HDR Tutorial Part 4 @ Meleah Reardon Photography

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Alright, now you have your 3 (or more) source images. It’s time to start making magic! First step, open Photomatix. I use Photomatix 3.2, which is an earlier version of the software. Newer versions will work just fine, and the process is generally the same.

Step 1: Select “Process” from the Photomatix menu, and the following dialogue box will appear.

Step 2: Select browse, and navigate to your source images.


Step 3: After selecting your source images and clicking “Ok”, another dialogue box appears.

Here’s a breakdown of this dialog box:

Align Source Images – select to help reduce any movement in your photos caused by camera shake

Reduce chromatic aberrations – about 80% of my photos suffer from chromatic aberrations, which are those ugly green and purple outlines in certain areas of the photo. I always check this as default.

Reduce noise – If you are shooting at High ISOs and think you may have a noisy photo, select this.

Attempt to reduce ghosting artifacts – If your photo has movement (such as a crowd of people) or “ghosting”, choose “Reduce ghosting artifacts”.

Now click “Generate HDR”

Step 4: Here comes the fun part! Aside from capturing the source images, this is perhaps the most important step in the tutorial. It’s here where you will either produce a beautiful HDR photo or a ghastly cartoon. You know what I’m talking about, we’ve all seen the bad eggs. Don’t be one of them! The key to good HDR photography is learning how to work these sliders. They are your friends. Learn what they do. Learn to master each one. There is no “right” way to move the sliders, and each photo is different. But with some general guidelines and lots of practice, you can make beautiful, realistic HDR photos.

Here is a breakdown of each slider. Remember, every photo is different. And each slider interacts with the other, so there are dozens of different ways you can do this. It’s up to you, as the artist, to produce an image that is beautiful and realistic. Here are some general guidelines to get your started:

Strength – For a more realistic look, I tend to keep strength between 65 and 80.

Color saturation – It may be tempting to bump this up to 100, but no one likes too much color saturation. It’s difficult on the eyes. I tend to keep this around 60 to 70.

Luminosity – This slider is key in reducing the “halo” affect, which is the great disease of HDR.  The best remedy for halos is setting Luminosity as far right as possible. I adjust everything else around Luminosity for this reason.

Microcontrast – This varies greatly depending on the photo. For photos in which I want the details to “pop”, I set the slider further to the right. However, this can sometimes overly darken the image, which can be remedied by adjusting Gamma or White Point (see below)

Smoothing – This control is what can make your HDR photos look really bad if done incorrectly. I always set this to High. Mid, Low and Min are just too much and can create a very cartoony image, while Max is often too flat for my tastes.

White and Black Point – Typically I leave Black Point on the far left side of the slider, but will occasionally bump it up slightly to create some extra contrast if needed. White point, however, can vary widely. Lately, I have been keeping White Point somewhere between 4 and 7. I often use this to reduce contrast, which creates a softer, more realistic photo. White Point can also be used to increase the brightness of a photo.

Gamma – I always leave this between 1.1 and 1.5.  Whatever you do, don’t slide this too far to the right. Use it sparingly to increase brightness, decrease contrast and boost color when needed.

Temperature – I almost always leave this at 0. If you take good source images, you won’t need to adjust temperature.

Saturation Highlights and Shadows – Again, I rarely touch these.

Micro-smoothing – I you’re looking for a smooth feel, slide to the left. If you want to create a grunge feel, slide to the right. But be careful, as sliding too far to the right can cause quite a bit of noise. For that reason, I tend to keep Micro-smoothing to the left, and use other products such as Topaz Details to enhance micro details.

Highlights and Shadows Smoothness, Shadows Clipping – I never use these, and always leave at 0.

And that’s it! Click Process, and watch your computer make magic.

Photomatix alone produces a decent image and some people would be satisfied with stopping here. And you can, especially if you do not own Lightroom or Photoshop. But if you want to learn about some tools and tricks for sprucing up your image, continue on…

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  • paddy

    “And that’s it! Click Process, and watch your computer make magic”………..No Meleah,

    Software makes it easier but we must not forget the basics of composition .A bad footballer with high tech boots will not make a great player.

    May 6, 2012
    • Meleah Reardon

      Yes, of course. One must know the basics of good photography, how to operate their camera, compose a good photo etc. However, this is not the focus or purpose of this tutorial. I want to help people take their good source images and give them a little extra kick 😉

      May 6, 2012
  • T. Gillingham

    I just wanted to thank you for the excellent article that makes sense out of the mysterious term HDR. You did it superbly. You sound like a wonderful person, God has truly blessed you. Please continue to share your wonderful gifts, not only of seeing light but your teaching skill as well..

    December 19, 2012

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