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Thread: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

  1. #1

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    Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    This week I have had another go at producing HDR with CS5 HDR Pro Merge and compared the results against doing a similar merge with layers and masks.

    Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    And the result, once again, was that for me the manual method produces better results. I was aiming at getting natural looking photos not strong tone mapped images.

    Both were processed from the same set of 3 bracketed shots.

    The advice is to do auto HDR directly from Raw files without converting them beforehand, so that's what I did. During processing I used the Natural Photograph Default Template but slightly tweaked it to suit the images used.

    And for anyone who has never tried the manual editing method, this is what I did . . .

    Convert Raw files with ACR and do a few tweaks, as I would normally process them. Worked mostly on the 'normal' exposure image.

    Opened the images in CS5 main edit window as auto aligned stacked layers. Choose which of the 3 should become the base layer. This is usually the 'normal exposure' but sometimes one of the others will be easier to edit. Arrange the layer stack so the base layer is at the bottom.

    Add a Hide All Mask to each of the other layers (only the base layer will be visible). I rename the layers (eg Highlights or Shadows) to avoid confusion.

    Use a soft edged low opacity 'white' brush to paint over the layer masks and gradually expose the layer details where required. The area to be exposed, and the opacity of this area is controlled by careful painting and building up strength with multiple passes of the brush.

    Adjustment Layers (eg Curves) can also be used on these image layers if needed. I then merge the adjustment layer to the underneath layer.

    With these images, I used the shadow layer to slightly darken the sky and any over exposed areas like the white boats. The highlight layer lightened the water and any dark areas.

    Finally, I merged the stacked layers and sharpened. Also did a slight crop to tidy up slight alignment problems. Finally, I slightly blurred the reflection.

    For any scenes with too much movement for bracketed exposure shooting, I often make a couple of Raw conversions with different exposures then edit as above. This can produce a good alternative but isn't true HDR.

    There are a few articles around on various internet sites which go into these methods in greater detail, and with better explanations.

    I'm sure several CinC members currently do their own variations of this idea.

    ps. After reviewing my first manual conversion, I thought the sky was a little strong for a winter scene so I produced the alternative shown here; but maybe I should have strengthened the clouds slightly. I also had two attempts at auto HDR and have shown the best of them.

  2. #2

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    I would suggest Lightroom 4.2 with "Merge to 32Bit-TiF" by Photomatix. The quality is much better without tonemapping and the 32bit-information are amazing inside LR4:

    Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing
    Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

  3. #3
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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    Geoff,

    A single try was enough to end my experimentation with HDR Pro. The problem I had was unnatural colors, such as a slightly turquoise sky.

    If what you want is a natural appearance without tonemapping, I suggest you explore exposure fusion. In essence, it is doing what you are doing manually, selecting from each image areas that are well exposed. For that purpose, I use a Lightroom Plug-in called Lightroom Enfuse. I've generally been pleased with the results, enough so that I have never changed the default settings.

    Dan

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    Hi Dan,
    Thanks for the enfuse tip. I will try it too
    Joerg

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    Yes, Dan, false colour problems are something which I have also encountered with CS5 HDR Merge.

    I have downloaded the Enfuse Gui software so will give it a try tomorrow.

    Usually, I don't have too much of a problem doing HDR by hand and it does give me the opportunity to create the result which I specifically want. But sometimes, more intricate areas do present a problem, like leaves on a tree against the sky etc.

    With the ACR Raw conversion etc with CS5 I would tend to regard getting Lightroom as a backward step; except for cataloging which I don't find to be a problem for me. So let's see how the Enfuse Gui works as a stand alone programme.

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    Hi Geoff,

    Any chance you could point me to the 3 RAW files so I can have a go?

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    I've reset the Raw to straight from camera, or approximately that; so tomorrow I will see if I can upload them to Mediafire; unless you know of something better.

