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- HDR Pro in Photoshop CS6 – Using ACR
- Twilight – Nature’s HDR
- HDR does not = Light
- onOne Perfect B & W
- Did a Little Housecleaning and a Re-focus
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- 5 Quick Steps to better HDRs – Step 5
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- Follow up on “HDR Styles” Nik Presets download
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- Thought for the Day – First take a Great Photo
- HDR Styles
- Gray Skies forever? Photomatix Pro
- HDR – What is it we actually do?
- Shooting the HDR Night Cityscape
- Measuring & Exposing for Dynamic Range
- OnOne Photo Suite 7 now availble in 3 versions
- At SeeNLearn – Shooting the Telephoto Landscape
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Category Archives: HDR Software
The Affiliate Program(How they advertise here) for the Nik Collection by Google is going away so now will be the last time you can get 15% off the already incredibly Low price for the Nik Collection of $149. That comes to just $126.65 for the best photo-editing suite around. You simply cannot pass this up!
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I’ve never been a fan of making HDRs in Photoshop; other programs like Photomatix and Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 were just simpler and just had much better results. So when I upgraded to Adobe Photoshop CS6 ® a few months ago ( Which I absolutely LOVE), I have to be honest, I really didn’t even take much more than a cursory look at its improved HDR module.
But I thought, if I’m going to talk and teach HDR I need to look at all the tools out there. Not everyone will have the same tools and they may need advice on using a different one.
So I went back to explore HDR Pro in Photoshop CS6. ®
I selected a 3 Exposure set, I recently shot in the desert, in Photoshop Bridge and then went to Tools>Photoshop>Merge to HDR Pro. Alternatively you could use Mini-Bridge in Photoshop, select the 3 files, right click and go to Photoshop>Merge to HDR Pro and lastly you could also in Lightroom select the files and right click and say Edit in> Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop….whew…too many ways, you choose
Once we do this command, Photoshop will open each image and align them before merging. The HDR Pro dialog will then come up and in 8 or 16bit in the dropdown, with its sets of controls and 4 different types of Tone –Mapping/adjustments.
The only one possibly worth while playing with is “Local Adaptation” So I went through and did the best I could but still couldn’t get anything close to what I get in plug-ins or stand alone HDR programs
Here’s the result.
So, is that it? That all I can do in the “new and improved” Photoshop HDR Pro? No actually CS6 has one more trick up its sleeve and a more powerful tone-mapping tool: Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and a 32 bit file
While still in HDR Pro, drop the mode box down to 32bit. You’ll loose all the controls but we really don’t care, we just want the 32 bit file. Now go down and click OK and save the file as a 32 bit File, You have a few options but I choose to use a Tiff.
Now with our 32bit file saved, return to Mini-Bridge, right click the file and say >Open with Camera RAW. You now have the full power of Adobe Camera Raw’s Module. Allowing you to do anything you could with a RAW file but this time a full 32 Bit one which extends some of the adjustments range
So using Camera Raw (ACR) we make adjustments to tonal range compression using the Highlight and Shadow sliders as we move each towards their maximums we compress the tonal range more (lowering the highlights, raising the shadows) or in the opposite direction darkening shadows and lighting highlights.
I found in this image I need to max the controls out to even get close to what I was looking for. Once I got the balance, I could go ahead and make white balance, contrast, Saturation and clarity adjustments to my liking and also use other tools like sharpening and lens correction or any of the tools available in ACR.
I still needed to finish the image in Photoshop which is not usual and a step I do when using any HDR Program so I clicked Open (clicking done just keeps the adjustments to the 32 bit file) Photoshop will now open the image with the settings you use in ACR, so it will open it as either a 16 bit or 8 bit files and color space you have chosen in ACR. From there you can use the full range of tools that are available for 8 or 16 bit files (32bit adjustments are limited and aren’t an option from this route)
So after a bit of tweaking I got a very good image from using Photoshop CS6 HDR Pro, much better than using any of the tone-mapping within HDR Pro.
Here is the final image and below that for comparison, one I edited in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2. Again just different looks just like we get different looks using any of the HDR Programs available. You’ll notice that I also choose different white balance settings for the two examples so that leads to some of the differences in looks here.
As a final note, you can now also do the same Tone –Mapping in Lightroom version 4.1 or later which allows for working on 32 Bit files in the Develop module. You still need to merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop, but you can do your tone mapping in either Lightroom 4.1 or PhotoshopCS6 ACR
Hope that helps,
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I was speaking of “Styles” In a generic terms such as what characteristic may constitute that style ( Halos, graying Sharpness, saturated, desaturated etc..
I also had a number of people ask about my presets for those styles for Nik. In general I don’t use a lot of presets and instead just work image by image but I do have some presets made representing the starting points I used in these examples for Nik HDR Efex Pro.
Remember that presets are just a starting point to take you where your artistic vision wants to go but they may allow you a quicker route. Also remember that most software makers presets tend to be overdone on purpose so that you see the full effect. It’s up to you to dial it back or up to get you where you want your image to be.
