HDR editing in Adobe Camera Raw 7.1

In a previous article, Extreme contrast edits in Lightroom 4 and ACR 7, I showed how it is now possible to process raw photos that recorded a wide tonal range and successfully edit the tones, just as you would if editing a high dynamic range master. Well, the latest Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 7.1 update now allows you to edit 32-bit HDR TIFF images, just as you would regular Raw, JPEG or TIFF files. This offers a huge improvement over the HDR Toning controls available in Photoshop, which though effective are still quite tricky to master. I find the Process Version (PV) 2012 Basic panel controls  in ACR 7.1 (and Lightroom 4.1) are much easier to manage.

What’s most interesting here is that Basic panel sliders in PV 2012 were very much engineered with the challenges of high dynamic range editing in mind. Now I realize that the rise of HDR-processed images has its detractors. I'll admit I'm not much of a fan of the overly processed look myself. I also dislike the rather obvious halos that result from tone mapping HDR files to create a low dynamic range version.

The future direction of ACR and Lightroom seems clearly set to address such shortcomings though and provide an editing environment which can cope with HDR source files. For now, ACR allows you to edit single exposure images and faux HDR files. Looking forward to the future, I've no doubt camera sensor technology will evolve to the point where we're able to capture much greater dynamic ranges than we can today. The new ACR/Lightroom PV 2012 controls are going to be ideally suited to edit the files from such sensors.

The ACR 7.1 update now allows you to edit 32-bit TIFF images that have been created via Merge to HDR Pro or say, Photomatix, although these files must be flattened, containing no layers.

You can use the Basic panel controls just like you would when processing a regular raw image. However, when editing 32-bit files, the Exposure range adapts to provide 10 stops Exposure adjustment either way.
Here I've set the Exposure slider to a value of  -2 in order to reveal more detail in the highlights.
A +2 Exposure adjustment can be used to reveal more of the detail contained in the shadows.
In this final version I adjusted all the Basic panel tone sliders to achieve an optimum adjustment, revealing tone detail in both the highlights and shadows.

The final version shows the results of an extreme adjustment, and while this does venture close to a kind of 'HDR look', the halos are nowhere nearly so obvious as when applying extreme adjustments using Merge to HDR Pro. My personal preference would be aim for a balance between this version and the original one at the top.