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The High Dynamic Range (HDR) Landscape Photography Tutorial Text and images copyright Royce Howland, all rights reserved Table of Contents 1. Overview The Situation A New(-ish) Approach What is HDR? Definition of HDR HDR vs. 8- or 16-bit Formats Capturing HDR Image Data What Is HDR Good For? Setting Up the Input Images Physical Setup Camera Setup Determining the Exposure Sequence RAW Conversion Single Frame Scenes vs. Multi-frame Stitched Panoramas Processing a Single Frame HDR Image Tools Used Workflow 1 – Photoshop CS2 Workflow 2 – Photomatix Pro Comparison of Workflow Results Processing a Multi-Frame Stitched HDR Image Tools Used Differences from the Single Frame Workflow Workflow Overview Gallery of HDR Images Conclusion Wish List References
1. Overview As a wildlife and landscape photography enthusiast with a couple of years of serious digital shooting under my belt, I do not claim to be an expert with High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging or photography in general. But I have fun in the field, enjoy learning as much as I can about the art and science of photography, and have produced some images that are personally rewarding, as well as enjoyed by others. I currently derive particular satisfaction from working with stitched panoramas taken at sunrise or sunset, printed on roll stock. Late in 2005 I began adding HDR processing into my workflow. This was done to gain greater access to the tonality present in wide and dramatically lit vistas. I mostly bypassed the usual digital exposure blending route as it seemed labor intensive, although I know the technique can produce results. Naturally I posted several HDR images to Naturescapes.Net (NSN), and several people expressed interest in the technique used to create these images. At the request of the NSN editorial team, I organized my learning and thinking about HDR, and this article is the result. For at least a few of those who read this, I hope for two things. First, I would like to add some fuel to your own creative fires in working with HDR images. Second, I hope you will post your results and share questions, ideas and techniques that work for you. There is still much to learn as this new imaging capability, its tools, and our creative use matures. The Situation Say I have an image that looks like this:
I captured the image at sunrise, a great time to be out in the field. My senses soaking up everything before me, I tripped the shutter, hoping to capture an image that would evoke wonder and appreciation – a hint of the moment. Back at my workstation, I eagerly began sorting through the captures. However, despite the presence of a fair amount of dramatic light and lots of interesting tonality and detail across the original scene, images like the one above just do not evoke the experience. The clouds lack drama, detail and color; portions of the sky are far over-exposed; distant trees have turned to a muddy blur; and the ice does not reveal the snappy surface detail it showed in the early morning glow.
Of course, I realized while out shooting that there was a lot of contrast (or “dynamic range”) in the scene, and that the camera could only capture a small subset of that range. So I shot different exposures (“bracketing”), some optimized for the sky, some for the foreground ice, others for the far, shadowy trees. Not surprisingly, none of these single images really grabs me upon review. I considered that I could use a graduated neutral density filter in situations like this. At capture time, these filters are used to block some light in the brightest part of the frame, often the sky. This effectively expands the captured dynamic range by one to three stops. Of course that does not help now, with images that I have already taken. And considering the irregular line of the mountains and the dynamic range reflected across the ice and water, I am unsure if filters would be workable for this scene. Using an exposure blending technique, I could combine several digital files with different exposures of the scene. It seems worth trying, so I put in some effort with three exposures taken across a 4-stop range using automatic exposure bracketing. The images are layered, luminance masked and blended in Photoshop CS2, together with some curves and contrast enhancements. This produced the following image:
This is a definite improvement, and with more work I could fine tune this image further. For example, some ghosting in the moving clouds could be cloned or masked out, more work with contrast and curves could increase the drama in the clouds, some selective saturation or white point adjustments could improve the whites of the ice and snow, and so on. The exposure blending technique is used to good effect by many photographers, but it can mean a lot of work. And I feel it will leave me wanting more from this image. A New(-ish) Approach Even with all of the above techniques, plus a lot of effort, the results may not have maximum impact. Perhaps you, like me, have wondered if there is another way. Enter High Dynamic Range (HDR). HDR imaging has been around for at least a couple of decades, but has been popularized more recently by new software tools. Using one such tool, the Photomatix Pro HDR processing application, I tried again with the example image. On the same three bracketed exposures, I can produce this image:
This result better represents the feeling I had at the scene, represented by the title “Stormy Sunrise.” As a bonus, creating this image required no use of filters in the field, and minimal fine tuning work in Photoshop. The heavy lifting was done by “tone mapping,” a process of converting an HDR image back into an 8-bit or 16-bit image file that can be worked with conventionally (as the HDR image itself can not). In total it took less than 30 minutes of processing time after converting the RAW files – significantly less time than for the blended exposure version of the image, which honestly still needs more work. The HDR image reveals more of the original scene’s drama than does the exposure blended version. More detail is visible throughout the sky, mountains and ice, in large part due to what are called local contrast enhancements – adjustments that emphasize tonal transitions and details within a very small space rather than strictly preserving the overall relationship of bright and dark tones across the entire image. Overall contrast and color tone is more expressive. As for the original single frame with its middle-of-the-road, neutral exposure? While it could be tweaked, it is not remotely in the same league for expressing the impact of the original scene. To see how you can use HDR as part of your workflow to create images with a large dynamic range, read on! This article gives a landscape photographer’s view of the theory behind HDR, describes how to capture the input images, and shows how to use two popular HDR tools: Photoshop CS2 and Photomatix Pro. It will also show how to use these tools to process both single frames and stitched panoramic images.
2. What is HDR? Before getting into the tutorial, it would help to have some terms of reference. In brief, dynamic range (DR) is the range of luminance values from the darkest to the brightest. The original, real-world scene has a certain inherent DR which may be quite large – a ratio of 100,000:1 or more as DR is measured. Your eyes can perceive a subset of the scene’s DR (about 10,000:1), while your camera can record a smaller subset than your eyes can see – perhaps 400:1 for a DSLR. The DR of a monitor or a printed photograph is smaller yet. High dynamic range (HDR) in photography means representing the full range of tonality present in the scene with high perceptual faithfulness. Most HDR techniques currently use software to combine several different exposures of a scene into a single file that maps the full range of luminance at every pixel. This HDR image is then processed in various ways depending on the ultimate usage. For most of us this means tone mapping the HDR image into a 16-bit or 8-bit digital file such as a JPEG or TIFF image.
DR lost at capture time is gone for good.com (the web site for Photomatix Pro). 8. feel free to skip ahead to the next section on shooting technique. But how much is “a lot?” The standard unit for measuring luminance is candelas per square meter.” Without getting into the debates about which medium truly has precisely what DR. that of a sunlit scene is around 100. sunlit scene Human eye Film camera Digital camera Good computer monitor Typical photo print DYNAMIC RANGE 100.5 EV 9 . Conversely.normankoren. Sean McHugh’s web site also has a lot of good information about this subject. with corresponding advantages and disadvantages. or cd/m2. then.html. The rest of this section provides the details of what HDR is for those who prefer to know “what” before getting into the “how”. then capturing it. regardless of its level of brightness.001 cd/m2.000 cd/m2. If it can be captured as close as possible to what was present in the original scene. we need to look at digital file formats and how they represent luminance values. to reproducing it for others to see. this chart summarizes some rule-of-thumb DR values for different stages of dealing with a scene: STAGE Typical outdoor. Each format encodes image data in a different way. see www. There are several different HDR file formats in existence. including Radiance RGBE and Open-EXR. The DR of the real-world scene in front of you is the range of darkest to brightest portions available to your eye. The DR of a camera is the subset of the scene’s DR that can be captured without being clipped on the highlight end. not integer values.hdrsoft. “the luminance of starlight is around 0. film or imaging sensor. DR is the range of luminance values from the darkest to the brightest.cambridgeincolour. as it can never be regained after that point. see for example www. To pin it down further. 8-bit or 16-bit file formats Capturing HDR images What is HDR good for? Definition of HDR Dynamic range (DR) is a fairly generic term used in a variety of disciplines. for our purposes in photography. then perhaps something can be done to present the image to viewers with a better interpretation of the source scene’s tonality and detail. HDR vs. As described above. is one of progressively losing DR. HDR is the ability to capture and represent the full DR found in a scene with high perceptual accuracy and precision. [… and] the luminance of the sun itself is approximately 1. You may have seen this unit used in monitor specifications. . High dynamic range (HDR) must mean a lot of DR. the DR of a monitor is the luminance range it can display from black to white.8 EV One clear conclusion from this chart is that the experience of seeing the original scene. specifically DR from digital capture through reproduction on screen or in print. Key points covered in the rest of this section: Definition of HDR HDR vs. Norman Koren’s web site has a good discussion of some of this information. or reduced to noise or outright blocked up on the shadow end. According to the FAQ at www.com/digital_tonality.000 cd/m2. Loosely speaking.htm.000:1 up to ~2000:1 typically ~400:1 500:1 to 1000:1 100:1 up to 250:1 STOPS ~17 EV ~14 EV ~11 EV ~8. The format records the luminosity of every point in the source scene. The 32-bit numbers are decimal (or “floating point”) values.000.000.000:1 or more 10.or 16-bit Formats An HDR image is represented using what can be considered a 32-bit per RGB channel format.com/tutorials/dynamic-range.10 EV 7 .If this is enough definition for you and you want to get into the part that shows how to get things done.
