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- Understanding how the image sensor detects shadows
- Capturing a broader dynamic range
- Knowing when to use HDR
- Finding good HDR subject matter
- Using gradient masks to improve dynamic range
- Merging in Photoshop and processing elsewhere
- Dealing with ghosting
- Reducing noise and correcting chromatic aberrations
- Handling HDR images that seem flat
- Combining HDR and LDR (low dynamic range)
- Selective editing with HDR Efex Pro
- Creating panoramic HDR images
- Creating an HDR time lapse
Skill Level Intermediate
We have already looked at why you might want to consider HDR techniques for your black-and-white photography. Now we're going to look at how you can go from a bracketed set of HDR images to a very nice finished black-and-white picture. Go to your Exercise Files folder and grab images 9685, 86, and 87 out of either the Chapter 5 or Chapter 6 folder and merge those in Photoshop. Be sure to do a 32-bit merge and be sure that you turn on Photoshop's deghosting features, because it was a little shaky when I took this picture and it's got some ghosting problems if you don't activate that.
When you're done, save it as an EXR file, open that up in Photomatix, and tone map it, and you should have something like this. Now if everything that I just said is total gibberish to you, then you must've skipped some lessons, because we covered that particular workflow. The workflow of merging in Photoshop and tone mapping somewhere else earlier in this course. So go back and pick those up and you'll be available to follow along. What I've got here is a pretty typical initial tone mapped result. I've got good highlight detail, I've got nice shadow detail where there are shadows, and I've got an overall perfectly evenly exposed image.
The result as it often is straight out of tone mapping is an image that's a little blah, kind of flat. I don't have real strong blacks. I don't have real strong whites. The histogram reveals that all of my tones are clustered in the middle of the tonal range, and that means I have low contrast image so I'm going to need to punch that up. And I'm also going to need to do all of the normal HDR type editing that I wanted to do. How HDR-y do I wanted to look, how much detail do I want? Obviously if this was going to be a color image I would have some color concerns. I'm not going to need to worry about those. So where should I start? Very often, if you're just starting to work on an image or if you've been working on it for a little while and find yourself stuck, very often it's a good idea to step back from the image, take a moment, look at it, and think, why in the world did I shoot this image in the first place? Sometimes you'll get to that point just out of frustration, going, what was I thinking? I remember when I was here that what struck me was there was a very dramatic sky and I wanted to capture that, and I liked these fence posts receding into the distance. I liked it for a couple reasons.
I liked this imaginary line here and this imaginary line here. I think that creates a kind of cool geometry, and I also knew that if this was a black-and-white image I could take these dark fence post and be sure that in my black-and-white conversion I was rendering the grass as something very light and I would have this nice dark geometry against this white field. So I decided to shoot this is an HDR. Now I chose to do it as an HDR because I wanted to preserve the cool sky. This total thing that I'm talking about in here, I could have gotten there with a single image, but I wanted the big nice textury HDR sky.
So with that in mind, I'm going to start editing, and I'm going to start by trying to get the sky where I want it. I'm going to increase the Strength slider, because that's going to improve the detail in the sky, make it more textural. I need to be a little careful because I'm getting some noise up here. You may not be able to see that too well because this video is presented to you rather small. I'm going to also increased detail contrast. That's going to give me more detail throughout my image, but right now I'm just looking at the sky. It's also going to darken the image, but I'm not too worried about that because I needed a stronger black point anyway.
I could head to some smoothing controls down here to try and take care of cloud bottoms that are too dark, but I don't really have that problem. The image does overall have a contrast issue, so I'm going to bump the black point. That's going to really punch up the darker tones in my image and right away the image is more contrasty. I could fiddle with the white point, but I'm not going to because I'm already writing the edge of overexposure. I don't want to blow up the sky. I've already lost the detail on this rock., I think that's going to be okay in the final black-and-white, but I'm going to do my white point adjustment in Photoshop.
I do need a white point adjustment, because the image is too dark, but I'm going to do in Photoshop, because there I can use some masking controls to protect these overexposed areas or almost overexposed areas. Gamma, I'm not going to worry about. Again, that'll add some brightening, but I'll lose my black point. I'll just do all that tonal stuff in Photoshop. Temperature I don't have to worry about because I don't care about color. And I'm not going to do anything with all this smoothing controls. Now if you look very closely at the image right now, you can possibly see a tiny bit of a halo problem.
If I look right in here, there is a strip that's a little bit darker than right here or right here, and you may think, well, maybe it was just darker in there. Now that doesn't make sense. I think what I've got here is a very wide halo around this post and if I look right here in the sky I can really see it. It's light here, it's dark here, it's light here. It's light here, there's just some very, very faint haloing. I'm going to try and take care of that with lighting adjustments. If I slide to the right, my image is going to kind of flatten out a little bit, but now I see that this bit of the sky is not darker any more.
I have evened that out a little bit. What I need to do is look through the rest of the image and see if I have created any other halos, and I don't believe that I have. As I do these edits, I am also revealing more and more the sensor dust problem that I have here. obviously, I'll take care of that in Photoshop. This is looking a little soft over here. That could have been a ghosting problem. It might also be a depth of field issue. I'm just not going to worry about it. I don't think it's a deal breaker for the image. So this lighting adjustments control, which is effectively a smoothing control and as you'll recall, smoothing evens out the transitions around high contrast areas.
That's taken care of this problem, but it would have been very easy to miss, so I was lucky that I managed to see these darker bits in here. So I think this is where I wanted HDR wise. I can't finish the image here for two reasons. There are tonal adjustments that need to be made through masking, and I need to do my black-and-white conversion. Now if you've played much with color saturation, you know that you can slide this all the way over here and there you have a black-and-white image. But we're not going to do that. If you are new to black-and-white editing, you may not know that there are lots of ways of converting a color image to black-and-white and we cover all of them-- Actually we don't cover all of them. We cover all of the good ones, and there is really only one or two in my Foundations of Photography Black-and-White course.
