The HDR Digital Workflow: Lightroom 3, Photomatix, & Photoshop

Richard Charpentier Arizona, Canon Cameras, Ghost Towns, HDR, Lightroom 3, Notes from Rich, Photography, Photomatix, Photoshop, RLC Design 2 Comments

Over the course of this year I’ve had the privilege to take multiple groups of photographers out in the field on digital photography workshops. The big winner in the workshops so far?

The Vulture Mine / HDR Workflow Workshop.  It’s been the one that is wowing folks, including me, the guy running the workshop.

So, what’s been so special about this particular workshop?  Well, it combines a lot of great stuff into a 2 day span of time.  It’s a pretty intense workshop with a lot of information.

The first day of the workshop finds participants at the Vulture Mine, outside of Wickenburg, AZ.  It’s a fantastic ghost town that offers so many photographic possibilities.  The Arizona Desert at its finest.  Saguaro cactus, Teddy Bear Chollas (aka jumping cholla…ouch), roving rattle snakes, “hanging trees”, and the remains of a productive mine.  Beyond the landscape there’s more to work with.  Old mining buildings, bunk houses, mining equipment, junked cars, and crumbling ruins.  An HDR enthusiast’s dream setting.

And that leads to the HDR possibilities.  They’re everywhere.  How about extreme contrast environments.  Breaks of sunlight through collapsing building structures.  Broken out windows in the background of an ore crushing facility.  Rusted metal, sand covered metal, broken metal, and lots of metal.  Peeling paint, weathered beams, and dusty chairs made out of Hercules blasting powder boxes.  Extremes in contrast, light, color, and textures.

Yeah, it’s a “gold mine” alright.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.

After the first day of shooting with participants the second day gets into post processing with HDR and stylized images in mind.  I let students know, you don’t have to be going after HDRs if you don’t want to.  That’s fine, and it’s not everybody’s thing.  That’s okay.  The workflow section of the workshop covers way more than just HDR.  It gets into the whole workflow, which I’ve learned over the years, really helps get you focused on the images you want.

The first segment of day 2 covers Lightroom 3 (it was 2, but now 3) and everything necessary for a streamlined workflow.  You wouldn’t believe how far Lightroom helps you take your post processing.  Talk about streamlining and saving yourself hours of time.  And in the first segment we cover initial Lightroom setup, catalog creation, image storage, image backup, catalog backup, and making sure your images go where you actually want them to go.

You’re now saying, “Wait a minute Rich……putting your images where you want them is really a topic?  You’ve got to be kidding…..”  Nope, not kidding.  Let me tell you.  I’ve rescued many Lightroom libraries in the past few years.  I even had to rescue my own over a year ago because I didn’t pay close enough attention in my initial setup.  It’s very important, and worth paying close attention to.  Not a hard topic, but if you quickly jump into a new catalog and library you might find a mess pretty quickly.  Fortunately, cleaning up the mess has gotten easier too!

After really drilling down into the initial setup and importing to Lightroom, we cover the develop module, an extremely powerful tool.  There’s so much you can do in the develop module that you might wonder whether or not you really need Photoshop.  Seriously, it’s that powerful.  And in the develop module you can actually create highly stylized images without the help of any outside programs.

Between the Library and Develop modules we also discuss sorting, selecting, comparing, and flagging images.  That’s a big part of the workflow.  Find your picks, find your so so images, and wipe out the junk that just isn’t worthwhile.  And do it quickly.  That’s one of the key benefits of using Lightroom in your work process.  Streamlining selections couldn’t be easier.

And once you’ve selected and corrected?  Yeah, then it’s time to take those selections in your HDR workflow and pass them along to Photomatix.

Grumbling to yourself again eh?  I know what you’re thinking…..”Rich, with the advent of Photoshop CS5 and the new HDR features in it, why focus on Photomatix in an HDR workflow?  Oh, wait, I know.  You’re a hater because you had that hiccup with your CS5 upgrade, right?”  Nope, not a hater.  Are you kidding me, I think the new features in CS5 are amazing!  Maybe someday I’ll get it loaded on my machine.  But I can say this.  After a month with the trail version, and trying out the HDR features, I find myself an even stronger proponent of Photomatix when it comes to HDR software.  They’ve got the market in my mind.

For those with CS5, we can certainly talk about the HDR features.  Never exclude any tools.  But in my workflow, when it comes to HDR, Photomatix is the tool of choice.  And dialing in what you want to portray is much easier in Photomatix still.  No two ways about it.  Even other folks who’ve reviewed the HDR features in CS5 concede that there’s more flexibility in Photomatix.  Just because it isn’t bundled with Adobe’s latest offering doesn’t mean it isn’t the best tool for the job.

So, from Lightroom we cover exporting to Photomatix.  Once in Photomatix we run through many options on HDR rendering.  From over the top edgy insanity to the “light touch” HDR everybody is talking about these days.  You can actually spend a few hours really working through your options, learning from presets, and designing your own initial presets for specific conditions.  The number of presets on my gallery computer is getting out of hand, but they really help me with my launching point.  And when my own presets don’t work out, I create a new one based on scene specifics!

Finally, after re-importing to Lightroom the final step in the workflow process I cover is jumping into Photoshop.  Fine tuning can still happen in Photoshop.  Maybe a little more enhancement?  Or a little fine tuning and removing some of those over the top HDR artifacts?  Yup.  We spend a good bit of time in Photoshop too.  And if folks have Topaz Labs filters installed?  Yeah, we cover that too.

In two days what do we do?  Start to finish, creating stylized images.  And sometimes creating mildly stylized images.  No matter what you feel about HDR, the workflow works even for the non-HDR crowd.  And the two days has been a fun packed event each time!  All fun.

So what does all this have to do with the price of eggs in Boston?

I don’t know.  Check with my dad.  He lives in MA, and he has chickens.

Why the whole description of the class?  Simple.  The Lightroom 3, Photomatix, & Photoshop Workflow video class is almost set for publication.  It’s been working up over the past few months, and it stands to be a very interesting video tutorial set.  And no, I’m not the one compiling it.  I went to a professional video producer who’s local.  He also creates a video series on video production.

Always seek out an expert.  And I’m not a video expert, so I went and found one of my own.  Actually, he found me and it’s worked out well.  We’ll be doing digital downloads of the course, and also DVDs if you want physical media in hand.

If you’ve got questions about the upcoming tutorial video feel free to get in touch or leave a comment.  As soon as it’s completed and available I’ll post links up here on the blog.

And if you’re interested in improving HDR skills, Lightroom skills, and creating more “stylized” images, this one might just be for you.  😉

Comments 2

  1. Sounds like a fantastic workshop Rich, just unfortunate it is a couple of thousand miles away.

    I guess I can console myself that a video is on the way. Looking forward to it.


  2. Post

    It’s a fun workshop to be sure John! And someday I’d love to take it on the road. 🙂 Until then, yup the video.

    I could see an HDR workflow class back in New England (I have a town in mind), California, Montana, and maybe even Florida (during the winter of course)……hmmmm…..wonder how I could take the show on the road?

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