Getting Started With HDR

HDR is becoming extremely popular. The first time I saw an HDR image, it made me stop and take a very close look. I liked it. At first I couldn’t figure out how it was done, so I started doing research. I tried experimenting in Photoshop CS3. I felt frustrated. I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I found an article on the Internet about HDR with picture examples. That was the beginning. Now I knew that it was called “HDR”, which means high dynamic range . I researched high dynamic range and found that there was a program called “Photomatix“. I was eager to purchase this program. The price isn’t bad, it’s under $100.00. I definitely think it’s worth the money. I have had success with it.

I think the secret to a successful HDR image starts with the camera. Before you even get started with Photomatix you need to take at least three exposures of the same image. The first exposure should be the normal exposure setting you’d use for the picture you’re taking. The other two exposures should be two stops over and two stops under. This means the first thing you need to do is get a good tripod. There is no way you can do this hand held:

Properly exposed image Under-exposed image (2 stops) Over-exposed image (2 stops)
Final Version

Open the Photomatix program. Hit the Generate HDR image tab. A dialog box will open up. This is where you’ll select your three images. After you’ve selected them, click OK:

Another dialog box will come up. Check off align source images. I always check off the correct horizontal and vertical shifts, just in case there was camera movement while I was taking my multiple exposures. I also check off the reduce ghosting artifacts setting. This is used for movement that occurs when you take an image with people who are walking or moving around. It doesn’t always work 100%, but it does a good job most of the time. This is part of the tweaking process you may need to do afterwards in Photoshop. Then click OK:

This dialog box will come up next. This step might take some time, so be patient:

Your picture will open, but it won’t look right. That’s ok. It’s not processed yet. You can hover you mouse across the image to see a small preview of what the process will do. The small preview box is in the top left corner of the page. Your next step is to click on the Tone Mapping button:

As the Photomatix site says, tone mapping reveals the details in highlights and shadows contained in the original HDR image. It converts the HDR image in 32 bits/channel mode into an image in 16 or 8 bits/channel mode that can be saved as TIFF or JPEG.

Now you’re ready to play with some sliders and tabs. Every image is different, so this process is a matter of taste. It all depends on what you want as an end result. Use the controls on the Tone Mapping Settings palette to adjust the tone mapped image to your liking. There are no general rules for the settings. Try both tone mapping methods with your image:

The Details Enhancer method increases local contrast. This has the effect of boosting shadows and creating an artistic effect. Increasing local details makes noise artifacts more visible. The Tone Compressor method produces a more “photographic” look, and avoids noise and halo artifacts:

Once you are satisfied with the tone mapping method and settings, click on the Process button. The final tone mapped image is in 16 bits/channel mode. When you save the image, you can choose to save it as 8-bit JPEG. Saving as 16-bit TIFF is recommended for further processing. The tone mapping progress bar will appear while it’s processing your image:

Remember to save your final image before you close the program.

My last step is some tweaking in Photoshop. That will be in a future post. Have fun!

One thought on “Getting Started With HDR”

  1. I recently found your tutorial on creating vintage photos. Excellent. I have trolling the web for several months looking for similar programs. Most I find are not particularly interesting.The best one I came across has eluded me since I found it!!

    I found your blog this evening and have donwloaded several of your other tutorials including all that relate to HDR. Thank you so much for those. Now maybe I can produce better results. I do have Photomatix.

    My passion at the moment is panoramas. I am using Photoshop CS2 and Autostitch to combine the images.

    I am currently spending a week on Mount Desert Island Maine shooting the incredible scenery here.

    Thank you for your kindness is sharing your expertise with us.

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