Thanks for all the comments on the HDR Styles post. I appreciate hearing from everybody and a lot of people had some good things to add.
You can down load the NIK HDR Efex Pro 2 Presets HERE
I didn’t add a preset for Natural, since I really just kick up the Nik Default by very little…sometimes for a Natural Style, less is more
For those of you that have read my articles on shooting the natural looking HDR Landscape, forget everything you read…well almost everything… when it comes to Night Cityscapes. They are a totally different animal in shooting and processing.
Setting up to shoot
Before we get to exposures and processing, first lets look at how we should shoot a night cityscape regardless of if we are shooting HDR or not.
The first part of this is, even though we are shooting a “Night” cityscape the best time to shoot one is not at “night” but rather during dusk – the 45 minute period following sunset. During dusk it helps that there is still some light to the sky and may help to separate our subject, the buildings, from the background. It will also allow more light on the buildings so we can see more detail in them that may be lost when we are shooting in total darkness besides the light from building and street lights.
Next, since we know we are shooting with much less light than daylight we know we will need to shoot on a tripod because of longer shutter speeds. Of course we could up our ISO but noise is already a huge problem with night shots we really don’t want to exacerbate it more. So the better choice is a sturdy tripod.
When we shoot any long exposures good tripod practices come into play, but they take on even more importance than maybe even shooting a daytime landscape. When we shoot a textured landscape we may not be aware of very small movements. But now when shooting a cityscape with very small point sources of lights, that movement, will be much more evident in our image. So therefore, while I may not use Mirror lockup in a lot of my landscape shooting, I will use it for night cityscapes.
Keeping with our good practices, this also means using our remote shutter releases or timers and I also like to use AEB – automatic exposure bracketing- because it keeps my hands off the camera that could cause movement in between frames (HDR only).
The last part of shooting will be aperture choice. Since most times we are quite a distance from the cityscape and well past the Hyperfocal distance, depth of field is not much of a problem and that opens us up to other choices than we may use during the day. For this shoot I chose f/8 because it tends to be the sweet spot for my lens’s (Canon 24-105mm L 4.0) sharpness. Tests I did this night at f/16 showed just the slightest softness due to diffraction at that aperture. Because of the distance to subject even f/4 is very usable.
You may end up juggling even wider apertures and changes in ISO if you are doing bracketing since you don’t want to hit the 30 second exposure wall that most cameras have. In other words, if you are shooting 3 Exposure 2ev spacing and your middle exposure is 10 seconds you will have a problem because your +2 exposure should be 40 seconds but it won’t be because your camera stops at 30. So then either open up a stop or up your ISO a stop or more. This is another reason I did not use f/16 because it would mean too high of an ISO to get a correct bracket. Now that we are set to shoot let’s move on to the actual shooting.
The first part that most of us get wrong when shooting a night scene, whether traditional or HDR, is that we overexpose them. For the most part a night shot is a Low-Key image. For those of you unfamiliar with Low Key/ High Key; a low key image will have the majority of its value in the lower register of a histogram. A High Key image, the opposite, most of it’s values are in the upper register (No, High Key is not just shooting on a white background) So for our night image, the luminance values of our image will be mostly in the left third of our histogram to give us an image “as the eye sees”. But, just as when we shoot a predominately Black or White object, our camera’s meter is fooled and is trying to make it a midtone, it does the same thing when shooting at night and relying only on our meter the exposure will be pushed into the center zone of our histogram.
When shooting the night HDR, this problem gets exacerbated even more. If we are doing a 3 exposure +-2EV exposure, our 0 exposure is already over exposed – in this example- and then on top of that our +2 exposure will be all wrong and way overexposed and lead us to an image that is soft, with loss of detail and additional noise.
Understand that in a night image, besides street and building lights, there is almost no energy in the highlight area and shadow areas are supposed to be black and without detail to look correct “as the eye sees”
If we took out the point source lights in Night images and only saw what they illuminated, we would find that the image is not really that high of dynamic range. But since those sources do exist in a cityscape if we tried to capture the scene in a single image, either we would loose detail in the buildings getting the lights with detail or vice-versa. So while a night shot out in the desert illuminated by only the moon could be done with a single exposure, a night cityscape benefits from HDR, if done correctly.
So now knowing what we do, my suggestion as a starting point is to measure the scene and then under-expose by 2 stops. So we are basically shooting a -4,-2, 0 sequence but it may take some experimentation from there. We want our “Highlights” exposure to really only expose the street lights and we want our “Shadow” exposure to be no brighter than a midtone. In the actual shoot I got my best results at 1 1/3 to 1 2/3 stops under.
Shooting in this manor I got these three images
Manual Exposure, ISO 100, f/8, AEB 2EV, 5 Second, 1.3 Seconds, 20 Seconds
Not quite what we are used to seeing in an HDR bracket and as some of you may note, some of the single images may be acceptable on their own as a night image. But they are just not there for me. The only exposure that gets the Christmas tree right is the highlight exposure, the only exposure that gets the building lights right is the Middle exposure and the only image that gets the building exposures right is the shadow exposure.
