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Using Control Points in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

Using Control Points in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

 One of the best features of Nik HDR Efex Pro  2 is that they have Adjustable control points. Control points allow you to change the effect and exposure balance on selected areas of the image.  Most HDR programs in tone mapping allow you to make adjustment globally but don’t let you work on Local areas. Nik HDR Efex pro does. 

So let’s take a look at how Control Points work. 

When I first saw Control Points in Nik HDR Efex pro when it was introduced, I actually was a little confused by them. I thought they just worked like a circular selection tool in Photoshop with a feathered edge. No, they are far more sophisticated than that and the fact they show that circle is probably what makes it confusing. 

So before we use them let’s take a look at how they work and then it will make more sense. First the point itself. It is going to look at the tone of what lies directly underneath it, so in our sample image, if the point was over a cloud or the white sky, will make a difference on how the effect affect different ones. It won’t only affect that tone but the bias will be to those or similar tones first. 

Then you have the area circle, this affects how big of an area the adjustment works on. But again, this will NOT be a hard edge or even feathered edges since that would sitill give you a strange circular pattern on your image. So instead, the effect continues to be adjusted outside of that area to the tones that the center point is over. They just are affected to a smaller and smaller degree as it moves away from the center point. There may be a pixel totally on the other side of the image and not in the circular pattern that may be affected. But just in a much smaller proportion to what is contained within that circle area. This keeps the image very natural looking and not these big haloed circular areas put all over the image. 

Putting control points to use

I thought I would use an image we used last week in the post about problems and how to fix them. If you remember from that post, we wanted to get our building the right tone of white. So taking that image into HDR Efex Pro, I was easily able to get that building to look correct; however certain other areas of the image were affected globally and now looked bad. So let’s use control points to bring those areas back under control. 

Here is the image and the problem areas pointed out.

Click to Enlarge  

We’ll start with the large area of sky that is now blown out and has no detail. I am going to place a point there by clicking the “Add Control Point” button and place it over an area of open sky and I adjusted the circle out to cover a good portion of the area I wanted to affect. I lowered the exposure by .5EV and also reduced the white level by about 21% 














If we go over to the adjustments panel and to the control point section, we can turn on the mask area (Pointed out by the arrow) to see really what areas and tones are being affected by this adjustment. This is where you really can see better how things are affect and how while the areas that have the largest amount of the effect applied to are within the confines of that circle. It really is not applied in a circular fashion. We can also see in the adjustment panel that this control point affects 31% of our total image area.

 Now I can go ahead and place more control points throughout the image and adjust each one of the separately to really bring out that areas so that it looks best. 

With all of my control points in place and the mask on we can see the areas of the image that are affected by our control points. 

One thing to take note of, see inside the garage where I am showing the active control point. I placed the control point on a midtone of the red Life preserver. 

In the next image I show how the control point changes the affected area by moving the control point to dark area of the wall. 











And here is our final image with all the control points in place showing how those point are now corrected without changing the global look of the image or how the building exterior looks. 































































Control points are available on various other Nik offerings like Sliver Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro and Sharpener Pro 3.0. Just their operation may vary depending on the program. But it sure is nice having that control.

To Try or Buy HDR Efex Pro 2 as part of the Nik Collection by Google click the link below

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Shooting Architectural Interiors – Processing with Nik HDR Efex Pro

In this post we are going to talk about shooting and processing Architectural Interiors.

The reason why

Many of you have probably looked at ads for homes on real estate website or the books you pick up for free at the grocery store. The images are usually taken by the agent to save money or may be even taken by professionals…well that just don’t know any better. They all have the tell tale look. They were shot during the day with tons of light coming into the windows and you get one of two things because of the wide dynamic range present. You get super bright blown out windows and a properly exposed room with quite a bit of flare around those windows. Or, you get properly exposed windows and a room so dark you can’t tell if it is a bedroom or the kitchen.

