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There been some dramatic improvements to high dynamic range or HDR image processing in Photoshop CS5. The HDR features in CS5, like those in CS4, automatically merge tonal values from multiple bracketed exposures of the same scene to give you a composite image as big as 32-bits. This allows you to capture a much wider range of tonal detail in a high contrast scene in your camera could record in a single photograph. The big improvements to this process in CS5 include a new Merge to HDR Pro dialog box that has intuitive controls that allow you to create either a photorealistic or a hyperrealistic HDR image.
Another big improvement is the addition of a Remove Ghosting command that eliminates one of the most common challenges of HDR imaging, the ghostlike effects that are cause by a subject moving in any HDR source photo. In this exercise, I'd like to merge these three bracketed exposures of a church so that I can get detail in the highlights and shadows and the midtones in one merged HDR image. There are a few things to keep in mind when you're shooting bracketed exposures like this for HDR processing. First, vary the exposures in your camera by changing the shutters speed rather than the aperture so that the depth of field is consistent across the source images.
I've found that varying the shutter speed by somewhere in the neighborhood of two f-stops or exposure values is often the best way to go. It's also a good idea to set your camera on an tripod to reduce camera movement across the source photos, although there's improved HDR alignment capacity in Photoshop CS5 that can often handle even handheld shots. As for the number or shots to merge, between three and seven bracketed photos are typically used with more shots for higher contrast scenes. And although you can use JPEGs in HDR processing, I'd recommend shooting raw files so that you're starting with the largest amount of image data possible.
I do have raw files here and before I merge these in HDR Pro I would typically open in Adobe Camera Raw to do some adjustments there. So I selected three images here in Adobe Bridge and then I'll double-click any one of them to open them all in Adobe Camera Raw. What I want to show here is that when you're going to do HDR processing on raw files, you don't want to bother changing exposure, recovery, fill light, blacks and other settings here in the basic tab, because those settings are going to be zeroed out when you bring images into HDR Pro so that all of the source images have the same response curve.
But what you can do in Adobe Camera Raw is to change the white balance. So I might come in and change the white balance of the selected image from this menu. And you can try to fix any chromatic aberration you might see here in the Lens Correction tab, although I don't see the telltale magenta or aqua halos that indicate chromatic aberration in this particular image. You also can crop your images here. So I can get the crop tool and drag out a bounding box, move it into place and press Return or Enter on the keyboard.
Now the important point when you make adjustments like this in Adobe Camera Raw is to apply those same adjustments to all of the images that you're going to merge to HDR Pro. So I'll come over to the left-hand column where I see thumbnails of the three images that I'm working with, I'll click Select All, and then click Synchronize. And in the Synchronize dialog box I'm going to make sure that both White Balance and Crop have a check mark next to them since those are the changes that I made and click OK. And now I'll click Done to close the Adobe camera raw converter but save those changes with the images so I'm going to use in Merge to HDR Pro.
To merge to HDR Pro I can work either in Mini Bridge or in Photoshop I can go to the File menu and choose Automate and Merge to HDR Pro. Or as I prefer to do, I can go back to Bridge, and here with the three thumbnails selected I'll go up to the Tools menu, and I'll go down to Photoshop and I'll choose Merge to HDR Pro. I like to do it this way because here I can see these large thumbnails of my images. That starts Photoshop off, bringing all three of the images into one single layered file as you can see in the Layers panel.
And aligning those layers based on their content. And what I like is that the auto alignment process goes a lot faster in Photoshop CS5. When the alignment process is finished, the Merge to HDR Pro dialog box opens. At the bottom of this dialog box are thumbnails of all of the images that are being merged together labeled to show how many exposure values apart they are. And this is a preview of the merged image, already automatically tone mapped. In other words, containing some total values from each of the HDR source files.
So this preview is only a starting point. Now I can use the controls over on the right to get just the look I want in my HDR image. The first thing I'll do on the right is make sure that the HDR conversion method is set to Local Adaptation, which is the only one of the choices here, which gives me all of these sliders for controlling tone mapping and for controlling the style of the final image. I really like these sliders, most of which are new in Photoshop CS5, because they are intuitive to use. I could just start moving the sliders to taste, but I find it's often easier to get a head start by going up to the Preset menu and choosing from one of the presets that comes with the Merge to HDR Pro dialog box.
There are three kinds of presets here, those that will create monochromatic or black-and-white images, those that will create photorealistic images for the purpose of expanding the dynamic range, and those that create the new popular surrealistic look of HDR imaging. I'm going to start by selecting Photorealistic in this case and that sets these sliders to some preset values. With the default settings I still don't have a lot of detail here in the shadow area. So I'm going to go to the Shadows slider and drag it to the right to up the shadow areas.
I also like to brighten up the highlights here so I'm going to move the Highlights sliders to the right as well. And I'd like there to be more contrast between the highlights and shadows. For that I'll use the Gamma slider, dragging it to the left to increase contrast. And if I want to brighten up the entire image I'll go to the Exposure slider and I'll drag that to the right. In Photoshop CS5 I also have the opportunity to increase the intensity or saturation of the color in the image. I can use the Saturation slider to do that, although that sometimes clips colors, making them look too intense.
So in this case I use the Vibrance insider instead which adjusts saturation without clipping colors. Finally I can go to the Curve tab, where I can change the exposure and contrast of the resulting image. So if I wanted to increase the exposure for example, I might click in the middle of this curve to add a point and then track slightly up. And if I wanted to increase the contrast I would add a point in the highlight area, another point in the shadow area and then create a smooth S-curve to increase contrast, and I might lower the exposure a bit as well.
When I'm happy that the results, I can click OK to move through the rest of the process that before I do that I want to show you that I can save these results as a preset to apply to other images in the future by going to this menu and choosing Save Preset. So I might call this saturated photorealistic and click Save. Now in the future, if I open another set of images into Merge to HDR Pro, I can apply all of these settings to those images immediately by choosing my custom-made saturated photorealistic preset from the Preset menu.
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