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HDR Processing – You’ve shot, you’ve organized…now what?

Richard Charpentier Photography, Photomatix, Photoshop, RLC Design, Tech Tips Leave a Comment

So far I’ve documented shooting for HDR, then sorting my files after the shoot as well.  2 long posts, and no HDR shots yet!

Today’s post will make you happy.  We’re finally getting to the point where an HDR is generated.  About time, right?  🙂

lightroomintIn the last post we left off in Adobe Photoshop’s Lightroom2.  I’d imported my photos, created a collection, and I started sorting through and flagging shots that I thought would be worth processing with Photomatix.  Ah yes, I use Photomatix and Photoshop for my HDR work.  Mostly I lean toward Photomatix as I’m not totally satisfied with the results in Photoshop alone.  Of course, I’m using CS3 right now.  Maybe CS4 will hold some new and fun tools.  We’ll see soon, as I’ve ordered CS4.

Once I’ve worked through the photos I want to process with Photomatix I get right to it.  There are now a few ways to get your pictures into Photomatix, but my favorite is the simple drag and drop method.  Simply select the photos in Lightroom2, click on one shot, hold the shift key, and select all the photos that will go into your HDR.  Normally this ranges from 3 to 7 frames for me.

dockOnce you’ve selected the photos simply drag them to your Photomatix Icon.  I placed my Photomatix Icon on the dock for easy access on my Macintosh.  Dragging and dropping immediately opens Photomatix and it asks you what you want to do.  Generate an HDR, Blend the photos only, or just open the files.  Those are the initial choices.  Not much to it!

There are other options of course.  You could export your photos from Lightroom2, and export more than 1 series.  That would set you up for batch processing of multiple sets of images.  Personally I don’t take that approach.  I’m normally working on my latop and the processing takes a few minutes for each one.  I like seeing initial results quickly, and if I did a batch of scenes it would take a while.  Ah, something to be said for impatience!

exportThe final option is a new one for Lightroom2.  New for Photomatix as well.  See, there’s now a plugin available from Photomatix for Lightroom 2.  Install the plugin on Lightroom and you can export directly from Lightroom to Photomatix.  Really though, it doesn’t do much additional for you (that I can find) beyond the simple drag and drop method that I’ve been using for so long.  Hopefully the plugin is the first step in something larger from Photomatix.  We’ll have to wait and see!

Now that I’ve covered the options of getting shots into Photomatix from Lightroom it’s actually time to talk about making the HDRs.  2.5 posts in and we’re at that point!  You thought we’d never get there.  But you were wrong!

Once you’ve dropped your shots, imported, etc., into Photomatix you run through several menus.  The first menu asks what you’d like to do.  HDR, Blend Images, or just open them.  The second menu pops up listing the photos you’ve brought in.  Just acknowledge that those are the right photos and you’re off and running.

The final menu really starts up the HDR process.  And for those of you who’ve used Photomatix for a while, the screen has changed!  An update was recently released, so make sure you’ve got the latest version!  The changes implemented in 3.1.1 are pretty darned cool!

hdrmatixAs you can see, several options are available under the HDR processing window.  A few options are both new and welcome, and I’ll tell you about them.

  • Align source images has been around in Photomatix for a while.  If you shot handheld, or if you think you knocked your tripod around Photomatix will help line up your frames for blending.  Very nice!
  • The next two features are very new.  “Reduce chromatic aberrations” is my new favorite.  See, when creating HDRs you will find strange mis-colored areas along edges occasionally.  My favorite tree shot has purple haloing along a few tree branches.  You only see it when you blow the photo up, and it sure shows through on big prints.  The reduction feature has helped immensely with some of my latest pictures.
  • The second new feature, “Reduce Noise” does exactly what it says.  Pixelation and noise get amplified in HDR shots.  With this feature turned on I’ve noticed that cleanup in Photoshop afterward takes much less time!
  • The next feature is an oldie.  Reduce ghosting artifacts.  See, you’re blending multiple images.  What happens if the clouds move a little, or the wind blows through leaves.  You’re then blending dissimilar images.  “Ghosts” will appear in the image where items have moved slightly!  Whoops!
  • The final features are pretty straightforward, my fingers are getting tired, so I’ll leave you to the last few to read on your own.  If you’ve got questions just pop them into the comments.

tonemappingThe HDR processing takes a little time, so sit back and sip on a gatorade, or whatever you have available (there’s a gatorade right in front of me).  Once the process is complete you’ll have an unattractive version of you photo on screen.  That’s because it hasn’t been tone mapped yet.  That’s the next step.  Hit the tone mapping button and prepare to be amazed!

An initial tone mapped rendering of your shot will appear on screen.  If you like what you see you could immediately save it.  But there’s a lot more to Photomatix, and a lot of room for you to work on the image further.  For a completely detailed run down of all you can do, and for further processing tips I’d suggest checking out Ben Wilmore’s DVD tutorial.  It’s great, easy to follow along with, and I like his teaching style!

forarticleSo, is that all there is to it?  Toss the photos in, tone map, and call it a day?  Not at all.  You can take the process further, reprocess the image again if you like for an even more surreal version, etc.  It’s all up to you really!

Normally after I’ve finished with photomatix I’ll reimport the files into Lightroom2.  From there I’ll setup for printing, editing in Photoshop, etc.

The final post in this series will come next Tuesday.  The Photoshop side of the equation for my HDR process.

Pop on by and check it out next week!

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