Monthly Archives: November 2011

My HDRs look like PooDRs – Fixes for the most common problems

My HDRs look like PooDRs – How to fix the common problems

For people that are just starting out and even for some that have been doing HDR for a while, there are some common problems that people run into. But without having used the myriad of controls in their HDR software, most people don’t know which way to turn to remove some of these unsightly demons. So let’s run through a few of them and their cures. 

Note: None of the after images represent a finished image; they are merely to show reversal of a problem area 


Haloing – Probably the most common problem with HDRs. Haloing is a bright areas surrounding an edge, You will most likely see them in areas of high contrast; The edge of a building against the sky or tree branches and power lines against that same bright condition.

Here is an image I made have haloing, along side it are the controls as they are in Photomatix.  

This is a case of too high on the Lighting adjustments (Surreal) and also too much Strength.

Making changes to just these controls gets rid of a lot of the haloing

We changed the Lighting effect to Natural and Strength to 50


The Grays

This occurs when large areas of White now become gray. This happens because the HDR program is trying to make everything a Midtone if you make a white (or a black) a midtone it turns gray.



Now I think you will start to notice a common thing with fixing problems. To fix this problem, We will once again take a look at the Lighting Adjustment  and Strength This time the lighting Adjustment was at Surreal + the setting that will attempt to make most parts of the image Mid-toned and the strength was at 100.


Again we moved the Lighting Adjustment to Natural and the Strength down to 70. But we made a couple more changes. This image had the Gamma set to .80, without getting into a technical discussion of what gamma is, basically consider it a midtone curve. If we move the slider to the left and down to about 1.20 we will bring more contrast into the Midtones. Then by adding some Black Level, we bring up the shadows in our image.

 Burnt edges

The opposite of Halos are Burnt edges, this is a darkening on areas of contrast.



But wait, The Lighting Adjustments are at Natural and 100%, shouldn’t that be good? No in this case it isn’t, it is trying to make the mid-tones shadows but simply lowering the Strength to 70% and our Gamma to .90 and we smooth out the tones across the image

 Returning to our initial image of the Lifeguard Garage, this is probably how I would end up processing the image


 Strength 70

Saturation 70

Luminosity 0

Detail Contrast 0

Lighting adjustment Natural

Smooth Highlights 0

White Point .250%

Black Point 2.22%

Gamma .90

Micro Smoothing 30

Saturation Highlight 3.8

Then just a levels adjustment layer and a little dodging and burning in Photoshop










Those are just a few of common problems people have or maybe they don’t even know they have and  a few ways to fix them and yes, there are more than one way to fix any  of them but these are some of the most effective measures because they go to the source of the problems.


As I think of other problems I will throw them in as a quick tip 

Hope that helps,




Product Review: Topaz Labs – Adjust 5

Topaz Labs – Adjust 5

 Recently Topaz Labs came out with their latest release for their Adjust series of software, Adjust 5. It wasn’t long ago that I review Adjust 4 so with that fresh in my mind it’s easy to see some of the new things that are a part of Topaz Adjust 5 and there are  quite a few things of note that make this a better program than it’s predecessor.

 It retains it’s Lightroomesque interface. Presets on the left, Adjustment panel on the right and preview panel in the center.


I’ll work my way around the interface to point out what is new.


Staring on the left with Presets, There are 107 new presets. All the Adjust 4 presets are still there but they have added 107 new presets and they have broken the presets up into categories instead of just one long list. The category lists are:

  • Classic Collection
  • Vibrant Collection
  • HDR Collection
  • Film Collection
  • Toned Collection
  • Stylized collection
    And a folder for you to store your presets. 

What I really like about the new presets is that they are things that I would use. Even though I still would suggest you add these effects on a separate layer for control of the amount of effect later, there are a lot of great effects that are good like they are. Finally someone said lets make some good looking presets that actually make sense instead of some things that look like a Peter Maxx poster on Crack (I thought I would throw in a reference for both old people and young. Kids, DON’T do drugs!) 

I especially liked the new HDR presets; they are so usable it’s crazy. I would rather have something like this as a starting point and then get crazier, then to start with crazy and have to tone it down. Cuz usually I just bypass crazy. And there still are some crazy presets no doubt but they have been balanced by some very useful ones. 

A new feature of  Topaz Adjust 5 is that now you can add multiple effects to your image. Say you want an HDR effect and then a toning effect. Just apply the HDR effect and then apply the toning effect. ( The apply button is new) Saves you the time of going back to Photoshop and then back in to Adjust. 


Moving over to the Adjust panel on the right; at the top is a new histogram. Moving down they have the same Global adjustments as before but with the addition of a Curves adjustment which is always handy. 

The other big change is the addition of Local Adjustments via a Brush tool. You can brush out the effects you have added which is a great feature if you don’t know how to or don’t have the ability to do a layer mask. You can also Dodge, Burn and Smooth the image using the Edge aware brush. 

Below that they have added Finishing Touches, where you can add vignettes and frames. Add some grain or change the tone of the image. 

The last addition is a Transparency Slider so you can vary the total amount of the effect on your image. Again, a great tool if you don’t like working in layer. 