Could I have probably processed my way to an acceptable single image? Yes, but I don’t want to. (I’m a spoiled HDR brat)
Speaking of processing lets work on that next
Processing the Night HDR Cityscape – Nik HDR Efex Pro 2
The first thing I did with my 3 exposures was white balance them in LR. This is another thing our camera will get all wrong especially since there may be 2 or more different sources of light in the image. I will say balance them to your tastes since I have very strong opinions about white balance and what we get so wrong in doing white balance but that’s the topic of another article. You really can’t do a bulk white balance adjustment to all the images shot in your shoot since the white balance changes as you go from the early parts of dusk where the majority of the light energy is from skylight, to later in the shoot where the majority of light energy will come from tungsten and low/high pressure sodium lights. Personally I chose a custom K setting of 5000°k during the first part of dusk to offset some blue and then a setting of 3700°k to offset the yellow of the city lights later in the shoot. In this instance the WB picker in LR, I feel, does not render the best results. With that done, on to our HDR processing.
Taking our 3 exposures into Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, we’ll start with alignment and deghosting. This is going to depend a lot on how you shot in the first place. But in this example because I was so careful in the shooting, I actually turned OFF, alignment and deghosting. In the perfect storm you can get a sharper more detailed image with out the software doing anything. But it really depends. You can tell when alignment/deghosting gets it all wrong or your shooting technique gets it all wrong, if you see black centers to your point sources of light or micro-ringing around those lights.
Once we get alignment correct we can merge our images and move on to the tone mapping. As I said at the beginning, forget everything I said when shooting the natural landscape. The first thing you should notice is, just like our camera tries to make everything a midtone, so will our HDR programs. There’s nothing wrong with them, (HDR Programs) it’s just what they do. It’s just knowing how to correct for that.
The first thing is compression, as they say in Brooklyn, forgetaboutit. In the first place for the majority of the image, the dynamic range is not that high so there isn’t much to tame with compression. Use too much compression and you will see an instant graying and dulling to the image and I don’t mean just 0 compression, I mean -100 compression. Your results may vary and they probably will, but just be aware, if you see a problem, you may have a fix here.
The next thing to work on is exposure. For most of the shots that night, I ended up reducing exposure by 50-60 % ! Next, work with the shadow and highlight to reduce or increase as necessary to increase detail and contrast globally. If you find it necessary you may need to use some control point to work on smaller areas without affecting the whole image. Use your judgment.
Structure, yes we all love structure but this is one control we really have to be careful with in a night shot. Sometimes just a little will cause huge amount of haloing around the buildings. The other problem is, like it or not, structure brings out noise especially in a blank sky, if you really need to use it use it with a control point on something you want more detail to but noise will not be as visible because of the texture of the object. For me I turn off structure and instead will use sharpening later in the process.
Saturation; I’m a saturation guy but again it is a control we really have to be careful with because it can cause Bloom around the point source lights. So use it to taste but be careful.
At this point you should be done and if you’re like me you finish the image off in Lightroom or Photoshop.
Processing the Night HDR Cityscape – Photomatix Pro 4
Processing in Photomatix proves to be the same situation as HDREfex Pro 2, I’m doing things Iwould not normally do with my HDRs for a natural look.
Opening the images in Photomtaix, I will use the Alignment and Auto-Deghosting before the merge. Once Merged and I begin Tone-mapping, I’ll start with a Strength of 75 and a Saturation of 70. Where I really go off my usaal path is with lighting effects, I normally use Natural or Narural + in my processing, this time I will go between Medium and Sureal a setting I almost never use.
Moving down to White Point I set that to about 0.036%, Black point to 1.55% and a Gamma of 1.20 and that’s all I do before I take the image into final processing
Final Processing - Nik HDR Efex Pro 2
Taking the image into LR, I made some horizon adjustments and lens correction (I prefer to do them post HDR process so as to not interfere possibly with alignment). Taking the image into Photoshop I wanted to remove some noise in the image and turned to Nik Define2.0. There are times I would just paint it to the sky and water in the image to retain the most detail in the buildings but I really had great detail to work with in the entire image.
And the last thing I did was sharpening using, of course, Nik Sharpener 3.0, in this instance I painted it only onto the buildings. The sky and water would not benefit from any sharpening and it would only increase noise.
And here is my final image. How “I” like my night images to look. Of course, as usual, your vision may vary.
