Thursday, March 22, 2012

High Dynamic Range (HDR): Part III - But I do it like this...

In Part I of this series, we looked at a brief history, discussed basic equipment needed, and provided a brief overview of software options for HDR processing.  In Part II of this series, we looked at the inner sanctum of Photomatix Pro , our HDR processing software of choice.  For Part III we will walk through the workflow that we use in processing bracketed images into an HDR photo, specifically, the 'Photo Finish - HDR' we are using as our blog banner this month. 

First of all, we need to make a disclaimer.  This is not the process we use on all of our HDR images, but it's a good starting point to begin thinking about how an HDR workflow could work within your operating environment.  In this instance, we specifically did not export to Photoshop, but used Lightroom for pre & post processing with Photomatix Pro.  We choose to highlight this workflow, because after polling our followers on Facebook, we found that most use Lightroom for post processing.  We wanted to stick with relevant examples for our readers during this part of the series.  So focus on what is being done to the photographs - not exactly where it's being done at.  We'll continue to discuss HDR processing in future articles.

So, let's get started on our journey through the workflow used to create 'Photo Finish - HDR'...

Photo Finish HDR by Dakota Visions Photography LLC antique cars

We are going to focus on what workflow we are using, not specifically what settings in this article.  We could create an article on each of these sections with specific settings if we chose to - BUT let's look at the BIG picture first!  There are a million books that you can look at to get more specific information, and we've listed those at the end of this article for your purchasing pleasure. 

  • Import from Camera:
Oh my!  We had to choose this area to start with...  There are so many different ways to import into processing software, but we'll start with some generals.  We preview our .jpeg photos and dump the out of focus, blurry, wrong exposure, and those "OMG - Did I take that?!" photographs first from a "Photos to Import" folder that we copy our disk card(s) to.  Note: We always 'copy' first - so you have the original photographs on the memory disk until you can verify all photographs copied to your hard drive without error.  We also choose to keep both .jpeg and RAW versions of our photographs - don't ask, don't comment, it's one our little idiosyncrasies, ok?!  LOL! 

After doing that, we open Lightroom and import from our hard drive folder, "Photos to Import" with some standard metadata, copyright info, keywords, and initiate an immediate backup copy to an external hard drive during the import process.  This can all be handled in your "File Handling" and "Apply During Import" settings in Lightroom.  After previewing three different brackets of the final 'Photo Finish - HDR' photographs within the Library Module of Lightroom, we choose a 3 exposure bracket to work with.  Since we used our Canon camera, that bracket ended up being a -2ev, 0ev, and +2ev set using standard Canon AEB settings.

Photo Finish HDR by Dakota Visions Photography LLC Photomatix Pro antique cars

  • Lightroom Preprocessing:
Following standard procedure in our develop module in Lightroom, we correct the lens profile and change to the camera standard profile.  After this, we apply appropriate noise reduction and sharpening for the photograph.  We apply these settings across all 3 photographs equally.  In this instance, we also applied some luminance settings for blue, purple, and aqua to help with the skies and color of the cars. 

Sounds simple, right?  Well, it is - preprocessing is really only adjusting basic items that get you to a base setting before exporting to Photomatix Pro. 

  • Exporting to Photomatix Pro:
When setting up Photomatix Pro, one option is to set up the Lightroom export function, and we highly suggest you do this.  This automates the export to Photomatix Pro, rather than relying on dragging and dropping the photos into Workflow Shortcuts - Generate HDR functionality.  While I know we said we wouldn't get specific on settings in today's lesson, we included a print screen of the settings we used during this export.  One option you may want to think about is which color space you use in your workflow process - Adobe, sRGB, or ProPhoto and possibly the resolution, based upon where your final product will be displayed at. 

Photomatix Pro HDR by Dakota Visions Photography LLC

  • Photomatix Pro Manipulation:
As discussed in Part II - here is where the magic happens.  Let your imagination go wild, or get it as close to real life as possible.  Experiment, experiment, experiment...have some fun, set it back to default a hundred times.  Find out what works for you - and stick with it.  Then experiment again!  It's best to adjust an image in a series of small steps (minimal adjustments) because the effects are cumulative.  Remember, no matter how much you try to experiment, the worst thing that can happen is - you have to hit the 'default' button and start over.  I promise - no one will get hurt when you experiment.

When you are done, save the file and re import back into Lightroom.

  • Lightroom Postprocessing Technique:
Even after creating your final compiled HDR image in Photomatix Pro, you will need to do some postprocessing.  It is common knowledge that no matter what you do in Photomatix Pro, the resulting image is almost always flatter than desired.  All the detail is there - the dynamic range - but the contrast will need to be adjusted.  We need to make that final image with more depth and visual punch!

As we stated early, there are a variety of ways to do this.  You could possibly use Adobe Photoshop CS5 or Nik Software Complete Collection (specifically Viveza), but in this case, like most of our readers, we will stick to Lightroom.  In the Curve Adjustment box in the Curves drop down menu there are several preset options including Medium and Strong Contrast that you could choose.  None of these exactly worked on this image, so I just made my own small "s" contrast curve. 

What we also found was that the "whole" image did not fit the desired feel we were looking for, so we cropped the photograph into the 5X15 aspect ratio to achieve the final image of our choice.  Two cars, fall foliage brightly lit by the sun, and beautiful contrast amongst the evergreens without the additional visibility of dead evergreen trees in the foreground and a lot more blue from the sky above. 

And with the luck of the Irish, the public has agreed that the final image was visually appealing.  Then the marketing begins, but that, as they say, is another story...

We hope you enjoyed Part III of this series on High Dynamic Range (HDR).  And while you are at it, join us on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ , or sneak a peek at our own photography on Dakota Visions Photography, LLC. Until next time, we'll see you behind the lens...

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