The only thing I wasn’t crazy about is that some of the sliders seem backwards in their actions, such as the Transparency Slider. If you are used to working in Photoshop and transparency there, 100 is the full effect of that layer. In Topaz Adjust, 100 is no effect at all. A few other controls did the same thing like when you add a vignette, moving the slider to the right gives you less vignette, not more. I would have done it different. 


Here are a couple examples, the first with the HDR Heavy Pop Smooth and the second with the addition onto of the HDR, a Vintage preset





It’s a better program for the changes. The new presets alone are worth it and the local adjustment brush is really helpful. I think they have come a long way with this product. It’s great to get many looks and it’s great to use for single image HDR’s . Like I said in the previos review HDR without the mess

 I’d like them to fix two things; the way the adjustments work (make the controls more like Photoshop works left to right) The other thing I would like to see changed is the Preview. Its fine in the single image mode where you can click on the image to see the before and after, but in the side by side view, it’s in a vertical view. I wish they would also add the option of a horizontal view. 

So all in all well worth the upgrade. Speaking of which, it is a free upgrade to current Adjust Users 

This is a Photoshop Plug-in. Lightroom, Aperture and iPhoto users can get a free download of Topaz Fusion Express to use Topaz Adjust within their programs 

There are also plenty of Webinars at the Topaz Labs site to help you get the full use out of any of their software products.


To try or buy Topaz Labs – Topaz Adjust 5 visit : Topaz Labs

Till November 30th they have Adjust 5 at a special price of just $49.99 with the coupon code of : ADJUSTME


Metering Exposures for HDR

Metering Exposures

I talk a lot about metering my exposure for an HDR but I haven’t talked much about how I actually do that, so I thought I would give a quick run through. 

Now of course a lot of times I just do a 3 exposure auto bracket and in that case I only have to make sure that my middle exposure is correct (by Metering and locking exposure on a Mid Tone as I explained here) But what if I need more exposures to cover a larger range? Here’s how I do it. 

First thing I do is set my camera for spot metering, if you don’t have spot metering use center weighted. If you use Evaluative (Canon) or Matrix (Nikon) that samples the whole scene which is great in the case of a single exposure but not what we really want here since we want to only know a specific area. 

I place my center focus point over the area I want to sample and I really just want to know two areas; the brightest part of the scene, and the darkest. Sampling any more than that is a waste of time since we know we will be covering them anyway in our various exposures. We just need to get from one end to the other.

So here is my scene

With my camera in manual exposure mode, I first metered the brightest part of the sky and got a centered meter reading of 1/60 shutter speed (aperture and ISO were constant at f/16 and ISO 100). Just be aware of something when water is involved. In cases with water, the sky may not always be the brightest part of the scene. If you have Specular highlights – reflection of the sun in the water- even though the sun is not actually in your scene. THOSE may be your brightest area of your shot. 

Next I metered the darkest area, a hole in the rocks to my left and got a reading of 6 seconds. So I have a full 10 stops of range to cover to get this shot right. 

So now my next choice was how to I get from one end to the other, in other words how many stop intervals. In this case I chose 1 stop intervals because I didn’t want to shoot the scene twice. But I did have another thing in mind because I knew I was shooting for this article. To answer the question: Are 1 stop or 2 stop intervals best? 

So I started shooting my sequence and I started at 6 Seconds. Now I could have done the math and  to get the next exposure just divide the time in half to get 1 whole stop, or in half and then in half again for two full stops. But I hate doing even simple math, so it much easier to do a simple counting the clicks. 

 My camera and most camera are set up from the factory to change exposure in 1/3 stop increments, you can change that to ½ stop increments in your camera’s menu. Mine is set for 1/3 stops. So if I want to change my exposure 1 full stop, I simply count 3 clicks of the dial, shoot, count 3 clicks and so on (If I am doing 2 full stops I count 6 clicks) and then I simply watch my shutter speed until I get to my end reading that I wanted of 1/60. 

But you do it the way that suits you best. 

So here is my 10 exposure shot processed in Photomatix Pro 4.1(No other processing was done)


 BUT, here is my 5 Exposure shot of the same scene


 I really don’t see much difference; in fact there was a little more confusion in the water area of the 10 exposure shot because of the moving water. 

I’m still not convinced that 1 stop increments are at all necessary (although I did use it for my Shooting Interiors post) because of course, each single image covers a range and in the end may make some other things worse (alignment etc.) But I of course leave that decision to you. 

If you would like to see what the 5 exposures look like along with each images Histogram, here they are.


This shot and histogram really shows you how wide the dynamics were for this scene and how they were really biased at each end

Hope that helps,



Why a Tripod is not enough + Tune up that Tripod

Yesterday I went to do a shoot out in Wine Country for a new HDR tutorial. I was happy with what I shot. It was a nice sunset over the vineyards.

After I downloaded my images, it was huge disappointment. NONE of the final merges were sharp!

So I started to inspect the individual frames and found all of the frames that were .1 to 1 second were totally useless, all had terrible camera shake.

But wait a minute, I USED A TRIPOD!

So this afternoon I hauled out my rig to do some testing. The first thing I found was a problem with my tripod itself. The locking lever for my quick release plate was loose allowing the  camera to rock side to side considerably. A quick couple turns of a Allen wrench fixed that. I also lubed up the release catch that was sticking a bit. ( Never lube the Ball Head itself!)

After that I decide to do some testing.

