HDR photography with Photomatix

HDR photography with PhotomatixWelcome to the world of HDR photography. HDR will not suit all images but is very effective in bringing out the highlights and shadows in an image and HDR photography with Photomatix is one of the best ways to produce HDR images.

To process an HDR image using this tutorial you will need Photoshop (or similar) editing software, and Photomatix (or similar) HDR software.

1. Take multiple images of the same scene


To achieve an HDR look you will need at least 3 images:

Underexposed

Normal exposure

Overexposed

Ideally to start with you should have an image of -2 exposure, one exposed correctly, and one of +2 exposure.

2.Merge the images in Photomatix


Open Photomatix and choose Generate HDR Image.

Choose your three jpeg or RAW files and press OK.

A new window will appear with options to align the images, reduce noise and attempt to match any moving elements - choose accordingly for your image. Press OK.

A merged version of the image will appear which looks highly unrealistic - this is because standard monitors cannot display all of the detail correctly and so we must further Tone Map the image.

3. Tonemapping


Having pressed the Tonemapping button next to the merged image, a new, more realistic image will appear with lots of options. This is where you can alter the image to your preferred look.

Photomatix will automatically revert to the Default setting, though it also has some Presets and the option to save your settings for future use (once you get the hang of it!).

These are the settings available:

Strength: This is key to the final look of the image, a high setting will increase the "cartoon" look

Colour Saturation: Boost the vibrancy of colours throughout the image

Luminosity: A higher setting will boost the shadows and brighten the overall image

Microcontrast: Increase the contrast on the details in the image

Smoothing: This is key to the final look of the image, adjust this to change how dynamic the range of highlights and shadows appears. Avoid setting this on it's highest setting where the image can look extremely unrealistic. Adjust to your taste

White, black and gamma points: Adjust these according to the histogram to ensure it meets both sides equally in the graph

Temperature: Increase or decrease the overall temperature of the image

Saturation highlights/shadows: Increase or decrease the saturation of the highlights/shadows according to the saturation point you set for the image earlier

Micro smoothing: Reduces noise but be careful not to lose all of the detail!

Highlights/Shadow smoothness: Increase this to bring some of the natural highlights/shadows back to the image, particularly useful when keeping a natural look to the sky in an image

Shadows clipping: Adjust how much of the shadows is clipped, move carefully to reduce noise in the shadows

When you are happy with the look of the image press Process, and save the image which appears

4. Masking ghosts and retaining a natural look


Finally, open Photoshop or similar software and open your tonemapped HDR image.

Add one or more of the original exposure images as new layers in the file and use Layer Masks to allow original areas to show through. For example if the blue sky on your original image was perfect, use a layer mask and brush to mask out that area on the HDR, allowing the perfect blue sky in the original shot to come through.

This is also particularly useful for HDR images with movement, for example trees blowing in the breeze between your original images, or people moving.

For examples of HDR images search online, this is a massively expanding area of photography and there is some beautiful work to be seen.\
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If you have any other questions or requests for future topics, you can either ask them in the comments or email me.
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