Free Photography Tutorials, Beginners to Advanced

HDR using Photomatix - Page 2

by Honez

HDR software

The 'Generate HDR - Options' screen asks a couple of questions about what you want to do with the images. The first question asks whether the software should try to align the images due to camera movement. I always select this option to minimize any differences as much as possible.

There always seems to be some kind of movement, regardless of how careful I am, which becomes exaggerated across the multiple images. The ghosting artifacts question relates to movement within the context of the images. People in the scene invariably move over the sequence of three shots and can be a real pain in the posterior.

Background movement covers ripples in water, leaves, waterfalls, clouds, etc. From my experience the software seems to do a pretty good job with these, but obviously, minimizing movement in the first place gives the best result. I quite like the ethereal look this gives running water ghosting across three images. I tend to not worry too much about the white balance option here as I like to sort this out in Photoshop right at the end.

Anyway, after hitting OK, the images are processed into a single 32 bit HDR image. How long this takes depends entirely on how much processor power you're packing. Once the software has done its thing, the true HDR image is displayed on the screen. It doesn't look too impressive here, because standard displays don't have the ability to view the same range of tones as the true HDR image.

From what I've read, there are specialist displays that cost an arm and a leg, so unless you've got a few spare limbs, there's nothing to see here and only two things to do. You can save the HDR image as a baseline before you tone map it, or you can tone map it straight away. Tone mapping is a highfalutin' name for processing the image into something the average monitor can handle. I generally don't save it because it's easy enough to get back to the same point, so I just dive right into tone mapping, which is when the all fun starts.

HDR tone mapping

Step 4

Now this is more like it. You can start to see what all this extra work was for. Using the default settings, I can immediately see the sky is going to come up a treat and the shiny paintwork of the traction engine boiler looks a lot more like I remember. This was what drew me to take this photo in the first place, so I was very disappointed with how my original “standard” photo turned out. I'm sure a more talented photographer could have taken a vastly improved photo in the first place, but I can see the tone mapped image is going to give me something that looks far better than my original.

HDR combined image

I quite like the image the default settings gave me, but I never can leave things as they are. All those sliders and buttons are just begging to be played with.

The first slider is 'Strength' which controls the overall contrast strength in the image. I thought it needed a little bit of a boost. 'Color Saturation' is self explanatory. The 'Light Smoothing' radio buttons smooth the variations in contrast I just boosted. I think they should rename these because, to me, they don't control the smoothness of the light, they control the overall freakiness of the image. Generally the lower the light smoothing, the more of a drug-induced Salvador Dali painting it becomes. At the high end of the range things are a lot more natural and photo-realistic. For this image, I'll go middle of the road Harry Potter-ish rather than full-on Tim Burton.

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You can get a 15% discount on Photomatix Pro software. Just put 'GeoffLawrence' (without the quotes) into the coupon box when you make your purchase. There is also a free trial version that you can download on their website.

Other tutorials in this section

Photo Editing

Introduction page.

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Scaling your files.

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Balancing those pixels.

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Dealing with color casts.

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Processing RAW Files

An introduction to Adobe Camera RAW.

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Processing RAW Files using HSL

Advanced use of Adobe Camera RAW.

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Using the unsharp mask.

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Using the Quick Mask

Masking parts of your picture to edit certain areas.

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Adjustment Layer Masks

How to build accurate layer masks.

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Straightening Horizons

A must for landscape and building photographers.

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Replacing Boring Skies

Using layers in Photoshop.

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Using the Channel Mixer

How to make a better job of changing images from color to black & white.

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Using Curves on Adjustment Layers

Playing with contrast and tones to give a more dramatic effect.

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High Dynamic Range

How to shoot and process HDR pictures with Photomatix Pro software.

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