Use the coupon “stewartbaird” at the check-out and save 15%
High-Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is the process where multiple exposures are combined into a single, composite image. Creating HDR range images has been simplified greatly by the use software products such as HDRsoft’s Photomatix. There are a number of similar products on the market-place but Photomatix is generally regarded as the best application around; it covers both Windows and Mac platforms as well.
I tried most of the HDR applications and tools out there (including within Photoshop CS4) until finally settling on Photomatix. Initially I was drawn to the ability to launch Photomatix directly from within Apple Aperture. Here I am applying tone mapping to a single RAW file to create a pseudo-HDR image:
Eventually I upgraded to the full version of Photomatix Pro, as that comes with the ability to batch process multiple HDR’s; I real boon for cranking through those images quickly.
I’m not going to cover a “how to” here; there enough great tutorials out on the Web already. Trey Ratcliff’s one is a great practical walk-through; he also includes the extra work required within Photoshop to get that final finish. You can find it here.
Photomatix can quickly create an HDR for you “out of the box” by opening open the multiple exposures and applying the default preset. This makes it very easy for the newbie to HDR to get going and begin to explore the process. In my example above I opened-up a single file; the controls are the same for your multiple exposure HDR.
There are a lot of options to adjust but Photomatix makes it easier to user by hiding these initially from view; you can always open the extra settings on color etc once you get more acquainted with the application. I typically adjust only these controls:
– strength (I take it up to 100% as I’ll blend-out later in Photoshop)
– Color saturation – minor tweaks here or else it will get a bit surreal!
– Micro-contrast – normally increasing slightly to add some punch
– Smoothing – if I do anything here it is to increase slightly
Occasionally I’ll adjust the white and black balance as well. In most cases this all takes only a few minutes and then back into Photoshop for some final masking and adjustments. I love the speed and simplicity of all this. I’ve never experienced crashes or hangs; I wish I could say the same for Photoshop and Aperture!
The best way to get a good sense of what can be done through the application is to download a trial from HDRsoft. Depending on your needs there is a Lite version, plug-in versions or the full Pro application. There’s a helpful breakdown of each version here. The folk at HDRsoft are great to deal with, too and you can always upgrade your version if start with the Lite version.
Remember to use the coupon code “stewartbaird” to get your 15% discount if you choose to buy any of the Photomatix products.