HDR Photo Processing

So my buddy - "Channer"  says to me - Kurt, do you shoot HDR?  and I said "Well, only when it is in season".

For the most part, I am very happy with the results I get from my Nikon D80.  Any issues I have is when the weather doesn't cooperate or the lighting just doesn't translate well for the camera.  (I'm also about easy results, so spending hours on photo touchup after each photo event isn't in the cads either.)

When using digital photography, today's cameras are so smart that most of the 'finesse' work is done for us.  Point and shoot has made most of us very dull photographers.  Simply put, unless a photographic opportunity has fallen directly to us, the camera will take away from the highlights at the expense of the shadows and so on.  And skies, don't get me started.........

For the most part, the results are acceptable.  Photos are OK, but the WOW that made us take the photo is lost.

The solution for me seems to be HDR processing.  HDR stands for High Dynamic Range.

HDR processing takes multiple photos of the same scene shot or altered at different exposure levels.  The theory is that from each shot, you take the best of the shadows, highlights and midtones and 'blend' them into the finished product.  The best way way to get the three shots is with a tripod and a camera that will 'bracket'.  In the photos below, these are of a single shot and the exposure increased or decreased by software.

Without getting too technical, this is a way to beat the camera's O/S and take back control!

There are a number of software packages available.  The one I use is Photomatix.  The following photos came out of the camera as is.  There were no efforts to process these shots.


This is the original photo.  This is Beam Rock in the Forbes National Forest in Southwest Pennsylvania.  This is a sunny day and what caught my eye were the bright colors when coming out of the forest to the rock.  Unfortunately, the photo loses some of the WOW from the actual event.
Using Photoshop Elements, two additional shots are created.  One shot is over exposed and one is under exposed.  In the overexposed shot, the faces of the rock and the tree on the right that are in shadow are now in light.  In the underexposed shot, the sky is a bit darker and some of the colored leaves are a bit brighter.  In Elements, to map out areas and selectively adjust the high/low lights and tones would take hours.  (And in my experience the photos will look like they were touched-up.)
Photomatix has two means to 'merge' the photos.  The two processes are Tone Mapping and Exposure Fusion. 
Tone Mapping offers more control over a photo project - and also more time.  Exposure Fusion seems to be a quick and easy way to 'rescue' a photo.
The reality is that all photos are different - so each environmental needs are different.
This is the photo processed in Exposure Fusion - with the averages automatically calculated by the software.

The shadow areas of the rock and tree show up much better.  the midtones - some of the leaf colors - seem to take a hit and are washed out. 

For a quick fix, this might be OK and now that the tones are a bit more even, post processing could bring out more color.
This is the photo processed with the Tone Mapping feature.  I used the canned Natural setting.

In this photo, the shadows seem a bit more bright and the colors of the sky and trees seem a bit more vibrant.
This is the photo processed with the Tone Mapping feature.  I used the canned Smooth Sky setting.

In this photo the overall light is higher.  The detail is is still good.  The sky still looks a bit flat.
This is the photo processed with the Tone Mapping feature.  I used the canned Painterly setting.

The contrast in this photo is much higher.  The tree and rock's natural color is lost.  The photo begins to look 'unnatural.

This is the photo processed with the Tone Mapping feature.  I used the canned Grung setting.

The photo is now totally unnatural.  (Not that there is anything wrong with that...)


From these shots, I will take the photo and push it through Elements.  I usually take the default auto-fix and and sharpen.  For the most part, those settings put the final touches on the photo in a way that I like.

Some of my HDR photos.