HDR Tutorial Part 3: Creating HDR Images with Photomatix

< Go to Part 2: The HDR Toolset HDR Tutorial Navigation Go to Part 4: Finishing Touches >

HDR Tutorial Part 3: Creating HDR Images with Photomatix

In part 1 of the HDR tutorial, I briefly discussed taking multiple photos to create a high dynamic range image.  Let’s make this more concrete.  Below, again, is the image we’re creating and immediately below it are the source images.

Note that three images are shot at -2,0,+2 EV (exposure value).  You’ll need to use your camera’s auto exposure bracketing (AEB) to get the images shot.  Every camera handles AEB differently so you’ll need to checkout your manual for setup details.

Decomissioned A-6E Intruder - a 3-image HDR will be the photo we'll be creating in this HDR tutorial

Decomissioned A-6E Intruder – a 3-image HDR will be the photo we’ll be creating in this HDR tutorial

-2EV image
0EV image
+2 EV image
Notes on Capturing the Images
Keep this in mind: you need to shoot the images correctly or you will be disappointed by your final HDR.  You can checkout my Shooting for HDR Tutorial for tips on setting up your camera and considerations you need to make.  For your first image or two just practice the process and get more detailed as you go along.  Don’t try to climb the HDR mountain in one step.  Get used to the process and learn the minutia of shooting after a few tries.

That said, shooting for HDR isn’t that complicated.  The basic steps are:

  1. Place your camera on your tripod
  2. Choose your aperture and don’t change it across the images.
  3. Shoot in RAW (RAW images capture more dynamic range than JPEG)
  4. Set your auto exposure bracketing to -2 to +2 at 1EV (don’t forget to consult your camera’s manual for a step-by-step on this)
  5. Use a 2 or 10 second timer (to give your camera time to stop shaking from you handling it), then shoot the images.

Digging in With Photomatix
Alright, we have the images, now fire up Photomatix and load the bracketed images.  If you’re using Lightroom you can just right-click the images and Export->Photomatix Pro.  Once you’ve selected the images and loaded them, you’ll see dialog below:

Photomatix preprocessing options encountered when images are loaded

Let’s talk over the dialog options:

  • Align source images: this is a handy option you can use when you haven’t used a tripod to shoot your images.  The option instructs Photomatix to align the images for you.  If you’ve used a tripod, you can leave it unchecked.
  • Remove ghosts: Let’s say you have people walking as you shoot your exposures.  You don’t want the same person to appear in multiple areas of the image.  Deghosting solves this problem.  To remove ghosts, you can either:
    • Select an area to deghost manually by choosing a location in the final hdr and telling photomatix to use a region from another image (this is as simple as circling the area and selecting the image you want to get the area from).
    • Have Photomatix automatically take care of deghosting for you (I don’t think this works well, stick to doing it manually)
  • Reduce noise: Photomatix can take care of noise reduction for you.  You can also choose to just reduce noise on underexposed images where noise is more prevalent. It does a fair job (use this option if you don’t have Lightroom or a dedicated denoise tool)
  • Reduce chromatic aberrations: Chromatic aberrations are color fringes visible in images (typically at the edges).  Select this option to have Photomatix reduce the aberrations for you.

Ok, you’ve made your options, now click Preprocess to go to the main Photomatix User Interface shown below:

Breaking it down
Photomatix provides a list of presets you can use on the right.  If you want to go that route, choose one to have Photomatix apply the preset then click Save (or in my case: “Save & Re-import” because I fired up Photomatix from Lightroom) and call it a day.  Once you click save, you’re done; revel in your first HDR!

Usually, though, you’ll want to use the dialog on the left to modify the image.  The dialog may seem intimidating at first, so let’s discuss the options (I’m going to start with the Strength slider.  By the way, for the purpose of this tutorial, select “Tonemapping” for the Process and “Details Enhancer” for the Method.  

  • Strength: Adjusts the look of the image by affecting the degree contrast and detail are enhanced.  The more you drag this slider to the left, the more natural the image is.  The more to the right the more surreal looking the image will get.  Every image is different so play with this slider to see how your image is affected by it.
  • Color Saturation: this one is fairly self explanatory.  Again, every image is different and has its own need for saturation.  Don’t overdo it, a little goes a long way.
  • Luminosity: Move this slider to the right to boost shadow details.  Move it to the left for a more natural look.  Moving this slider has the practical effect of “brightening” or “darkening” the image.
  • Detail Contrast: controls the amount of contrast applied to details in the image.  Think of this as your “grunginess” slider.  The more to the right, the grungier the image will look.  It will also darken the image a bit so keep an eye on that.
  • Lighting Adjustments: this section controls the “HDR” look of the image.  You either use the presets by checking the Lighting Effects checkbox or uncheck the checkbox to use the slider.
    • Public Service Announcement:  Never ever (ever) click Surreal+ when the Lighting Effects checkbox is checked. If you do, you will regret it (if not now, then in a few months when your skills begin to improve and you realize what horrible idea clicking it was.)  Ok, click it just this once then go back to “medium”.  Now that you know what it does, resist the urge.

These are the  sliders you will use most often; you will use the other sliders later as your skills develop, but for now click Save and dance the jig, your first HDR is done!

Ok, I know some of you just can’t help not knowing what all the sliders do.  If you’re one of those people (I confess, I am!) click here to see the function of all the other sliders.  If not, go on to the next section for some final tips.

< Go to Part 2: The HDR Toolset HDR Tutorial Navigation Go to Part 4: Finishing Touches >

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