…. 1x10-38. There is no way to represent a luminance value of 2. they can represent luminance values such as 2.535 depending on the format). the various HDR formats’ luminance values correspond linearly to the amount of light present at each point. In contrast (no pun intended). Posterization and banding are unlikely to occur when working with HDR files. the DR is clipped. 1x1038 32-bit Open-EXR 107. Compressing part of the DR can cause issues like posterization and banding when image processing is done later. I am also not attempting to address color space or gamma encoding which affect the image data encoded within the file. while Open-EXR was developed by Industrial Light and Magic and published as an open format around 2002. 16-bit. the integer luminance values are not mapped to the actual light from the source scene in a linear fashion. Shadows below the low end of the range block up to black (luminance value 0).000:1 0. Finally. However the applications’ implementations of the formats are not necessarily compatible with one another.3 or 2. For example.000.) . does not mean that the image data contained in the file truly spans that DR. Some parts of the scene’s tonal range are compressed into fewer values while other parts of the scene’s range get a larger block of values.000. green and blue channels. while highlights above the top end of the range blow out to white (luminance value 255 or 65.9. while Open-EXR offers more precision than Radiance RGBE. the values it can represent are not necessarily very precise. a DSLR RAW file contains imaging sensor data that typically has 12 bits of total information. (There is a limit. the HDR formats do not impose a practical limit on the DR that can be represented. …. such as 0. Also the DR ratios are not “apples-to-apples” comparisons since the darkest and lightest luminance values vary widely. For example.535 32-bit Radiance RGBE 1x1076:1 0. so these values both may be represented as 2. for maximum DR of 4095:1.9 or 2. Finally. Thus the non-HDR format effectively applies a tone curve that biases the DR. supply a relatively small number of luminance values for each of the red.Radiance RGBE and Open-EXR seem to be fairly dominant in terms of support in various applications. In addition. 2. When the source scene DR exceeds the luminance values the 8-bit and 16-bit formats can represent on either or both ends of the range. 1. for storage size reasons. And because the HDR formats have decimal precision. 0. The key trade-off between the two formats appears to be that Radiance RGBE covers a much larger DR than Open-EXR.000 within the same file. The image formats with which we are all familiar. Image processing functions that affect luminance may introduce increasing levels of error. ….00001 and 1.543635. All of this sounds like great theory – as long as there is a way to actually capture this image data and get it into an HDR format. Radiance RGBE was developed in the late 1980’s by Greg Ward as part of his Radiance imaging application.535:1 0. 2. the Radiance RGBE and Open-EXR file formats do not actually use 32 bits per channel in the file saved to disk. In truth both formats likely represent DR overkill for landscape shooting and most other forms of photography. 255 16-bit 65. 32-bit Radiance RGBE and 32-bit Open-EXR formats break down: 8-bit Maximum DR Luminance value range 255:1 0.) This is not only because HDR uses more bits to represent a wider range of luminance values.3. There are several pragmatic benefits of the HDR formats over the 8-bit and 16-bit formats. Capturing HDR Image Data The ability to capture the source scene luminance information is a critical point. But at least they provide the elbow room that is lacking in 8-bit and 16-bit formats. 1. Image processing functions that affect luminance introduce fewer errors.000. luminance values within the representable range must “snap to” the integral values within the format’s range. For more information on this topic. …. just not one that a landscape or indeed almost any type of photographer is likely to hit.000 Note that I am glossing over a few things here since this is not primarily a technical article. (Very few digital cameras currently capture more than 12 bits of data at the sensor. see the paper “High Dynamic Range Image Encodings” by Greg Ward.0000012. Both are supported by the tools discussed in this article. Thus HDR can represent very small and very large luminance values. 65. Just because a file format has a large theoretical maximum DR. in addition to the range being limited potentially on both ends of the spectrum.000. Thus. 65. 2. such as the JPEG and TIFF. but also because these bits represent floating point values rather than integer values. Here is how the 8-bit. There is no curve applied to compress part of the DR into a limited span of values.
or about 400:1 of DR. since sunlit scenes may have a DR of 100. . described in the rest of this article. There is some technique involved in capturing and processing the images. where natural and artificial light combined with shadows can produce a wide DR over various materials and surfaces. But the eye has a useful range greater than that – think of what you can see in bright daylight versus at night with your vision night-adjusted. taking in a certain amount of DR as a subset of a much larger operating range. a single HDR image file can be produced.” HDR also can be applied to good effect with indoor or outdoor architectural photography. a series of slices can be captured across the source scene’s DR. So the mechanism for capturing HDR image data comes down to shooting multiple exposures of the scene. just because a scene contains significant DR does not mean that it all must be reproduced. (As Michael Reichmann said in his introductory luminous-landscape. Interestingly. For decades. assuming you are not using a camera such as the Spheron SpheroCam HDR that can natively capture HDR images of 26-stops? As stated above. As stated. or an ice skater moving across the field of view – the software will create ghosts or blurriness. feel free to experiment with HDR when moving water is in the frame. since the usable luminance range is only a subset of the original 12 bits of RAW image data from the sensor. it works best with relatively static situations. These slices will form a much larger DR when combined together in software. but the artistic judgment remains as important as ever.com article on HDR.dpreview.”) Since HDR technique involves taking several exposure bracketed images and combining them into a single file. and letting the rest go.535:1. HDR is a natural technique to use for many such scenes. A camera is the same in this respect. a good DSLR can capture a range of perhaps 8. In still photography. and it is lost in the highlights when sensors cease to respond to brightness and just blow out to white – or to incorrect colors due to unequal clipping of the RGB channels. This tutorial shows examples of both.000:1 or more. some final thoughts about the “what” of HDR – what kind of photography is HDR good for? Until recently. from shadows to highlights. HDR has found most of its use in synthetic imaging applications (ray-tracing. What Is HDR Good For? Before getting into the shooting technique section.5 stops of luminance in one image.) DR typically is lost in the shadows when image detail becomes indistinguishable from noise. The eye’s DR is like a sliding window of perception that can be moved across scenes from very dark to very bright. say about 400:1. the DR of the data is even more limited. The TIFF data takes up more space but it does not contain any extra luminance information.Converting the RAW file to a 16-bit TIFF does not somehow expand the captured DR upwards. “I fully expect to see some really silly if not downright ugly [HDR] images in the months ahead.com to see how real-world DR performance works out with current digital cameras. Shooting panoramas at sunrise or sunset unavoidably introduces a challenging amount of DR in part because of the large field of view. We have all seen many stunning landscapes or other scenes where the photographer selects exposures to clip highlights or block up shadows in a way that enhances impact. A typical DSLR may have around 8. There is no guarantee that HDR technique by itself can produce a “better” interpretation of a given scene. HDR provides another tool to use. (Read some of Phil Askey’s current DSLR camera reviews at www. For best results the exposure series should cover the entire DR of the scene. moving water does not necessarily pose a problem to HDR tools – they may introduce a pleasing blur to the water. and this is why I first began experimenting with the process.000:1 in a single view. other outdoor images that might benefit from HDR include those with significant highlights such as strongly lit reflective surfaces. Besides traditional landscapes. With this series of exposures and software to process them. Classic cases are sunrises and sunsets. This situation is typical to landscapes and other outdoor settings. where the metal and glass have incredible “pop. Naturally. the real maximum DR of the image data it contains is far less. HDR can be used to create images from scenes that possess a broad range of tonal values from shadows to highlights. Landscape compositions often benefit from the inclusion of water elements. composing and exposing for that. Personally I use HDR for landscape and scenic shots including both single frame images and multiple frame stitched panoramas. In fact it is exactly the same as the original RAW image data. and computer generated imaging such as gaming) as well as video post-production work. In fact. If there is motion within the frame – such as wind blowing the branches of a tree. So how can HDR image data be captured. properly exposed. By altering the exposure to take images that range from very under-exposed to very overexposed. the human eye can perceive a DR of about 10. 3D scene modeling. I have seen some great HDR images of cars for example. The RAW conversion process can not manufacture more luminance information than was actually contained within the RAW data.5 EV of usable DR. 4095:1 at best. While the theoretical maximum DR of a 16-bit TIFF is 65. photographers have made artistic decisions about what is truly important.
Even with single frame images. some points on setup are worth considering to produce the best source material you can for the software to handle later on. Both HDR tools described in this tutorial have functions to align the input images if they are slightly off. There are many other possible uses for HDR. and shoot the sequence. multi-frame stitched panoramas Physical Setup Stable physical support of the camera is relatively important. Because the HDR software needs to map the luminance values at each corresponding pixel from the series of input frames. . Key points covered in this section: Physical setup Camera setup Determining the exposure sequence RAW conversion Single frame scenes vs. and certainly you can work more casually in some circumstances. If you are already experienced in these areas. without giving up detail in the middle or foreground areas that are much darker in tone. and there is engaging detail across both shadows and highlights that supports the vision you wish to communicate. Multiple exposure blending techniques are easier to use and produce higher quality results when software does not have to attempt to compensate for alignment errors in between frames. determine the number of images and exposure interval you want to shoot. Once those elements are configured. and the DR to be dealt with would involve an excessive number of layers and adjustments using an exposure blending technique. it is important to have the images lined up with each other as closely as possible. Then set up the camera so that the only settings changing during the image sequence are the specific exposure changes you need to capture the target DR. 3. This is particularly a problem if the imaging plane rotates vertically or horizontally. while the darker tones of rocks and trees may contain a lot of detail that I want to show as well. The rule of thumb I would suggest is this: if you have a scene with a wide range of tonalities. Quality issues not visible in online image posts or small prints become more readily apparent. caused by camera motion. Setting Up the Input Images Before you can create an HDR image you must first capture and prepare the input images that will feed the process. Here. Back at the workstation. then HDR may be the right technique for the job. The recommendations in this section may sound excessive. This is especially true if irregular form in the subject matter prohibits use of filters. Even if you have successfully used exposure blending techniques in Photoshop. snow. I am also starting to use HDR for winter scenes involving irregular mountainscapes of ice. The condensed description of setting up is to first get stable support for the camera. I use HDR where the sky has a lot of interesting cloud formations with detail and tonality that I want to capture. so I take steps to avoid them from the beginning. trees and rock. I do not want to blow out the highlights in the ice and snow. What examples can you think of? One place to start is thinking about those scenes containing a large tonal range that you have so far struggled to capture to your satisfaction. as this will cause perspective shifts in between bracketed frames for which the HDR software cannot compensate. possibly several feet in length in the case of stitched panoramas. The rest of this section provides more background on setting up and capturing the image sequence for those readers who may be newer to this type of photography. you may find HDR to be a valuable approach in similar situations. feel free to jump ahead to the first HDR tutorial section covering Photoshop CS2. My own goal often is to create images rich in detail that will be printed on large media. use a consistent RAW conversion to process the images for input to the HDR tool. As there will be several images to process even without getting into stitched panoramas. However registration errors can still occur if the camera moves too much between images.
The delay allows time for vibrations caused by pressing the shutter button to damp. Lay a bean bag over the camera and lens to damp vibration as long as this does not block any sensors on the camera body. If you are manually changing exposure settings to create your bracketed sequence. Depending on how slow the shutter speed is across the range of exposures. Even minor shifts in the camera's orientation can create registration errors later in the HDR software. you can try using the camera's self timer (often available with 3 or 10 second delays). Most modern cameras have an automatic exposure bracketing function. Finally. I recommend that you shoot RAW for HDR work. Camera Setup Some basic camera settings also need to be determined. you should be able to at least get at least some good approximations of what HDR can do for you. Since I personally find that shadow tones contribute a lot to my HDR work.1 EV. the Canon 1 series cameras can be set to bracket up to seven shots at +/. Most of these measures are the same as for any long exposure shooting: Consider lowering the tripod legs. As long as you are shooting only a single automatically bracketed sequence of images that does not require manually changing any camera settings. or are directly pressing the shutter button on the camera. See the next section for more about choosing the exposure sequence. If that would block the shots. If you shoot JPEG out of the camera. enable the mirror lock-up function on the camera if it has one. and then capture three images to have your set of input frames. and whether there are ambient sources of vibration such as wind. you would select the auto bracketing function for +/. Shoot with a remote release rather than pressing the shutter button directly. which I use. Recalling that a well-lit outdoor scene may have a DR of 100. Canon non-professional DSLR’s.5 EV in total for a typical DSLR.2 EV (or greater if supported). The point is to capture DR. A side note: The Photoshop CS2 help entry on its Merge to HDR function states. or say roughly 6000:1. however all DSLR’s should support exposure stepping up to 2 EV or more when auto-bracketing. compressing shadow tones in order to favor highlights. or wrap it securely around the tripod. “In general. Stepping at 1 EV likely would be insufficient. Further. clearly 12.” This may apply to digital point and shoot cameras. The best way to avoid alignment problems is to have the camera mounted on a stable tripod and head. . Thus if you limit yourself to a small number of exposures. can take a sequence of three images bracketed up to -2 and +2 EV around a base exposure. (On the high end of the scale. I would not like to sacrifice them. because the timer also will significantly increase the elapsed time needed to capture all frames in the exposure sequence. put the camera in manual exposure mode and select each exposure (or each base exposure if auto-bracketing) by hand.2 EV? The goal is to capture a wide DR.) Using one of these cameras in the simplest way. the camera applies a tone curve. introducing JPEG compression artifacts (however slight) into the HDR process may degrade image quality.If the shutter speeds across the bracketed exposure range are all relatively fast and your hands are steady. This is a convenient and fast way to begin working with HDR. blurring and ghosting as well as exposure inconsistencies can result.3 EV. so you do not vibrate or misalign the camera. Remove it. If you shoot digital. Why immediately jump to +/. If the light or any subject elements are changing. The source scene easily may contain enough DR to exceed what you can record in three images at +/. Nikon professional DSLR’s like the D2X can bracket up to nine shots at +/. don’t use your camera’s autobracket feature. This might amount to 12. It is a simple way to start trying HDR whether or not you already have a good tripod. especially for multi-frame panoramas. you may be able to hand-hold the camera.5 stops is not enough to capture everything from shadows to highlights.2 EV. Your priority is to control the camera. do so carefully.000:1. Regardless of how many exposures you need. Be on guard with this. you may need to put more or less effort into stabilizing the camera support. In particular you do not want the aperture or ISO settings being changed. though. If you do not have a remote release. some amount of DR has already been sacrificed within each given image as the camera compresses the sensor data (usually 12 bits) down to 8 bits. because the exposure changes are usually too small. Most fundamental is the number of images and exposure interval of the sequence – whether taken by automatic bracketing or manually changing exposure between shots. select the base exposure. If shutter speeds are slow. then hang a weight from the center column hook if there is one. Do not let the camera strap flap around in the breeze. you want to record as much DR in them as possible.