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff F View Post
    I've reset the Raw to straight from camera, or approximately that; so tomorrow I will see if I can upload them to Mediafire; unless you know of something better.
    Thanks Geoff,

    Anything works for me - Media Fire - Drop Box - Google Drive - eMail (if they're under 25mb each).

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    OK then, I'll try to post some links for anyone who wants to experiment with these images.

    Not sure if it will work as I've had a few technical problems recently. After downloading the latest Opera browser update I have lost e mail use with that browser so have had to revert to Outlook Express which I find confusing. Also getting Opera operating glitches sometimes.

    I do all my photo editing on a separate computer which isn't internet connected and transfer files with a memory stick. The USB connection ports are giving intermittent problems. Probably the USB board starting to break down.

    Although I bookmarked Mediafire a while ago, this is the first transfer that I have tried; and became totally confused about how to do the uploads. I've reached the stage where technology is now moving faster than my brain!

    http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?cxaefj3627yvj71

    http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?kt02qn25k4oyfty

    http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?keur268af333750

    And as a bonus, here are the files from the misty morning photo in my recent Project 52 thread. I found these were impossible to create HDR with CS5 due to false colour problems with the foggy areas.

    http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?6n88obf6drsnob8

    http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?5na654a65qhjoq7

    http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?o6589ygordawa2k

    Let's see if these actually link to anything.
    Last edited by Geoff F; 25th November 2012 at 12:18 PM. Reason: links added

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    I'll be away for a couple of days but I wouldn't mind giving it a try as well. Would you be willing to post the links in the thread Geoff?

    Perhaps, if someone really wants to learn HDR techniques, posting the three image set and letting anyone that is interested post their results would be a great exercise. If this is acceptable, would we need to start a new thread for the results? Hopefully those that do take part will provide the steps the used to accomplish their goal!

    Not everyone will use the same software/technique or get the same result so we may be able to compare both software and technique. If enough folks take part this could be a great help for those that are just starting to experiment with HDR imagery.

    "A smooth sea, a skillful mariner, never made" - Yoda (or somebody that looks like him?)

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    Yes Frank, use this thread as a learning place for everyone. That was my intention of posting here.

    In a number of other threads I was seeing reports of people being unhappy with their HDR attempts, at least when it came to natural looking results.

    I have downloaded the Enfuse software but haven't used it yet.

    Here is a link to the Misty Morning photo in my Project 52 http://www.pbase.com/crustacean/imag...3/original.jpg

    ps. Just thought about those links to the original sets. They are in dng format so if anyone has problems with this I could try a natural conversion to Jpeg although that does risk a little bit of quality loss.
    Last edited by Geoff F; 25th November 2012 at 12:50 PM. Reason: link added

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    I haven't done much hdr work and have only used it for extremes. I wonder if that is your problem - the shot doesn't really warrant hdr. I took the middle file and used Photivo to quickly produce this. I used that mainly because it has the correct standard camera icc file but it's also very flexible when a shot is basically ok. Not sure what sort of result you want so went for something in between the ones posted - my idea of realistic. Might not match others or yours. Possibly fractionly heavy with the extreme highlight recovery - clouds. The shot is fine full sized on a pc screen. Reduced it and didn't apply any sharpening.

    Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    I see hdr as a subject that doen't involve tone mapping as such. It's more generating multiple exposures into the output colour space and then merging them in situations where the entire tonal range wont fit into the output colour space or maybe wont show sufficient detail.. This isn't the same as playing with the contrast.
    -
    Last edited by ajohnw; 25th November 2012 at 01:20 PM.

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    At least those links are working, John, that is one relief.

    Yes there wasn't a vast amount of variation needed in that scene. Normally, I would have used two conversions from the Raw files and manually combined them. I think the 3 shots only had 3 stops between them.

    Your edit has worked out perfectly acceptable.

    The other set of images (Misty Morning) had a few more potential problems.

    I have now tried the Enfuse Gui software with mixed results. It only works with Jpeg or Tiff, but that isn't too much of a problem. It didn't suffer from the false colour problems which I found with the CS5 HDR.