Final Processing – Photomatix Pro 4
I followed the same process of noise reduction and sharpening, Thsi time turning instead to Topaz DeNoise 5 using the Raw-Strong setting and Topaz Detail 2 (soon to be 3)
This is a link to a med res. of the feature image on the top of the page image, my favorite image from 2 evenings done as a wide-format image and Process3ed with Nik HDR Efex Pro 2
If you would like to experiment with my 3 exposures and try your hand using your techniques, I have a download link for the 3 images plus a basic night preset as a starting point For Both Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 and HDRsoft’s Photomatix Pro4 for those that want to play. Remember my images are Copyright and you may only use them for personal use and education. You DO NOT have permissions of derivate art of any kind. Any other use and I will own your house…just kidding…maybe…kinda
Hope that helps
Unified Color Technologies ANNOUNCES HDR Express™ 2
Enhanced Workflow and Improved Processing Algorithms Make
Creating True-Color HDR Images Accessible to Users of All Skill Levels
Belmont, CA – November 5, 2012 – Unified Color Technologies, the experts in high dynamic range imaging (HDR), today announced the launch of HDR Express TM 2. The latest evolution of Unified Color’s true-color HDR software features its most streamlined workflow yet, making it ideal for photo enthusiasts new to HDR. HDR Express 2 has further simplified the HDR photography process to a point that promises users of any skill level first-time success when creating 32-bit color HDR images.
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In addition to feature improvements and algorithm updates, Unified Color is dedicated to continuing its aggressive commitment to color accuracy. Powered by the company’s Beyond RGBTM color technology, which allows color and brightness channels to be adjusted independently thus preventing the telltale color shifts associated with the HDR grunge–look. Unlike other photo editing software, the new HDR Express 2 features “Adaptive Tone Mapping” algorithms that further improve contrast, color, and detail retention in the highlight areas of large dynamic range images, while also maintaining optimal contrast and color in darker areas of image.
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Additional new features of HDR Express 2 include:
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HDR Express 2 is available immediately for a special introductory price $84 through Nov 12, 2012, after which it will be available for the regular price of $99. Current Unified Color customers can upgrade to HDR Express 2 for just $59.
PC: Widows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista (for 20 MP image or larger, 64-bit Windows version is recommended.) 2.0GHz dual core minimum, 2GB RAM (recommend 4GB), 128MB video card memory.
Apple: Intel Macintosh 2.0 GHz dual core CPU with 2GB minimum RAM (4GB is recommended) running Mac OS 10.6.4 (Snow Leopard), Mac OS 10.7.5 (Lion) and now OS 10.8.x (Mountain Lion).
About Unified Color
Unified Color Technologies is redefining the capabilities of visual technology with a unique color system that powers the next-generation of high dynamic range (HDR) imaging devices and software. A significant improvement over current industry standards, Unified Color’s new Beyond RGBTM color model presents a versatile color platform which is able to map a much larger color space encompassing the full human visual spectrum including colors found in nature and man-made light sources. Beyond RGB is available for licensing to digital imaging companies looking for a competitive market advantage. Powered by the Beyond RGB color model, the company’s flagship HDR software offerings have set a new industry standard for creating, depicting and editing the most realistic HDR images. More information about Unified Color can be found at http://www.unifiedcolor.com.
How many times have you finished tone mapping an image and made your final Tiff or Jpeg image only to think that you wish you would have done things differently in your HDR program when tone mapping or adding adjustments during the HDR process?
Do you wish that you could just go back to where you left off in that process and make any change you wanted?
Well of course you could just merge the images again and yeah you were smart enough to save the recipe you used as a preset. But what about the 20 control points you added to the image. Plus all that time spent remerging and aligning the initial images. There has to be a better way.
There is, using HDR Efex Pro 2 as a Smart Object/Smart Filter in Photoshop.
What is a Smart Object?
Smart Objects have been around in Photoshop since I think CS2; however they really came into their own in versions CS4 and later. I just upgraded to Adobe Photoshop CS6 so I’m loving all the new options I have (It is a great upgrade). In the later versions you have options to add layers as a Smart Object and use them with the filters in your filter menu.
A Smart Object allows for a couple things. The main thing that people like about a smart object is that it is pretty much infinitely resizable within your Image, retaining all the characteristics of the original layer even if you blow the object up to much larger proportions. This is much like using a Vector image in Illustrator except that it is still a Raster (Pixel) image. So you don’t see any of the pixelization or jagged edges you would have if doing that with a standard Raster (Pixel) layer.
That’s the main use of a Smart Object but for us there is another use that really fits our needs. It allows us to go back and edit any filter we use on that Smart Object layer. *If we drop down our filter list in Photoshop, virtually all of those filters can be applied to a smart object layer and later in our process we can go back and make changes to the filter and all the while doing so in a Non-Destructive manner.
That is a really cool thing. So we are going to show how to use Smart Objects but in a very specific way with Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro 2, which because it operates in the 32 bit domain (as opposed to 16 or 8 bit we are used to working in) It has a few things we need to be aware of.
Using Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 as a Smart Object/Filter
We will begin out journey here in Photoshop Bridge (sorry Lightroom users, although you can open an image as a smart object in Photoshop from LR, we can’t do the merge and enter HDR Efex Pro from there as a smart object)
In Bridge, we select the images we want to use for our HDR and then with them selected go up to Tools > Nik Software > Merge to HDR Efex Pro 2. (It’s also available on the right click/ctrl click flyout)
This will be begin the process. A screen in HEP2 will pop up with these options:
And there under the red arrow is the most important part of the merge process, the check box for “Create Smart object”.