Yesterday in my rush because the sun was setting quickly I left my Remote shutter release in the truck. I also always seem to rush things and am quite impatient so I am not always good at releasing the shutter smoothly and not rocking the boat, so to say. On top of that all I had a loose release plate magnifying everything. But I wanted to see, really does it make a difference to use a remote shutter release after all my camera is on a steady tripod. So here is my test.

The Test

I mounted my Canon 5D on my Manfrotto tripod, I put on my Canon 24-105L IS lens on the tripod with the IS turned off (which is recommended). Zoomed to 105mm I fitted the lens with a B + W 3 stop Neutral Density filter to slow my shutter speed for the test in the  sunlight. I took images of a Yard Stick to show detail. This is far more detail then you would have with a wide angle landscape image so this was a good test.

The first image I shot pressing the shutter button with my finger, slowly and precisely. (100% actual pixel crops, click to enlarge)












This one was with me just pressing the shutter button haphazardly












This image was using my Canon Remote Shutter Release
















If you can’t afford a remote shutter release right now, use the timer function of your camera to trip the shutter. On Canon Cameras, if you are set up to shoot bracketed photos and use the Timer Release it will fire all three images without you having to touch the camera. I’m not sure if Nikon does that. Maybe a Nikon shooter can chime in in comments and say.

I chose a shutter speed of 1/2 a second for this test. It seems that shutter speeds in and around that speed are the most suseptable to shake. Faster than that and the shutter speed itself stops the blur. And when you do very long exposure under low light the shaking part is only a small fraction of the total exposure and you may not see the bluring.

What about Mirror Lock up?

I knew you would ask, So I did a test for that too. In the image below, above the red line is normal, below the red line is mirror lock up. If I was shooting witn a long lens on a detail shot or doing macro work, the very slight difference we see would make me use it. For Landscapes with a wide angle lens shooting long distance..well I’ll leave that up to you.












So is any of this anything you or I didn’t know? Probably not, I just never really tried it to see. And I DO know what I will do next shoot.

  • Give your tripod the once over before heading out in the field. You may not have the tools you need when you get there
  • Always use a Remote shutter release
  • Use your Camera’s Timer if you don’t have a remote release
  • Use Mirror Lock-up when necessary

Hope that helps,


My dirty little HDR secret

I hate to confess to you my dirty little HDR secret

I’m a cheater… and I’m lazy

I have my first love, Photomatix Pro 4.1 but I also see Nik HDR Efex Pro

Neither one of them knows the other exists, they’ve only passed each other in Lightroom

And on top of that, I’m lazy and impatient

Truth is, sometimes I like one and sometimes I like the other. But sometimes I think of one while I am using the other…and here’s how.

Photomatix Pro can both open and CREATE Radiance HDR files (this is the 32bit file that is the result of your merge) Nik HDR Efex Pro can only Open them it can’t create them.

Truth of the matter also is that Photomatix Pro is better at merging files especially for deghosting and complex images.

So normally what we would do is; Select the images we want to make an HDR with and just export and do the merge with the program we are going to use and that works fine.

 But like I said I am lazy and also impatient and the last thing I like doing is watching progress bars go across my screen and spinning doohickeys. I wanna work NOW. So why do that twice.

What I do is; I do my merge in Photomatix Pro and have it show the 32Bit file before it goes to tone mapping.






















After the merge, at that point I save the file as a Radiance HDR file.









Then I go on to Tone map in Photomatix Pro. But when I want to see the results I would get in Nik HDR Efex Pro I only have to open the Radiance HDR file and go, no waiting for the merge.

And like I have said before. It’s not that one program is better than the other, they are just different. They just plain do things differently and you can’t make either one look like the other.

I just hope that neither one finds out or they will both leave my computer and I would be stuck with HDR in Photoshop, and she’s just plain homely


Hope that helps


Product Review: onOne Software Perfect Photo Suite 6

Product Review: onOne Software Perfect PhotoSuite6 

Today we are going to take a look at onOne Software’s Perfect Photo Suite 6. I’ve been a fan of OnOne Software eve since I used Genuine Fractals which is now known as Perfect Resize. 

Perfect Photo Suite 6 consists of seven programs in one;

  • Perfect Layers 2
  • Perfect Mask 5
  • Perfect Portraits 1
  • Perfect Effects 3
  • Focal Point 2
  • PhotoFrame 4
  • Perfect Resize 7

 These plug-ins work with Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture BUT it is also a completely stand alone program if you desire 

You may say; I don’t need all those programs. Well rest assured that all the programs are available separately. BUT buying these bundled in this suite basically gives you 7 programs for the price of 3, so it’s kind of a no brainier why I am reviewing this as the suite 

Some of you may also ask; This is an HDR site, why do I care about any of these especially something like Portrait 1? Well, I’ll show you why you may want most of some of these programs but I also know that a lot of the readers here do HDR for fun but actually as a profession, shoot portraits and weddings. So take from this what you want and skip over what doesn’t interest you. But I think quite a bit will. 

So why do I need ANY of this? 

Now I know a lot about my readers and I know a lot of you LOVE Lightroom. I also know that a lot of you use Lightroom and then Photoshop Elements for some light finishing work. But what is the one thing that Lightroom can’t do and what can’t early versions of Elements do that really would be helpful? 

