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In this course, photographer Ben Long describes the concepts and techniques behind high dynamic range (HDR) photography, a technique used to create images that have a wider range between the lightest and darkest areas of a scene than a digital camera can typically capture. The course begins with some background on dynamic range, on how camera sensors detect shadows, and on the kinds of subjects that benefit from HDR. Ben then describes and demonstrates several methods of generating HDR images, starting with single-shot HDR, which relies on masking to subtly enhance the dynamic range of a shot. Next, the course covers multi-exposure HDR, which involves shooting several photos of a scene, each at a different exposure, and then combining them using software tools. Ben demonstrates how to use Photoshop and the popular Photomatix software to process HDR images whose appearance ranges from subtle to surreal.
You might already be familiar with panoramic stitching, the process of shooting a series of overlapping images and then using Photoshop or another piece of software to stitch those into a seamless, perspective-corrected panorama of your scene. You can do that with HDR also. It's a pretty simple process in its conception. It just takes a lot of work as you've got a lot of files to manage. What I've done here is I have shot three bracketed sets of HDR images. I'm going to go into Filmstrip mode here so we can get a bigger view. So here's one set.
It's a normal three-shot bracket. Then I panned to the right and you can see the pan happened right there and I shot three more images. Again, another bracketed set, and then I panned to the right again and shot another three images. So I can get all of these merged and stitched into a single seamless panorama. All I have to do is just go through the normal steps that I would go through for HDR and then stitch the results. So stack those up there and let's see how this works.
I am going to take these, this first set, and merge them with Photoshop. I am not going to worry about ghosting because even the vegetation, if it's moving, it's not moving very hard. I need a 32-bit image. So I am just going to say OK. And there's my finished first image. Now I am going to go back to Bridge and I am going to my second bracketed set, and I am going to merge those the same way and now with that done, I am ready to go on to my third set of bracketed images and I am going to merge those.
Obviously, going through these one at a time and merging them is kind of a drag. Yes, I could batch process the merging in Photomatix. Unfortunately, because these were handheld, I have tested them in Photomatix and Photomatix does not give me a good merge. So this is the reason in this case for sure to use a tripod, because if I had been shooting with a tripod, there's a much better chance that Photomatix's batch processing would work. You know what's really sad is I had a tripod with me. I was just being lazy. With only three shots, it's not a big a deal, but if you are shooting a nine-shot panorama or something, it can get pretty tedious.
Here are my three images. So now I am going to save these as EXR files and I am going to put them back into the Chapter 6 folder and as I have been doing all along, I want to keep the original file name, which is especially important now, because I need to know what order these images go in so that I know what the left or right order is. I'll close that up. I am going to save this one. I always just use the first file name in the bracketed set. And then finally the last one, which is here.
Once those are done, I am now ready to take my EXR images into Photomatix. Because there are only three, it's easy enough to just grab all three EXRs. They are each going to open and I see the full 32-bit image. Now what I need to do is just tone map each one of these images. I am going to start with the leftmost one because it's kind of the anchor here. It's got this geographic feature that kind of curves out and just becomes a big flat bit and it's also got the most clouds in it.
So I am going to start here. I am going to hit the Tone Mapping button and when Tone Mapping comes up, I see a default tone mapping with my histogram. Now this is going to be tricky. I am not going to be able to get this image the way that I want it for reasons that we've encountered before, largely having to do with the bottom of the clouds. I don't want the clouds to go too dark. Of course, the advantage of HDR over just doing this as a straight panorama I get these really cool looking clouds. So I do want to fiddle with that. I want to get some nice texture into the cloud. So I am going to play with Microcontrast, but if I crank the Strength up too much, my cloud start really getting dark.
So what I am going to have to do is get the clouds the way that I want them. the foreground is going to stay washed out. So I'll have to fix that in Photoshop later. So I am just going to put this in a spot that I think is nice. I am going to try the Gamma slider because it's going to brighten up some midtowns, which might give me the latitude that I need to increase Strength. It's still darkening the stuff up. These are going to be the really problematic ones. Now the other thing I could do is go ahead and get it right in here and then lighten the clouds in Photoshop later.
Honestly, it's six of one and half a dozen of another, which way I do it. It still going to be a big edit in Photoshop. So I am going to stick about right here. I think I am going to probably lighten the clouds later. Maybe I'll try one last smoothing change and that does pick me up a little bit of extra detail in here. Hit the Process button and it's going to tone map the image, and there it is. So I am ready to save this. Save it as, of course, a 16-bit TIFF right back into the Exercise folder.
And we appended tonemapped there. So I am going to close that and move on to the next image. If I just hit Command+T, I'll get the Tone Mapping dialog and what's nice is it comes in with my last used settings. Down here under Presets, I get Previous, which just means previous conversion. So I know that these are going to be converted the same way. That's essential. you have to do the exact same tone mapping to each image, otherwise you could very well end up with visible seams in your final panorama.