From here, everything continues as it normally does, the alignment/ deghosting opens and from there right into our normal tone mapping. We do anything and everything we want to to the image, apply presets, make adjustments, add control points and when we have it as we think we want. We click OK
Now the image will open in Photoshop and we have our image as a Smart Object layer.
Returning to HDR Efex Pro 2 tone-mapping
From this point if we want to go back to Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, we simply click on the smart filter; HDR Efex Pro 2 and that brings us right back to where we left off.
All our adjustments just as we were and completely editable, all our control points exactly where they were and fully editable. The only thing missing is the history and we can’t enter the merge dialog again but that really OK since everything else is fully editable. Clicking OK once again brings us back to Photoshop.
So that’s cool enough and I usually will at this point save this image as a Layered Tiff or PSD file.
At this point we will of course want to carry on with our finish post processing of our image but this brings up one peculiarity to using a Smart Layer on HEP2 that I mentioned earlier. The image is a 32 bit Image so that means that not all adjustments or filters are available to work on 32 bit images. They’ve added more and more as Photoshop has progressed but still are quite limited…
Some Limitations and Workarounds
Adjustment Layers are limited to Levels, Exposure, Hue/Saturation and the Channel Mixer. Sometimes that’s all I might need.
Filters are limited to a few Blur and Sharpen effects.
But we can open up more adjustments and filters by changing the mode of our image ( I still would save a copy in 32 bit) to 16 bit or 8 bit mode.
We do this by highlighting the Layer (Layer 0) and then going up to Image > Mode > 16 Bit (or 8 bit) It will ask if we want to merge the layers, Say “Don’t Merge”
It will convert the mode of each exposure layer and then allow for more different Adjustment Layers and a full range of filters including other Nik Filters. In fact those Nik filters are so smart on their own that they will recognize that they are being applied to a smart layer and will themselves be editable as a smart object. How cool is that?
Now of course there is never a free lunch in life or editing. There still are some things we can not do with our image as a smart object. We can’t Paint on them, *Edit, Thanks to Steve’s suggestion, You can Paint if you add a Blank Layer above the Smart Layer” …..we can’t Dodge and Burn. We can’t clone or heal. Basically anything that operates on a pixel level we can’t do. So at this point if you wanted to edit and refine further we would have to merge down the image and rasterize it thus eliminating the smart layer and our ability to edit in HDR Efex Pro 2. (Photoshop will warn you this will happen). That’s’ why I say to save separate copies at maybe one or two points in the process so you can always return to a state you may need.
So you may flatten the image and finish your project.
One note though of something that May happen and how to handle it. Depending on when you flatten the image, if it is still a 32 bit image when you flatten the image, Photoshop assumes you are merging an HDR and will open up its own tone mapping. (This happens anytime you change from 32 bit to another bit depth, which is how you can tone-map a single image in Photoshop, convert to 32 bit and back) To work around this, simply drop down the Method list to Exposure and Gamma, make sure the controls are “Centered” (Exposure 0.0 – Gamma 1.0) and click OK.
At this point it is just like working on any merged image and you can do anything in Photoshop your heart desires, of course EXCEPT, go back and edit the Smart HDR Efex Pro 2 Filter. That’s’ why I say once again to save separate copies along the way. They may save you a ton of time. And remember you can use Smart Objects with all filters including other Nik Products like Color Efex Pro 4 And Silver Efex Pro 2
Hope that helps
Thanks to Janice Wendt at Nik Software for her enlightening me on Smart Objects and Nik Filters
To Try or Buy Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 Click Below. ( for 15% The Nik collection by Google click the link and use code THEHDRIMAGE at checkout
Oh if you want to see the final image, Here it is:
Maybe 40 years from now we will look back and be putting noise into our images remembering it with the rose color fondness that film grain has and debating whether Nikon noise or Canon noise looked better.
What is Noise?
Just what is “Noise”? Where does it come from, how can we prevent it and how do we get rid of it if we can’t?
Noise is present in all electrical devices because well, simply nothing is perfect and through all the circuitry in devices there is always some trade off and some nasty by-products to everything, Noise being one of them. In our Digital images it shows up as circular points with some hard contrasty edges that take away from the smoothness of our image and can mask some of the important detail in our images if it becomes excessive.
Noise is always present, it’s just a matter of whether it is visible in normal viewing, which could be on-screen or in print. The point at which it becomes distracting may be up to the individual or the particular image or even how it is viewed.
Here is a typical noisy image that was both shot at high ISO and underexposed by about a stop
What makes noise visible?
Noise may become visible and an annoyance from a few different sources.
- ISO noise, the higher the ISO we use in our cameras, the more noise they generate. Cameras have gotten a lot better operating at higher ISOs without excessive noise but every camera has a threshold.