Layers and Layer Masks

When I talked about “Blends” In this article and Kenn Stamp talked about Blending 3 HDR images together. Did you Lightroom users feel left out? Well you needn’t any longer. onOne Perfect Layers 2 allows you to take multiple images from Lightroom and mask those layers as you want. In fact by using Lightroom’s “Virtual Copy” feature you can take a single image, do two different adjustments on that single image and then take them both into Perfect Layers 2 as two layers and do with them as you please. 

Perfect Layers 2

For this example I took Two separate images, I first optimized each image in Lightroom (One for the sky, one for the ground)and then brought them into Perfect Photo Suite 6 (By using the command File>Plug-In Extras>Photo Suite) 

That command brings them into Perfect Photo Suite 6 and stacks them as layers; you can change the layer order by dragging one on top of the other. Then you can use different tools to mask the top layer to reveal the layer below. The main tools are a Brush and then the Masking Bug – OnOne’s Selective area tool.

So I brought these two images into Perfect Photo Suite 6 and quickly just using the brush tool I was able to mask off the sky of the top layer to reveal the better exposed sky of the second exposure I shot. So those of you that are interested in doing Blends as your means of HDR, this tool worked quickly and easily. I had my blend made in less that 30 seconds and could save that image back to Lightroom (Note that this program exports the files and re-imports them as PSD files)


























So Yeah Yeah That’s great you just had a simple horizon line to follow, it should have been easy. Try doing that with a complex mask trying to go in between things. That’s a pain with layer mask brushes and even selection tools in Photoshop do a crummy job. 

Oh I just love a dare and so does onOne. Enter onOne’s next program: Perfect Mask 5. By using the tools in Prefect Mask 5 I was able to select what I didn’t want and what I did want and with just a few quick strokes and refinements, I was able to mask this complex blend in minutes.













I simply used the Keep and Drop Eye droppers and told the programs what colors I wanted to eliminate and which one’s I wanted to keep. You can see those colors in the palates on the right

 Then I just did a quick couple strokes with  magic brush on part of the sky and that was gone,

 Then using the refine brush all the space between the railings was gone.


Then using the chisel tool and the blur tool I was able to refine the edges perfectly – All in very little time. Here is what the actual mask looked like in Grayscale priview mode

 And here is the final image, done in just a few minutes

























Now that’s cool. 

I’m going to rush through some of the other section of Perfect Photo Suite 6 because I don’t want this post to be a mile long.

 Portrait 1 

The next section you can access all from the Photo Perfect Suite 6 module is Portrait one. Portrait one is for retouching of portraits more precisely faces and skin which can really be tough for portrait shooters. I haven’t used Portrait 1 yet, but I watched a demo of it at the David Zizer tour and it was really impressive. The great part was it didn’t make the skin look all plasticy as some programs similar to this do. And it would quickly and easily which is something that portrait shooters that have hundreds of files to work on really love. 

Perfect Effects 3

Perfect Effects 3 is an effects browser that you can apply to your images. It has ton of presets in 14 different categories, From Black & White to Film Simulation effects, Vintage effects, Vignettes, tons of different things. They aren’t really adjustable but the presets were very nicely made that you probably won’t want to touch them.

My favorite was Daguerreotype, probably cuz I love that word.













Focal Point 2

Focal point 2 is a selective focus tool if you want to simulate a shallow DOF or want to do the Toy Camera (Tilt-Shift) effect that is popular right now. 

PhotoFrame 4

I didn’t think I would like this at all but actually it was fun. PhotoFrame 4 allows you to put defeat frames or frame simulations around your image. They really aren’t so much frames as what would be called borders to graphics people. So don’t think this is going to be a bunch of didn’t frames like wood frames or metal frames like you would put your finished photo in. 

This would be of better use as a Digital Mat. Like I said I didn’t think I would like this but I do make a lot of greeting cards and these borders would actually really come in handy for making those 













Perfect Resize

And finally a product I have been a big fan of for years. When it was under the name Genuine Fractals (gee, wonder why they changed THAT name LOL) now it is Perfect Resize. 

One of my favorite things to do with my images is have them printed and I Loves my images HUGE. I’ve printed up to 40” x 60” but a lot of print labs have a 100ppi minimum to make a print so that would mean a 4,000 x 6,000 pixel file at a minimum. And then on top of that, the common wisdom is to leave your file at the cameras resolution and any scaling should be done by the lab. Which I agree with to a point. That is what I would do for my prints up to 20 x 30. 

But when I push beyond that point, I want control because I want to see what the image looks like scaled BEFORE I just paid for a $300 Print and quite honestly I don’t trust anyone. I could use Photoshop to resize and in Bi-Cubic it does a pretty good job and if I was just scaling up a bit I wouldn’t think twice about using it. But when I want to have something create and interpolate more than double the pixels. I want a program made for that job and Perfect Resize is that tool 

Perfect Resize uses an “Adaptive Algorithm” so it does more than just sample the four closest pixels (as bi-cubic would do), it instead takes into account where that pixel is, such as if it is an edge and uses the correct algorithm to make that edge look it’s best. 

It’s just great software and  you can make huge prints out of a good file. For those of you that like to have your images made into Canvas Gallery Wraps, Perfect Resize now has a Gallery Wrap feature that will duplicate your edges for the wrap so that you are not wasting any pixels on the wrap part. Very cool.



