This photograph is simply one I like and wanted to share. I like the way the felled tree in this picture divides the photograph. The HDR examples are below.
I’ve had a few comments on High Dynamic Range processing (HDR), so I thought I would respond. HDR can verge on the artificial or artsy. I have not been a big fan of HDR but remain hopeful that I can find my own subtle HDR treatment to bring out details that otherwise could not be seen. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the trick with HDR is to pull out the range of light your camera cannot. If you overdo the tonality in HDR the photograph becomes surreal. So in the explanation below the idea is to keep things natural.
There are three or more ways you can try to achieve the goal of getting the full range of light and better approximate what your eye sees, especially in landscapes where the sky overwhelms some of the scenery. I chose a photo with a nice sky, nice water reflections and detailed shoreline and looked at the various ways it could be processed.
First, (photograph above), you can take one picture and use shadow and highlight tools to bring out more detail, essentially you are using all of the available range of light. This methodology only works if your exposure in camera was well balanced. In this case, I used Lightroom’s basic controls to get an exposure, contrast and balanced histogram I liked, sharpened it in Photoshop and used Dfine 2 to remove noise and Nik Detail extractor to get the result you see.
Second, you can copy the photograph two or more times and adjust the exposure of the copies to get a mix of under-exposed and over-exposed images. Then you could overlap the images and use masking to get the best of the three images. This works but is time consuming, so I did not do that for this post.
Third, as in the photograph above you can use HDR software e,g, the module in Photoshop, or cheaper solutions like Nik’s HDR Efex Pro and Photomatix . You take a series of photos, preferably on a tripod of the same scene at various exposures, (using bracketing) and the software combines the photos and lets you edit the results. Light touches with these pieces of software will work miracles but you do have to be very light handed to rein in the realistic range. The photograph above was processed in Photomatix Pro’s Fusion/Natural mode and then my normal process was followed sharpening, noise reduction and Nik detail extractor. It is important to note that any of these latter changes would be lost were you to reverse the order and process and use the HDR software first.
I processed the photograph fully in Photoshop’s HDR pro but was unhappy with the results that tended more to the hard side of HDR than I liked (e.g. halos).
Fourth, and this is becoming popular, is to prepare your image in a third party software like those above at a basic level before you get into the tonal tools. This means that software combines your images, but you bring the resulting 32-bit image into your normal processor that can handle 32 bits (the latest versions of Photoshop and Light room can do this) and you can then edit the results like any other photo. You avoid having to learn new processing software. Photoshop HDR Pro is perfect for this and Photomatix has a plug-in you can buy just to to do this. Of the methods mentioned this one was new to me. But is by far the easiest and the results are below.
Overall, Photomatix natural/fusion and the one photograph processed using my normal process seem the most pleasing combinations especially in the clouds. I can promise you that the results would differ depending on the photograph, but I do think Photomatix has improved with its latest version. I would not use any HDR software unless I was sure I could not achieve the same results working my normal process. When I am doing landscapes, taking five bracketed shots is a good idea as insurance in case I have to use HDR software. My conclusion is to spend more time with Photomatix and see what I can achieve with it that goes beyond my normal processing.