- Long Exposure Noise. When we do very long exposures, such as shooting Star Trails at night or long multiple minute exposes to fog water for that cotton candy effect or simply shoot in very low light. During those long exposures, the Digital Sensor produces heat which can also produce unpleasant noise.
- Under-exposing our images. When we underexpose our shots, it makes the noise in the shadow and midtone areas much more visible. Good exposures and quality light is essential to keep noise down. Some even “Expose to the right” or slightly overexpose images (without clipping) in order to later in processing bring back down the exposure and with it the noise level
- Excessive or aggressive Editing. Anytime we work on a pixel image and increase the luminance (lightness) or chrominance (Color) values in any way, we increase the visibility of noise. The more we do, the worse it usually gets, Even popular techniques like HDR can increase noise because in the tone mapping of those images, pixel values are raised in order to bring our shadow areas for more detail that may have been invisible in a non-HDR image. Even the popular Single Image HDR type processes which I love can introduce noise because it essentially is doing tone mapping and raising pixel values.
- JPEG Compression Noise. This is different than sensor noise and has a different look to it, more of a smearing and pixelization. This noise is harder to get rid or but actually may be easier to prevent with proper workflow.
What are some things we can do to prevent noise?
Low ISO First and foremost; we should try to shoot at the lowest ISO possible for our situation. If you can open up your aperture without affecting the DOF you are trying to achieve rather than increase ISO, do that. Slower shutter speeds that still stop the motion we may have or are within the speed that we can hand-hold without showing camera shake then do that. If you can’t handhold and are not shooting a moving object then consider using a tripod instead of raising the ISO.
Expose Correctly Secondly: Expose your scene correctly and as best you can. Underexposing will increase noise, so getting a correct or slightly over exposed image will make all the difference in the world. The best way to know is to check your histogram. If you see most of your histogram bunched up to the left and very few pixels or a big gap on the right, you probably are underexposed.
As I talked about earlier, some photographers like to “shoot to the right” which involves slightly over exposing their images and pushing the curve in the histogram more towards the right hand side. Just don’t go too far and clip your highlight because you may loose detail which can be worse then the noise you are trying to prevent. After someone has shot to the right, usually in post they will bring that luminance range down and take with it noise.
Edit with a light touch Watch your editing. If you have an image that is slightly noisy to begin with or even if you don’t, you can increase and exaggerate that noise by excessive editing and manipulating the lightness values and color values of your image. So try not to push Levels or Curves too far or even the saturation beyond what the image needs.
If you are taking some big swings to give an image Pop or Punch, then consider where in the process you are making those adjustments. If you shoot RAW rather than JPEGs you are at an advantage because in most case in a RAW editor that is not pixel editing you can push things further without some of the side effects you will get if you try to make those adjustments in a Pixel editing program.
Crop reasonably: Also watch how much you crop an image, if you crop too many pixels out of an image we essentially magnify the image and it may make the noise more visible in the image.
For JPEG compression noise, Always save files with the least amount of compression, (Photoshop 10+) or consider using a file format like Tiff or PSDs that are not subject to lossy compression noise.
For long exposure noise, consider turning on the long Exposure Noise Reduction available in the custom menu of better DSLRs.
Getting rid of noise that is there
Despite our best efforts and intentions, you WILL get noise at some point and enough of it that it needs our attention. The best way to deal with it is by a dedicated noise reduction program such as Topaz DeNoise 5
In getting rid of noise in our images we have to make some decisions and observations so that we don’t introduce any counter artifacts in the process such as softness in the image. My usual workflow would be to check for noise in the beginning of my editing process and take care of it in the beginning.
View at the size it will be seen
The most important thing we have to do though is consider how this image will be viewed to determine how much noise reduction we need to use. There are two areas of Post Processing that are totally dependant on this consideration. They are Noise Reduction and Sharpening.
If you have an image that will be seen at 600 x 400 pixels on a web page, that image will need much less noise reduction than an image that is being printed at 20’ x 30” or say 2650 x 1440 Screen wallpaper. Too often we find ourselves pixel peeping at 100, 200 or 300% and we will ALWAYS see noise at those magnifications and many times when we remove noise at those zooms, we actually will remove too much and loose a lot of detail in our images
So when making Noise reduction adjustments and judgments do so at 100% max or even better at the actual print size of screen resolution the image will be used. (For how to calibrate your monitor to show the actual size of a print see this article on Sharpening).
The final thing to think about is that noise is more visible in areas of little detail for the most part. Such as skies or large areas of a single color. Those areas are most often the areas that will also show banding from Aliasing/moiré in our images. In my sample image the noise was most visible in the sky areas
Using Topaz DeNoise 5
So knowing what we know above, using Topaz DeNoise 5 to remove noise really could not be any easier.
First before opening the Topaz DeNoise filter, I always make a duplicate layer or better yet, make the layer I want to work on, a Smart Object layer in Photoshop (ver.CS4, 5 & 6). The advantage of using a separate layer is that we haven’t destroyed any pixels, if we don’t like the results we can delete that layer and start over or even vary the opacity.
