well-aligned and well-exposed over — potentially — more than half (8EV) of the full dynamic range of the sensor. Still a small fraction of what our eyes can see, but an astonishing bonus of digital photography.

Not for all images, of course: but for many high-contrast scenes taken with natural light.

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The Z9 will produce a sequence of bracketed NEF files, similar to the Olympus described in this thread, or an in-camera HDR processed JPEG. For any client work, I always use NEF but make a basic small JPEG of the same image for rapid uncorrected submission to a client for review unless I am certain based upon past acceptances that an image for a client is worth my time in post. For HDR I do not know if the Z9 will make both a bracket set of NEFs and process for a composited JPEG.

You can always download the manual for the camera and read up on the HDR function.

I don’t do many multi-shot HDR images, but have done a few. I have done a few more single-shot HDRs. In both cases, I export de-noised DNGs from PL and load them into Skylum’s Aurora HDR. There are enough presets in Aurora to get close to what I want and enough controls to tweak it further without the need for any other software.

You use the older Skylum product (replaced by Luminar NEO) – I do not have any current products licensed from Skylum (I did when I was evaluating replacements for the Adobe permanent silent partner rental model). I did license Affinity 2 but have not yet licensed the Luminar current package. Any additional opinions? Note that I have no Apple logo hardware and thus cannot use MacOS, IOS, etc.

All Skylum products are “replaced by” something else (usually completely different). I tried out Luminar Neo but ended up asking for my money back. It was just too weird in how it worked. Aurora was “the big thing” for a short time with Skylum and they still offer content for it (presets) and it still works. I’ve achieved some really nice results with it over the years.

I know Affinity Photo has HDR stacking, but I’ve not really tried it because I’ve had Aurora there for so long now. I’m stoked it still works.