you can try increasing ISO to get faster shutter speeds. especially landscape photography as discussed here. Now quickly dial up to +2 EV compensation and shoot three more frames. Examine the scene looking for shadow and highlight areas. If your camera supports exposure compensation of +/.I understand there are arguments in favor of shooting JPEG. you essentially want only the exposure changing to capture the range of tonality you need. Determining the Exposure Sequence How do you know what that best exposure sequence is? Clearly this depends on the source scene. At this point you have six frames. If auto-focus is left enabled. or about 18. With only a little effort. at the risk of providing a bit less smooth result. while the second contains five images covering -4 to +4 EV.000:1. a different focal point may be selected between one frame and the next. even if your camera is limited to a three shot burst using auto-bracketing. Here are a few final points: For digital shooters. more data points sampled closer together produce better and smoother final results. the camera’s spot meter if it has one. and both use an interval of 2 EV. Ensure white balance stays the same across the images fed into the HDR process. two of which are exposed the same. in my opinion. As with any software function that is interpolating reality between one recorded point and another. or loss of image quality. When shooting the sequence. more storage capacity.3 EV. these factors are not particularly relevant for HDR work. This will create image combination problems that cannot be resolved by the HDR software. If you are manually bracketing any portion of the exposure sequence. Or you can set a specific white balance in the camera and adjust later as required. or some test shots consulting the histogram (if you shoot digital). then ten exposures taken at an interval of 1 EV would cover the range.5 stops of DR. However. Everything else should remain constant to prevent more work later.5 stops. Enable auto-bracketing at +/.” Finally it depends on how many images at what exposure interval you choose to shoot with your preferred bracketing technique. but it is not desirable to use a larger interval than 2 EV even if your camera supports it. Any noise introduced by higher ISO may be exaggerated by the HDR tone mapping process. use an external light meter. the rule of thumb is to keep the camera in manual mode for each function. Both sequences have the same central exposure. You will then have to do some quick exposure math to figure out how many frames at what EV stepping you will need to capture the scene. and take your chances with noise reduction tools later. from two image sequences taken seconds apart. with no further retouching done. For example. However. use manual focus. set the ISO to as low a setting as conditions will allow. and potentially minimize subsequent workflow effort in RAW conversion.2 EV and select a good central exposure based on the camera’s meter. In those areas. since it is important to preserve consistent color. if you wish to do so. you can extend the automatic bracketed approach described in the previous section to cover five shots at a 2 EV interval. discard one of them later. roughly 16. which approaches DR of 100. leave the camera set for automatic white balance and later convert all input images with the same white balance setting. . if a given scene’s highlights meter at 1/2000s at your chosen aperture and the shadows meter at 1/4s. This will give you some potential exposure values on each end of the DR spectrum that you ultimately need to capture. You can cover the scene’s DR in fewer exposures by stepping at a higher EV interval. If you are shooting RAW. For most other settings. Here is an example showing the same scene processed twice via HDR. dial in -2 EV exposure compensation and shoot three frames. It also involves how much shadow and highlight detail you decide to capture – “high” DR does not necessarily mean “all the DR there is. Typically the benefits raised are to get more continuous frames. You could possibly eliminate one or two of the exposures on the far ends of the range if you shot RAW and can depend on your camera for good shadow and highlight detail capture. you can use the same technique without throwing away one of the exposures. Stepping by 1 EV may be preferable depending on the HDR tool. you can shoot JPEG images and process them using the HDR tools described in this article. If the source scene contains moving elements that blur at slower shutter speeds. This ensures that nothing the camera does will vary the image sequence in a way you do not purposely intend. Both were tone mapped with the same parameters in Photomatix Pro. This leaves you with five frames covering -4 to +4 EV. You end up with six frames covering -5 to +5 EV. Five exposures shot 2 stops apart also would do the job. The first sequence contains three exposures covering -2 to +2 EV. Prior to shooting.
. Some experimentation and experience with a variety of scenes will give you a baseline for the number and stepping of exposures you need to produce pleasing results. Outdoor scenes can have DR of 100. If manually bracketing. some highlights and shadows are lost but often even this small a sequence produces pleasing results. So far I have been using three or five frames shot at a 2 EV step and have been happy enough with my results.2 EV were sufficient to capture the available DR. for example by moving the base exposure up or down when using auto-bracketing. For that reason it has slightly better definition in the clouds. This lets you adjust the mood. Note that by shifting the exposure range. Which one you use is not really that important for the purposes of HDR processing. The one based on the five image sequence is a little more contrasty due to slightly deeper blacks. RAW Conversion For those who shoot in RAW mode. block up some shadows or clip some highlights for creative reasons. you can choose to leave off some of the exposures on the bottom or top end of the range. and the three exposure version likely could be touched up to become even closer. With only three frames. What is more important is how you do the conversion. another setup issue that must be considered involves how to configure the RAW converter. Learning to read the scene can reduce the need for metering and calculating a longer exposure sequence. In part this is because the sun is not directly within the frame. For this scene three exposures at +/. each with its strengths. but many have less. weaknesses and proponents.000:1 or more.Three Image Sequence Five Image Sequence In this case. Likewise. and there are no extreme shadows or highlights. gaining that experience improves on the “just shoot a bunch of exposures and hope for the best” approach. You can also shoot the exposures and then simply not include them in the HDR input. you can bias the eventual results towards the darker or lighter tones. But on the whole the two are close. there is not much difference between the resulting tone mapped images. There are numerous RAW conversion applications out there.
non-stitched) final image from several input images. which may cut several one or more rotation points from the sequence. Processing a Single Frame HDR Image Okay. Multi-frame Stitched Panoramas For stitching multiple frames to work well as input to HDR processing. consider whether the composition will support horizontal shots instead. Pick a representative exposure from the input sequence. two HDR workflows will be shown that produce a single frame (i. The more fiddling you have to do to capture the sequence across the field of view. use a light hand. Some examples of things that can help decrease the time taken to shoot the entire sequence include: Use automatic exposure bracketing with a larger EV interval to speed up the capture of exposures taken at each rotation point. and then make final exposure adjustments to the end result. However before even trying this. the more likely it is that the light quality may change perceptibly between the beginning and the end of the sequence. apply a tone curve and make contrast enhancements to the final image containing DR information compiled from all input images. In both cases. Ensure that your exposure sequence is not filling up your camera buffer faster than it can write. Single Frame Scenes vs. the more the quality of the final product may be jeopardized. 4. This is especially true if you are increasing the exposure as this will bring out noise that the HDR processing may emphasize further. enough theory! In this section. Make sure you have chosen a good focal point that works across the field of view. Key points covered in this section: Tools used Workflow 1 – PS CS2 Workflow 2 – PS CS2 + Photomatix Comparison of workflow results . Stitching software can compensate for a number of things that are not quite synchronized between images across the field of view. Tone mapping HDR images is challenging enough without throwing different color balances into the mix. It is also possible that moving elements such as clouds or water will shift enough that seamless processing will be made more difficult. is to ensure that all of the images in a sequence are processed with the same white balance. and then apply the same settings to the entire sequence.One key factor. If you normally shoot vertical frames for stitching. However. and then how to tone map it into a final image. Find ways to shoot fewer exposures. Therefore it is best to avoid making any significant exposure changes to the RAW files during conversion. The main reason you might be tempted to adjust exposure in the RAW conversion is to shift the entire input sequence up or down. Since the HDR image is going to include all of that data by mapping all of the input images. The risk here is getting an increased amount of rectilinear distortion with some lenses. Do the same with any other color enhancements that you make in the RAW conversion. You can crop later for compositional reasons if you do not mind losing the resolution. as previously indicated. Many RAW converters with strong workflow support make it easy to copy settings across a series of images. the more work the software has to do. You do not want to wait for auto-focus to hunt for a new lock at each rotation point. it is even more important to ensure that camera support is stable and all non-essential camera functions are on manual as recommended above. the example will show how to initially create the HDR image file. This will cover the field of view even faster. Fewer manual exposure changes means less time taken. get its color temperature and tint right. in order not to be waiting on the camera while the light is changing in front of you.e. One other thing to consider when planning for both stitching and HDR work on an image sequence is the shooting time factor. you do not want stitching artifacts to be introduced and subsequently be magnified. As with many digital processing functions. recall that shifting the exposure during RAW conversion can not bring out any more real luminance information than existed in the original RAW data. One workflow is based on Photoshop CS2. process and tone map the HDR image. it may be less work to perform a straight forward RAW conversion. If the initial exposures were set up reasonably well. The main point of HDR tone mapping is to set levels. then other on Photomatix Pro. If you are shooting outside at sunrise or sunset for example. the light may be changing relatively quickly in your critical shooting window. to bias the final tone mapped HDR image. Keeping in mind that HDR tone mapping may exaggerate undesirable details in the input images. Use a lens focal length that gives a wider angle. and disabled auto-focus on the lens. most of the changes that you might make to an individual input image will be trumped by the changes later made during HDR processing.
