I'm running into the limits of Lightroom. The biggest one is selectively adjusting tonal contrast. Here's a photo processed with the "Tonal Contrast" (duh!) filter of Nik Software's "Color Efex" suite (sidenote: their US office is in San Diego - ha!)
Dry Lake Detail (NIKON D700, 1/60s @ ISO 280; f/8, 35 mm (in 35mm)
If you notice a slight HDR-ish look, you're right (there's also some halo around the trees in the top right corner, I should've taken care of that). But it's just a single exposure. The filter allows adjusting of the tonal contrast of the highlights, midtones and shadows separately. Somewhat similar to tone mapping, I guess. It's not possible to do that with Lightroom - at least not easily. It would require an insane amount of local adjustments with exposure compensations and the Clarity effect. That's just not reasonable.
The downside: it's an external editor for Lightroom. We're talking about exporting a 16bit TIFF with ~60MB. Disk usage explodes (one 14bit raw file of my D700 in the DNG format has ~12MB) - especially if you want to use multiple filters of Color Efex. One filter, one file. Horrible!
It's also quite easily possible to overdo the effect of course, and completely overcook the images. Just like with HDR which are often completely drowned in midtones, lacking ANY sense of depth. (I could post a quick example, but why should I? The internet is full of them, anyway! haha:)
The interesting thing is... after finalizing the edits in Lightroom, I fire up that thing (actually, the only thing I ever used is the Tonal Contrast filter, kind of a waste, but what the heck - that filter alone was worth it for me) and I can pretty much exactly add the extra amount of detail in the shadows and highlights for which I'd otherwise probably fiddle around with multiple exposures and HDR (which I, in case anyone didn't really guess yet, do not like that much). It just brings the highlights and the shadows closer together for a more natural overall impression. Very good.
About the photo: it shows a detail of Dry Lake in the San Gorgonio Wilderness of San Bernadino National Forest, California. I made this photo last Sunday. This beautiful ephemeral lake only fills with water in early summer, when the snow melts. Later in the summer, it dries out completely. It's a 22km (13.7mi) hike out and back - which thankfully keeps larger hordes of loud people away.
And I can't help but mention that I did this hike with my friend Hans who lives in San Diego and hikes the area for many years now. We've been on a number of hikes ever since I moved here. I met him through Picasa Web Albums.