If you're new to black-and-white, I really recommend you go take a look at that course, because it will show you the techniques that we are about to use and it will also give you a pretty thorough discussion of black-and-white aesthetics. If you're wondering why we would take all of this HDR coloring goodness and get rid of it and strip it down to just grayscale, that course might give you an idea of some of the explicit power of black-and-white. I'm going to leave color saturation where it is, because I'll be doing my black-and-white conversion in Photoshop. I think I am done with this, so I'm going to process. When I do that, it's going to apply my tone mapping and it's going to give me a slightly different version because sometimes in Photomatix there are some smoothing differences when it's finally processed, so I am going to double check these areas in here. I think they look good.
So now I'm going to save my image out as a 16-bit TIFF file. I'm just going to leave the name merged_tonemapped. TIFF 16-bit. I'm putting that out on the desktop and now I want to open that image in Photoshop where I can finish up the rest of my edits. I'm going to go down here to Layers palette and add a Black & White adjustment layer. Again, this is all covered in the black -and-white course, and right away I've got a black-and-white image. Now you may think, well, I don't know if that looks any different or better than by just draining the color saturation out, and that's true.
It probably doesn't, but what I've got here is a tremendous level of control. I'm going to grab my Targeted Adjustment tool from the Adjustments panel over here and come back here to my image. Now I had mentioned earlier that one of the things I was kind of pre-visualizing was the idea of these black posts against white down here. So I'm going to just click here in the image and drag to the right and everything that's green in my image is going to get brighter. So now I'm able to brighten up all of that grass. It's starting actually to look almost like an infrared image, because infrared images have very bright foliage.
Now if I look over here I see that actually I'm manipulating the yellows slider. Curiously enough this grass is more yellow than green. So I'm going to back off on that a little bit, because I don't want to overexpose these areas. Now look right away at my sky. I've overexposed this with this edit. I'm not going to worry about that now. We'll fix that later. I want to get my tones in the right place, and I think this is it. I think I like this light background. I think I may darken these posts up later. I'm going to turn off my Black & White adjustment layer for a minute so I can see the original and I see that color wise these posts and this building in the background are pretty much the same color.
So I can't differentiate them with any of these controls over here. So I think that's where I want my black-and-white adjustment. So how do I fix this overexposed bit? I can't pull the yellow slider back down without losing the tonal adjustment on my ground. So instead what I'm going to do is just mask this off. I'm going to grab the paintbrush and some black paint and I'm using the left and right bracket keys. In this case the bracket key to get a bigger brush. I'm selecting my masks down here and I'm just going to paint into here. What this is doing is protecting this part of the image from that black-and-white conversion, and it was that black-and-white conversion that was causing the overexposure.
Unfortunately, because it's protecting this image from the black-and-white conversion, it means that I'm basically painting color back into the image and you may not be able to see this on your smaller version of the movie there, but the sky has become yellow there. So what I'm now going to do is add another Black & White adjustment layer, this time to convert the whole thing to black- and-white, and I'm going to quickly mask that out and get my mask painted in properly to apply my second black-and-white adjustment to only these clouds that I'm masking. If all this masking I'm doing is beyond your skill level, there are plenty of lynda courses that teach you how to do this.
I'm afraid that this movie gets a way too long if we had to explain every little bit of masking. So that's pretty good. I've got the sky back to where they need to be and I've got my tonal relationships where I want them. I think the next thing I might do is work a little bit on the posts to get them darker, so I am going to add a Levels adjustment. Actually let's do this next. I'm going to simply get my tones, and that's what I should be doing. I am going to drag my black point over. Ah, look! Right away, my post has darkened up. That's nice. My sky gets a little richer. I have overall improved the contrast quite a bit.
I might try a white point adjustment into about there, because that last little bit of white that was getting clipped out could have made for a dull print and in doing that I've blown out my sky here. So I'm just going to mask that how to protect it from that Levels adjustment. And we're looking pretty good. I am going to mask that a little bit out. We've got a nice image here tonally, and that means I don't need to really darken up the poles. They're doing pretty well on their own. I might want to lighten up the building a little bit to separate it from the posts that are in the foreground, so I'm going to here into a mid point adjustment, maybe even a full-on black point adjustment, and then quickly paint a mask here to make the fence posts in front of the buildings stand out a little more.
I'm liking that better and I'm not overexposing the building too much. So as I'm doing this what I'm getting here is not an image that looks tremendously HDR-y, unless you really know how to recognize an HDR sky, but thanks to HDR I've been able to preserve this really luscious sky thing while still using all of my normal black-and-white conversion and toning techniques to get a black-and-white image. I'm going to take care of this sensor dust real quick. I just duplicated the background layer and I'm using the Spot Healing Brush to take out these sensor dusty bits.
I duplicated the background layer for us just because if I make a mistake, I can back out of it. Last thing I want to do is throw a vignette on that same layer. We've seen how do vignetting in HDR Efex. I can do in Photoshop with the Lens Correction filter, which you pull right out of the Filter menu, and I can just come right over here to the Custom tab or Lens Corrections and I get this Vignette control. Notice that the lens correction preview does not show the effects of any adjustment layers. That's okay. They will still be there when I come back. So I'm going to throw in a little vignette there, hit OK, let it apply, and that's working a lot.
So a few more tweaks I might do is I could go and paint some mask to calm this down. I might darken the post up a little bit more, but overall this is looking pretty good and that's kind of the thought process I go through and some simple tools I can use to get from a bracketed HDR set to a nice black-and-white image.