the first thing to do is process the above three example images into a single HDR file. This function is how you initially combine several images taken at different exposures into a single HDR 32-bit image file. With CS2 open. accessed via the File>Automate>Merge to HDR menu in CS2.0.3 Workflow 1 – Photoshop CS2 The first workflow shows how to produce a tone mapped HDR image using only the tools found within Photoshop CS2. The first is Merge to HDR.The examples will produce a tone mapped image from this sequence: 0 EV (base image) -2 EV +2 EV The base image was shot at 1/15s. There are two key functions to use. The images were shot RAW and converted to 16-bit TIFF files using Rawshooter Premium at default settings except for +20 detail.2 EV. When CS2 was introduced.) CS2 Merge to HDR To get the first example rolling. +10 saturation and +3 vibrance. and the shutter was tripped with a remote release cable. Dropping the image mode below 32-bit triggers CS2 to get you to specify how to tone map the HDR image.2. or the Tools>Photoshop>Merge to HDR menu in Bridge. The camera was tripod mounted. At the moment.5-5. f/22. accessed via the Image>Mode>16 Bits/Channel menu in CS2 while a previously created HDR 32-bit image is open in the editor. The second function is HDR Conversion. it contained new support for HDR image processing and so it is likely to be the first point of contact with HDR.1 Photomatix Pro 2. The camera used was a Canon EOS 10D with Sigma 12-24mm f/4. CS2 probably can be considered the preeminent tool for image processing and it is “the” workhorse application for many photographers. in this case to get it to fit within a 16-bit DR. The exposure sequence was taken using auto-bracketing at an interval of +/. This brings up the following panel: . ISO 100.3 build 77 Adobe Photoshop CS2 9. Application software versions include: Rawshooter Premium 1. (HDR Conversion can also be accessed by dropping the image mode to 8-bit.6 lens zoomed to 13mm. select the Merge to HDR function via the File>Automate>Merge to HDR menu.0. Tools Used The example screenshots in this section are taken from a desktop workstation (AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ dual core system with 3 GB of RAM visible) running Windows XP SP2.
you are able to see only a limited subset of the full DR at any one time. Each red tick mark on the horizontal axis of the histogram represents about 1 stop of DR. Adjust the slider left and right to examine detail in different tonal areas of the image. or “Open Files” which will add the files currently open in the editor. The histogram on the right hand side of the window gives a snapshot of the total DR of the combined image. Clicking the OK button kicks off the first stage of processing and produces a single HDR image. it is quickly possible to tell where the interesting image detail lies and roughly how well the merge worked (including the image alignment). and no tone mapping has yet been done. Most of that time is spent aligning the input images. Once alignment and initial processing are done. You can toggle an individual image on and off to roughly determine the contribution its data makes to the overall look. The drop-down can be used instead to select “Folder” which permits adding an entire folder of images. Each image also has a check-box controlling whether that image’s information is included in the merged image. Since your computer monitor is essentially an 8-bit device. or at least minimized.With the drop-down list showing “Files. While it will add processing time. . The white point slider beneath the histogram controls the subset of DR displayed on the monitor. it will help ensure that any minor image alignment errors present in the input images will be eliminated. slider and image preview. Using the histogram. a second large window is displayed: This window shows a preview of the HDR image. or are not worried about ghosting and blurriness from registration problems. Down the left hand side. This process takes 15 – 20 seconds on my workstation for this example. The only other control is a check-box to enable alignment of the input images. thumbnails of the input image are shown with an estimate of the relative exposure of each. I recommend selecting the check-box unless there is a specific reason not to. incorporating the full DR of the original sequence. If you are sure your images will match 100%.” I have browsed to my source images and included the three of them. you can uncheck the box to speed up processing.
the tone mapped HDR image will show an interpretation of the original scene in a way that is difficult (perhaps even impractical) to achieve using other means involving comparable time. the HDR image comes in just over 13 MB in size. including Radiance RGBE (which uses the extension “. displayed or printed just like any conventional image. Following the above actions. you can save the HDR image in case you want to come back to the pre-tone mapped version at a later date. but the slider’s position will be remembered the next time the HDR file is opened. For a technical comparison of the HDR formats. Personally I am not sure what adjustments I would wish to make at this point. When the input images have been selected and the preview examined to your satisfaction. some filters and a few other functions can be used with 32-bit files. This example saved as an .Be sure to leave the bit depth drop-down showing “32 Bit/Channel” in order to generate an actual HDR image. While many CS2 capabilities are not available with HDR files. CS2 is sitting with the merged (and saved) HDR image open in the editor. CS2 HDR Conversion In some ways everything up to this point really has just been preparation. Selecting 16 or 8 bits will immediately drop the DR of the merged image by clipping shadows and highlights to fit the selected bit depth.hdr file runs about 18. see Greg Ward’s paper “High Dynamic Range Image Encodings” linked at the end of this article. This process takes only a few seconds. Perhaps 32-bit image processing will continue to be an area of innovation in future versions of Photoshop. However. For now we will simply move on to tone mapping the HDR image into a 16-bit file. based on the position of the white point slider. Several formats are available to choose from. The size of the preview can be adjusted using the zoom controls at the bottom if you need to examine some details more closely. the generated HDR image is open in CS2. At the end. click OK and the HDR image will be generated.5 MB in size compared to about 36 MB for just one of the input images in 16-bit TIFF format. Now it is finally time to get a concrete result – a 16bit image that can be edited. When 32-bit is selected.exr” format. ready for further work: Before doing anything else. In “.exr”). including layers and most of the tools.hdr”) and Open-EXR (which uses “. given the lack of layers and the inability to directly see the full image at once because of its expanded DR. To perform the tone . the position of the white point slider does not affect the saved data in any way. effort or cost.
The Load and Save buttons perform a familiar function. This brings up the following panel: CS2 permits tone mapping an HDR image using four different methods. with few or no control points. When you select this method from the drop-down list and also click the small arrow icon labeled Toning Curve and Histogram. Compresses the highlight values in the HDR image so they fall within the luminance values range of the 16-bits-per-channel image file. No controls. Compresses the dynamic range of the HDR image while trying to preserve some contrast. but they will not be discussed further in this article. No controls. they may produce useful results only in limited circumstances. the HDR image open in CS2 will show a preview of what the conversion will look like.mapping process. saved (using the file name . As you select each method. at least for the type of HDR images I work with. This is because they provide simplistic global effects. The interesting conversion method is called “Local Adaptation” and this is what I will focus on. for compressing the DR of the 32-bit image into the target bit depth. you trigger the HDR Conversion function by selecting the Image>Mode>16 Bits/Channel menu item. Feel free to explore these methods on your own HDR images. with some differences from the standard curves adjustment tool. Lets you manually adjust the brightness and contrast of the HDR image. A custom set of parameters can be set up for an image. available in the drop-down list of this panel. CONVERSION METHOD Exposure and Gamma Highlight Compression Equalize Histogram DESCRIPTION Two sliders for exposure and gamma values. The first three methods are not satisfactory. the HDR Conversion panel now looks like this: This provides a familiar looking curves control. While easy to use.
Then use one or more points along the curve to adjust its slope. Make the slope shallower (more horizontal) to compress tone where little or less important image detail lies. reflecting the fact that you have more than one area of tonal range with significant detail you wish to enhance. This is a key part of the human visual system’s ability to perceive detail and apparent sharpness. nor any automatic functions or freehand curve drawing. rather than simply focus on a simple shadows-midtones-highlights break down as with normal images. and will redistribute contrast as well as actually compress the DR when you hit OK.” A small radius. green or blue channels – the curve is applied to the entire image because HDR is about working with luminance. Clicking Reset returns the entire panel to its default state. where the pointer turns into an eyedropper. because it is a global effect across the image it is still possible to get areas of contrast that do not work well visually. Dragging the eyedropper around on the image. you can exercise a different form of control over the tonal quality of the conversion. If you set the radius too high. and also present a desirable balance of tonality and contrast. the result often will look more natural in tonality but may seem a little “plastic” and lacking in fine details that are enhanced by strong local contrast. and by adding and dragging new points. If you set the radius too low. you can move the mouse cursor over the main image window. so you may have to sacrifice contrast in some areas that have good detail in order to preserve detail in other areas. The other main attraction of this panel besides editing the curve is using the Radius and Threshold controls to alter the degree of local contrast enhancement performed. Again. local contrast enhancement increases the contrast within very small regions of the image in order to enhance the appearance of detail there. The difference here is that the curve is affecting a much greater initial DR than normal (see the red tick marks of the histogram). The principles of adjusting the curve here are the same as when editing curves in a non-HDR image. You may have several tonal regions that you need to adjust in different ways. The Radius control specifies the number of pixels that the conversion function will consider to mean “local. where that image point falls. to set the black and white points where image data starts to appear. Remember that the large DR present is going to get compressed into a smaller range as a result of this tone mapping exercise. sharply defined tonal shifts that occur on a small scale. As in other editing panels. As with the normal curves tool. The curve can be edited by moving the initial black and white end points. The Threshold control also affects the local contrast enhancement. As described much earlier. Clicking and holding over a point in the image highlights. pressing the Alt key (Option key on a Mac) switches the Cancel button to Reset.” The greater the DR. Looking at the unfamiliar controls on this panel. Thus editing the curve here is done for the same reason as making a curve adjustment on a normal image. which means the Exposure and Gamma method with its default control values. the result will look very flat across much of the field of view because the contrast enhancements have fallen below the threshold that your eye can readily pick up. Move the bottom left and top right end points closer to the tails of the histogram. By changing these numeric values. this control relates to edge detection. The panel provides no ability to select just the red. Not available with the standard curves tool. . the more work you will have to do to prevent CS2’s automatic functions from deciding for you how to compress the DR. The range of the radius is from 1 – 250 pixels. rather than a transition that is smoothed out over a broader luminance range.extension “. this check-box controls whether the next point added to the curve creates a smooth change along the curve where it joins other existing points. first there is the Corner check-box below the curves control. means that contrast enhancement is applied in very tight regions across the image. Likely you often will use several points. Changing the threshold value affects how “contrasty” the resulting image will be. Having a sharp transition can protect tonalities that you have already adjusted from being skewed by further adjustments along other parts of the curve. Editing points on the curve is one of the two main attractions of using this conversion method. To get the look you want it may be necessary to do a more than simply apply a bit of traditional “S-curve. because this curve potentially must compress the DR by a large margin. move the control between extremes that are clearly “wrong” until you find a region of values that works. Similar to the threshold value in the Unsharp Mask filter. such as the default value of 16 pixels. and sets the difference in luminance between adjacent pixels for them to be included or excluded from the current local region. on the curve. Even if you spend considerable effort editing the curve. The advantage is that this tends to emphasize fine detail. gray or white point eyedroppers. The downside is that it tends to look less natural and over-processed. there are no black. This lets you target areas of the image tone you may wish to fine tune on the curve. It permits direct control over the translation of the HDR image’s wide DR into something that will fit within 16 (or 8) bits. or creates a sharp and angular join. This will result in hard edged. something that is often levied as a criticism of tone mapped HDR images. Make the slope of the curve steeper (more vertical) to increase contrast where important image detail lies. you may not have the luxury of making smooth tonal transitions in some cases. Also. This effect can be used to create a sharp transition in the tone of the image at certain levels. and then reloaded as a starting point in future editing sessions. the highlight point on the curve tracks the mouse movement.hdt”). To determine the “right” radius for a given image. not color.
