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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.
If you watched Chapter 3, then you saw me shoot some HDR images of an old railroad trestle. I went through all the different things that I shot, I picked up the set that I liked, and I merged them in Photoshop and created a 32-bit EXR file. That file, image 1426.exr, is sitting in your Exercise Files Chapter 6 folder. Let's go through the entire process. You've seen the shooting. Now we've merged. I'm now going to take that image into Photomatix and do my tone mapping. I'm also going to do the same thing in HDR Efex and then I'm going to take the result into Photoshop and finish it up so that you'll be able to see the entire start to finish process.
So I'm dropping this image on Photomatix, which will open it, and now I'm hitting the Tone Mapping button, close out my presets, and as you can see I've got a pretty typical initial tone mapping HDR result here. The image is a little bit flat. It could use a little contrast. My histogram is looking pretty good though. I've got pretty broad selection of tones. Let's think for a minute about this image though. It wasn't really a high-dynamic range situation and by that I mean it did not have really bright highlights that I was trying to preserve and dark shadows that I was trying to preserve.
It was pretty evenly lit. It was something that my camera can handle pretty well as a single shot. However, as a subject, it's got all of this texture and all this color on it and the vegetation has all this texture. So we shot this HDR not with the idea of having this greatly expanded dynamic range, but with the idea of taking advantage of HDR's potential to create really souped-up, amped-up color and texture. I'm going to hit the Defaults button here to get this back to normal and let's start in here. I'm going to do something that I normally don't do on an HDR image, just because I normally don't go for that big amped-up color look.
But for this image I'm going to start by first out dragging the color saturation slider over to the right to get a lot more color into my image. Next I'm going to hit the Strength slider to pull more intermediate tones from my big 32-bit extravaganza. And that's looking pretty good. I set this as an image where I want lots of detail and texture. So let's increase Detail Contrast, which is going to serve to darken the image a little bit. So I'm going to brighten up just a bit with luminosity. Maybe not quite that much. As soon as I start working these sliders I'm watching for halos. There is a possibility of halos around here, around here, around here, basically all around the trestle.
Why do I know that? Because halos tend to appear around very high contrast areas and I have dark edges against bright sky. Sometimes you notice the halo as an area of lightness in an image. Sometimes you notice it as a shadow around an edge. Important thing is just keep a look out for that and try to keep them under control. Also I want to note that before we deliver these movies to you they get compressed. It's simply a necessary part of the process of delivering this much media over a narrow bandwidth connection, and when that compression happens, it very often introduces posterizing.
So what you may be seeing on the screen may be different than what I'm seeing. You may be seeing a really bright, ugly, posterized halo right there, and you might be wondering why I'm not panicking about it. It's because that's just the fact of the video compression and I'm not actually seeing that. A little bit of play with lighting adjustments to see if that controls my halos at all and I think that that does improve it in there. I'm going to with the interest of getting more detail crunch that down a little bit and that's looking pretty good. I'm going to process this now and save it out and then we're going to do the same image in HDR Efex.
I'm opening the EXR file in Photoshop now and I'm ready to go hit the HDR Efex plug-in, down here under the Filter Nik Software menu. I'm going to go ahead and blow the dialog box up to full-screen just to give us a bigger preview. And right off the bat this is looking a lot like the initial Photomatix merge, although the black levels are a little bit better. Switch over to the histogram here, you can see I've got a little bit broader contrast across the range, so HDR Efex has done a little bit better job of keeping overall contrast correct.
So we're going to just start like we did in Photomatix. I'm going to crank the saturation up and I'm going to go ahead and bring in some more tones. That's looking pretty good. I'm going to up my blacks a little bit to get the contrast even a little stronger, and bear in mind, as I'm improving contrast, I'm also improving saturation. As I darken the darker tones in the image, they become more saturated. So don't ever forget that there's this relationship between saturation and contrast. If you get contrast correct, very often your saturation falls into place.
I'm going to warm in this image up a little bit. I'm not really doing that for any theoretical reason. I just thought it looked a little cool and you know, that could be my monitor. Although looking at the histogram, qwll, this big blob of blue out here is really just the sky. So the histogram doesn't reviewing any actual color casts, so this warming that I'm doing is not a correction. It's just a stylistic choice. I'm going to change my HDR method here, just because I know for this kind of chunky textury image, I've discovered before that the grainy method is pretty nice. The types of changes that it's making you're probably not going to be noticing at your small screen size in this movie.
