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Save Time with Batch Exposure Blending

A Guest Post by Nick Rains.

Do you ever shoot a bunch of exposure-bracketed shots and then never get around to blending them together?

Maybe you don’t shoot multiple exposures in the first place because you don’t want to spend hours in front of the computer blending together the individual images. If you are like me, the thought of individually exposure-blending a whole load of images is just not what photography is all about – I know I can produce better images with better tonal range this way but it seems like a lot of work in front of the computer.

What if I told you I do most of my exposure blends automatically?

Here’s how :

You need Lightroom and a Lightroom plug-in called LR/Enfuse.

This is free to download but is restricted to work only on low resolution images. The good news is that the full version is donationware and when you find out just how genuinely useful it is you’ll be happy to pay a modest amount. The guys who write these plugins do need support – I’d suggest $10 – $20 – but it’s up to you

So, here we go…

1. Shoot your exposure blend image sets as normal – I recommend using the two-second self-timer combined with auto-bracket so that you get all three shots with one press of the shutter button. I normally set the auto-bracket to plus and minus 2 stops which seems to cover most high contrast scenes.

2. Import the images into Lightroom as per usual.

3. In the Library Module, view the folder of the images you just imported and choose Photo / Stacking / Auto-stack by Capture Time. Set this to about three seconds and Lightroom should collect all your sets of bracketed images into stacks because they will normally have been shot less than three seconds apart. Adjust the slider and you’ll see them stack and unstack in ‘real time’. Choose Photo / Collapse All Stacks and you should now see single stacks each containing the images which make up each exposure blend sequence.

Batch Exposure Blending 1.png

Batch Exposure Blending 2.png

Batch Exposure Blending 3.png

Auto-stacking is not foolproof, but you will soon get the hang of it – the trick is to make sure the folder only contains bracketed images that need stacking. If you mix them up with single captures it’s possible that you’ll get a few odd stacks.

4. Now select all the stacks that are made up of your three exposure brackets (command or control-click to multi-select).

5. Choose File / Plug-in Extras / Blend Exposures using LR Enfuse.

6. Use the default settings under the Enfuse tab but on the Ouput Tab check the box at the top called “Batch Mode”, check the box labelled “Create blended image in the same folder as the primary image in the set” and check the box labelled “Reimport image into Lightroom”.

Batch Exposure Blending 4.png

You can ignore ‘Auto-align’ if you used a tripod, otherwise, if you shot hand held, turn this one.

7. Hit the “Enfuse Images” button.

8. Go get a cuppa whilst LR/Enfuse works its way through each individual stack of images, converts them according to any raw settings in the Lightroom Develop Module, exposure blends them, saves the result into the same folder as the originals, and imports them back into the Lightroom catalogue. All on full automatic.

What you’ll see is one new file pop up next to each stack in the folder. These will be your exposure blended images.

Batch Exposure Blending 5.png

Batch Exposure Blending 6.png

Pretty cool huh? Here’s the before (top) and after (bottom) of the image we processed (click to enlarge to full size).

Before.jpg

After.jpg

Images: Springbrook National Park, QLD – Twin Falls. Shot on a Canon EOS 5D Mk IIIEF8-15F4L

This is only a quick run through the method, it’s not completely foolproof and occasionally you’ll have to go back and manually blend a difficult image using Photomatix or something similar, but, on the whole, LR Enfuse does a superb job.

One refinement would be not to do much adjustment in LR before blending, set LR/Enfuse to create 16bit TIFFs and then use LR’s extensive tone mapping tools to adjust the new output file to suit your tastes. I intend to go through this process in greater detail in a Lightroom eBook I am currently working on.

In the meantime, automating your workflow like this can save you a huge amount of time. Setting it up in the first place might take a bit of thought and effort but, believe me, it’s well worth it.

Nick Rains has been a professional photographer for almost thirty years, doing mostly editorial work for clients such as Australian Geographic and has made a point of keeping up to date with technology. His latest forays into the world of current technology have been shooting more and more video and creating an iPad app called Photique where he publishes articles and interactive eGuides as well as free image portfolios.

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  • Brett

    I’ve been using the LR\Enfuse plugin for about a year and it is the best time-saver!

  • Nick Rains

    Hi Brett
    Yes, it’s my secret weapon! I always get an ‘ooh’ and an ‘ah’ when I demo this in seminars.

  • Bob Taylor

    Do I understand you correctly, that you use a 2 second timer between exposures in your exposure bracketing? Is there a reason not to use just the auto bracketing alone?

  • http://lenstop.blogspot.com Arun

    Thanks for sharing the info and introducing the LR plugin. Hop it’ll help big time if succeeded to stack the images properly :)

    regards

  • Nick Rains

    Hi Bob

    Not exactly – I use the 2 second self timer not between shots but instead of a cable release to trigger all three shots at one. I have a cable release but it’s just as effective to use the 2 sec self timer and quicker too.

    Canons have so many ways to do the same thing here…

    - If you use the 2 second self timer or the cable release and AB you get all three shots in quick succession regardless of the camera shooting speed.
    - If you use the camera in one-shot shooting speed and AB you have to press the shutter button three times (or more if you are doing a 5-shot bracket).
    - If you put the camera on AB and high speed shooting you get all the shots with one press.
    - If you are in one-shot mode with AB and use a cable release you get all three shots with one press.
    - Or, in LiveView and one-shot you get all three shots but you have to hold down the shutter button long enough for all three shots to be completed, possibly introducing camera movement.

    Using a cable release or self timer in LiveView is best because shoots the sequence without the mirror returning between each shot and so is the smoother way to shoot.