0. Threshold 0.5 . Setting the threshold too high.0. and three for threshold. Threshold 0. Threshold 0. I often set the threshold somewhere between 0.The threshold can range from 0.5 Radius 75. However the results will appear smoother and more natural. If you set the threshold too low.5 Radius 250. all using the same adjusted curve: SETTING IMAGE Radius 8. certainly will emphasize detail and make everything stand out.1 to 4. conversely. once again the converted image may appear washed out and flat. But the results likely will be too stark. Here is a small selection of images showing the visual trade-offs involved with three settings for radius.5 and 1. A lot of the inherent detail will be softened because very slight tonal differences between pixels are enough to exclude some of them from the region being enhanced.
Radius 50 Threshold 0.9.0. Radius 50 Both of these contrast enhancement settings. There is no “right” answer. . as well as any edits you make to the curve.1.Threshold 0. are very much “season to taste” adjustments. Radius 50 Threshold 4. although naturally there are many “wrong” answers. Which values work best will depend on the scene (its breadth of DR and areas of detail) and the interpretation you intend to show.
here is my final result: .In the end I wound up with these HDR Conversion panel settings: These settings produced a tone mapped image looking like this: CS2 Final Touch-up A tone mapped HDR image can not be considered final any more than images straight out of the camera or RAW converter are final. After some consideration and editing.
A free trial version is available. It may be new to you. this point may be more or less satisfying. The first version came out in early 2003. via a masked levels layer whites of selected small areas of snow and ice increased further via a masked saturation adjustment layer a bit more snap added via a high pass overlay layer at 20% opacity noise reduction and selective sharpening on the base layer I like the final image a lot more than the one that came straight out of the HDR Conversion. but generally I am left wanting more. Rather. and a lot of the whites have been compromised. I do not know how much better a result could be achieved with additional work. But the ice in particular is still not as punchy and detailed as I would like. including in my case Rawshooter Premium for RAW conversion and Photoshop CS2 for final touch-up. I will switch gears and see what results can be obtained using a different tool – Photomatix Pro. In my experience so far with CS2 HDR processing this is not an isolated situation.The following adjustments were made to the converted HDR image to produce the above image: brightness increased slightly via an adjustment layer black point increased via a levels layer midtones punched up slightly via a curves layer selective brightness of trees increased slightly via a masked layer snowy / icy parts brightened (white point dropped slightly). at least at my level of expertise. Note: I have no connection with the company other than being a happy customer. . but I suspect currently the Photomatix application is the most popular HDR tool among people actively working with HDR photography. it is fully functional but applies a watermark to all generated images. and the flat gray of the midtones has been minimized. Photomatix Pro is a stand-alone application from the French company MultimediaPhoto SARL. Instead of proceeding with more efforts to tweak this image in CS2. Workflow 2 – Photomatix Pro This second example is based on using Photomatix Pro to do the HDR processing. Other aspects of the workflow are performed as usual. However. and I have been using it since late 2005. it seems that each attempt I make gets to a certain point and then no further. Working things to this point has taken quite a bit of time and involved numerous trials especially with the curve and contrast enhancement settings in the HDR Conversion panel. I am still not satisfied given the 2 hours of work that went into the image. I like the sky. Depending on the image.
tone mapping a single image can potentially add some interesting “pop”. accessed via the HDRI>Tone Mapping menu item when a previously created HDR 32-bit image is open. in addition to an HDR work-up. The first is Generate HDR. the images can be run through more traditional exposure blending functions that do not do their work in a 32-bit HDR mode. Photomatix Pro also has some batch processing functions that can automate the process of converting several groups of input images.or 16-bit TIFF images in turn. Photomatix Generate HDR The initial step is to process the same three example images into a single HDR file. Using Photomatix Pro. As with CS2. With Photomatix open. You still use CS2’s Merge to HDR function to create the HDR image. (In the end I got CS2 anyway. This brings up the Generate HDR – Step One panel: I have navigated to the folder containing the input images and selected them. select the HDRI>Generate HDR menu item. I am a fan of using “best of breed” tools. Another advantage of Photomatix Pro is that it contains several exposure processing functions besides HDR tone mapping. but it is not the best at everything. If you prefer to stay within CS2. including batch processing and the “highlights and shadows” exposure blending functions. however you then use the Photomatix plug-in to generate a tone mapped 8. When I began working with HDR. CS2 is an incredibly capable application. The tone mapper used for HDR images can even be applied to a single 16-bit TIFF image. the Photomatix tone mapper is available as a plug-in that can be used in place of CS2’s own HDR Conversion function. was a much cheaper way to get into the game than purchasing CS2. The second function is Tone Mapping. I was still using Photoshop Elements 3.) In general.or 16-bit image file. one of the biggest reasons being to work with 16-bit layers. a necessity for this kind of work. The main focus of this section is to look at how the stand-alone Photomatix Pro application can be used as an alternative HDR processing tool. There is nothing else to do in this panel. so I proceed by clicking OK to get to the next step: . For multi-image processing. accessed via the HDRI>Generate HDR menu item in Photomatix Pro. there are two key functions to work with. This is how you initially combine several input images taken at different exposures into a single HDR image. Depending on the DR present in the original capture.One advantage of using a stand-alone application for HDR processing is that it does not require you to have Photoshop CS2. Most of the other Photomatix Pro features are not available in the plug-in. which can import JPEG and TIFF images created elsewhere and output 8.
select the EV interval from the drop-down list. If it does not get them right. Photomatix normally can accurately guess the relative exposure values. the only option I normally change is to enable alignment of the input images. and many of them require an explicit curve calibration step that creates a saved profile for the camera. Once these values are entered. “Use standard response curve. If you shoot the input series with a consistent exposure interval such as 1 or 2 EV. Photomatix is unlike most HDR tools in this regard.” MultimediaPhoto recommends this since they feel modern digital camera sensors are close enough to linear in their luminance response that calibrating a curve for a specific camera is of little benefit. the Gamma 2. I keep the recommended default selection. If you choose. or manually enter the relative EV values beside each image thumbnail. As discussed previously in the CS2 example.” Or if you know the . From the three options for camera response curve. you can calculate a response curve using the setting “Attempt to calculate response curve.2 curve (the “standard” curve referred to by this setting) applied to the sRGB and Adobe RGB 1998 color spaces is well defined and does not introduce a need for calibration. clicking OK proceeds to the final step: In this Generate HDR – Step Two panel. this ensures that minor registration errors do not creep into the combined image due to any slight misalignment of the camera during the capture of the input sequence. Most of the others calculate a curve by default. Furthermore.The purpose of this Exposure Values panel is to confirm the estimates the software made about the exposure range of the input images.
although it appears to have clipped the luminance range on the bottom and top ends where no image data exists. It simply calculates the response from each image sequence you process. you can select “Use linear response curve. like Photomatix it also does not permit saving the curve. Photomatix does not permit you to save and recall it. Upon clicking OK at this point. When the HDR image is created. In addition. Photomatix will compute the HDR image.input images came from a linear RAW conversion. The histogram shown for this example looks pretty comparable in distribution to the one seen in CS2. the viewer shows a normalized view of the image data from a small area around the pointer. and a mapping of luminance values onto relative exposure values. As the mouse pointer is moved over the HDR image. Some DR statistics are available by selecting the HDRI>HDR Histogram menu item: This window shows a histogram.” If you calculate the curve. This provides a similar ability to view the image as does the exposure slider in CS2. It appears to calculate a response curve from each image sequence. it is opened for viewing in the main window: As with other applications that display an HDR image on normal hardware. As you can . On my workstation this takes about 10 seconds. With the image open in Photomatix. You can quickly check detail and luminance across the image without having to adjust the base exposure of the entire image. the results of this are likely to be variable depending on how many images are in the sequence and the exposure interval between them. the range of 32-bit luminance values. the monitor does not have sufficient DR to render a complete view. functions are available in HDRI>Adjust View to step the exposure up and down. Photomatix provides a small full-resolution viewing window that can be enabled or disabled. Note: CS2 does not provide any options regarding response curve. around half of which is spent on image alignment.
A preview of the tone mapped image is shown. I select the HDRI>Tone Mapping menu item and the following window appears: At this point. While controls may appear complex at first glance.exr file formats.hdr and . The preview dimension .see.8 MB. in contrast to the CS2 approach. which works on HDR images created by the CS2 Merge to HDR function. Photomatix provides just one function. (An exception to this rule is the Photomatix tone mapping plug-in. the resulting file size is about 18. Saving as Open-EXR with ZIP compression produces a file about 13. the way the applications encode the image data is not necessarily compatible. there are two principal formats: Radiance RGBE and Open-EXR. After the above steps. Selection buttons at the lower left of the window enable widths of 768 and 1024 pixels. This is a good time to save the HDR image in case you want to come back to it later. even though both applications support the .8 MB in size. However. essentially all of which is available for use during tone mapping as the next steps will show. As with CS2. The default is Radiance RGBE. As noted before. this one function provides a lot of creative control.) Photomatix Tone Mapping Here is where the heavy lifting occurs with the Photomatix workflow. in fact. This file sizes are similar to those generated from CS2. there is an HDR image open in the main window. For screen capture size reasons it is shown here at the minimum resolution of 512 pixels wide. this example has a DR of almost 1500:1. Thus it is best to use the same application to both encode and tone map the HDR image file rather than try to cross-process HDR files between applications. make it very fast to iterate through the choices. Saving in that format here. the sliders and drop-down lists.