Now a good photographer could know better and shoot at night when you have more control over light, or they could bring in a huge amounts of artificial lights and  get the scene to work. But the truth is, either the realtor has no budget for this big bucks photographer with a truck full of grip equipment. Or they don’t have the time for shooting at night when the home owners are home. Enter HDR.


So lets discuss how to shoot an interior using HDR and then we will go over how to best process that shoot in Nik’s HDR Efex Pro.

Those of you that know me know I am not a big advocate of shooting a gazillion exposures. People think if 3 is good 12 must be amazing. And that just isn’t true. Sometimes it is a waste of time, of computing power and may lead to lesser images because of registration errors, shooting images beyond the dynamic range that is there which leads to soft or noisy images and a host of other reasons. Some of my most successful  Landscape HDR images have been shot with only 3 exposures.

But for this lesson I am going to go against my usual wisdom. For two reasons. One is a mater of dynamic range. As much as we may have shooting outdoors, sometimes we can have even more shooting an interior. We maybe have  EV15 (Exposure Value) light coming through a window, yet we also may have light as low as candle light in the room or EV4, 11 full stops of exposure. ( for an explanation of Exposure Value, see this great explanation and charts at Fred Parker Photography ) So that is one reason we will want to shoot quite a number of exposures, just to cover the Dynamic Range.

Reason two; Detail. As detailed as the outdoors is, we are viewing it from a distance and you may not see all the nuances of texture that every object has in that scene. In interior photography, everything is closer, more defined and with that we need to have texture that we can see and well, almost feel. The nap of the carpet, the texture of the upholstery. We’re closer we need to see that.

For this example I shot 9 exposures 1 stop apart. Exposures because that was the dynamic range I measured. 1 stop apart because of the desire for detail of tonality.

Determine your dynamic range

First I determined the dynamic range I needed  to cover. I could not have done this just from where the camera was on the tripod. Because the camera’s meter averages, even in spot mode. It would not have known the correct exposure for the windows light. So I brought my camera to the window itself and metered the light outdoors. This was my beginning exposure. And no, I didn’t need to shoot an underexposure of the outdoor light, I just needed to get it right. This exposure was f/16,  1/125 ISO250.  I then moved to the darkest area of the room and metered there, this would be my final exposure and I just need to  get between the two readings in one step intervals ( I didn’t do the math, I used the 3 clicks of the dial equal one stop trick) My end exposure was f/16, 2 sec. ISO 250. It took 9 images to get from one to the other.

Do YOU need to do 9 exposures? It depends on what your final destination for your images are. I did test with this shoot and shot HDR’s with 9, 7, 5 and 3 exposures. 9 had the best detail, 7 was very very close, 5 was good, 3 was eh. If you image is just destined for websize on a realtor’s website or in one of those small grocery store magazines, 3, 5 whatever, you’ll be fine and far above those that shoot the windows blown out. But say your image is destined for a big glossy Architectural Magazine or a large print on the wall of an Interior Designer. You want the 9 shots.

So once I determined what I needed for dynamic range , I returned the camera to the tripod and composed the scene . Now I like to turn on as many of the rooms lights as possible to give it a more natural look, or “as lived in” look. I will try to only have one color temperture of light on, Tungsten, Halogen, Florescent, because we will have enough problems with white balance with possibly two different light temperature source, we don’t need 5. For this shoot I was in luck, since the lights in the room were CFL’s balanced for 5000°k or daylight.

My scene was set and I shot the 9 frames. Here they are in contact sheet form. (Click to enlarge) The image sequence runs from the bottom left up and down to top right.


Now that we have our images shot, It’s time to merge and tone map them into our HDR image.

For this shoot, I knew the right tool for the job was Nik HDR Efex Pro Anyone that has seen my workshop in my garage knows I always have more than one tool for any job . For this job HDR Efex Pro was the correct tool because of the amount and quality of detail.

