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


  1. Miguel Palaviccini November 15, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    Wow! Great job on the image. Can’t believe how well it turned out!

    • Peter November 15, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

      Well YOU took it! It should look good.

      Thanks for submitting that Miguel. I think it will be a good learning experience for everyone. I know it was for me