The default can be specified in an application preference. the controls are here. or darkens it if moved to the left. and the range is -10 to +10. difficulty making an initial selection that “gets in the zone” can make the tool time consuming and frustrating to use. However this cycle takes time and so flexible preview sizing is one feature that I wish was present in the Photomatix tone mapper. it produces enhanced contrast results that I have not been able to duplicate in CS2. especially if your intended final output is a print. punching up detail and adding dramatic tone. etc. This control adjusts the level of local contrast enhancement. it does not adjust to the longest axis depending on whether the image is portrait or landscape. Sometimes small detail needs to be less emphasized. As you make changes. So having to fall back on big saturation boosts to punch up an image should not be required.” “Medium. The Photomatix developers may have felt that looking at actual pixels of a simulated view is of limited value. I find the default slightly low for my taste. Below Smoothing is the Microcontrast control. Moving the slider left produces more “natural” tones. You may know how easy it is to overdo saturation.” “Low” and “Very Low. sub-par black and white points. enhancing local contrast. Strength defaults to 80%. Microcontrast defaults to “High. Below 50%. one key difference between CS2 and Photomatix in this adjustment is that Photomatix provides only four discrete settings instead of a range from 1 – 250 pixels. Unlike the CS2 histogram which shows the luminance distribution of the HDR image.” This control is analogous to setting the Radius value in the CS2 HDR Conversion panel. Fortunately the other tone mapping controls are to the tool’s credit. Moving the slider right intensifies contrast.” with the default being “Medium. As an aside. The . Once the image is generated. Even the 1024 pixel width (just added in release 2. This control brightens the image if moved to the right. Immediately below the histogram are two more sliders that control the white and black points. Consider it to be similar to the midtones slider found in the CS2 levels adjustment. However overdoing this creates an unnatural appearance.” “Low” and “Very Low. Hopefully software vendors continue to improve – most photographers want to concentrate on making beautiful photographs. There is no choice of arbitrary resolution or zoom ratio. but correlating that control to the qualitative results you want can be a challenge.3) is small to work with for large files such as stitched panoramas. Photomatix appears to preprocess the HDR luminance range to filter it down to a smaller subset in which image detail exists. while Black Clip defaults to 0. The familiar histogram is present to the left of the image preview. Photographers new to digital processing sometimes dial in too much saturation to make an image “look good. 82 or 83. At higher settings. this control ranges from 20% to 100%. However. the larger the regions over which the contrast enhancements are smoothed. Having that level of fine grained control adds little or nothing to the creative process for me. containing four entries: “High. there are two radio buttons that allow you to select 8.” as I find the other settings look too unnatural for landscape scenes. but it is a good approach for the types of images I work on. Initial information indicates that Adobe is making improvements in this area with its Lightroom software. Four settings may not be quite sufficient (six or eight would give a little more control). but rarely adjust it by more than a few points. Having fine grained controls is not a bad thing. and if necessary the tone mapping can be revisited. it can be examined at higher zoom levels. However.25%. you can watch the histogram to determine how your settings affect the distribution. To the left of the Strength slider is the Luminosity slider.2. Starting at the top right and moving counter-clockwise. To the left of the bit-depth buttons is a slider labeled Strength which ranges from 0 – 100%. the control is here if you need it. Defaulted at 46%. but results look flatter and do not emphasize fine details. such as zoom percentage or actual pixels. Below the clipping controls is the Smoothing drop-down list. But if you need to fine tune the image. having that top range may give a dramatic visual that you want. though. I find the Strength control produces results comparable to the CS2 HDR Conversion Local Adaptation method. this histogram shows the distribution of the final tone mapped image. and picking good black and white points. The default value is 0.” and has the additional choices of “Medium. There is a lot of precise control possible.” The higher the selection. I often put the Black Clip slider up a notch or two. I have chosen a default for 16-bit as seen here.” when the issue is poor midtone contrast. Therefore it should be unnecessary to make big adjustments to the clipping points.00%. so I raise Luminosity a little to compensate. not twiddling bits. I honestly do not agonize in CS2 whether the smoothing radius should be 80. This same effect often causes photographers to struggle with editing points on curves in CS2. In part this is because the preview shown here is only an approximation of what the final tone mapped image will look like. Unlike CS2.is always width. HDR processing is very much about dealing with over-all image tone. Smoother results look more “natural. which I do often find to be too high. Below Luminosity is the Color Saturation slider.” I normally leave the setting on “High”. For some images.or 16-bit output. White Clip defaults to 0. I normally use “High” or “Medium. with similar effect. as I am focused on qualitative results. I find that pushing the Strength slider higher often darkens the over-all tone.
I hit the OK button and Photomatix performs the real tone mapping. Saving settings creates a small file with the extension “. This is a little harder to do with saved settings in CS2 because the curve edits are much more image-specific. The final results will look somewhat different than the preview. When the conversion completes. but I find generally they are close enough to achieve the look I want without a lot of iterations back and forth. This takes less than 20 seconds on my machine.” A library of these files can be built up to create a series of default looks that can be customized for individual images. MultimediaPhoto is currently working on enhancements to this control that will permit higher settings without emphasizing image noise as much. The Load and Save buttons permit saving and recalling settings. underneath the Microcontrast control is a set of buttons for dealing with parameter sets.xmp. Finally. In these cases the control can be set lower. The Previous button will undo the current change. . Here is a final look at the tone mapping window with the parameters I have chosen for conversion: The key changes from the default settings include: Strength of 70% Luminosity of 2 Saturation of 55% Smoothing of High When I am satisfied with the settings.application help file gives examples such as noisy input images and stitched images containing stitching artifacts. while Default resets everything. the final image (a 16-bit TIFF in this case) is opened in the main Photomatix window.
However. I touched up both versions using similar adjustments. to have a more level playing field in comparing the results between CS2 and Photomatix. and to my eye this is a better starting point than was the result that came directly out of the CS2 HDR Conversion function. it can be loaded into CS2 for the finishing touches. When I did this the first time to create the tone mapped image seen at the beginning of the article. I did minimal touch-up work in CS2. This time around. Here is the final rendition of the Photomatix image: .At this point the image can be saved for finishing work back in CS2. I particularly like the ice in this version. so back to CS2 for the final touch-up work. the image is not finished. Here is what the final generated image looks like using the above tone mapping settings: There are some interesting things going on here. Photomatix Final Touch-Up With the tone mapped HDR image saved as a 16-bit TIFF from Photomatix.
via a masked levels layer whites of selected small areas of snow and ice increased further via a masked saturation adjustment layer a bit more snap added via a high pass overlay layer at 20% opacity noise reduction and selective sharpening on the base layer Having gone through both workflows with the same example image.The following adjustments were made to the converted image: brightness increased slightly via an adjustment layer black point increased slightly via a levels layer midtones punched up slightly via a curves layer brightness of trees increased slightly via a masked layer snowy / icy parts brightened (white point dropped slightly). Comparison of Workflow Results Here are the final images from each workflow once more: CS2 version Photomatix version . we can look at a head-to-head comparison of the results.
the CS2 version is dull. color tone and detail across the ice surface. This functionality was not available in time for this article. There is one notable downside with the Photomatix version of this image that I had to deal with during processing. Here are some 100% crops from the two versions of the image: CS2 version Photomatix version Actual image data looks very comparable between the two versions. That downside is emphasis of noise and other fine grained artifacts in the source images (such as JPEG compression or Bayer mask anti-aliasing artifacts). and not favor either version of the image over the other. especially visible from the center to the right. where the Photomatix version is better. as well as reading a lot of commentary on the Internet. remnants of which will be seen below in the 100% crops. I feel those improvements would be small increments. The CS2 version has possibly more natural tonal range (less black). MultimediaPhoto is aware of this situation and the support FAQ for Photomatix mentions some potential work-arounds in addition to simply post-processing the tone mapped image with your favorite noise reduction tool.Certainly it is possible that either image could be improved further. The CS2 version is flatter in tone and a bit washed out. gray and a touch plastic in comparison. Here are some general critiques between the two versions: The Photomatix version has more drama in the sky. The Photomatix version has more drama (darker tone and a bit more contrast). while some remaining artifacts are visible. The Photomatix algorithms which emphasize microcontrast in desirable image detail can also really bring up the less desirable details. . but seems washed out. Having worked through numerous HDR images over the past six months. The CS2 version has a smoother tonal appearance over-all but this comes at the cost of contrast. The CS2 version is more blocked up. The CS2 version of the image does not exhibit this condition. A pending release of the application is slated to include a new option for the microcontrast setting that reportedly will minimize the effects of noise. Again. However. more work might improve it. The Photomatix version shows better contrast. This would leave the Photomatix version with the advantage. gray and generally lacking in sharp. punchy details. The Photomatix version contains better detail in the trees. in my opinion the tone mapper in Photomatix simply produces more interesting results with less work.
but here the noise-like artifacts are again visible. Some whites are a bit too strong. Color tone in the trees is better in the Photomatix version. and the trees have blocked up. This is not adjustable in the HDR Conversion function so would have to be fixed afterwards in post-processing. Some artifacts are evident around the top edges of the up-slope groups of trees. probably clumsiness on my part.CS2 version Photomatix version The CS2 version has a bit less detail. The Photomatix version shows minimal hints of registration errors along the ridge line as well. which look like registration errors. although the trees still show some noise. The clouds and trees again are better. . CS2 version Photomatix version Registration errors are again visible along the ridge line in the CS2 version.
Photomatix version CS2 version Photomatix version Color tone and apparent detail were quite lacking in the lower right corner of the CS2 version. .CS2 version The CS2 version again lacks detail and tone compared to the Photomatix version. The Photomatix version is much preferable. despite the noise.
The registration errors show up again along the ridge line. The Photomatix version has the detail but also shows the noise again.CS2 version Photomatix version The CS2 version has blocked up again here and lost detail in the trees and rocks. Possibly some heavy handed adjustments of mine need to be backed off. . The Photomatix version is more pleasing over-all. not all noise is bad. At least here the noise is less distracting. but again lacks punchy detail. but the noise shows here in the trees as an annoying blast of speckling. sometimes it can add desirable texture. CS2 version Photomatix version The open ice on the far left is smooth in the CS2 version.
The major differences are in the results of tone mapping. Looking at a few 100% crops of both versions will emphasize the above points. plus provide a close look at one other critical short-coming of the CS2 version that has not been discussed so far. The CS2 version of the image simply does not hold the same level of detail in the snow. dealing with problems (described below) and trying to get the look I wanted. Note: Photomatix Pro does have a partially manual alignment mode that may help with a troublesome series of input images. CS2 version Photomatix version Since the images were shot hand-held (using a Canon 5D). give it a shot. For example. . Using this mode. the Photomatix version has more dramatic contrast throughout thanks to the darker blacks. If not. as I was able to get in Photomatix in just a few minutes. I was able to get the sky fairly close in the end. Both images were processed from a series of three exposures taken at an interval of 2 EV. However. although the effort was not as extensive as for the main example images above. use something else. I have found cases where CS2’s alignment function did a better job than Photomatix. Here are two more images of a different scene that provide another view of the differences between CS2 and Photomatix tone mapping. I am not trying to do a sell job on Photomatix. while CS2’s registration errors were significant in this example. it appears that both CS2 and Photomatix have their pluses and minuses. and tone mapping using Photomatix. both images examined at this down-sampled size look fairly equivalent. to help the alignment function figure out how to register the successive images. but could not achieve quite the same results in the rest of the image. two control points can be specified.When examined at the level of 100% crops. Actual image detail present is comparable between the two versions. This might be a situation where using the Photomatix plug-in would allow the best of both worlds – HDR 32-bit file generation (including alignment) using CS2. as with various image stitching applications. 1/80s and 1/20s. Despite the greater effort spent on the CS2 version. I attribute this to the microcontrast component of the Photomatix tone mapping algorithm. The snow also has much better definition than in the CS2 version. What can’t be seen is the processing time. It is a tool like any other and if it does something you need. The CS2 HDR conversion took much longer since I had to iterate over the parameters in the Local Adaptation method several times. Nearly identical finishing work was done on both. the CS2 version is noticeably smoother at full resolution. This contributes to more noise in the Photomatix version of the image. Overall my preference for the results of Photomatix is borne out by looking at the details as well as at the whole. In most respects. I went up to ISO 400 to keep the shutter speeds a bit faster – 1/320s.
CS2 version Photomatix version Again. When I ran noise removal on both images (around half strength on the CS2 version). the CS2 version is smoother while the grain can really be seen in the Photomatix version. Some moderate noise removal in the snow would give the Photomatix version a clearer advantage due to its improved contrast. I excluded the snow as I wanted to preserve maximum detail there. . at the cost of some detail.CS2 version Photomatix version The CS2 version is a little smoother. but the Photomatix version is a little more dramatic.