    There are loads of ways to achieve the same end, I have probably missed some, but that’s just the way I do it.

  • Dan Baxter

    This is a fantastic suggestion, however its not working for me, just seems to go with the darkest exposure and doesn’t blend effectively when processing a stack.. Not sure whether its something that im doing wrong.

    Processing works fine when I unstack images.

  • http://www.mpcphotographs.com Mark C

    This is a great article and by using these tool it takes the guesswork out of processing multiple exposures. The only thing that I would caution others on is that if your using a high pixel camera and shooting RAW, it takes a lot of memory to process these images. The process will error out if not enough memory available.

  • Bob Taylor

    Nick,

    Thanks for the clarification. I’ve got it now and am anxious to try your tip.

  • Nick Rains

    Dan – not sure why this is happening, have you contacted the plugin’s support? Works fine for me (obviously :-)) Make sure the Enfuse settings are 100% Exposure and 0% Contrast weighted.

    Mark – yes, indeed! I work in 16bit with Leica S2 files and each processed file is 240MB, times three is 720MB! However, most recent computers with 8+ GB RAM should be fine – I do everything on a Macbook Pro 15″ with 16GB RAM and never have a problem with big files.

    P.S. I put a video of the process on my website – http://www.nickrains.com – look in the video section in the left menu bar.

  • Lizabeta

    Is the full version higher res images as well?

  • Nick Rains

    Yes, if you donate some money you get an unlock code which means the plug in will work with any sized mages.

  • http://adventurebydesign.fi Gareth Hutton

    Thanks Nick for sharing this! What a superb program. Donate if you can, it’s well worth the $$$.

  • Alexandria Painter

    Is there a CS5 plugin?

  • Vladimir V. Bott

    Stumbled upon this plugin about a year ago. Simple and worth the donation. Even though i am not an HDR guy, there may be a scene once in a while when Enfuse comes in handy.

  • Opher Kahn

    How does this blend compare to Nik’s SW HDR Efex Pro? (I haven’t figured out if there is a batch mode there yet).

Some older comments

  • Gareth Hutton

    May 30, 2013 04:06 pm

    Thanks Nick for sharing this! What a superb program. Donate if you can, it's well worth the $$$.

  • Nick Rains

    May 16, 2013 08:15 am

    Yes, if you donate some money you get an unlock code which means the plug in will work with any sized mages.

  • Lizabeta

    May 16, 2013 07:55 am

    Is the full version higher res images as well?

  • Nick Rains

    May 14, 2013 07:49 am

    Dan - not sure why this is happening, have you contacted the plugin's support? Works fine for me (obviously :-)) Make sure the Enfuse settings are 100% Exposure and 0% Contrast weighted.

    Mark - yes, indeed! I work in 16bit with Leica S2 files and each processed file is 240MB, times three is 720MB! However, most recent computers with 8+ GB RAM should be fine - I do everything on a Macbook Pro 15" with 16GB RAM and never have a problem with big files.

    P.S. I put a video of the process on my website - www.nickrains.com - look in the video section in the left menu bar.

  • Bob Taylor

    May 12, 2013 10:55 am

    Nick,

    Thanks for the clarification. I've got it now and am anxious to try your tip.

  • Mark C

    May 12, 2013 03:45 am

    This is a great article and by using these tool it takes the guesswork out of processing multiple exposures. The only thing that I would caution others on is that if your using a high pixel camera and shooting RAW, it takes a lot of memory to process these images. The process will error out if not enough memory available.

  • Dan Baxter

    May 11, 2013 03:48 pm

    This is a fantastic suggestion, however its not working for me, just seems to go with the darkest exposure and doesn't blend effectively when processing a stack.. Not sure whether its something that im doing wrong.

    Processing works fine when I unstack images.

  • Nick Rains

    May 11, 2013 09:03 am

    Hi Bob

    Not exactly - I use the 2 second self timer not between shots but instead of a cable release to trigger all three shots at one. I have a cable release but it's just as effective to use the 2 sec self timer and quicker too.

    Canons have so many ways to do the same thing here...

    - If you use the 2 second self timer or the cable release and AB you get all three shots in quick succession regardless of the camera shooting speed.
    - If you use the camera in one-shot shooting speed and AB you have to press the shutter button three times (or more if you are doing a 5-shot bracket).
    - If you put the camera on AB and high speed shooting you get all the shots with one press.
    - If you are in one-shot mode with AB and use a cable release you get all three shots with one press.
    - Or, in LiveView and one-shot you get all three shots but you have to hold down the shutter button long enough for all three shots to be completed, possibly introducing camera movement.

    Using a cable release or self timer in LiveView is best because shoots the sequence without the mirror returning between each shot and so is the smoother way to shoot.

    There are loads of ways to achieve the same end, I have probably missed some, but that's just the way I do it.

  • Arun

    May 11, 2013 02:15 am

    Thanks for sharing the info and introducing the LR plugin. Hop it'll help big time if succeeded to stack the images properly :)

    regards

  • Bob Taylor

    May 11, 2013 02:08 am

    Do I understand you correctly, that you use a 2 second timer between exposures in your exposure bracketing? Is there a reason not to use just the auto bracketing alone?

  • Nick Rains

    May 10, 2013 11:43 am

    Hi Brett
    Yes, it's my secret weapon! I always get an 'ooh' and an 'ah' when I demo this in seminars.

  • Brett

    May 10, 2013 06:09 am

    I've been using the LR\Enfuse plugin for about a year and it is the best time-saver!

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