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Many people look at an overcooked, poorly done HDR image and immediately disregard the process as being totally unusable. This is far from being true. The amount of HDR is controlled by the human creator of the image and these images are totally the fault of the editing, NOT the HDR Process. HDR uses multiple ways to pull out the colors that are hidden in a RAW image.

There are many types of HDR Editing Software available to process images. The two most popular and considered the best are Photomatix and Aurora. At this time Aurora can only be used on Mac computers but that is due to change soon.

The title of the article answers the question “how can I get natural HDR images”? This is really a simple task, and it is called Exposure Fusion. This can only be used if you are shooting bracketed sets in the field. The exception is when you take and make an additional two copies of the same image with +2, and -2 exposures in Lightroom or Photoshop. The results are not the same as using three different images shot in the field as a bracketed set of images.

We recently spent a month in Cannes, France traveling around the region and we shot hundreds of 3-image sets. Usually we merge these into panoramas to give us larger images and we can then crop down to get the exact shots we want to save. That is another tutorial for a later date.

I have chosen a set of images taken from the castle that overlooks the city of Cannes and its yacht harbor.

Bracketed shots of Cannes, France

The photos were shot with the following Metadata:

12-31-2016
Nikon D7000
Nikon 50MM Prime Lens
Shooting Mode: Aperture Priority (A)
ISO 100
F/16
1/320 Second Exposure -2.00
1/60 Second Exposure -0.00
1/30 Second Exposure +2.00

These were shot without a tripod in 3-second bursts. Two keys to shooting without a tripod are the speed in which the camera takes the photographs and the lens settings. A shot with a 24MM or 50MM lens is much easier to shoot handheld than using a lens and zooming out to 80MM or more. The more zoom you use, the more camera shake you are apt to experience.

I have three final images for you to look at that were all processed in Lightroom using only the standard Lightroom tools. There are no Presets, Brushes or Filters used in these final images so you can see the difference in the processed completions.

1. Exposure Fusion with a 3 shot bracket
2. Tone Mapping with a 3 shot bracket
3. The 0 Exposure Image processed as a single shot.

Image 1: Exposure Fusion with a 3 shot bracket

I have pulled the 3 images into Photomatix running my standard settings for de-ghosting.

Fused Image Collage

Fused Image 1: I chose the option to “Tone Map” the images

Fused 2: After the second screen opens I choose Exposure Fusion and then Automatic and receive the following image (Fused 3) which I then take to Lightroom for the basic edits.

After the settings were applied this is a basic Fused image that I can then begin the in-depth Lightroom editing process.

Image 2: Tone Mapping with a 3 shot bracket

After choosing the same Photomatix settings for the same 3 images for de-ghosting

Tone Mapping Collage

Tone Mapped 1: I choose the option to “Tone Map” again.

Tone Mapped 2: This time on the second screen I choose the Tone Mapping with Details Enhancer

Tone Mapped 3: I choose my default settings for the image to begin making adjustments that I liked to achieve this image and took it to Lightroom as well.

Strength 85
Color Saturation 60
Tone Compression 0
Detail Contrast -1.7
Lighting 5.5

After the following settings were applied I had a basic Tone Mapped Image that I can begin the in-depth Lightroom Editing Process.

Image 3: The 0 Exposure Image processed as a single shot

I pulled the single original image into Lightroom and applied the basic setting to achieve this image to then begin in-depth Lightroom Editing.

Collage

Fused Image

Settings:
White +45
Blacks -18
Temperature +10
Exposure -80
Contrast +30
Highlights -15
Shadows +45
Clarity+35
Vibrance+20
Saturation+35

Final Basic Edit Image

Tone Mapped Image

Settings:
White -29
Blacks -10
Temperature +10
Exposure -30
Contrast +35
Highlights -40
Shadows +35
Clarity+60
Vibrance-25
Saturation+25

Final Basic Edit Image

Original Image

Settings:
White +6
Blacks -4
Temperature +10
Exposure -10
Contrast +20
Highlights -49
Shadows +50
Clarity+30
Vibrance+33
Saturation+40

Final Basic Edit Image

After an analysis of the three images, I drew the following conclusions.

Fused Image

The fused image is totally natural and one cannot tell that is was processed as an HDR image
The detail and color have been preserved in the image.
There is not any HDR effect that makes this image look overcooked or over processed in any way.
Continued editing in Lightroom will yield a very usable high-resolution image.

Tone Mapped Image

One can immediately tell that this is an HDR Tone Mapped Image
The detail has been preserved as well as in the Fused image but the color is not as desirable.
The image looks over processed to me.
Lightroom may yield a usable image but will require much more work than the Fused Image.

Original Single Image

The original image is adequate and is much like the Fused Image
The color is good but the detail on objects such as the crane in the distance are not as sharp
The image is 100% natural so there are no HDR effects.
Continued editing in Lightroom will make an adequate image but without the color or detail in the Fused or Tone Mapped Images.

Final Analysis:

The Fused and Original images both appear as natural, out of the camera photos while the Tone Mapped image is overdone and not to my liking. I would immediately trash this image. The other two images while somewhat alike have definite differences. The definition is not as sharp in the original image, the shadows are closed in and there is a lack of color in objects like the tree. The water in the Fused image is preferable to the Original image.

For our purposes the Fused image meets all of our needs.

  • Excellent Definition
  • Excellent Color
  • Good Details
  • Smoother Water

This is the HDR image we would choose and after editing, the image does not show HDR effects. The following is a completed 9 shot Panorama. We took three sets of HDR (3 photos of same area, -2, 0. +2) from the same spot as the other images and did the following.

1. Fused all three sets of HDR images
2. Took the three completed Fusions and merged them into 1 Panorama
3. Edited the Panorama after the merge.

By using the Photomatix Fusion software we were able to make a high-quality image with HDR effect. We were able to make a significant difference in the final outcome of the image. We shoot every photograph as an HDR set. This includes Portrait, Landscape, and Street using raw format. Our settings on our camera allow us to do the three shots in virtually the same time as a single image and the Prime Lens allows us do most of these without a tripod. One never knows what they are giving up by not shooting these raw images and Fusing before editing.

Finished Cannes Panorama

 

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