Friday, 15 March 2013

HDR using Photomatix

I guess I should first explain what is High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is...

For the sake of a photography definition, High Dynamic Range imaging (HDRI or HDR) is a technique that produces a greater dynamic range of luminescence between the lightest and darkest areas of an image produced by today's normal photographic method.

The wider dynamic range that I am referring to allows HDR images to better present a representation of the wide range of intensity levels found in a scene that you took a photo of. The range encapsulates light intensities from direct sunlight to faint starlight.

The two main sources to produce an HDR image are computer renderings and merging of multiple photographs, which in turn are known as low dynamic range (LDR) (also called standard dynamic range photographs.

Tone mapping techniques, which reduce overall contrast and noise to facilitate display of HDR images on devices with lower dynamic range, can be applied to produce images with preserved or exaggerated local contrast for artistic effect.

HDR images can range from a realistic look that mimics a standard photograph with more levels of light and darkness to a more advanced technique that can appear cartoonish with severe color and lighting contrasts.

There are numerous software's out there in the marketplace that produce an HDR image and all you have to do is Google the topic to start your research. HDR can be accomplished for example using Photoshop but after some research and using multiple HDR programs I really cannot say that Adobe has solved the HDR puzzle yet. HDR is still such an evolving form of editing that Adobe has yet to get its head around it, which I completely understand. There are a lot of smaller companies that offer a better software that perform regular updates – something Adobe cannot do. So, for the sake of this review I am going to focus on a program called Photomatix by HDRSoft. The best HDR program I had the chance to use.

Photomatix Pro from HDRSoft is a standalone application that allows you to use multiple bracketed exposures to create a single High Dynamic Range (HDR) image. This can be achieved in Photoshop but not as easily, or with the same amount of control that Photomatix provides.

As well as being able to blend multiple exposures you can also use what is called Tone Mapping to pull out amazing shadow detail from either multiple exposures or from a single image. You see, Photomatix allows you to create what is called a pseudo-HDR image from a single RAW file. This method can achieve very good results and often brings out far more detail than can be obtained by the RAW processing software itself

It uses a special approach that is intuitive, fast, and gives you instant feedback by showing you a real time view of the photo as you make adjustments with the various sliders. Its Tone Mapping tools lets you pull out impressive shadow detail from either multiple exposures or from a single image. It also automates conventional blending of multiple versions of the same image, and distributes the range of tones automatically, while converting the image to either 16-bits or even to 8-bits. This adds a new dimension to your photos and produces amazing results.

Unlike other HDR programs, Photomatix’s HDR creation and 16-bit conversion tools are more straightforward. Not only that, but this software is designed for productivity. Its unlimited stacking and easy comparison of results and batch processing save you hours of masking and its blending process is not just a layer of masking techniques.

Now, how do you create an HDR image in a couple easy steps? You need a camera, camera software or editing software, a tripod and Photomatix.

STEP ONE - Take at least 3 differently exposed photos of the same shot. It’s best that you manually set the exposures of your camera but i set the camera to bracket the image at a +/-1 EV. Use a sturdy tripod to minimize movement as possible, as this will save you time during post-processing. The program adjusts for subject movement but it's always smart to put in more effort in the beginning that leaving it up to the software to make guesses.

STEP TWO - Import your images into your computer. I import the three RAW images I have taken and perform RAW editing on these images as if I was editing them as individual photos. The only thing I do not touch is the exposure slider. Please note that you do not have to shoot in RAW. You can shoot in jpeg with a point and shoot and convert the jpeg photos to a tiff file before putting them into Photomatix. I prefer to use TIFF's in this instance, but it depends on what the image is that i am applying the HDR effect.

STEP THREE - Open Photomatix and click on “Generate HDR image”. Click “Browse” and select the 3 photos that you want to be in HDR image from your computer. Next click the alignment tools, followed by “Tone Mapping”. This is where your creativity sets in. Feel free to experiment with the tone mapping tools (sliders) and settings to get your desired result. You may want to achieve a surreal image or a more realistic, yet emotive photograph. You can easily compare the changes between settings because the image changes in real time as you edit, and if you’re happy with the preview, click “Process”. The save the file to your computer and you now have a beautifully crafted High Dynamic Range image. Congratulations!

Please note that if you want to do some further editing of the photo in your editing software you have to first convert the 16-bit image to an 8-bit image before you make those edits.

Now I simplified step three for the sake of time. There are quite a few sliders that will change many different aspects of the image... but with any software you just need to get in there and try it... you will be amazed at the results.

Here are some links to Photomatix tutorials that I found helpful...

The HDRSoft intro tutorial...

HDR videos from hilomedia...

An excellent HDR resource...

You don’t need to be a professional to achieve those ultra-rich pictures. With a little patience and the right tools, you can capture that perfect landscape into a single HDR image. Photomatix is very impressive editing software that lets you edit pictures to the maximum level.

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