HDR Tutorial Page 2
High Dynamic Range Tutorial (HDR) Page 2
So far we have captured our images and have them ready to be turned into works of modern art. Photomatix then asks what the heck you want to do with these things. From here we will use screen shots to help with the process. (Click on the images for full size in a new tab, so you can see exactly whats going.)
This is the background of my PC, notice I have all the programs I will need already open at the bottom. This will save time so that when images are brewing, you can navigate between tabs without waiting too long to load programs.
Highlight your 3 images in your library program. Drag them into photomatix. They can be JPEGs or RAW files. Not much of a difference to Photomatix. If I want to be very technical I will open RAWs first and tweak them, then save as JPEGs and load them.
Select "merge for processing". Hit OK.
I make sure these are my files and hit OK. Not much else here.
The next screen is where we start making changes. the first option here is auto-align, I myself do not use it, as my camera was on a tripod, so it should not have moved. If you hand held the camera while taking, check it off. If you do, do not crop the images, you will need your images unadulterated for later steps. I do not like the de-ghosting feature all that much, so I usually leave it off. If something moved I will fix in photoshop. If you do not want to do that in photoshop, check it off and give it a go here, it doesn't do a bad job. It's just not perfect. I reduce noise and chromatic aberrations in photoshop so those are left blank also. Again, if you aren't great in photoshop or just want photomatix to do it, check it off as you will need to reduce noise and if you shot wide open you might need to reduce your aberrations. at the bottom are options to do with the handling of your RAW files. I normally leave the white balance on as shot, my camera does a pretty good job and I can fix it later. Next is the color space. If you going to the web with the image, use sRGB. I use sRGB for everything unless I'm doing a Fine Art Print with it, and even then it would be good enough.
Notice how I'm mostly unchecking everything. Photomatix is great at tonemapping HDR images. It's not that great at reducing chromatic aberrations, reducing noise, etc. I leave these for photoshop. This is why I don't make HDRs in photoshop. Photomatix is better. Each program has it's strengths and weaknesses.
What the hell is this? This looks terrible! This might be what you are thinking right now. Well, this file is a 32 bit HDR image. This is a true HDR picture. Your monitor cannot show the full range of information this file holds. This is why we must tonemap the image to make it visible on a mere mortal's monitor. If your monitor can show a true 32 bit file, well you probably don't need to be reading this tutorial. Check it out for a second, then continue by hitting "tone mapping/fusion"
This is your default Tonemapping. Again, tonemapping allows a high dynamic range to be seen on a low dynamic range device, like printer paper or your monitor. At this point the image is not actually HDR anymore, it is a low dynamic range image disguising as an HDR. We call these images "HDR", but they really are not becuase we can see them on our monitor now. Tonemapping gives the illusion of HDR. But alas, we will still use the HDR moniker for now. Play around with some sliders for a few minutes and then continue on to the next step.
These are my "regular" settings in photomatix. I usually start with these settings and then tweak from here. I like a more natural HDR, not super-surrealistic ones. I sell these in galleries and shows, so I assume the client will want a more natural image to hang on their wall. If you are only posting these online or you say "but Mike, your images are terrible, I like my way", then by all means go full strength and knock it out. Here is a list of the most important settings in english:
- Strength: How much contrast enhancement to apply to the image. To the right makes skies darker and the image punchier. To the left, makes it look more natural.
- Color Saturation: Self explanatory. Be careful.
- Luminosity: Basically acts like brightness, to the right you get brighter shadows, to the left it darkens the image.
- Detail Contrast: Adjusts local contrast. Slide to the right for a punchier image. Slide to the left for a bit more natural.
- Light Smoothing/ Lighting adjustments: This one will do a lot to your image. Using the slider, going left makes the image surreal with halos everywhere, while sliding to the right makes it much more natural. Of all the options, be careful with this one. I would not recommend going any farther to the left than a third from the right side if you want even a somewhat natural image. Or, only use Natural or Natural+. You will thank me later.
- It feels like I'm explaining the Electric Slide. Sliiiiide to the left. Sliiiiide to the right....
- Highlight Smoothing: This reduces the contrast in bright areas. Can be used to lighten your sky if it's black (a common side effect of HDR), or to look more natural
- White/Black Point: use these sliders to clip or blow out shadows and highlights, respectively. I like both of mine over 3 for almost every image, makes it look more natural.
- Gamma: Makes the image brighter or darker by adjusting mostly mid tones. A little bit goes a long way, like oregano oil.
If you don't want to go the HDR route, you can always do Exposure Fusions. These are a bit touchier. Sometimes they turn out great, but most of the time they look pretty dull. I'm not even sure what most of these sliders do, you'll figure it out when you do it. Most of what you can do with fusions can be done in photoshop, so let's do it there.
Go ahead and hit "process" at the bottom of the screen. After the black magic that makes your computer work is done brewing the image, you will have a preview. Look it over, and if it's to your liking head on up and save it. I save in 16 bit TIFFs, so when I put it into photoshop I have 16 bits to work with, opposed to 8 like a JPEG. It's a good thing to always work in 16 bit because it gives you more room to edit in photoshop, you have more data to work with. If I have a killer image I also save the 32 bit HDR file so I can go back and play with it later.
So here is our image. I increased the temperature on this one since you last seen it. So now that we have our "HDR" image, the fun is just starting. Wait? You thought we were done? Oh no, we have a lot more work to do. These tonemapped images are hardly ever ready straight out of photomatix. They have ugly ghosting issues, black skies, weird seams in the water, and an overall psychedelic look. On the next page we are going to fix this in photoshop.