Selecting my 9 images in Lightroom 3 I exported them to HDR Efex Pro. In the first part of the tone mapping, I wanted to get my overall look. So I worked on the right panel and started with the following setting.  Tone Compression 22%. Saturation 20%, Structure 4%, Black 6% and Whites 8%

This yielded me this image

Using Control Points

Not a bad starting point for overall balance. But the windows just aren’t right. This is going to be hard for any HDR program to get right because the software will look for the brightest points  and the darkest points and put them where it thinks best. It just gets them wrong here. All is not lost though, enter the beauty of Nik HDR Efex Pro’s Control Points. I placed 9 control points in this image. In the windows, on the Photos on two walls, on the ceiling and on the fireplace. I adjusted these all individually to get the best balance for all the areas and most importantly,  to bring back the detail to the windows.

Here are what the control points looked like and also how it looks when you click on the control points mask so you can really see all the areas that control points are affecting


Once I had this all the best I could I took the image into Photoshop For some final touches and this yielded us our final image.

I wish you could see the detail in the full resolution file. The grain of the leather and the nap of the carpet is incredible and the print this made was really as the room looked. Truth be told if I was going to submit this to a high end magazine I may work on the windows even further which would have taken a lot of time and may not be worth it just for realtor submissions.

Getting the correct White Balance

As I spoke about earlier, we also need to consider white balance when working with interior shots.  In a big budget shoot, we could of course  use some gels on all the different light sources to make them all the same color temperature. But we may not have the time nor budget to do such things. We could change bulbs. But most homeowners probably don’t want you messing around with all the light fixtures in their home. So let’s just go simple.

In most instances, I recommend doing a white balance for the predominate light source in our scene. But lets look at the room I shot here and see what the real life experience will be. This also is why shooting RAW is so important, besides giving us the ultimate dynamic range and color latitude, it also allows us to go in later and easily change the white balance of our shoot.

So for this image, the predominant light was outdoor light coming in from the windows along with 3 sources of incandecant light as accents only. The day was cloudy and rainy so setting the white balance for cloudy yielded these results.

Not bad and since I am a landscape shooter I tend to like warm light but I think this is just too much

Let’s try adjusting for the Tungsten Light and see what that returns

Yeah, That’s not any better, in fact I think it’s quite worse. The lights themselves look good but the tone overall is much too cool

Hmmm…OK. Let’s try just as it was shot with the Auto-White balance

To me this is the best of all worlds and the best balance that could be had. Comparing a print of this image to the actual room that day was pretty much spot on for “As the eye sees” my favorite reference. Funny I guess Auto White Balance doesn’t suck as much as some seem to think.

I hope this has helped you understand how to shoot and post process Architectural Interior images, maybe this could provide you with a new income stream selling to Real Estate agents that need every tool they can muster in such a down market.

Equipment used for this shoot: Canon 5D  , Canon 17-40 4.0 L ,  Canon Remote Control , Manfrotto Tripod and Head and of course Nik HDR Efex Pro

Hope that helps,


Nik HDR Efex Pro – Review

 Note: HDR Efex Pro has been replaced by  the much imporved HDR Efex Pro 2 and is now part of the Great Nik Collection by Google


For about a year now I have been chomping at the bit to test drive HDR Efex Pro from the cool folks at Nik software. But because of some technical deficiencies on my end, I never got to do that. So recently I upgraded some software that allowed me to test it out. Coincidentally I was invited over to Nik software for lunch and just to talk about HDR, where it is and where it is going. The people there are really great and I even had some Durian Fruit for dessert after lunch. For those of you that don’t know, Durian is an Asian fruit that smells and  TASTES something like a cross between old gym socks and garlic…Mmmmm. It actually was fun to try.

(Click on Images to enlarge in a new window)

Nik Software

Nik software is a very high quality company and software manufacturer. They have a very large engineering staff in Europe and aren’t just a couple guys playing in their garage. They have a wealth of experienced and knowledgeable people to draw on and put out some very compelling and imaginative software. I got to play with a number of their offering but the spotlight of this article will be on, of course, Nik HDR Efex Pro.

