Working as an independent commercial photographer specializing in architectural and interior photography, I have shoots that can sometimes have upwards of 20-30 views that are bracketed for varying exposures. This produces quite a challenge in time and storage resources considering that I usually shoot anywhere from 5 to 7 brackets per view. Adobe Lightroom has made a world of difference to my workflow cutting days, not just hours, off my post processing. So when I learned of a simple plugin from Timothy Armes called Lightroom Enfuse, I was intrigued and excited about the possibilities of how this little plugin could help with my interior blending workflow.
I have read and experimented with just about every HDR application on the market, but for me they always came up a little short when it came to producing natural looking images. Most of these HDR apps are great at creating surreal or exaggerated compositions, but struggle when trying to reproduce a life like reproduction. For my clients, I needed a solution that creates natural looking images, has an efficient workflow… and does it fast.
Here is a quick look at how Lightroom Enfuse does all the above
GIGO: Garbage in, Garbage Out
Most of you are aware of the phrase “garbage in garbage out”. This is a real truth when it comes to re-creating natural images through blending techniques. The software is great, but you gotta do your homework in learning how to use your camera and gear to its fullest potential. If in doubt, read the manual… and ALWAYS use a good tripod for this kind of work.
Perform You Global Edits First
Once you have your bracketed images imported into Lightroom (I have found that 5 or 6 images is the sweet spot for most brackets), I usually select all the bracketed images and do a synchronized global edit before sending them to the Enfuse app. Basically adjusting the color temp, blacks, clarity, vibrance, and slight tone curves just so all the images in the sequence have the same global settings.
Using The Enfuse Plugin
Once you have a global edit on all your bracketed images, you can pull up the Lightroom Enfuse plugin through the File – Plugin Extras menu. I selected a 5 image sequence that I recently shot for a home decor client.
Once selected, You have a few options to consider in the dialogue box. Basically, I started with the default settings, then found that tweaking the weight of the exposure to 1.00 with the contrast and saturation at .20 (these are listed in the third option labelled “Enfuse”.) produced the best results for me.
After setting the Exposure, saturation, and contrast values, I move on to the last option “Output”. Here we have some very handy features like Batch Mode, which will process all of your stacked image sets you have created in Lightroom as one batch. Very handy when you have 30+ sets to work through. Just select this mode and let the computer do all the work for you while you get lunch.
One other handy feature is the “append filename”. I find this useful when Im searching through hundreds of images to find the actual blended images. I can just go to the Lightroom search feature and type in my appended name, in this case -Enfuse, and it will immediately pop up with all the files that have been processed through Enfuse. Nice!
We also have the typical format options like TIFF or JPG, 16 or 8 bit, Color Space profiles, etc. but these are a matter of preference for most folks so I won’t address those here. However, the last two features I really like; Reimport and Copy all metadata.
Reimport basically does what it says, it reimports the “enfused” image back into your Lightroom catalog so you don’t have to go fishing for it in your pictures folder. Seems simple, and it is, but its also a nice time saver. It also gives you the option to immediately open that blended file in Photoshop, or whatever image editing app you prefer, however, I tend to save all that extra post work until after I review the initial set of images that come back from the plugin.
Copy metadata is another handy feature that keeps all your info with the final enfused image. Again, it’s the little things.
Ok, so now that we have all our preferences setup, just select the “Enfuse Images” button at the bottom right and let it do its thing. This usually takes about a minute to process a 5 image sequence on my Mac Pro quad core with 4 gigs ram. Your results may vary.
Here is a sample of the 5 brackets I shot initially with the global edits applied.
Here is a screenshot of the Enfused image after the automatic reimport.
As you can see by the histogram in the upper right, this images tonality comes right in at the mid point which gives us a nice starting point from which to tweak the image further. From here, I usually add a bit more vibrance, and a slight tone curve as the application seems to flatten out the tonality a bit.
Here is the final image with adjustments from Lightroom Enfuse. From this point, I may open the image in Photoshop to add more depth through dodge/burn layers, vignettes, masking, etc. , but at least the plugin gives a really nice starting point from which to work.
This gives you an example of what can be accomplished with the Lightroom Enfuse plugin. As stated in other HDR software reviews, there is currently no “one stop shop” application that will do everything, but I have found that this plugin has been a nifty little app that works great for producing natural looking blended images.
To learn more about this plugin, visit the Photographers Toolbox where Timothy has some other really cool plugins for Lightroom.