Here's a frequent situation: I'm shooting a portrait outside in daylight and my subject is standing against a brightly lit background, such as a city panorama. My camera can perfectly capture either the city or the subject, but not both. Things I've tried so far to fix this:

  • Use flash. In this case close by objects are illuminated as well and I get all the issues of using flash.
  • Shoot a series with bracketing on a tripod. The result looks good but I get the typical HDR "glow" and it's tricky at low shutter speeds.
  • Shoot the background first, then shoot the subject in it. In this case Lightroom fails to properly stitch an HDR photo and I get a "ghost" image.

So how do I solve this issue? Do I need to use Photoshop or is there a Lightroom feature/plugin I can use?

  • Which "glow" are you referring to? The tone mapping artifacts for some algorithms, or the ghosting glow when the subject moves? I have never tried with lightroom, but with other programs if you later "shoot the subject in" and you use the same image as multiple input images, you have no ghosting effects. – PlasmaHH Oct 8 '17 at 14:58

All the techniques you mention are good. I would actually do the last one but then you would have to merge in Photoshop (even Elements can do it, in case you are worried about costs).

The HDR merge often produces a glow but it does not have too. The glow is usually the result of a local-adaptation tone-mapping. If you use global tone-mapping, then there is rarely the same issue. HDR is possible without any glow, so you have to play with the values until you get something good, then save as a Preset.

  • 1
    If you expand on how to do this in Photoshop the answer would be perfect! Is this possible with RAW files? – JonathanReez Oct 8 '17 at 15:33
  • Not an expert on this but I would just make a mask for the portrait and then overlay that over the background. If you Google for how to replace background in photoshop, there are tons of tutorials. RAW support via Camera Raw, so it's on a converted file and then you get an image out. You cannot get a RAW file out of the process. – Itai Oct 8 '17 at 16:38

Your question implies that you don't like using a flash. Still I would go for controlled flash or (reflected) natural light. Naturally this depends on what kind of look and composition you want to achieve with the picture. Some reasoning for it:

  • If your camera has trouble capturing the dynamic range, your monitor and the final jpegs will struggle even more to display or retain this data (without post-processing). So at some point you need to boost the dark parts of the image. I prefer to get at least the rough lighting right before post processing.
  • If your subject or the background can move (people, wind and trees, cars) bracketing can be difficult and could produce artifacts/smear/ghosting. Capturing everything in a single exposure avoids this (ignoring long exposures or very fast movement).
  • If you want to retain the differences in lighting (keeping your subject dark compared to the background), you only need a bit of additional (flash) light. Therefore light spill shouldn't be much of a problem. Elsewise you need to block the light spill. Or embrace the spill to make it look more natural (see next point).
  • If you want the subject to look "properly" exposed (like standing in daylight) and still do it in one shot, you could try a large light modifier for your flash or a large reflector. You will get some spill on nearby objects, but it will still look more natural then without spill. Also try to match the direction of your controlled light to the ambient if possible.

For a more specific answer you need to define the look and composition a bit more and maybe post an example.


There is no automatic ‘glow effect’ associated with HDR.
You can create HDRs with a ‘glow effect’ by adjusting the parameters accordingly, and you can make HDRs without ‘glow effect’ by adjusting the parameters differently.

The idea that HDRs ‘glow’ probably comes from the fact that you only recognize them as HDR if they glow. There are many HDRs around where you would never guess that they are just that - they look perfectly normal. You’ll only find it out when you try to create such shots yourself, and you are faced with very large dynamic ranges.


Another answer not mentioned is if you can, think about your subject positioning. If they're in shadow and the backdrop is in bright sunshine then find a different location OR come back/ wait until the sun has moved and you're able to expose both correctly. Alternatively keep an eye on the weather. There will be less differential between subject/background on overcast days.

If you have to do it there and then i'd suggest an off camera flash, try with some sort of diffusion (softbox, shoot through umbrella etc) and position/power so it only lights your subject OR alternatively attempt to using a reflector.

I'd opt for these approaches over a post composite or an 'HDR merge' as these can come off looking unatural.

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