Like all of Nik Software (except for their new Ultra-Hip Snapseed iPhone Ap) it is a plug-in requiring a “Host” program. They work with Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple Aperture. For this review I was working with Adobe Lightroom 3.

The process

After selecting the images in LR  that you want to use in your HDR (yes you can do single image HDRs), you simply right click (Mac Control Click) them and say Export to HDR Efex Pro. Or with the images selected you can go up to  File> Export with> HDR Efex Pro. This will open up the HDR Efex Pro workspace. It’s an interface familiar to LR users, Presets on the left, working controls on the right in an descending order of importance and the image preview in the center. The preview updates in real time and is fully scalable up to 300%.

The first process that occurs is the merging of your files and then the image goes through alignment and De-Ghosting if selected. The first time you open HDR Efex Pro, you may need to go down to settings on the left and select what you actually want to occur on opening of files and it will sticky that setting, however you can go up top of the panel and change those setting and realign/deghost the image again with different settings. Alignment work very well for the most part, occasionally there was some confusion in background sections that had very complex areas of tone or contrast. This didn’t happen often but was visible on two images I did process. I’ve been assured that this is something that will be addressed in updates from Nik. For Chromatic Aberrations, Nik recommends taking care of that in RAW before processing but I did find in a few cases there was some chromatic aberration from the alignment itself but only very occasionally.

De-ghosting worked great especially if you used the Global setting and High. Those of you that remember the example I showed of De-Ghosting with the Pelicans in flight will be glad to know I used the same image and it came out very well with just a little bit of cloning work to do on the final image. While Photomatix’s Semi-manual option is extremely good at what it does  and may eliminate even the most stuborn ghost,  for the most part the automatic operations of HDR Efex pro are great for most usual occurances.


Once you have your image aligned and de-ghosted as necessary, You can move to the left side of the panel to the preset area. Nik includes 33 factory presets from mild to wild as well as the ability to store your own presets and also export those preset to share with other users. I’m really not a big preset fan but the advantage is it shows new users a lot of different styles that are possible and they can see where the settings are for that look and then modify or at least understand what different controls will allow you to achieve.


Moving to the right side of the panel are the adjustment controls. Upon opening, all the controls are reset to zero. I actually wish they would sticky to last settings used or at least allow me that option without the need to make a preset. Sometimes I will work on a file and want to redo it afterwards with just a few modifications of what I used. Speaking of which, I wish that HDR Efex Pro also had the ability to save a file as a 32 bit Radiance HDR file so that I didn’t have to go through the tedious and time consuming merging/alignment  process, if I wanted to redo a tonemapping or try a different style. The program does have the ability to OPEN them, it just can’t save as one. It of course is possible to save as a Radiance File using a merge in Photoshop or “That other HDR program” But I would rather not have to use another program or another step.

As I mentioned before, the adjustments are  arranged in a descending order of importance. The first being Tone Compression which will determine your overall balance between highlight and shadow or if over-boosted, the lack there off. But this is the most important adjustment to make  and then go on to make other adjustment and maybe return to it for a slight tweak. Below that are your global adjustments for Exposure, Contrast and Saturation which are self-explanatory to photographers. Next is an adjustment for “Structure” I don’t know how to best describe Structure, It’s kind of like sharpening but not really. Its like sharpening of tone and not contrast. And with judicious use if it will increase the… well..Structure or textural detail of an image. Used correctly it can add some interest, used too much it starts to look like the faux HDR software effects like Topaz Adjust or Lucis. You may or may not like this effect. Structure is a control that is a part of most Nik Software offerings.

Below that you have controls for overall Black Level, Whites and then a Warmth – color balance control.