So there you have it. Quite a bit of software put together in a nice suite but even if you just want one part you won’t be disappointed. 

If you are worried about having to learn new software, worry not. Take advantage of onOne’s onOne University where they have Video Tutorials and Webinars to help you get up and running quickly. I was fumbling around with Perfect Mask 5  so I watched a couple short videos and I was maneuvering through it like a pro

Let me just make one point so that you aren’t disappointed. This is very powerful software, as such it is really system intensive ( Especially Perfect Resize) and will use a good amount of your system resources so make sure your system meets the the system requirements so that you don’t run into problems that are more of a fault of a deficient system than the software itself. Even though my system matched their specs, I found that updating the driver on my video card helped to make the software run smoother. Updating your driver for your video card isn’t a bad idea when running any Photo software especially Photoshop CS 4 or CS 5. It can REALLY make a difference.


To Try or Buy onOne’s Photo Perfect Suite 6 or any onOne software CLICK HERE

For 10% off your order enter the coupon code: THEHDRIMAGE10  at check out



Batch Processing in Photomatix Pro 4.1

Reader Steve in comments on the article Shooting Architectural Interiors reminded me that there are times we need to have speed and efficiency on our side. Or we just want to get through the boring part of processing images…that forever wait of watching progress bars on our screen.

So in those cases one of our options may be batch processing. I thought I would give a quick run through of batch processing images in Photomatix Pro 4.1

It’s a pretty simple process, IF you have your Ducks ( or exposures ) in a Row. This process will only work if all the images you have in your folder are in a series of shots, Say 3 Exposure auto Bracketed or 5 exposure.You have to make sure you don’t have any stray single images or messed up sequences. So once you have your folder in order you can proceed with the batching.

In the Photomatix Panel, Click on Batch Bracketed Photos and the new window will pop up.

The nice thing is we an make a choice here. Do we want to just merge the images and have our 32Bit image  done with which we can Tone Map them separately at a later time. Or do we want the full process done and when it is all done we have a fully Merged and Tone Mapped image waiting in our folder when we get back from the run to Starbucks?

 If you have a bunch of bracketed images that are of  the same subject and conditions, you may be able batch including using Tone Mapping settings that you can set before you begin the process. But if you have a batch of images that are all over the place you may want to just have the images merged to the 32 bit file and then tone map each image separately. Believe me if you have a lot of images to work on. Even Merging all the files ahead of time is nice. Not that is saves any time. But you can go off and do something else while they are merging instead of sitting there while you do them one  by one.

So we can see by the screen. That we have a bunch of choice and selections to make.

Click to enlarge in a new window

First off we choose If we want  to Merge the files and then if we want to apply any Tone Mapping to them. We can choose any of the Tone mapping styles and also set the setting within them.

Next up in order is the number of images in the sequence, If we simply have say all 3 image sequences, we can choose that. But suppose we did some 3 image sequences and then also some 5 image sequences? Clicking on the advanced button will bring up a new window that allows us to have the software detect the sequences and it does so on a on time between shots process, If it detects an amount of time  that is adjustable but say 4 seconds between, it assumes that you have started a new sequence. You can even choose to only merge 3 out of 5  exposure shot if you so choose in this panel.























Next down, You can choose the folder you want to process or the individual files you want to process, I like getting things arrange in the folder like I said earlier and just choosing that.

And then finally you can choose the destination  that you want the final images to end up in. What type of file you want the Tone Mapped and the 32 Bit image to be saved as and also if you choose tone mapping do you want the 32 Bit image to be removed once the tone mapping is done.

It’s a pretty smooth and painless process with plenty of options.

I may not always use it for what I shoot since even if I shoot 300 images in an evening  I may only choose to do 3 – 6 HDRs from the whole shoot. But other times or in cases like shooting Interiors for HDR you may want to use batching to speed along the process or at least allow you to get other things done while it’s all working.

Hope that helps,


Single Image HDR Processing

I haven’t been a big fan of Single Image HDRs or more precisely Single Image Tone Mapped images, but I am softening my view and it can be great fun

I do still believe if we want to do a true High Dynamic Range image, it should be done right and the time taken to do just that but I have softened my stance on single image HDR.

We do have to be honest ab0ut what it is. We are NOT extending the dynamic range of an image but rather just Tone Mapping the dynamics that are there. In other words we are placing a tone in a different part of the spectrum then it may have been before. Usually this means bring some areas that were lost to shadow up into the midrange and lowering some highlights. Some programs also add some sharpening to bring out detail.

Continue reading »

Single Image Processing

Those of you that know me know I wasn’t a big fan of single image processing well until I did this article

I do still believe if we want to do a true High Dynamic Range image, it should be done right and the time taken to do just that but I have softened my stance on single image HDR.

We do have to be honest ab0ut what it is. We are NOT extending the dynamic range of an image but rather just Tone Mapping the dynamics that are there. In other words we are placing a tone in a different part of the spectrum then it may have been before. Usually this means bring some areas that were lost to shadow up into the midrange and lowering some highlights. Some programs also add some sharpening to bring out detail.

For this example I used the Single Image Processing in Photomatix Pro 4.1, Nik HDR Efex Pro, The new Topaz Adjust 5 and then an example of just using sharpening  with Nik Sharpener 3.0

I didn’t try to match results from each program, just rather played and found what I liked in each one

So with that in mind I thought I would show some examples of single image processing and I thought I would use an example of a case where this may be our only choice; Race Cars at speed.