CS2 version The CS2 version wins for reduced noise. A few weeks before writing this article. In some cases I have heard about. this seems to erroneously block the ability to merge files that contain sufficient DR. In fact. you can tone map a single 16-bit TIFF image if you want to see what additional contrast and detail might be pulled out of it. but the Photomatix version wins for detail. After a while I got through my backlog of 10D images. and started working on new images taken with the 5D. I upgraded my landscape camera to a Canon EOS 5D. So far I have not personally encountered this issue. Photomatix version CS2 enforces a minimum DR span on the input images. It quickly became apparent that 5D images . does not attempt to force any minimum amount of DR on the images and will let you combine pretty much any sequence. in any event. Photomatix version CS2 version Other Comparative Notes on the Tools Here are a few miscellaneous points about the tools that may be worth noting. Photomatix Pro.
Because 5D images have a resolution of 12.” Here is a comparison that shows the difference in processing a sequence of three 5D exposures.8 MP. Second. they may have a larger absolute number of dark pixels and trigger the “black tone” issue. In discussion with the folks at MultimediaPhoto (who were very responsive). Smoothing “Medium” . The input images were taken at +/-2 EV. a large number of very dark pixels in the under-exposed images can bias the tone mapping algorithm to produce dark areas in the final image. this may occur in its most extreme form when Smoothing is set to “High. or even to take the final image completely to black. upsampling or down-sampling the input images are possible work-arounds. Again.” Setting this to “Medium” instead appears to avoid the issue. such as 256 – 1024. 5D File. Also cropping. The web site has an FAQ entry on this issue and there are some work-arounds. the Photomatix tone mapping algorithms work best when the image width and height are both multiples of a high power of two. it appears that two known issues are going on. and this causes problems when the Smoothing control is set to “High. In the case of the 5D.were not being properly processed by Photomatix Pro. Smoothing “High” 5D File. No other modifications have been made. then combined and tone mapped with default settings except for the Smoothing setting change to the second example. the size is a multiple of only 16 or 32. if a higher power of 2 is the result. The third example was made by down-sampling the 5D files to 3072x2048 (the same size as 10D files). First.
Panorama Factory. There are four main tools involved: Rawshooter Premium. Smoothing “High” I ran into this same problem in the snowy sunset example just above. Photomatix Pro and Photoshop CS2. I will not go into details of any one tool. MultimediaPhoto is looking into both of these issues. 5. I was able to sidestep the tonal artifacts in that case by cropping a little from the bottom and right of the images before combining them into an HDR file. Because of the complexity of working with everything. Key points covered in this section: Tools used Differences from the single frame workflow Workflow overview The example will produce a tone mapped image from the following sequence of 24 frames: 0 EV (base) images . and hopefully fixes will be coming before too long. but will just mention some highlights at each major stage of work. which is based on 5D frames as well.5D File Down-sampled. Processing a Multi-Frame Stitched HDR Image In this section I provide an overview of my current workflow for creating multi-frame stitched HDR images.
2.) The camera used was a Canon EOS 5D with Sigma 12-24mm f/4. ISO 400. All images were shot in RAW mode. The camera was tripod mounted. It does presume that there is minimal or no motion of solid objects within the field of view. Workflow Overview Here are the basic steps to create a multi-frame stitched HDR image: .3 Photomatix Pro 2. (I did not really intend to shoot at ISO 400.0. and the shutter was tripped with a remote release cable. using an interval of +/. In order to stitch first and process HDR second. If any subject matter is moving. This will cut down the amount of repetitive stitch work and also ensure better registration of the images fed to the HDR tool. or the opposite.0. f/16.3 Adobe Photoshop CS2 9. it is helpful if the stitching software has the capability of stitching several image sets using identical control points. It is best in this case to fine tune each stitch to ensure a seamless job. As such it should only be performed across a set of fully integrated images covering the field of view. You will need to decide whether to stitch first and work on HDR second. Tools Used The example screenshots in this section are taken from a desktop workstation (AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ dual core system with 3 GB of RAM visible) running Windows XP SP2. but we will see how it turns out.1 Differences from the Single Frame Workflow The main difference in this workflow compared to the previous ones seen for processing single frame HDR images.-2 EV images +2 EV images The base images were shot at 1/20s. then the stitching can not be done with identical control points. Otherwise the tone mapping will create localized enhancements within the frames that stop at the individual frame borders. This will do poorly when fed into the stitching software.6 lens zoomed to 15mm. and then worry later about how to deal with blurring or ghosts introduced by the HDR tool when it combines the stitched images. I did not adjust the camera to rotate around the nodal point. is that stitching work also must be done.5-5. I strongly favor stitching first because HDR processing involves a lot of tone curve and local contrast optimization work. The exposure sequence was taken using auto-bracketing at each rotation point across the field of view. Application software versions include: Rawshooter Premium 1.3 build 77 Panorama Factory 4.2 EV.
I use the RSP Copy Corrections function to transfer the same parameters to all 24 images in the sequence. and doing other asset management tasks). choosing instead to perform equivalent actions later in the workflow. Therefore at this point I restrict adjustments to setting a good white balance. Stitch Each Exposure Sequence With 24 TIFF images representing three separate exposure sequences of eight frames apiece. Once the administrative work is complete (organizing and naming files. . I also gave Detail Extraction. This is because most image exposure work is going to be done later in the HDR processing. I make these changes while zoomed in on a representative frame out of the base exposure sequence. These sorts of adjustments are discretionary and I could leave them out here. Noise Suppression and Saturation a boost of 10 points each to liven up the images a little. I call up the selected images in RSP and start working on the RAW conversion. it looks like this: There is less work to do in this step than usual. I separate each group of eight images into a different temporary folder.Convert the RAW files Stitch each exposure sequence Combine the stitched images into a single HDR image Do the finishing work I will briefly describe each step. possibly adjusting the detail and noise parameters slightly. Convert the RAW Files I mostly use Rawshooter Premium (RSP) for RAW conversion work. This ensures consistent exposure and color tone for the images when they are later stitched and tone mapped. Then I am ready to start the stitching work. For these example images I chose a Color Temperature of 7300 and Tint of 3. each saved at 16 bits to maximize DR retention. Once I am satisfied with how that image looks. and optionally adjusting saturation slightly. For these example images. I will need to perform three separate stitching operations – one per exposure sequence. For convenience. slightly warmer in color tone than the “as shot” settings straight from the camera. It takes only a few minutes to process the RAW files into 24 TIFF images.
I use it to process the remaining two exposure sequences using the same control points established for the first sequence. and is a big reason why it is desirable to process all stitches with the same set of control points. enabled corrections for lens barrel distortion and brightness falloff automatically fine tune. This type of work takes a long time to do. do not sharpen enable exposure matching but not exposure correction (since exposure work will be done in HDR. I will start by stitching the base exposure sequence. another reason to start with the base exposure sequence. I do find a lot of alignment problems. There is a “hack” that will trick the tool into processing a different set of images using a project file set up for a previous image sequence. PF does not support reusing a set of control points on another stitch sequence. If I need to manually fine tune any of the automatic results using PF’s tiling system. mostly within the foreground rocks. I now have three stitched images (saved as 16-bit TIFF files) as my exposures to feed into HDR processing: . (Using a lens with little distortion helps minimize alignment problems where the software could not fully correct for lens distortion.Using Panorama Factory (PF). it is easiest to see most of what is going on in these exposures.) Unfortunately. Working through the wizard interface is straight forward and brings me to this point after about three minutes of processing: Key settings I made while working through the wizard included: stitch in fully automatic mode specified lens focal length. In the meantime. I do not want PF doing anything to exposure other than ensuring a smooth blend) process the output for maximum image size When I examine the results of the auto-stitch. That same fact may cause trouble for the automatic stitching algorithms as well. The others are too dark or too light in key areas. (In fact. this is at the top of my personal wish list for this tool. but it is not noticeable at small resolutions.) I correct these using PF’s tiling system which allows selective overrides of the automatic stitching. However this trick is unsupported and may cease to work after some future release of the application. I had time to fix only three out of the seven overlap regions. if you could see the image at full scale you would realize that I did not complete the fine tuning.
0 EV base image -2 EV image +2 EV image .
for example along the lower left of the image. (Trivia point: the 16-bit TIFF images are each 171MB in size. everything will take longer to run. But this is an article on HDR. I would recommend not working with this size of image unless you have at least 2GB of RAM in your workstation. I combine the three images into an HDR file. (This still has some tonal artifacts. so the next step is to combine the three exposures. Combine the Stitched Images into a Single HDR Image I will use Photomatix Pro for the HDR work in this example. more would be better. Unfortunately my initial intent to use Smoothing of “High” does not work on this image because of the previously described issues. I hit OK and generate the tone-mapped image. which takes about a minute and a half to generate: .) Here is the result. at this point Photomatix does not know or care that the three exposures being given to it are the result of a stitching exercise.The base image actually looks decent. Of course. The process is identical to the one described for working with a single frame image. while the HDR image – saved in Open-EXR format with ZIP compression – is only 65MB.) I then bring up the Photomatix tone mapper and adjust the settings: When I have something that looks good. so I regenerate with “Medium” instead. and with finishing work normally I might be happy to stop there. and save it. the image size being much larger.
However. Do the Finishing Work I saved the tone-mapped image from Photomatix as a 16-bit TIFF. and I now load that into CS2 to apply the finishing touches. and the finishing work has not yet been done. That comes next. I make only a few adjustments: curves and levels layers to create a little more “pop” slight noise reduction to compensate for the ISO 400 source images (although the noise level from the 5D truly was not bad even after tone mapping) a combination of edge unsharp mask filter and a high pass sharpening layer After these adjustments are done. given an image of this size.I already like it better than the base exposure image. For the sake of illustration. the final image looks like this: . Working with this image in CS2 takes a bit of time even on my fairly powerful workstation. this highlights a side benefit of doing the majority of the contrast enhancement work in HDR (whether in CS2 or Photomatix) – working with numerous layers using an exposure blending technique would be fairly painful. with the final file including layers reaching about 970MB in size.
Previous Naturescapes. hopefully this quick overview will encourage you to see what you can produce by adding HDR to your panorama workflow.Net forums. Hopefully these images and the other examples in this article give you a taste of what HDR can do. but produced a pleasing final image superior to anything I could produce with much more effort using blended layer techniques in CS2. Alberta: Photo 1 Photo 2 Single frame image and stitched panorama of a sunrise view of Mt. the drama in the clouds is clearly evident. Integrating HDR into the process added very little extra time.2 EV. and the detail is rich through-out the scene. Alberta: . All of this merely from the extra shooting step of auto-bracketing three exposures at +/. Alberta: Photo 1 Photo 2 Stitched panorama of the sunrise at Lake Minnewanka. Alberta (the same scene used for the main example image in this article): Photo 1 Single frame image of ice and flowing water at Johnson Lake. While many excellent images can be created with single exposure stitches. I for one would be eager to see your results! 6. no doubt you routinely encounter much higher DR than single exposures can accommodate.It took about four hours to reach this point from the start of the workflow. which took at least three hours – and would take as much again to complete. and introducing one extra workflow step of about half an hour! If you work with stitched panoramic images covering a broad field of view. Some of these have appeared previously in NatureScapes. The color and tonal transitions are “natural” looking to my eye. Single-frame image and stitched panorama of a sunset over the grasslands at Beaverhill Lake. near Banff.Net forums while others are new for this article. Gallery of HDR Images Here are a few other HDR images I have created. near Banff. The single most time consuming stage was the fine tuning work in the stitcher. near Banff.Net Posts The available tools as well as my technique in applying them have both improved. but I have not reworked these images since they were originally posted to NatureScapes. Rundle at Vermillion Lakes.