By using Topaz DeNoise – or any filter – as a smart object we have the option of returning to the filter screen and making changes if what we did the first time was not to our liking.
One we get into the DeNoise 5 screen we see it is set-up in what has become the de-regular panel screen. Presets left, preview image center, adjustments right. The image will open and then zoom to 100% you can zoom in further if you like but as I said earlier try not to and make sure after your adjustments you go back into Photoshop to make sure you have eliminate enough noise and not lost too much detail at your final image size.
To start off with the one single great thing about ALL topaz software is their presets. They are about the only company that gets them right. Real and usable presets that many times may not need any further adjustments.
For this image set to the 100% I chose the RAW Moderate Preset. You’ll notice that there are Jpeg Presets and RAW presets. The Jpeg presets are designed for Point and Shoot cameras and smaller image sizes. The RAW presets are for DSLRs and larger image sizes. You can use either on any file type (RAW, Tiff, PSD, Jpeg) it is more about the size of the sensor, image and the camera type.
Choosing RAW moderate got me most of the way to my goal but at this point I can tweak the settings a little further. The nice thing about the controls in DeNoise 5 is that we can work on color channels separately and also Highlights and Shadows separately. So knowing I wanted to eliminate the noise in the sky area ( Because it is most visible there) I upped the blue channel and the highlights channel and it effectively eliminated all the noise in those areas.
(Note for those CA Peeps, the small amount of CA visible was later removed in Lightroom)
I brought back in a little bit of detail by turning down the Blur control and adding just a bit of Grain.
Pressing OK brings me back into Photoshop and there I checked the image at the size I was going to print, 12” x 18” and it looked just fine, plenty of detail, no visible noise.
Here is that final image. For an image I wasn’t sure would work. It was shot late in the day under stormy skies so I needed ISO 1000 to get enough shutter speed to stop the moving locomotive. It made for a beautiful print with just a little touch of Topaz DeNoise 5
My closing thought is, I can’t stress enough viewing the image correctly at the size it will be seen. So many people pixel peep deep into the image and remove detail they don’t need to. Evey image has noise…every
Whether it is visable is the question
So there you have it, just about all I can scream over the noise
Hope that helps,
Achieving a Natural Looking HDR in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2
Today I am going to take you through the steps that I use to achieve a natural looking HDR for that “As the eye sees” look that I desire in an image. Everyone has their tastes when it comes to HDR and this happens to be mine. But while it’s a natural look it’s one that people struggle with most. It seems it’s pretty easy to get a painterly or grunged up effect but trying to get something that that look Photographic and not Graphic is a tougher road (Thanks to Joe Buissink for that line, I was captivated watching him on Creative Live today).
I think a lot of it comes down to trying to do too much. Even the software manufacturers have a hard time with this. In talking to the folks at Nik, it is a struggle to decide what to include in software and what to leave out. It’s a delicate balance.
I tend to err on the side of less is more and here’s why; when you give people a lot of options, they think they need to use them all. It’s like giving someone inexperienced, a rack full of spices and telling them to cook. They will probably overdo it because they think they need to. When really that delicate piece of fish just needed salt, pepper and a little garlic (always garlic I’m Italian).
But the other side of the coin is, when you do want a more Graphic looks, when you are going for the grunge, you may actually need more controls because as you go further towards the graphic side it introduces more artifacts that you need to counteract and you need the controls to do so.
So since we all don’t have one taste, we all don’t like the same food. The software manufacturers need to give more controls than one person with one taste may need.
I’m here to tell you what spices to use.
So let me take you through my steps to get a natural look. The image I will be working with is an image I shot at my favorite place to shoot,WindNsea Beach in La Jolla, California. It’s a simple 3 exposure +- 2EV shot, taken 15 minutes past sunset in the “Blue Hour” so the dynamics are not super high but high enough not to be able to get in one exposure.
Here are the 3 exposures
After merging, the file which was easy because it was shot on a tripod and also because of the greater aligning abilities of HDR Efex Pro 2, I opened them in the tone-mapping screen. The image is dull and pretty lifeless at this point. As opposed to how I work in Photomatix. I first am going to work on the tonality of the image before I work on the HDR effects. I can go back to them as I need but I want to establish a good tonal range first. This is very important to a natural image since grunge effects seem to be very midtoned and we want to avoid that. We want a white – white and a black – black and even midtones.
I 1st brought up the contrast to get rid of some of the initial flatness. I also brought up the shadows and the highlights a tad. For making these adjustments I use my eyes but I also use the histogram. I want to see the range of tone move to both ends of the display without clipping at either ends. Now knowing when this was shot helps me a bit in knowing how the histogram should look, the center group of tones is slightly to the left and that’s fine. It’s not midday or a bright scene. If it was and my histogram looked like this it may mean I need to up the exposure control a bit. There are not a lot of highlights in the histogram but neither was there in the scene.