    But it produced a rather dark image, at least with regard to the shadows which seemed to lose all detail. However, I'm only going by the Preview view as I couldn't work out how to actually produce a real image.

    The output was set for Tiff but if it did produce something I can't find it. Nor can I discover any other settings to save in another location etc.

    However, this may just be stupidity on my part - it has been known before!

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    How's this Geoff?

    Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 25th November 2012 at 08:25 PM.

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    The wonders of open source Geoff. It may have saved it where ever the originals came from or to one of it's own install directories. On linux when I click save the usual navigation window pops up even when there is nothing to save.

    I can do this with Fotoxx which is why I wondered if auto programs could do anything where the variations are relatively small. It applies a curve to each shot according to it's tonal range. They are a sort of slightly flattened top 1/2 sine shapes that overlap nearer the bottom. The shapes can be altered manually but come with a warning - may be easier to use the usual retouching facilities to finish it off. Fotoxx uses layers but creates them as needed automatically but there must be significant tonal variation in the shots for the process to work well automatically.

    You might like to try Photivo when the dynamic range is in the raw file. :-) Don't expect the camera icc file directory to show when you try to load one. They have to be found. Also it uses the term save pipe to save a file. It also work on 1/2 resolution images to speed things up. I switch to 1:1 when the shot has been reduced as a final check. There is a search tool for locating processes and there are several restores. I used all, highlight and mid tones after auto exposure. I suspect this is a variation on hdr techniques. It has a huge number of retouching facilities that can be applied to the entire image and can be set to export to a local retouching app. It's also colour managed and comes assuming it's driving a true sRGB monitor so there is the need to change the icc file it uses if you use one. :-) That cost me as I noticed images didn't look the same as in other apps - £ on a colorimeter and the more £ on a new monitor. It seems to use my system wide icc file now but I still need to check that a little more thoroughly. There is a yahoo user group too. I like it but there is a lot to fully get to grips with.
    -

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    How's this Geoff?

    Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing
    I think the reflections are over the top Collin - not that I'm jealous or anything

    No seriously I think they are a bit really.

    -

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    Colin's edit has certainly brought out the sky nicely. My versions tended to be either too pale or went 'dull' if I darkened them. I was thinking about trying a layer with soft light mode just applied to the sky.

    I did lighten and blur the reflection on my image, but the pub committee still complained that it was too strong. Nearly equal to the actual land. They also said that the reflection was too square with the land and should have been at an angle.

    You just can't please everybody; particularly members of the general public.

    I will have another look to see if I can find the Enfuse image. But somehow I suspect that method will always need a little retouching after merging.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ajohnw View Post
    I think the reflections are over the top Collin - not that I'm jealous or anything

    No seriously I think they are a bit really.

    -
    I didn't to anything with them - they just saturate more because their level of exposure is less.

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    The thing I didn't mention Geoff, is that I only used 1 of the images you supplied, and used the fill light to reveal the shadow detail from there. After that just standard processing techniques.
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 25th November 2012 at 10:26 PM.

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    Re: Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    I thought Colin may have done that.

    I found something interesting about the software I use. They all auto adjust when they load a raw file so I had to use ufraw which does allow what ever is there exposure wise. The others probably do some where or the other.

    Enfuse came up with this. It isn't happy with 16bit tiff's so I saved 100% jpg from the conversion = 20mb files. Makes sense as the wanted bits must fit in 24bit colour space.

    Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    Tone mapping low and mid tones and brightness expand gave this.

    Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    Also tried Fotoxx with 16bit tiff's. Took 5 mins maybe to merge the images full sized. The results were very similar to enfuse but maybe a little less cloud detail. That after the same processing gave this.

    Auto HDR compared with manual HDR editing

    I'd gues Collin worked on the darker image. Be interested to know if that's correct?

    Interesting to note that the processed images both have a purple tinge to distant trees in the sky. Suspect that's tone mapping?
    -

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