Photo Editing Workflow for HDR

One of the things that make me want to do post production of my photos is that no camera or lens is able to capture what I shot exactly “as I saw it”. There’s always a mist veil and colors are not exactly what they were. I do not know what exactly is what happens in my brain, but when I see an unprocessed photo in my monitor it jumps out as “unnatural”. This is a very interesting topic and I’m taking note to include it on my (short) list of post’s topics.

HDR Workflow

When I work on HDR I use the following tools: – Photoshop and ACR – Denoising software, Topaz DeNoise – Photomatix 4 – Topaz Adjust, Topaz Lens Effect, Topaz Infocus, etc.

To get from the first picture below left to the second below right I go through these steps: Align->De noise->Tonemap->Adjust->Export

(Note that the before picture is the 0ev from three bracketed pictures)

Align & denoise

The first step is to align all photos. I start by selecting the bracketed photos, usually either three or five photos with +1ev separation. Using ACR I save each one as tiff 16 bits with no compression. You can use your own camera software to do this step, I’ve used Canon DPP and also DoX but I settle with ACR. The important thing is that I do not make any adjustment at this point! Next I move to Photoshop and import the saved tif files using the option: File->Scripts->Load Files Into Stack. On the pop up window I select the saved tif files and check the “Attempt to automatically align source Images” box. This will align all photos while importing into separate layers.

 

 

Now I’m ready for the second step, clean the photos. I use Topaz DeNoise plugin but you can use any other plugin. In Topaz DeNoise I select light or moderate raw template and work from there. It doesn’t matter what tool or method you use to remove noise, the important thing is that you get rid of all of it. This step is very important because any noise left will be enhanced by the HDR process later on. Once I have Topaz DeNoise applied to all layers I proceed to save the file as Photoshop format, PSD. I will use it later when I have the tonemapped version. Finally I export all layers as individual tiff files. I do so by going to: File->Script->Export Layer to File.

 

 

At this point we can close Photoshop and move to the next step: create the tonemapped file.

Tonemap

To produce the HDR tonemapped photo I’m using Photomatix pro version 4. Again, you can use other tools, like Photoshop or Nik’s HDR Fx Pro. But since I use Photomatix the next steps reflects this SW settings. Once I have Photomatix running I select “Load Bracketed Photos”. This will bring up a window where you select the photos. Sometimes when we save raw to tiff we lose some of the exif data and photomatix needs your manual input to determine the exposure values.

 

 

Then Photomatix will ask us to decide if we want to align, reduce ghosting noise and chromatic aberrations. I already reduced noise and aligned the photos so I will only select “Reduce ghosting artifacts” and set it to automatic. Sometimes when I know I have a particular section with ghosting (person walking, moving flag) I will select semiautomatic and applied the corrections to the desired areas manually.

 

 

Press ok and Photomatix will create the HDR image. Once Photomatix finish processing the photos it will show you the HDR result. At this point I have to decide which HDR style to apply. I have the habit of selecting a few presets to have a general idea of which direction to go. Some photos require a subtle tonemap effect and some other are best with a “painterly” effect. You will find that as you work more and more on HDR you will start to detect this before processing the image. After I’m happy with the result I press “Process” and wait for the final file. The final step is to save the tonemapped file as tiff 16 bits.

Adjust

In this step I always use Photoshop to merge with 0ev photo and do some global and local adjustments. I can spend five minutes or 5 hours depending on each photo. Sometimes I do some local adjustments using the original photos to “wash out” the HDR effect. Other times I do some cloning and healing to remove undesirable artifacts from HDR processing. And in some occasions I run the tonemapped file into Topaz Adjust 5 or Topaz Camera Lens plugins. The key is that there are no rules and you will not know what works and what doesn’t if you don’t try it! In this example I did the following: – Topaz details, to highlight the small details (I sometimes use this instead of sharpening) – Photoshop levels – Photoshop curves, to increase contrast (“s” curve) – Photoshop curves as “burn” effect to darken certain areas ( I like this as is non destructive) – Vignette layer

 

  
   

 

Export

Once I’m happy with the result I export the image for the web (G+, 500px, etc). In Photoshop I resize the image to 1400px on the longest side and then select “File->Save As”. On the Save As window I select jpg and quality.

 

Here’s the final result:

 

As you saw in the beginning of the article for the final version of this photo I choose to convert it to b&w during Photomatix steps.

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