Looks pretty good. I'm going to hit OK and let's see what else we can do to this in Photoshop once it's processed. And here it is. It looks pretty good. I don't have any bad halos. I do have some sensor dust though, so I'm going to just quickly grab the Spot Healing Brush, take my brush size down using the left bracket key, and take out this dust. This is kind of your ideal sensor dust situation because it touches out very, very easily. What's not so ideal is how much of it I have. Plainly it's time to clean the old image sensor.
You know this looks pretty good just as is. Let's take a look at the histogram to make sure our tones are proper. It looks like we could do a little bit better with our blacks, although not much, and maybe a little bit better with our whites. There is a little more contrast to be had in this image and if I get it set right, that's going to give me a print with a little more punch. So I'm going to just follow the numbers on this one and go to about right there. That's looking good. I don't yet have that entirely HDR amped-up color look. I'm going to show you an edit we haven't looked at before.
Down here in the Levels adjustment panel, I'm going to add a Selective Color adjustment layer and this is an interesting control. You see here I've got a popup menu with a range of different colors, Reds, Yellows, Greens, Cyans, Blues, Magentas, Whites, Neutrals, and Blacks, and for each of those I can adjust their component parts. Cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. We've got some nice magenta colors in here. It'd be nice to amp those up a little bit. So I'm going to switch down here to magenta, and I'm going to increase the blacks. Now this may sound a little counterintuitive. What does increasing black have to do with making my magentas stronger? Well it's going to give the magentas a deeper tone hopefully, and it has changed.
It's made them a tiny bit more purple. I'm going to go in here to the Reds and do the same thing. Try and deepen the tone of the reds. I might also play with the Yellows slider a little bit and that's not going to do much to the reds, because reds are both component colors. So this is giving me just a little bit of boost and a number of colors within the image. Finally, let's look at the green out here. I really like these weird textures that have happened on the vegetation and that's partly because the wind was blowing around and it's also simply just what happens to vegetation very often when you hit it with the HDR.
You pull a lot of texture and that can really make for some more interesting foliage, so that pumps that up a little bit. So before the selective color, after. It's given me just some deeper tones here in my reds and greens, a little in the magenta, not as much as I would've liked. Let's try one last thing. The sky is awfully blue. I'm not sure that it isn't too blue, so I'm going to go to my blues here and lighten up the tone a little bit. Yeah, I think I like that a little bit better. Lightning the sky helped, but still the image is kind of really dominated by that sky and I've got all this nice geometry here and I like this "oops" that's in here.
I'd like to really focus in more on that. I'm going to go at my Crop tool and give this image a crop. Normally I would crop first, just because I very often have a crop in mind, but I'm just kind of feeling my way through this image, and it's feeling to me like now that I've got the colors in place I'm realizing how dominant that blue is. So I think to crop to get rid of some of that might be nice. I'm sizing this so that this track goes right out the corner here, and I'm kind of trying to get the oops over here to anchor the shot a little bit. Our rule of thirds guideline would say to put it there, but that's kind of how I shot it and that's obviously not working quite right.
So just fiddling a little bit with the crop here, and when I'm done I get an image that's much more about the geometry of the bridge with a nice focus on the oops. I'm like in that better. Let's throw in one more thing here. I'm going to duplicate my Background layer, just in case I don't like this edit that I'm about to do. I want be able to delete the duplicate layer. Hitting the Lens Correction, and I'm going to add a vignette to my image. You've seen this in some other tutorials that we've been doing here that will hopefully pull a little bit more focus into the center. I like that. It breaks up the flatness of the blue sky. So this is looking pretty good.
I'm almost ready to print. The last thing I need to do is zharpen. Now we don't have time for a full-on sharpening tutorial, so I'm just going to walk through this and if you're not comfortable with sharpening there are plenty of sharpening tutorials in the lynda library. All RAW images need to be sharpened even the ones that have gone through an HDR process. I'm going to Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen. We don't want any dumb sharpening on our images. And here is a before, here is an after. I'm not sure how much you'll be able to see a difference on your small screen or small window rather.
I am just going to back these off a little bit and that's going to pull in a little more texture, a little more detail, and we always sharpen at 100%. That's looking pretty good. I'm going to back out, and I think this image is ready to go. So that is a complete walk-through, again, starting in Chapter 3 when we shot the image, to here our grand finale, or maybe grand finally, given sometimes how getting these images working is a little tedious, but this one went pretty easily. There is our finished HDR image.
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