Join Richard Harrington for an in-depth discussion in this video Developing a HDR image in Photomatix Pro, part of Time-Lapse Video: High-Dynamic Range (HDR).
When it comes to HDR time-lapse, one of the first things you need to do is create the high-dynamic-range images. And, this generally involves using a dedicated software tool or a plug-in for your favorite image editor. There's a lot of choices out there. You could take a look at HDR Efex from the folks at Nik Software, which is now owned by Google. That's one that I often use a lot. Or, you could use the built-in toning inside of Photoshop, as well. One of my favorite tools, though, that I find myself using more and more is Photomatix Pro from HDRsoft.
And, I've got a full, comprehensive HDRsoft Photomatix title, here, on lynda.com that you could explore to go really deep into the software, but I want to show you some of the essential skills to develop the HDR image, particularly when it comes to batch processing and developing time-lapse images. So, let's jump in and start to explore that app. One of the things I have here is, I've already organized my images. I've got my RAW files ready to go. It's a good idea to do that processing ahead of time, and you can use your Finder, or Bridge, or Lightroom, or, really, anything to do that.
And, if we take a look here at the source images, I pulled together a small subset here. Now, one of the things I find more useful is view these in a grid-type view. One of the benefits of looking at a grid is it's easier to see how things break down. Now, in this particular case, it looks like there's seven exposures in the brackets, so I'll adjust the width of the grid and, sure enough, that's what I have. The base exposure. I was shooting slightly underexposed with exposure compensation here, to deal with the backlit subject.
A dramatically underexposed image. Six stops lower here, pulling that down to 7.7, underexposed. And, as we go through, pretty straightforward there, adjusting the exposure compensation. So, essentially, I have 12 stops of dynamic range here, to work with. With 12 stops of information, this is a lot of data, and it's going to be able to show the darkest dark to the brightest highlight. This is a very cool technique, but, let's be honest here, I have a lot of data.
We're dealing here with each file being about 15 megabytes. These came as RAW files off of an Olympus OMD-EM1, which I really like for HDR shooting. That's a lot of data. More than 100 megabytes of data per frame, before we've processed. So, obviously, we need to do a little bit of work with this material before we go too far. Alright, I'm going to start by sending the first set of these images over to HDRsoft Photomatix. So, if I'm in Bridge, this is an easy right-click, and I could choose to simply Open With > Photomatix Pro.
And, if you've installed this and you're using Lightroom, you'll also find that available as an export module. Now that I've opened this up, I'm going to invoke, merging this for tone mapping and fusion. And, we'll click OK. The images are all here. I'll click OK to invoke it. And, here's a critical thing, Align source images. Normally, when doing an HDR photo, you would choose this option because it's going to look at the image and adjust them subtly for things to line up. The problem is, is if you're dealing with a time-lapse sequence, this can introduce variety from frame to frame, and it might shift slightly, depending upon the auto-alignment.
Do not use this option if doing a time-lapse sequence. It's critical that you ignore it, and you absolutely, positively made sure you shot this the right way. You might remember when we were out in the field, I was using my sturdiest tripod. I wanted to make sure that there was minimal vibration or change from frame to frame. This looks good. I will choose to reduce noise and reduce chromatic operation, which is a problem that's often visible on images that have a lot of backlight. We'll talk more about this little later.
I'll click Merge to HDR and the process begins. You'll see that it converts the RAW files in this case, making intermediate files. And, it's going to then take those seven images and merge them together into a single 32-bit file. With the 32-bit image, this is more data than the computer can see. We don't have 32-bit displays. So, what needs to happen is that additional information gets tone-mapped or fused, typically into an 8-bit or a 16-bit file.
You use the increase in dynamic range to show more of the highlights and the shadows to add selective contrast, but, at the end of the day, you end up going back to an 8-bit or a 16-bit file. But, think of it this way, I've got seven files going in, they're 12-bit files, and with all of those bits of information, it's going to be really easy to take the best parts of each photo to make a really compelling image. Alright, you briefly saw the 32-bit image there, and that opened up here into a preview window, so I could see what's happening.
There are a lot of different categories that you can choose from, and you'll see options here to select different choices. Compare that to the original base photo, and you see that HDR is really doing a nice job. I think it's absolutely lovely how good that sky looks. All the benefits of the clouds. The fact that we shot a longer exposure leads to these really nice tendril-type clouds. They're very wispy and coming over the top of the mountains there.
The backlight of the sun coming from behind the mountains creates a nice glow around the edge of the mountains. Now, on my shot list here, are some of my favorites. And, you may have different ones, but you could step through these presets just to see what your options are. And, if you find something you like, then you can use that as a base point. So, for example, I think this Surreal, way too strong. But, I'd like to get something kind of intense. So, under Painterly here, I like this.
The rocks really look fantastic, but, I'm going to play with some of my options. For example, I can bring the saturation up a little bit and play with Tone Compression, which increases the dynamic range between the brightest bright and the darkest dark. And, I'm going to adjust contrast there a little. I'll smooth out my highlights, so we don't get as much of a glow. Instead of a ringing glow, it's now a softer transition there.
But, let's lower the the White Point a little. I could dial in the color temperature that I want. In this case, a nice, rich blue. And, refine the overall Black Point. Plus, you'll notice, there's some different lighting effects to change the way that this looks. In this case though, I think the medium is the best result. When you find what you want, you're going to want to click the Preset menu and choose Save Preset. And, that'll make it really easy to access that preset later. You'll note that that has become available in my presets list.
Now, you might need to relaunch the application or re-invoke it to see it, but when I saved that preset, it did, indeed, put it in there. If I check Save Preset and click on Date Modified, you see, it's right there. All the other presets that I've created are also available. So, here's a handful of some of the ones that I've made for different situations. There's a detail enhancer preset. This one's very nice, as well, with detail enhancing. I think that's bringing a nice job of showing the rocks and the sky.
And, you can choose what you want here from several different presets that you've made, or additional ones that you decide that you want to use. Remember, HDR is just a technique, so you can easily choose from any preset that you've created. Now that you have got the basic preset built, it's time to invoke the batch operation.
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- Staging the camera
- Controlling the camera with an intervalometer or smartphone
- Choosing the right interval for HDR
- Shooting JPEG or RAW
- Building a HDR test sequence
- Developing HDR images
- Organizing, assembling, and evaluating the shot in post