Gray Skies forever? Photomatix Pro

I’ll start this rant off with my usual disclaimer: Artistic Intent, I don’t care what you do to your image provided it was Artistic Intent. Backwards, inside out and purple…fine if that’s was your intent. It’s when you did it because you didn’t know any better, that’s when I have a problem and I’m here to help. 

My two biggest pet peeves in HDR images are; Halos and Gray Clouds that should be white. The funny thing is, most likely the same thing is responsible for both. 


It’s a very simple fix but one that a lot of people don’t seem to either know about or even want to fix. But it certainly drives me nuts. Now I am not talking about gray storm clouds and having them mean and menacing-looking, as is possible in HDR images. I’m talking about beautiful white puffy clouds on a fair weather day being turned gray by over-processing the image.  You may, as this image shows, also have some graying to the blue sky and some black halos around the clouds- all of them undesireable

It seems to be more pronounced in Photomatix possibly than other programs but certainly possible in all and it has a simple cause and a simple fix.

The reason the clouds look gray is that the image’s tonal range has been completely compressed to that of a mid-tone. When you make white a midtone…it turns to gray. Simple as that.   

Gray Cloud Settings

To fix it, is just as simple, Turn down your strength, use a more natural Lighting setting. That’s all you have to do. You can up your detail or saturation or whatever you want to do, but use these control judiciously. Oh and I bet your Halos take a vacation too. 

White Cloud settings


Hope that helps,



  1. Dale Smith December 16, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    Muchas gracias for calling attention to this. Gotta go review some images. Hope I don’t find any gray clouds. But if I do…

  2. Eric August 16, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    You have so much more control over this if you work in 32bits and only move into 16bits as the final step.

    • Peter August 17, 2013 at 12:04 am #

      Photomati8x, Nik HDR Efex Pro and Unified Colors offerings all Tone-map in 32 bit. Unfortunately the myth that they don’t was perpetrated when Adobe introduced 32 floating bit Tiff capabilities in LR 4.1 and ACR7 so people wrongly assumed that 32 Bit wa not possible until then. It was just a matter of Adeobe finally catching up. They still are not able to open 32 Bit Radience files. Photoshop iS able to open 32 Bit Radiance files but NOT in ACR ( unless first saved as a tiff)
      So to answer you, Every one of my images has been tonemapped in 32 Bit