Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Photomatix review for HDR photography.

That's Hawley lake. Both photos are a combination of three photos in order to get extended dynamic range or "High Dynamic Range". I have very mixed feeling about the typical HDR photos I have seen. Some look great, some look terrible, and all points in-between. The technique of combining multiple photographic frames to form a single photo is nothing new. I'm not an expert at it. I just started trying it out. There appears to be some consensus that a program called Photomatix is the best software for the job. Some people favor Photoshop CS3 or CS4 for the job. I've made photo composites by cutting and pasting certain portions of photographs together to get similar results to that which is done with HDR software, which kind of automatically overlays a whole set of lets say 3 photos of exactly the same thing but with three different camera settings. From what i have read, in general you shoot a "correct" exposure, then one really dark exposure, then one really overexposed shot. The idea is that you will use the darkest areas of the really bright exposure, the brightest areas of the really dark exposure, and then all the mid-tones will be handled by the "correct" exposure. Put them all together and you made the camera see deeply into the shadows while at the same time toning down the highlights in the brightest sunshiny areas just like your eyes do. . . in theory. The odd part is that the finished product of an HDR photo frequently comes out looking just plain bizarre. I don't think it's the fault of the program, I think it's a matter of finesse on the part of the user.

You'll see at the top top photo that there are watermarks because I am trying out a new software program called "Photomatix" as a free trial and I haven't paid for it yet. I hated the program at first, did not "intuitively" know what to do with the controls. It's a sophisticated program for one thing. Anyway that was last night-- I fiddled with controls not knowing what they do, even tried following a tutorial on a blog which is not sponsored by the software company. Spent hours last night on the bottom photo doing a composite in photoshop by hand (make no mistake I am not comparing the automated HDR process in Photoshop to Photomatix ). I made a composite with a lot of fancy cutting and pasting skylines etc. Then I did a lot more adjusting of colors and tones to get the final result. I wasn't looking for candy colors, and I got a certain mood that I like. But it took a lot of hours.

Today I tried again with Photomatix, created an HDR (one button) then tonemapped it (another button) tried to set all the various sliders to default (not sure I got that right ) and ended up with a washed out looking low contrast photo. Saved that, and then re-opened it in Photoshop and did a few basic adjustments of levels. Had a very workable photo in just a few minutes. Played around with settings a bit more and finally stopped myself because I already discovered what I needed to know. I'm most likely buying the program because it will be a big time saver-- I'll learn the rest, like how to get the colors I want. If we owned Photoshop CS3 or CS4, I'd do a direct comparison, I'm sure others have.

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