Imagine yourself standing out in spectacular scenery, photographing a beautiful sunset. Everything is in place to capture a great photo. However, there’s one issue. You can’t get both the landscape and sky correctly exposed. No matter what you do, either the sky is too bright, or the landscape is too dark. 

Does this sound familiar? Don’t worry. It’s an extremely common situation for landscape photographers, and often, it comes down to limitations within the camera. 

This is where exposure blending comes into the picture; a technique photographers use to overcome dynamic range limitations. 

Overexposure for Exposure Blending
An example where the foreground is well exposed but the sky is overexposed.

This technique allows you to create images that are perfectly exposed for both dark and bright areas. All you need is a camera and Adobe Lightroom. Keep reading, and you’ll learn more about exposure blending in Lightroom: 

What is Exposure Blending? 

Let’s take a quick look at what this technique is before getting into the Lightroom exposure blending workflow. 

While technology is improving at an impressive pace, it’s no secret that cameras still are somewhat limited in their dynamic range. In other words, you can only retrieve so much information from over- or underexposed areas within a photo. 

Let’s say you capture an image where the sky is perfectly exposed, but the landscape is extremely dark. You can bring out a lot of details in the dark parts by increasing the shadows and blacks in your photo editor of choice, but at what cost? 

The more underexposed the image is, the more noise you introduce when increasing its exposure.

Exposure blending is a popular technique for overcoming these limitations within the camera. Instead of capturing one single image where only a certain area is correctly exposed, you capture multiple. 

Start by capturing one image where you expose for the sky. Then, change your shutter speed (or other setting from the Exposure Triangle) and capture a second image where the landscape is correctly exposed. In some cases, you might need more than two photos.

This leaves us with a set of images that are correctly exposed to various parts of the scene. Your job in the field is now done, and it’s time to bring them into Lightroom for blending. 

Note: To avoid changes in your composition, a tripod is recommended to get the best results. 

How to Exposure Blend in Lightroom

Now that you know what exposure blending is, it’s time to move on to the step-by-step Lightroom workflow: 

  1. Select the two (or more) images that are to be blended
  2. Right-click (or Control/cmd + click) on one of the selected images
  3. Choose Photo Merge -> HDR… from the dropdown menu 
  4. Select Auto Align and click Merge in the new window that appears

That’s it. Lightroom will now take the correctly exposed areas from each image and blend them together into a new file that will be given the -HDR.dng expansion. You can now proceed to apply your preferred adjustments. 

HDR Merge Preview Lightroom

Now, you probably noticed that there are a few more options in the HDR Merge Preview window. While these aren’t always needed, it’s important to understand what they do:

Auto Align and Auto 

Auto Align and Auto Settings are the two first options you’re met with in the HDR Merge Preview window. Both of these are simple checkbox buttons and don’t have options for refining. 

Auto Align does exactly what the name indicates; it automatically aligns the images. This is extremely important as there can be small movements between the photos, even when the camera is mounted on a tripod. This should always be left on. 

Auto Settings tells Lightroom to automatically adjust the Basic slider values (Exposure, Shadows, Highlights, etc,.) to what it believes best suits the image. The important thing to note here is that you can change these adjustments after the images are merged. This is a good option if you want minimal involvement in image processing, but I strongly recommend turning it off and manually applying your adjustments. 

Exposure Blending Lightroom - Auto Settings
These settings were automatically applied when using the Auto Settings function in HDR Merge Preview.

Deghost Amount

The final option when merging an exposure blend in Lightroom is the Deghost Amount

This is an important function when blending images that have some movement, such as waves, people, or even a bird flying by. 

Ghosting happens when Lightroom doesn’t properly blend these moving elements. For example, a person walking through the scenery can be included several times in the blend. 

The Deghost Amount options are None, Low, Medium, and High. If you leave it at None, Lightroom will not apply a deghosting mask, while the other options will have an increasingly more aggressive mask. 

Click the Show Deghost Overlay option to see a red overlay applied to the parts of your photo affected by the adjustment. 

Now, deghosting can get a little tricky. There’s no right or wrong answer to whether or not you should use this setting. When you look at the mask, you often see that it’s applied to more areas than you want. Unfortunately, there’s no way to adjust this overlay manually. 

If you’re unsure whether to use it, I suggest trying the different settings to see which option you like the best. The example below shows the difference between leaving it at None and changing it to Medium

In general, I advise you to use this adjustment with some caution. Pay close attention to the various parts of the image to ensure it doesn’t create any strange glitches. 

The Downsides of Exposure Blending in Lightroom

Lightroom’s HDR Photo Merge is a convenient exposure blending method, but it does have limitations. In fact, it’s quite simple and lacks the advanced features that many photographers desire. 

Because of this, many photographers prefer to do their Exposure Blending in Photoshop instead. We’ll get back to this in a bit. 

The biggest downside to exposure blending in Lightroom is the lack of manual control. Besides the Auto Align, Auto Settings, and Deghosting Amount, there are no ways for us to tell Lightroom how we want the image blended.

Let’s take the Deghosting Amount as an example. When you turn on the Deghost Overlay, you can see exactly where the deghosting is applied. Quite often, it will include stationary areas that don’t have any movement, which can cause issues. A tool to manually refine this mask would be a huge improvement in Lightroom’s exposure blending capabilities. 

Lightroom Exposure Blending Problem

Another downside is the occasional poor results in complex blending areas. Take a look at the example above. Notice the strange blending in the water? Unfortunately, this is far too common, and there’s nothing that you can do to prevent it.

Overall, the biggest downside of exposure blending in Lightroom is the lack of manual control. Because of this, many photographers use Photoshop for more complex exposure blends. 

Exposure Blending in Lightroom vs. Photoshop

While this could be an article in itself, I want to briefly discuss some of the differences between blending exposures in Lightroom and Photoshop and why you might want to consider using the latter. 

The advantage of Lightroom is that it’s easy to use and more convenient for those who do all their processing in this software. The Photo Merge functions (including Panorama and HDR Panorama) are simple but efficient. It does exactly what it promises, no more and no less. 

Photoshop, on the other hand, is a much more advanced tool that requires more time to comprehend. However, by understanding the core concepts of Layers and Masks, you’ll quickly realize that it’s far from being as difficult as you first thought. The more advanced Luminosity Masks will also make a significant improvement to your exposure blending.

Exposure Blending in Photoshop
In Photoshop you have full control over how the images are merged together.

The advantage of blending exposures in Photoshop is that you have full control over how the image is blended. Even when using one of the automatic functions, you can use a mask to refine the results. Didn’t like how it blended the water? No problem, simply mask in the image you prefer. 

This additional control leads to better, more professional-looking results, but it requires a little more work from your side.


Exposure blending in Lightroom has improved a lot since the early versions. In the beginning, it tended to add that grungy HDR look with too bright shadows that most of us can’t forget, even if we try to. 

Today, the results are a lot more natural and encourage you to apply your own creative settings after the blend is completed. 

While it is great for quick and easy edits, it lags behind the superior blending techniques in Photoshop and other photo editors that use layers and masks. 

So, to sum up, exposure blending in Lightroom is great for those who prefer quick and easy with minimal involvement. For simple blends (that don’t include moving elements), it normally does a good job, but when more complex elements are involved, the results aren’t quite there yet. 

Do you do exposure blending? And if so, do you prefer Lightroom, Photoshop, or another software? Let us know in a comment!