This is why I feel it is important for me to edit an HDR as soon after I have shot it so that I can remember how the scene looked to my eyes
I then added some structure just to bring out some of the cloud detail better in the sky. Again I may want to dial this back further later. Structure is a control you need to use gingerly (there’s those spices again) As much as I want a natural look I want to use a little Structure to bring out detail because I honestly believe it’s something cameras do NOT get right as I have talked about before. Adding some structure add some edge contrast to bring out areas that need that to look better than normal photography but too much and you’ve been taken over by the grunge side. I used 20%
I increased Saturation quite a bit but may need to pull that back later. I tend to go for a saturated look or actually I should say my clients do
At this point now I will go to the HDR section and again, I leave most of it alone. I do work with tone compression and I bring that up, after all that the basis of tone mapping. In this image I brought it up to about 50%
I will go through some of the other settings, (The 3 D’s) Depth, Drama and Detail but if they don’t make a difference for the better, I don’t change them. Seriously, leave them alone for a natural look. Nik went after a natural looking HDR and the factory settings achieve that look.
By now I have almost all that I want in the image but I’m going to use one more section, The Graduated Filter. At first I was like, Why did they include that but then I thought Duh, don’t you many times add a curves adjustment layer later in Photoshop and then just mask it to the sky to further refine the sky to foreground balance? Well using this tool I no longer need to do that. I applied the Graduated filter and just brought down the top exposure by -.37EV
And this brings the image to just about where I want.
Next I will finalize the image in either Lightroom or Photoshop; in this case, I used Photoshop. I like to finish an image always in these programs because quite frankly they can do things an HDR program was never designed for and also if I decide I want to push the image further in some direction, I can do so in a non-destructive manner in Lightroom or Photoshop using Layers. Some times when we push an image we may introduce some nasties into it like noise or moiré and if we do this in the HDR program we have to go back and go through the whole merge process again and I just am too impatient for that.
So in this case I brought the image into Photoshop and I first cloned out a few sensor spots using the spot healing tool. I felt the tonal balance was great so I left it alone. I found it had just a bit of noise so a quick run through Nik Define 2.0 took care of that and finally just to bring out the detail in the rocks and the sand so you get the feeling you could run your toes through it, I ran it through Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0. And my image was done.
Here’s the final result
I feel the colors are lifelike and true. The shadows are there – I think that is something people leave out in an HDR, is an actual black shadow area thinking everything has to be brought up to a midtone. To our eyes at the time there are areas that are totally dark so why would we not want that in the image? The highlight areas are as they were; they weren’t perfectly bright because it was dusk so if I pushed them to be it would have lost the look that was there at the time. You can see the effect of the afterglow on the houses in the background and the foreground sand. That’s how I remember it, it is “As the eye sees” but of course, they are MY eyes not yours
If you would like to play with this image I have included a link to download the three images at medium resolution. I have also included a preset of the settings I used if you want to use that as a starting point or just try your hand and see where you go with the image. Just remember, these are for your personal use and may not be used, reproduced or sold in any other manor. I retain full copyright of the image and I have a VERY good lawyer
Windnsea.zip *Note, there was an error in the preset for the original download, it has been corrected*
To download and try or buy Nik HDR Effect Pro 2 click the link below
For 15% off the Nik Collection by Google Which contains not only HDR Efex Pro 2 but 5 other great Nik Titles click through the link and enter coupon code: thehdrimage at checkout
Hope that helps
Over on Facebook someone asked to show the differences between Nik HDR Efex Pro and the New Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 in a side by side comparison image.
Which is a reasonable request but there are some problems with this if you don’t look at it with a few things in mind. HEP2 not only has a new HDR Algorithm, it also has some big changes in controls. So how do you separate out what is due to the algorithm and what is because of the controls? Then on top of that even if the controls were exactly the same the images would not look similar because the beginning default image is of a lighter luminance value with the new algorithm than the old
But, for the sake of argument I will show you a few examples that not only show the difference in look of the images but also of the default images and most impressively the much better performance of the alignment in HEP 2
The image is from a 8 exposure 1EV step Merge, the image was shot on a steady tripod using good tripod practices. The images are straight out of HDR Efex Pro/Pro 2 with no tweaking in post. The images were taken into Photoshop to change Mode, Color profile to sRGB, labeling and resizing for the web. The first images are the default image in each program. I caution you here. The HDR Efex pro 2 image is indeed lighter, most people see more contrast as being a better image so understand that as you examine the two images
Next are The two images after Tone-mapping with their respective controls. I did not try to match the images nor try to have one out do the other. I simply went though my normal process and worked until I though the image looked good to my eye.
And finally here are two 100 % crops of each image to show the alignment of each version of HDR Efex Pro/Pro2
I won’t comment on any of the images, let your eyes judge. But here is the bottom line. Read what I have to say, look at what I have to show and take it into consideration. But at the end of the day, you don’t shoot like me, you don’t see like me, you don’t have the same artistic vision and you don’t process like me. So download the software, you can use it for 30 days free and do your own test and make your own judgments.
To download the free trial of Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 as part of the Nik Collection by Google or to purchase, please click on the link below