HDR Tutorial


A short description of my current technique:

Check out my complete HDR walkthrough here.

I start with three exposures at -2, 0 and +2 since my Nikon d5000 supports three shots with AE bracketing. I would like to do more exposures, but I am worried about bumping the camera to adjust EV to take another set.

I then open the RAW format into camera raw and set the white balance of each image. I then save out copies in jpg form. I read in Trey Ratcliff’s tutorial that photomatix suggests this method.

My settings in Photomatix are usually very close to:

Strength: 100
Color Saturation: 40 – 60
Luminosity: 5-10
Microcontrast: zero or higher
Smoothing: 0-10

White Point: I look at the histogram usually and try to move the bell curve into the middle. Sometimes I will just go with what looks best.
Black Point: Same as white point, but after I adjust Black Point, I might go back and adjust White Point and repeat until the bell curve of the histogram is in the middle or it just looks right.

Gamma: 1.0

I usually don’t mess with anything else because I will end up doing adjustments in Photoshop.

Sometimes I will tonemap two or three versions of the image depending on if I like the way the sky turned out or the details.

I will group up all the tonemapped versions and the original shots into a group in Bridge. I will then use the Bridge command to open up all of the shots as layers in Photoshop.

Once in photoshop, I will usually decide which of the tonemapped versions is the best overall. Then I will mask in the parts of the other tonemapped images that I like. Then I will mask in anything from the original images that I like. Along the way, I might have to apply a curve adjustment layer to individual layers that I masked in. I do this to match the overall brightness or darkness of the image.

Once I have masked everything in, I usually do a unsharp mask on the details, and a denoise on the sky. The HDR process creates a lot of noise and especially creates noise when using just three images. This is one of the reasons I would like to use more exposures. I use masks to control where the denoise and sharpening happen in the photo.

Once I am happy with the entire composition, I will try a few Topaz Adjust filers in Photoshop. Usually I just use exposure correction on the default setting. The other settings are a bit too much for my tastes. If I don’t like what it comes up with, I usually will do a curves adjustment layer with the “S” curve in order to add a bit of contrast.

I might add a hue/saturation layer to take out unwanted yellows or reds. I might also bump up the vibrance a little bit if needed.

Check out my complete HDR walkthrough here.

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