So I am going to save that into the Chapter 6 folder. If they are not processed the same way, there could be a difference in color, difference in the amount, in the type of tonality on the clouds, and again, Command+T and Process. And I save this image and now I've got my three panoramic images. So I am going to close that up and go back to Bridge. Next thing I want to do here is get organized. Oops! I just dragged them all in there. That's no good. All right, 272 is the EXR file that goes with this batch. 275 is the EXR file that goes with this batch.
So you can see I can just drag images from stack to stack. What I really care about though are these, the tone mapped versions. So I am going to take that, hold down the Shift key and select an image in my Stack and then say Group and it sticks at the end. But there was a shortcut for getting it at the beginning and it's not. You cannot drag an image on to the beginning of a stack. you have to drag it into the stack and then move it to the front or move the front below it. It's a weakness in Bridge's stacking. I am going to close these up as I go and hopefully you'll see what I am getting at here with them stacked now.
I can just close the stacks and see the images in my panorama. I am going to hit Spacebar to go Full Screen and we can see that as I pan across it, this is my whole panorama. So now what I need to do is get these things stitched. I am going to select this image, hold down the Command key or Ctrl on windows, hit this one and then this one to select all three, and now I am going to go to Tools > Photoshop > Photomerge. Photomerge is Photoshop's built-in panoramic stitcher. I am going to leave it on Auto and hit OK.
And when it's done, I get this. Now you maybe able to see that there are some visible seams along here. don't worry about those. They are not real. They are going to go away when I flatten. Photoshop has stuck my individual components into separate layers and build layer masks to blend them. I don't need access to those individual layers. So I am going to flatten for two reasons. It's going to make my document smaller, which is going to make things move a little peppier in Photoshop, and it's going to get rid of those seams.
So now what I have got here is just an image. Just a normal 16-bit image. I am not thinking about HDR anymore. I am not thinking about stitching. I am just thinking about image editing, like I would on any image in Photoshop. The first thing I can see that it's not straight. So I am going to straighten it by going over here to the Eyedropper and clicking and holding and pulling up the Ruler tool. And what I want to do here is drag the Ruler tool to define what is supposed to be horizontal, which is a little tricky because I can't see a clear horizon.
I think it's probably about there. When I pick the Ruler tool, the control bar up here changes to show all this ruler stuff. This is the coordinates of where I clicked and how long the line I dragged was and how much rotation it had and so on and so forth. And look, a Straighten button. If I click that, it will rotate my image enough to straighten it out and automatically do a crop. That looks pretty good. It didn't crop it so far as to get it all squared off. So I have got this empty spot over here, but I might be able to fix that using a wonderful new technology in Photoshop CS5, which is Content-Aware Fill.
I am going to go Edit > Fill, and make sure that Use says Content-Aware, hit OK, and it stuck an extra little cloud in there. I am not sure I mind the extra little cloud. I could if I wanted, though, take out the cloud with the Clone operation, although this is tough because there is a gradient in this corner. This corner is getting a little bit darker as we get to the edge of the image, and maybe I like it better without the cloud. It was just a little too perfectly round, and I think that probably looks okay.
I could smooth out that transition there. Let's try Content-Aware Fill down here. I think this will probably work a little better. All it has to do is generate some bushes. So Fill > Content-Aware. OK. And instant bush. That looks pretty good. What I check for after that is any kind of visible repetition of patterns and I don't see any. So now my next problem is tonality. It's a low contrast image. It just looks kind of flat. We are going to fix that with an adjustment layer as you probably expect by now.
And look at my Histogram here, no black to speak of. So I am going to really crank that up and I would like some nice contrasty pop on here. So I am going to punch that up. I am not worrying at all about my sky and I am sure by now, you know that's because I am going to just mask it to a ridiculous degree and I am going to do that with the Gradient tool. I have got a Linear Gradient selected. I have got black and white and do it like that. So that has taken the Levels adjustment off of my sky left it on here. I am going to disable the layer mask.
This looks nice when it's all contrasty, but it got caught up in my gradient mask. So it's gotten dimmed a little bit, which actually probably makes sense because it's far away. It should maybe look like it's receding into the distance, but I want to see what it looks like at full contrast. I am going to just paint some white into my mask right here to bring it back, because again, it is kind of that anchor of this whole bit here. So I think I like that better. Earlier, we looked at a technique wherein I took an HDR sky and composited it with one of the original images to get in more realistic foreground.
We could do that here also and I could do that by simply taking one image from each one of these brackets and stitching it. I would probably take, in this case, the overexposed image because it's got a good exposure on the foreground. The thing is I need to take the same exposure from each set. So I would take this one and this one and then this one and I would merge those into a panorama and then I could come back in here, composite them the way we did it earlier, and then do a gradient mask to blend them together.
Really, there is nothing tricky to creating an HDR panorama. You just create a set of HDRs through to completion and then stitch them just as if you had shot those images originally.
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