Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Basic HDR Tutorial - Part 3

In this part of my tutorial series I'm going to tell you some things I've learned through trial and error.

Here are a few keyboard shortcuts that will help speed up the experimental process.

  • Ctrl + Z (undo/redo)
  • Ctrl + Alt + Z (step back)
  • Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E (stamp visible)
  • Cmd + Z (undo/redo)
  • Cmd + Alt (step back)
  • Cmd + Opt + Shift + E (stamp visible)

Remember that there are no rules when it come to processing HDR pictures. After the image comes out of Photomatix I strongly suggest that you take the time to analyze it. I can't stress this enough. Use the "image mapping" process I described in Part 2 if necessary. It will slow you down and give you time to develop a Processing Strategy. The picture may be dull and lack contrast. The colors may be muted. There may be areas that are blurred, etc.

This is what I do after Photomatix:

  • Develop a strategy
  • Work from Global Corrections to Local Corrections
  • I follow my normal work flow but I remain flexible. Every picture is different
  • Color correct. There are many ways to do this. Pick you favorite
  • Proceed to the process explained in Part 2 of this tutorial series if I need to combine areas from different images, i.e. replace or repair the sky with the original, fix moving objects

At this point I stop and again analyze the image. Now I start looking for the areas that need Local Corrections, i.e. contrast, sharpening, saturation, special lighting, etc. There are many tools in Photoshop to do these adjustments. All of these I do on separate layers utilizing a black layer mask. Then I use a soft white brush set to about 20% and paint in the look I'm after. By using a 20% brush I can slowly bring out the effect. (Think of yourself as an artist painting on a canvas).I can always back up if I've gone too far, (Ctrl or Cmd + Z).

I then try my favorite plug-ins. This is pure experimentation. I keep my eyes focused on just the area(s) I want to enhance. Remember, the Black mask I'll add will hide the entire effect. I'll just paint in what I want with a soft white brush. Am I repeating myself? That's how important the mask is. The plug-ins I use make adjustments faster and easier.

  • Topaz Adjust - I try different filters
  • Color Efex Pro 3 - There are great filters in this package. The magic grail is Tonal Contrast. Used locally it's wonderful
  • Viveza2 - The "U" point technology saves time
  • Imagenomic - Great noise reducing software

(Here's a hint. If you have a child or know a child in school, grammar school, high school or collage, check out Academic Super Store for these and other programs. You'll be shocked at the savings.)

One of my all time favorite filters in Photoshop is "Lighting Effects", (filter > render > lighting effects). This is how I do it.
  • I duplicate the layer or use the "stamp visual" keyboard short cut
  • I change this layer into a smart object (Layer > Smart Object > Covert to Smart Object) This will allow me to go back into the filter dialog box and make changes
  • I set the style to "Soft Omni" and play with the other sliders. You'll thank me for this one

  • Noise reduction. I like to do this near the end of my processing
Work the image. Look for little details. The process is the same. The more times you do it the easier and faster it becomes. Experiment and practice.

I invite you to visit the following sites. Not to copy what you see, but to see what can be accomplished.
  1. Stuck-In-Customs - Trey is the "Jedi Master" of HDR
  2. HDR Spotting

Suggested reading:

  1. A world in HDR - Trey Ratcliff
  2. Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Digital Photography - Ferrell McCollough

I leave you with some final thoughts.

  • Good HDR pictures start with a good image at the point of capture. There is no substitute for this.
  • Take time to analyze the image that comes out of Photomatix and develop a strategy
  • There is no right or wrong. Experiment and develop your own style.
  • Above all else "HAVE FUN".

I'm available to answer questions at

(from time to time I'll update this HDR tutorial. I'll post the update on this blog)

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