Stage 1: Disappointment
This summer I made a goal for my spare time to learn a bit about HDR. I have enjoyed and admired many of the HDR and tone mapped images on the web. To start the process I decided to read the following two books: 1)“A World in HDR” by Trey Ratcliff; 2)“Practical HDR: A Complete Guide to Creating High Dynamic Range Images with Your Digital SLR” by David Nightingale.
From these two books I gleaned the general standard practices of the trade and headed off in late May for my first trip of the summer to Europe. Here my wife and I visited Italy (Roma, Capri, and Pompeii). Geared with some new images from these sites I started my first post image processing steps with Photomatix Pro and HDR Tools, the two standard software packages recommended in these books as well as on other sites on the web. I used the standard methods for image capture based on Digital SLR using tripod and bracketed at 0, 2, -2 EV.
To be frank, I was disappointed with the quality of many of the processed images. See the following URL for a compilation of pictures taken on this trip. All of these images are HDR tonemapped.
Many of these images seemed to pale in comparison to the shots I took on the same trip that were not done with the HDR approach. Some images I took on the same trip without the HDR method are collected at the following URL:
In these two photo albums you will note that I have encoded information about what software was used in the file name.
From this experience I made the following observations. I share these in the hope that I can help others along their pathway of discovery and perhaps also I can glean insight from those in this space that have taken similar steps ahead of me. Please see my questions at the end of the message.
Observations from Disappointment Phase:
1) The HDR images lost much of the color punch that was in the original images.
2) The HDR images had a new source of noise, especially in the skies that was lacking in the original images.
3) Photomatix Pro and HDR Tools produced similar final images, although there were differences in each of the packages. There is no clear winner for all cases. Photomatix Pro seems to have an edge for hyper real images and HDR Tools seems to have a slight edge for photorealistic cases.
Stage 2: Enlightenment Phase
Being a stubborn Irishmen and not willing to give up easily, I embarked on a second trip to Europe this summer and this time navigated to Turkey where I attended a Global Health conference. During my spare cycles, I grabbed some new images of the coast of Turkey as well as in the Istanbul area. At this time, I introduced a couple of new variables into the mix. The first being I opened the door for the new HDR utility of Photoshop (CS5 version) and also started to use the Topaz 4 Adjust and Topaz Denoise utilities.
These two new additions immediately made a change in the quality of my images. I have collected images from this trip in the following site:
Here are some of my observations from CS5 and Topaz tools:
1) The HDR tool in Photoshop CS5 was more forgiving in terms of the management of the colors. I found it easier to manage the colors and create photorealistic images as the final product.
2) Topaz 4 Adjust is a very useful tool that I began to use in all post HDR image processing steps. Even if the HDR tonemapped left the image a bit dull, the Topaz could be used to pop color back into the image. This completely changed my process flow allowing me to relax the initial image processing goals at the HDR tonemapping stage.
3) After using the Topaz Adjust and the HDR tone mapping, there is often image noise introduced into the picture. This is nicely managed with Topaz Denoise, which serves as a second Photoshop plugin.
4) The Topaz Tools were so effective (no I do not have a financial interest in this company) that I began to use these same tools for popping color into single images. This has allowed me to create and manage local contrast in single images to secure HDR-like effects that I find very pleasing and quick to execute. There are some good examples of this in the image sequence from the Harem in the Topacki palace in Istanbul (i.e. colorful rooms decorated with beautiful tiles).
The CS5 version of Photoshop and Topaz utilities have produced at least in my hands a more efficient process flow for HDR and HDR-like image processing that takes the following typical sequence:
1) export images as RAW files to desktop (AEB: 2, 0, -2)
2) import images to Photoshop
3) combine to HDR 32 bit image
4) make adjustments to sliders to get a decent, but not perfect image
5) complete tone-mapping in Photoshop
6) initiate Topaz 4 Adjust
7) select preset that gets closest to desired effect
8) fine tune sliders for near final effect
9) accept parameters and return control to Photoshop
10) execute auto-color feature of Photoshop
11) use levels to adjust final contrast
12) initiate Topaz Denoise to eliminate sources of noise
13) save optimized image in final form
Perhaps these steps may be useful to others getting started in the area. For both the new persons in the HDR as well as for the more experienced persons in this area I seek your feedback on the following issues:
1) For those of you that are not “hardwired” to one HDR software preference, what have been your experiences with Photomatix Pro, FDR Tools and Photoshop CS5? Have others observed similar things to what I describe here?
2) General comments and suggestions on my process flow would be appreciated.
3) General comments and suggestions on how I might further improve the quality of the images both in the image capture and the post processing would be appreciated.