Going for the subtle HDR with Photomatix

Richard Charpentier Arizona, Canon Cameras, HDR, Photography, Photomatix, Prescott 3 Comments

Over the past year I’ve heard so much regarding HDR, “un-realistic”, etc.  Well, I thought I’d talk about doing a more subtle HDR today and how you can get a more realistic look.  That means no halos, no super detail enhancement, and none of the psychedelic look that people complain about.  Of course, I’m sure some folks out there will look at today’s post and say, “That’s way too unrealistic, over saturated, detailed, etc……”  For those with comment like that, I have a thought…..

Move on to the next blog.  🙂

For those interested in HDR, and being creative with your images, read on.

The first three images in today’s post are what went into the final HDR that you’ll see momentarily.  I shot this series in the Granite Dells while hanging out with Josh, Ashley, & Melissa on the fire photo shoot last week.  While they worked on flaming hoola hoops, I worked on shooting the monsoonal clouds here in AZ.  And of course I shot with the intention of creating a few new HDRs.

Lightroom's Export to Photomatix

The series of three images in this case was shot with my 5D Mark II, using the 24-70mm f/2.8 L Series lens.  I shot on a tripod, and kept the ISO at 200.  Just to be sure, I used a cable release so I didn’t bump the tripod.  The sun was setting, and the exposure on the over side took a bit.  Tripods are very useful for HDR folks, so don’t forget to bring yours along!

Once I off loaded the images into Lightroom, I’d select the series of interest and export them to Photomatix from the Lightroom interface.  Pretty easy to do, and the best part is you can set the final image to re-import to Lightroom and stack with the original photos that went into the HDR.

3 originals and the HDR in Lightroom

Now, the work is all done in Photomatix for this particular shot.  No adjustments were made in Lightroom or Photoshop.  Lightroom in this case was strictly used to manage the original images and the final HDR.

The image on the left shows you the settings that I used for this HDR.  How did I know what settings to use?

I didn’t.

This is up to you.  When working in any of the popular HDR software platforms out there you can choose what you want.  There’s no formula for “the right kind of HDR.”  You can go way over the top, or you can get really subtle.  It’s up to you.

You’ll note, both the Strength and Micro-contrast are not pushed all the way up.  Also, I did push the saturation a little higher than what I think is completely natural.  If I wanted to go even more subtle I think I would have popped saturation to 65.  That’s what I usually use for most of my images (between 50 – 65), but I really wanted a little more color in the sky.

What else should you pay attention to when you’re avoiding halos and the rest in order to get a more natural look?  Micro-smoothing and Highlights Smoothness.  You’ll note that I actually used both sliders for this image.  Great way to get rid of halos quickly.  But when you push the smoothing up you will loose some of that edgy detail that is an HDR signature.

In the end, whatever HDR package you’re using will allow you to fine tune.  Don’t go with the defaults.  Try every slider bar you have, every setting available.  The only person who will see the icky results from your experimentation is you.  Well, unless you share those results.  You’ll also get to see the good results as well.  In the case of the final HDR below, I’m happy.  Of course 15 minutes after I post this I’ll think of something else I should have done with the image, or that I should have chosen a different scene for this post!  🙂

Comments 3

  1. I love the end result. I’m surpised you got that with a Smoothing set to MID – I find I need to only use High or Max to avoid unrealistic tecture. I must play around withthe sliders more! Thanks for the detailed post.

  2. I think you’re idea for subtlety is spot on – HDR can be really awesome when done effectively and your subtle touch works great! Well done, Sir Rich! Well done! 🙂

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