This image was shot at the Classic and Historic car races in Coronado

This is the original image










First up, I used Photomatix Pro 4.1. To do a single image in Photomatix is easy. Just go to File> Open and open the image you want to process, when it opens, click Tone Mapping. This was my result










Next up was Nik HDR Efex Pro. From Lightroom, simply right click the image you want to work on and  say >Export to:










Here is the result from the  NEW Topaz Labs, Topaz Adjust 5 ( Full review coming soon!)

 Using one of the New Presets that are apart of the big improvement in the program, HDR Heavy Pop Grunge









Just for comparison, This is one of the old Adjust 4 Presets, HDR Sketch (all of the Adjust 4 Presets are still in Adjust 5, just 171 new ones added)










And then just for fun I tried one other thing, This is a Preset I built in Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0 to simulate a single image HDR effect which works more on detail than tone.

(Display mode. Adaptive sharpening 64%, Structure 78%, Local Contrast 91%)











 So there you have it, a lot of different looks and of course within each program the different styles are almost endless.

One thing of note was that Photomatix was the only program that worked on tone only and did not include an amount of sharpening.  I thought that was kinda of cool. It may not be the effect you want, but the fact that I could control that afterwards was a good thing.


Hope that helps



Reader HDR Image Critique – Bill McClung

Well it looks like this is a big week for reader featured images and critiques. But I think they are fun and a good learning experience so I am going to add one more this week.

This image comes from reader Bill McClung.

Click to enlarge

 Here is what Bill had to say about his Image:

1.  The photo was taken from the back deck of our home, in Hendersonville, North Carolina (Western NC).  It was early morning (around 7:45 a.m.), before the ground fog lifted.  I had played around with the trial version of the Photomatix Pro software, before purchasing it, but this was my first “real” attempt.

 2.  I used a Panasonic LX5 camera , tripod mounted.

 3.  Three images were made (-2, 0 & +2), using auto-bracket.

 4.  I used the Photomatix Pro  software and made several manual adjustments.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough to record the changes (I AM doing that now!). 

 5.  The modified image was then imported into PhotoShop Elements 7 for cropping and some minor tweaking.

 6.  We live in a beautiful part of the Western North Carolina mountains and have many spectacular sunrises and sunsets.  I manage to get a lot of nice sunset photos, but sunrise photos are very rare for me.  Fortunately, my wife hauled my butt out of bed when she saw how beautiful it was outside.  I wasn’t all that excited at the time but, when I saw the image results, it was WELL worth getting up early!

 Thanks for submitting this Bill, The image is beautiful BUT, now for the critique



The subject is very beautiful, the fact that there is fog in the valley adds to the image immensely and that is indeed the subject. However there are two subjects in the image and I will address that in a bit.


Absolutely beautiful light, shooting at this time of day or it’s corresponding evening time will add to any image. This image shot even an hour later would have been lost. Because of the subtleties of tone if it was shot any later with more contrasty light the image would fail. The nice transition of the early morning skies with the purple to pink hues is excellent and well captured

HDR & Post Processing

3 images 2 stops apart was the right choice for this image. The Dynamic Range was wide because you have the lightness of the fog but you also have some deep shadow areas in the wooded section. More frames would have done nothing for this image. The HDR Processing in PhotoMatix Pro is very good too. Bill went for a very natural look which is what this calls for. The colors and light are so subtle that if you went any further it would have ruined the tonality of the image.

The only thing the image is lacking is a Pure black for the small amount of shadow areas there are. Without that the image comes off slightly flat especially in the foreground tree area. I either would have moved the blacks sliders up in Photomatix or fixed it in post with a level or curves adjustment


Well I kept the worst for last because this is where the image falls a little flat; composition. But the image still has it’s good points. Using the tree as a natural frame works wonderfully. It frames the “Subject” of the image; the fog encased valley. However Bill’s eye was caught by another subject, That Flame Red tree, which of course is beautiful. The eye naturally goes to Red, Orange and Yellow objects first. And there in lies the problem. It pulls the eye from the true subject of the image. It by itself could have been another image, but in this case  it actually detracts from the composition of the image.

Now possibly, if Bill repositioned himself far to the left or right, he may have been able to move that tree closer to the primary subject to get them both in, but from this angle it doesn’t work.

The next problem is the placement of the foreground subject, the other tree that frames the image. It’s in No-Mans-Land. It’s neither centered for symmetry nor is it placed in the more correct “Rule of thirds or ” Golden Section” zones. I think if Bill would have placed the tree off to the right and instead off all the periphery of the wooded area and concentrated more on the distant subject of the valley it would have helped 

Rule of Thirds

For those of you unfamiliar with  the “Rule of Thirds. It is an aesthetic  design and art rule for placement of objects within a scene

Here is what a Thirds grid would look like on this image. What we are trying for is to have our subject at the intersection of two of the thirds lines

Bill did do a good job of keeping the horizon line of the valley low and not centered in the image which is a very common mistake

 Now, the Rule of Thirds is the most well known of compositional elements. But look closely at this image, because of the size of the foreground object. There really isn’t a good way to place the trees into the image since they really are spread across the image. Rule of Thirds  don’t really help us with this image. Plus the tree itself does not make a good subject, it should instead serve it’s purpose as a “Frame” of the real subject

Golden Spiral

So instead I am going to suggest two much more radical approaches to the composition of this image: A square crop, based on a Golden Spiral. A golden Spiral is based on Golden Ratios or Golden Means which in themselves are based upon Fibonacci Series. Now I could go into the whole math explanation…actually no, I couldn’t because I suck at math. But without making this complicated and instead making it for the right brained. Picture a nautilus shell and overlay that on your photo

 Now I would crop to that shell and it would give me this composition on a square crop

Is this correct? Who knows, it’s just another way of Seeing.