Below these all  is a drop down box for HDR Method. Nik HDR Efex Pro has 4 different HDR Algorithms in  20 different preset flavors and then a strength slider. I don’t know, sometimes too many things to play with is a bad thing and I think this is one of them. In the first place the difference between presets is not  always visible unless you up the strength and then that tends to make it look overblown and you end up going back and forth and never really knowing what looks better or not. If it was me I would get rid of this part and just have the four algorithms and a slider, done!

Selective Adjustments

While I may not have been crazy about that part of the software, the next section of it is probably the most interesting and exciting part of Nik HDR Efex pro:Selective Adjustments.

Selective adjustments allow you to place up to 64 “Control Points” anywhere on the image and make Local adjustments to those areas individually. This is HUGE! After you make a control point and adjust the area you want it to affect, you can make all the adjustments that are in the upper part of panel to just that control area. ( the Screen shot only shows the first three adjustments but the list can be expanded to all in the top panel) Not only will this eliminate some dodging and burning later in post processing but it also allows you other adjustments that dodging and burning will just not do. You can leave HDR Efex pro with a totally finished product and may not need to ever touch it in another program. Like I said, HUGE and this may be the ONE reason you buy HDR Efex pro.


Next down are the Finishing Adjustments. The first of which allow you to add an Vignette to the image with either black or white edges or various lens vignetting effects. Worked fine for people that don’t want to take it out to other software.

The next and last item is something else that I am really happy they included, a levels and curves adjustment. This something that I, without a doubt, always do to an image in an external processor and it’s nice to have it included so I can make some tweaks and then if I need to, go back and make other adjustments based on that tweak. You can’t do that if you bring it into an external processor afterwards. The only thing I wish is that there was more difference in color in the included histogram, The background is black and the histogram a very dark grayand it makes it hard to see with my old used eyes.

On the very bottom is a Loupe and a Histogram. The histogram is a RGB + Luminosity Histogram but again the luminosity is in Black against a dark gray background and you hardly know it is there. An easy fix for future updates ( I hope)

And then you have the save button at the very bottom, You can save the image ( and re-import and stack in LR) as a JPEG or either 8 bit or 16 Bit Tiff files.

The verdict

Okay so enough about the way it works, I know you want to know, How DID it work? VERY well actually. But it is such a different animal than Photomatix. I feel more comfortable using Photomatix but I also have been using it for 5+ years. With Photomatix I always have a default starting point of adjustments I start with on every image and then go from there. With HDR Efex Pro, I could never find a starting point that worked well with every image. So I would start from scratch every time. But that’s the way I work, Others may be able to find a preset close to what they want and tweak from there quickly.

When I processed I really didn’t try to duplicate the look I got in Photomatix (HDR Efex Pro’s only real competition or vice versa I guess) because what would be the point of that? Wouldn’t that preclude me from maybe getting a result that was even better? So I just worked in HDR Efex Pro and tried to get an image that looked the best it could without comparing it to what I got in Photomatix (well – until later).

If you are a detail freak, HDR Efex Pro is the one for you, there is detail in sharpness as well as tone. Comparing images in Photomatix, the Photomatix images sometimes looked “Fogged” compared to the HDR Efex Pro one. Some times that is good, sometimes that is bad, depends on the image and of course your taste. That increased detail also brought about a slight increase in noise with HDR Efex pro. But nothing that couldn’t be fixed with Noise Reduction in Lightroom or a  plug in  like Nik’s own DFine. Sometimes results were very close, sometimes image looks could not be more apart.  I really hate to use this analogy, but Photomatix looked more like film, HDR Efex Pro like digital. You can decypher that however you like. Neither one right, just different. Like Vanilla or Strawberry Ice cream. I love them both, they just taste different. ( I do take Ice Cream donations BTW)

I could talk on and on about the results but it’s probably a better idea to show you some side by side so maybe you can determine the look you like. Remembering that I tend to go for a more natural “as the eye sees” result. If you are more of a “Grunge” style artist, either software will work but you may find your way to Grunge Nirvana a little quicker in HDR EFex Pro.

Here are some side by sides:




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 Hope that helps,