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,