Overall Bill has a very good image. I just think that composition could be worked on. Remember when we are standing on Bill’s beautiful deck looking out on his view, we can use our eyes and mind to find the elements that are beautiful and pleasing to us and our mind isolates them from the periphery. When we now have a  photograph we no longer have that luxury and must instead lead the viewer where we want them to go and we do that through composition

Thanks Bill. Great share.

All Images copyright Bill McClung, do not copy or use without permission, all rights reserved

Remember if you would like to have your HDR Image Featured or Critiqued just follow the directions here



Topaz Labs releases Topaz Adjust 5

 Our good friends at Topaz Labs today released Topaz Adjust 5 the follow up to their highly sucessful Adjust 4 that I wrote about recently.

Some of the new features that make this software even better than before are:

  • Simplified 1-click workflow with 107 new presets split into 7 convenient effect categories.
  • Intuitive 4-in-1 selective brush used to dodge, burn, smooth, and brush out
    adjustments. Plus advanced edge-aware technology!
  • Integration of the Apply button – so you can stack multiple effects and presets during the same workflow.
  • Finishing Touches tab with options for warmth, grain, transparency, and more…

Till November 30th , They are offering 30% off your purchase of Adjust 5, Just enter the code  “ADJUSTME” at check out.

Previous owners of Adjust  get a free upgrade and you can also save on Bundle upgrades.

I will be doing a full review on Topaz Adjust 5 as soon as I put it through it’s paces

Borrow Lenses.Com

lens rental

Have you ever been on the fence about what new lens or camera you want?

Or getting a chance to shoot something special but you don’t have the right lens for it and don’t want to put out $4,000 for a lens you only need for a couple of days.

Your best bet in both these cases is to rent the equipment.  And is just the right place.

In most cases top shelf glass costs $1200 and up. So if you are faced with the decision if this would be the right lens for you and not a total waste of  thousands of dollars you would have to resell at a loss, it’s probably a good idea to test drive that lens for a couple of days before you pull the shutter on that major purchase.

I know I am waiting for my next Photo shoot at a great location to rent the Zeiss 18mm Distagon Wide angle lens. I’ve been lusting after this lens for a while now and the 3 day rental is so reasonable it will cost me less than gas to the location has available for rent: Lenses, Cameras, Speedlights, Studio Lights, Radio Triggers, Lightmeters, video equipment. You name it photographically and they probably rent it. 

Just a quick word about my sponsor ads. All of my Tutorials here on the blog are free. A single blog post can sometimes take 3 days to put together. My only means of support to do all this is through the great sponsor ads I have on this blog. I only represent people that I really think are doing it right.

So if you like the content here, please do me a favor and support all my sponsors, It’s really a win win situation, You get all my tutorials, PLUS a great product, in some cases at a discount price. All for just what you would have paid for that product alone.  I really appreciate it as much as my sponsors do.

Thank you!



Reader HDR Image Critique

Reader HDR Image Critique 

This week we had an image submitted for critique by our friend Miguel Palaviccini Miguel is a great guy and a great photographer too, you should check out his wildlife shots!

Miguel shot a sunrise over a lake and had some difficulties processing the shot. 

Here are the final images Miguel got. 

The first one was processed using Nik HDR Efex Pro.


Miguel while liking the process noticed some problems at the trees edges  

Miguel next took the image into Photomatix Pro 4.1 (don’t forget there is 15% off with coupon code: theHDRimage)


He got better results with the merge but didn’t like the process, lots of haloing, graying around the reflected sun, general funkiness 

It took me a while to really analyze the two images and then also to analyze the 9 Images Miguel shot to make this image. 

When I finally figured it out it came down to a few things 

  • Alignment errors
  • More is Less sometimes
  • Trying to make an image something it is not. 

So let’s deconstruct the image and then try to see where things went wrong 

Here are the 9 images Miguel used for his merge



An image like this with thousands of small branches or lines is extremely tough on any Merge program. In the first place even on a very good tripod we may have some movement. Sometimes using mirror lockup will help. Sometimes it won’t because the shutter movement itself is enough to cause movement to the next frame. 

But even if there wasn’t any movement, sometimes the software itself thinks it has to do something and does. Sometimes an option is to turn off the alignment completely. I know you can do this in Photomatix, I don’t think you can in Nik. 

But something else was thrown in the mix to make the alignment even more difficult. Look at the bottom 3 frames, because of overexposure those frames have lost all detail so if the software was looking for an edge to align, and there is no detail there to get a correct alignment from. 

More is Less

I think you are going to see a common thread here and where this is all going. The goal in an HDR’s sets of exposure is to have a frame shot so that every tonal area of the image has the “Correct “exposure. We want our highlights exposed correctly with no blow out, we want our Midtones to be correct so they don’t fall into highlight or shadow and we don’t want our shadows blocked up and lack detail NOR so they are either pushed up into the Midtones and create noise and nothing more. 