No doubt the proper place and use of HDR in nature photography will be disputed to some extent. and took long periods of time to occur. Single frame image of afternoon clouds at Lake Minnewanka: Photo 1 Single frame image of a sunset view near Beaverhill Lake. many HDR images floating around the Internet can be described as “unnatural. for example. photographic technology has always imposed drastic limits on the dynamic range that could be captured. One thing that can be counted on is that HDR tools in general are not standing still. Alberta: Photo 1 Stitched panorama of a sunset over Upper Waterton Lake.” “unreal” and so on. using creativity and technique to realize compelling images despite the limitations. but for me they certainly can qualify as “natural world” art in photographic form. more specialized companies like MultimediaPhoto and others is that they potentially can react faster to opportunities for technical innovation and requests from their customers. and shooting multiply exposed frames in film. it behooves landscape and nature photographers working with HDR to find a combination of tools. as was (or is) the case for other techniques such as digital exposure blending. More success was had by photographers working within the technical limits of their equipment and media. I hope this article helps convince you not to wait – start today! . showing aspects of scenes that are “true” to my perception and evoke a “true” emotion. the journeyman sees the composition. Future developments in HDR tools should create more exciting opportunities for photographers. Among the major vendors. HDR technology will extend the definition of what is “normal” in photography. one day soon. nor is our understanding or use of them. stated something along the lines of “the apprentice sees the subject. Waterton National Park. Conclusion And now for some soap-box thoughts.” “cartoonish. but have been unable to track down. It is sure to improve over time. style and vision that does not violate the expectations of viewers. it keeps us all honest. In photography. displayed and printed. The images I have worked on strike a chord for me. In the past.Photo 1 New Images Some of these have appeared as examples in this article up to this point. technique. Meanwhile an advantage of smaller.” HDR photographs may not qualify as documentary work. Improvements in the capability to deal with DR were marginal. Setting aside what the photographers’ original intentions may have been. techniques and materials that permit them to communicate their visions of the natural world using media that can not represent the full range of light in nature. A quote I recall seeing. Alberta: Photo 1 Single frame and stitched panorama of a sunset view across Upper Waterton Lake: Photo 1 Photo 2 7. What we see in CS2 today is only the initial round of a new technology base. and the master sees the light. developed. HDR imaging now provides a unique capability to take a significant step towards the true DR present in natural scenes. It isn’t that bold a prediction to say that. Those who paint and work in other visual art forms have had centuries to grapple with and develop styles.” Now photographers can not only see the light but can work with it in a new way to develop their images of the natural world. If photography is expected to portray the natural world in a way that is somehow more faithful than other visual arts. There is room in the community for a variety of styles and interpretations. I personally feel it is legitimate to use the capabilities of HDR to present photographic images that challenge preconceptions of what a nature photograph (such as a panoramic landscape) should look like. But if you are interested in working with large dynamic range in your images. even if the technical facts of transformations like local contrast enhancement violate certain “rules. Adobe has invested in bringing 32-bit functionality into Photoshop starting with CS2 (as well as other applications in its video line).
showing the “real” tone-mapped pixels rather than a simulation. Adjustable detail and noise controls in the HDR conversion function. This would open up much of the selective adjustment ability that currently is not possible with either the CS2 or Photomatix tone mapper. then how about an affordable DSLR that can produce an HDR image straight out of the camera? And a monitor and other output devices capable of presenting those images. I have not tried this yet but plan to do so. Tools Photoshop CS2: http://www. Available as a stand-alone product or CS2-compatible plug-in. Interestingly.Wish List I could wish for a number of things down the road. Photogenics HDR: http://www. Radiance: http://www. Very few adjustments need to be done when making RAW conversions targeted at HDR processing.com/products/photoshop/. Instead it introduced a slider control system for tone curve adjustment. A few items from my wish list include: An input image alignment function patterned on the adjustable tile system in Panorama Factory. And if we are thinking of all of this. and the “after” one shows how my tone mapping settings affect the final data distribution.” and precise controls for fine tuning. fixing alignment problems before they are “set” is preferable to fixing them at the end using cloning and healing techniques in Photoshop. This is somewhat limited by computing power. Originally co-authored by Paul Debevec. Point editing is expected to be added into Lightroom’s curve adjustment. both are useful. while Photomatix shows “after. but are still a ways out from being accessible to folks like me – I am sorry to say I do not have the cash for a Spheron HDR camera or Brightside HDR display. iterating on changes because I can’t really see what I’m doing.autopano.adobe. offering quick.org/. Sometimes editing points on a curve. Tone curve editing with slider type controls as in Photomatix supplemented by curve editing like CS2. and which may provide you with further ideas. One of the first HDR tools. The ability to combine several RAW files directly into an HDR file without having to convert to 16-bit TIFF images first. . the initial Adobe Lightroom beta release did not contain point curve editing.com/photogenicshdr.hdrsoft. Adobe may end up going in this direction if they add 32-bit layers to a future release of Photoshop. Used for ray-tracing imaging and modeling. The HDR file is like a RAW file on steroids in some respects.com/. HDRShop: http://www. These devices are being worked on. so why not skip that step altogether? Some of the more niche HDR tools appear to support this. then use the Photomatix plug-in to tone map it. showing “before and after” histograms. Also. References Here are a few references to additional HDR tools and information that I found interesting. qualitative controls to “get in the zone. at least for certain RAW file formats. Of course in CS2 a number of filters and functions can be applied to the HDR file. Or perhaps a pop-up magnified viewer window (similar to the HDR image viewer in Photomatix or the small magnified view shown in most CS2 adjustment panels) showing 100% pixels after applying all tone mapping.radiance-online. and some adjustments that can be made to a normal RAW file prior to conversion make sense for an HDR image as well. originally developed by Greg Ward.html. A tool by MultimediaPhoto SARL for working with HDR images. A commercial product by Idruna for HDR drawing and image processing. and claims to support both stitching panoramas and HDR processing in one application. such as what can be done with a number of RAW converters. does not quickly or easily produce desired results. More control over HDR alignment would be helpful. Arbitrary preview zooming like that in CS2. A commercial tool that grew out of an original front-end for the free PanoTools.com/. This would provide the best of both worlds – quick. this may be an argument in favor of using CS2 to generate the HDR and pre-process it. Photomatix Pro: http://www. the ability to apply certain level of local contrast enhancement to different degrees across different parts of the curve. integrated within a single tool. I hope to test this soon. currently licensed by the University of Southern California. The idea is to apply quality enhancements while the maximum image data is available. qualitative adjustments across highlights.hdrshop. and is present (though somewhat rudimentary) in Photomatix.idruna. by Adobe. This capability with HDR tone curves would be a plus. but I prefer to work directly on the “real” image rather than shuttle between simulations and generated actual images. of course. shadows and midtones. The dominant image editing application. To me. Autopano Pro: http://www.”) The “before” histogram tells me where the HDR image data is. The ability to mask HDR tone curve adjustments to apply them to selected parts of the image. (CS2 shows the “before” histogram. The first HDR tool.net/. for all its precision and flexibility.
com/tutorials/hdr. gamma encodings and so on. with the gift of a Minolta 35mm camera. and Debevec.Net cofounder – another Greg Downing!) He is a practitioner of HDR imaging and gigapixel panoramas. as far as I know. Display. this one by Bob Johnson. Very technical. 2005. by Michael Reichmann. DR and HDR Information “FAQ – HDR image for Photography:” http://www. Contains some useful looking image combination features.shtml.co.com/resources/dri. Some good information from the makers of Photomatix regarding DR and HDR in digital imaging. Have a look at McHugh’s gallery. “Photomatix Makes HDR and Blending Easy:” http://www. he rediscovered an interest in the outdoors as a birder. “High Dynamic Range Imaging: Acquisition.anyhere. His photographic interests are wildlife. targeted mainly at HDR implementers rather than photographers or other users of the tools. In the tutorial. An interesting. After many years of preoccupation with technology and business. An image editing application by Ulead Systems which has supported HDR for at least the past two major releases. about DR in digital imaging. Royce Howland gets paid primarily for work in the information technology field. “High Dynamic Range:” http://www. and recently high dynamic range stitched panoramic landscapes.luminous-landscape. This is the best single HDR tutorial I found in my early digging into the subject. “The Future of Digital Imaging – High Dynamic Range Photography:” http://www. with side trips in color spaces.com/Pages/Photomatix. particularly birds.hdrsoft. By Jim Lewis of Action Central.uk/pi/archive/2005/11/high_dynamic_ra.html. Pattanaik.PhotoImpact: http://www. “Photoshop HDR 32-bit Format: The Dawn of a New Era?” http://www. A short but useful overview of HDR in CS2.com/gward/hdrenc/hdr_encodings. He was first introduced to film photography at a young age by his grandfather. The only book currently available on HDR.com/digital_tonality. mostly non-technical article by Jon Meyer covering the motivation for HDR and a survey of some of the technology.html. and Image-Based Lighting:” Morgan Kaufman Publishers.com/phototips/photoshop-cs2-hdr32bit. including the ability to brush over areas from input images that will be explicitly excluded or included in the final HDR image.com/tutorials/high-dynamic-range.uk/pi/.cambridgeincolour. A good technical read if you want a nuts-and-bolts understanding of how HDR image formats work and why.html. Ward. “Making fine prints in your digital darkroom: Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras:” http://www. first casually digiscoping with Nikon point and shoot digital cameras and later more focused efforts with Canon DSLR's starting with an EOS 10D.html. “High Dynamic Range Image Encodings:” http://www. A very brief overview of using Photomatix for HDR image work. he gives an overview of creating multi-row stitches of several exposure sequences. and then processing them into a tone-mapped HDR image. It got me interested in the technique because of the way Reichmann described the potential for HDR.digital-fotofusion. Written by Reinhard. HDR Tutorials “Merge to HDR in Photoshop CS2 – A First Look:” http://www.ulead. The first article and tutorial I ever read on HDR. A brief tutorial by Greg Downing (not the NatureScapes.cybergrain.htm. by Sean McHugh. “HDR: High Dynamic Range Photography:" http://www.gregdowning. I don’t know how many (if any) of the images may have benefited from HDR work.com/HDRI/stitched/. Another introductory CS2 HDR tutorial. This led once again to photography. among other things. A brief tutorial by Phil Preston on using Ulead’s PhotoImpact application for HDR. several of the early researchers and developers of HDR imaging. . Some material from Norman Koren.normankoren.atncentral.earthboundlight. not just stating what buttons to press in which tools. comprehensive as usual. Also provides some context from the world of painting. “Stitched HDRI:” http://www. Tools used in his example include Realviz Stitcher and HDRShop.htm.co.html. but they are some gorgeous examples of low-light architectural photography.com/tech/hdr/. Greg Ward’s paper on HDR image encodings.
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