The rest of HDR (as far as I?m concerned)


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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The rest of HDR (as far as I’m concerned)

7 Dec 2020 7:16AM   Views : 516 Unique : 335


So I went out for a walk to the local road bridge over the canal: standing at one end, looking down the flight of locks towards Birmingham provided a classic ‘suitable for HDR’ view. As I stood there, looking round the scene, I could see the brickwork of the abutment clearly on my left: looking straight down the canal, I could see clouds in the sky.

And there’s the problem: human eyes adapt to the part of the scene that you’re looking at, and cameras don’t. A full-on HDR image allows the viewer to see detail in both deep shade and bright highlights, without being an obvious distortion of reality. As the eye moves round the frame, it sees what it is expecting to see, from long experience of the world.

I rested the camera and lens against the right-hand abutment, and locked focus, and shot a series of images adjusting shutter speed in manual mode. This ensured that I didn’t get unfortunate ghosting of sharp and blurry versions of specific parts of the frame. And I headed home to the luxury of a desktop computer with a fairly powerful CPU – handling several 36mp files is not for the faint of processing.


I loaded my half-dozen plus frames into Photomatix software, and let it do its stuff: it then offered me a number of different options for preset styles. My (fairly limited) experience of this package is that it’s worth looking at couple of options, and – just like taking a glamour model out into a public space – the secret is not to frighten the horses. Choose one of the options that makes it look as though you haven’t shot loads of frames, and has no strange colour casts.

Now, thanks to helpful info about Nik HDR Efex that mistere and Chase gave me on Saturday, I’ve also tried loading the files into the Nik plugin within Photoshop. Definitely slower, and with my lack of experience of using Nik in this way, I’m sure the result isn’t the optimum. It is a massive TIFF file, though, and saving as a JPG was, for some reason, not possible. So I tried saving as a PSD file: smaller, but still massive. Eventually, I found that I’d got a 32-bit file, and changing that to 16-bit allowed me to save a JPG. I wish I understood all of that, by the way.


Clearly exhibiting masochistic tendencies, I then tried the built-in HDR merge that PS 2021 offers. Again, rather slower than Photomatix: I wonder if something I did along the way has clogged up a buffer or something? Once the files were merged, there were a number of options – I’ll just comment that the defaults left a bit to be desired, and the option described as ‘photorealistic’ was weird. Very, very weird.

At the end of this, I actually have more questions than answers – though the two or three answers I have matter to me, and may matter to you.


First, Photomatix gave me a better result, more easily. This may not remain true for smaller files, or fewer files, or if you persist with the other two methods until you actually know what you’re doing.
Second, you really, really need to go beyond the first preset that any package offers. Definitions of ‘realistic’ vary as much in HDR as in politics.

And third, I think I got a result from the processing that looks the way that I perceived the scene. Not clever and artful: just how I saw it.


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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
7 Dec 2020 7:19AM
The lead is how the optimum single exposure looks – losing detail in both the brickwork and the view along the canal. The first variation is the optimum that I managed with the Nik plugin, which took a minute or two of processing time, plus a good deal of playing. Next down (and closest to what many consider an HDR ‘look’) is the default from the Photoshop default, followed by a tweaked version, altering various parameters. Finally, the Photomatix version, which took relatively little processing time.

I know there's a lot more for me to learn... All thoughts welcome!
saltireblue Avatar
saltireblue Plus
13 14.5k 88 Norway
7 Dec 2020 8:41AM
Can the fact that Photomatix gave the best result, and in a shorter time, be down to the fact that it is, unlike the other software you used, a dedicated HDR programme - a master of one rather than a Jack of all trades?
altitude50 Avatar
altitude50 19 23.9k United Kingdom
7 Dec 2020 8:51AM
Personally I am quite happy with dark shadows in most cases. I like the top picture's brickwork combined with the second ones lock gates.
I have had several photos criticised at camera clubs and elsewhere for having no detail in the shadows, one judge said 'the breakwater is a silhouette, but there are no details in it'!
whatriveristhis Avatar
7 Dec 2020 8:53AM
For me, this set illustrates the fact that, in my opinion at least, there are two basic approaches in photography... capturing what the eye sees, and capturing what the mind sees. Or to put it another way, recording a subject, and responding to a subject. There can often be a world of difference.

Images made as a personal emotional response to a subject are generally categorized as "Fine Art," and may be either colour or black & white, though many feel that black & white offers more scope for interpretation, as dispensing with colour immediately kicks off the adventure by removing a layer of objective "reality" in preparation for replacing it with a subjective one.

The point I want to make is that I think the same applies to how you record shadow/highlight detail. Any of the various HDR versions above might be closer to what my eyes would see, walking through that dark tunnel, but I suspect the original single exposure is a more accurate representation of how I might actually feel at the time.

I suppose it depends on what you see as the purpose of photography in the first place. HDR has its place of course, but you won't be surprised to learn, John, that I personally rarely have any use for it.

( OK, I'm putting the soapbox away now )
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
7 Dec 2020 10:26AM
I suspect you’re right about a specialist tool, Malc.

Alan - absolutely! As you can probably tell, I don’t use it often, either.

Richard - it all depends on your creative choice. Club judges are expressing an opinion, and may not share your vision, or mine...
chase Avatar
chase Plus
18 2.5k 682 England
7 Dec 2020 12:01PM
Is it not down to how you saw the scene or how you wanted to see the scene ? two very different things.
Alan has some good points here, made very well.
For me, the second image down looks more realistic without being overdone... but not being there at the time it is difficult to assess what was actually visible to the eye and what you as the photographer thought was 'right'. I see much nicer detail in the brighter water and the colours look very much more realistic to my eye.
All will depend on how any HDR is treated and how the post processing is carried out, it is so very easy to leave all the sliders etc at maximum and not consider further processing for a gentler effect.

Different HDR software will give very different results, Photomatix being one of those dedicated to HDR, and generally that's all it does and any results from any software will depend on the images taken at the time. You could take 7 frames and still get a pants result so in the beginning it's down to the camera skills of the Photographer.

A subject that could be debated for ages and still not reach a satisfactory conclusion.
I always, well if I remember Blush, declare use of HDR on site, many don't which is a shame in a way as the information could be used as a learning tool by others.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
7 Dec 2020 2:28PM
For me, the big thing is to distinguish between HDR, which compresses an excessive contrast range and things that rob an ordinary scene of its natural contrast.

And to make the distinction, as Janet does, between what happens by chance and how the photographer wants to show things. Having the ability to choose what to portray, and the technique to realise it is what this site is all about.

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