Looking again at the set of images, we see that the first two criteria were met but where it fails was the last part, the shadows. Too many bracketed images were shot and instead of providing MORE information, they actually just muddled the information in the final image.

 Looking close at the last 4 frames, the shadows instead of correctly exposed are now overexposed and have brought up only noise and we see a total loss of detail in any of the shadow area. We may want to take these shots to have, but that doesn’t always mean we need to use them in our final image. Miguel could have captured the full range of the image in 5 frames.

Making an image what it is not 

Sometimes we have to step back and look at our scene that is there and what is it we are actually shooting and try to make it…just that and not something it is not. 

So what is this image? This is an image of sunrise coming up over a lake and shot through the trees that are Backlit.  And that is the essence that was lost. We are trying, through HDR, to put light were there actually is none. A Back lit subject IS supposed to be dark on the side facing the camera. And not every time that we have the sun in front of us or in the frame do we have a backlit situation. It’s not the orientation to the sun but rather the placement of the sun which determines what is backlit. In this case since the sun was directly behind the trees, it is backlit. So we tried to make the side facing us something it wasn’t nor should be. 

Putting it all together 

So knowing what we know what “I” would have done. (And this is my artistic interpretation and may not at all be what Miguel wants) I would have done the following: 

First off, I would only use the first 5 exposures for my merge. Not only are they all we need exposure wise they will also help with the alignment itself of the image. 

Even with the easier alignment I did notice some smearing in the right hand side of the tree and also in the Reflected sun too. So in Photomatix selective de-ghosting, I selected those areas as Ghosted and used the Middle (0) exposure to de-ghost with. 

This gave me a better merged image to begin tone mapping with. And for this image I used a process just about totally opposite of what I used for my shooting into the sun image, which is kind of the reason I hate posting recipes. Every image is different, every condition different, every problem area different so no one recipe ever fits all or even comes close 

For this image I used 

Strength 50
Saturation 70
Luminosity 0
Detail Enhancer 0
Lighting Effect Natural + (which is just about opposite of what I did for my Sun image)
White Point .867%
Black Point 0
Gamma 1.20
Shadow clipping 43 

This gave me pretty much what I though the image should be. 

I then brought the image into Photoshop and added a Levels adjustment layer to brighten the overall scene a bit but kept it off the sun in both areas. I burned in the shadow areas of the trees just to define the detail just a bit more. And that got me most of the image I wanted. 

But I wanted to push it just a little bit more because I wasn’t happy with the two areas of the sun, the one coming through the tree and the reflected one in the water. So I opened the 3rd image (0) and dragged that on top of the image and masked out everything but the sun from that image and used that exposure only for the final image areas of the sun. 

And this was my final image. The real beauty of the image is not the trees or the water, but just the little pockets of light low in between the trees that we see from the morning sun and the edges of the trees that are highlighted by the glow of the morning sun. There wasn’t and we didn’t need to see any detail on the back of those trees because that would not be “As the eye saw”




Please note, I’m not saying my version is right only that it would be how I would do it using my “vision” 

Hope that helps, 



All Images Copyright Miguel Palaviccini, do not copy or use without permission, All rights reserved

Reader Feature HDR Image of the Week – Kenn Stamp

This weeks Reader Feature HDR Image of the Week  comes from Kenn Stamp.

Kenn saw the Shooting Architectural Interiors post and knew some of the information would come in handy for an upcoming shoot he had.

Here is a result of the shoot and I would say it came out perfect












Here is the Shoot info that Kenn provided

Specs: (from what I remember)

Flowchart of editing:
Photomatix Pro (32 bit, then optimized for interior, then another optimized for exterior, then a 3rd optimized for contrast (B&W))
Photoshop (CS2) combined all layers and masked out areas.
Nik Color Efex plugin for whitening the whites
More masking in CS2
Nik DFine to remove stubborn noise
Lightroom 3 for lens distortion correction and overall fine tuning/re-sizing/exporting
Bed to pass out from exhaustion
Haha, I know what you mean Kenn, sometimes we spend way too much time in front of the computer and this was not the only shot you had to edit.
Like I said I think this is an excellent example. Full detail, Full range of shadow to highlight. Good exposure even into the niche’. I like that you didn’t turn on any light in the adjoining room as that would have been a distraction. And look at that view out the window. Can you image what that would have looked like without HDR?  If you look close Kenn also did an interesting thing. He did a combination of HDR and Blending. Making 3 HDR images optimised ofr different areas and then brought them into Photoshop – Stacked and then masked the areas he want for the best image.
Thanks for the image Kenn!

Remember if you would like your image Featured or Critiqued on  The HDR Image follow the instructions here 

Image is Copyright Kenn Stamp do not copy, reproduce  or use without permission

Follow up on shooting the sun

OK after a crummy week in So Cal, The sun came out. So I thought I would show you what the SUN actually looks like. And yes you can capture the sun without ND filters. But that exposure may not be what you want. The sun becomes very small and the frame with just the cirlce of the sun and complete black will be tough getting aligned and confuses the siftware. So while you CAN capture a “perfect” exposure of the sun…do you want to? Up to you.