How Far is Too Far with HDR?

High dynamic range processing opens up many possibilities for digital image enhancement. The question is “how far is too far with HDR” processing? Since I’m new to HDR I thought I’d present one image taken last weekend and processed three different ways in Photomatix and ask my readers which they prefer.

The first image was processed to look as realistic as possible in both Photomatix and Lightroom. I decreased the white balance temperature and overall saturation to remove any warmth from the final image. My goal was to present as much detail in the rocks as possible, even in the shadow areas.

Realistic

Remains of the Stone Brewery (Realistic)
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shots taken with a Canon 40D tripod mounted, 17-40mm f/4 L at 33mm, f/13 at ISO 200 on SanDisk digital film. Click on the image above for a larger version.

The second image was processed to look somewhat less realistic but still within the realm of possibility. I wanted this image to portray the warmth of the late afternoon sun hitting the remains of the old stone brewery.

Surreal

Remains of the Stone Brewery (Surreal)
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shots taken with a Canon 40D tripod mounted, 17-40mm f/4 L at 33mm, f/13 at ISO 200 on SanDisk digital film. Click on the image above for a larger version.

The third image is a complete fantasy. I wanted this image to look like a scene from some science-fiction or fantasy movie. To achive this effect I increased the overall saturation and luminosity in Photomatix and decreased the Clarity in Lightroom. This created an interesting glow in the areas hit by direct sunlight.

Fantasy

Remains of the Stone Brewery (Fantasy)
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shots taken with a Canon 40D tripod mounted, 17-40mm f/4 L at 33mm, f/13 at ISO 200 on SanDisk digital film. Click on the image above for a larger version.

So, the question is which version do you like best and how far is too far with HDR?

Lightroom 2 and Photomatix Pro Workflow

I spent last Friday afternoon at the Monument Hill Historical Site near La Grange, TX. The weather was excellent for hiking but not so great for photography due to the extremely bright sun and thin hazy clouds. The remains of the old stone brewery was my subject of the day and the dynamic range of this setting far exceeded the ability of my Canon 40D’s meter to capture. So I decided to bracket my exposures by 1-1/2 EV and process them as HDR images using Photomatix Pro and Lightroom 2.

Under Exposed 1-1/2 EVExposed NormallyOver Exposed 1-1/2 EV

Once these images were imported into Lightroom, I selected all three and exported them into Photomatix Pro 3.1 (beta) using the File / Plug-in Extras / Export to Photomatix Pro menu command in Lightoom. This opened Photomatix Pro where I merged the files and then tone-mapped the result. Once I had the HDR image looking halfway decent I saved it as a 16-bit TIFF into the folder where the RAW files originally came from. My final step was to select the Library / Synchronize Folder menu command in Lightroom and import the tone-mapped image into my collection for final processing.

I need to give credit where credit is due. I’m just getting started with HDR and Lightroom, having been an Aperture user for quite some time. The workflow ideas I stole directly from Matt Kloskowski’s HDR and Lightroom Video and the inspiration for adopting high dynamic range processing came from Jeff Revell’s outstanding HDR Images on his PhotoWalkPro blog. Thanks for making this available to everyone. You guys rock (as my kids say)!

Stone Arch and Stairwell

Stone Arch and Stairwell
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shots taken with a Canon 40D tripod mounted, 17-40mm f/4 L at 35mm, f/22, 1/90th, 1/30th and 1/10th seconds at ISO 200 on SanDisk digital film. Post processed using Photomatix Pro and Lightroom 2’s Develop module. Click on the image above for a larger version.

My goal was to create an image of the stone arch and stairwell that showed as much detail as possible while remaining realistic looking. I also wanted to develop an HDR workflow that was consistent with my current Lightroom 2 / Photoshop CS3 workflow. I still need to iron out a few kinks in this, but it looks as if the new Photomatix Pro 3.1 (beta) and it’s Lightroom 2 Plug-In are just the answer I was looking for.

What do you think?

More Canon 40D HDR Images

Just a couple more HDR images from last weekend’s visit to the Monument Hill Historical Site near La Grange, TX. Can you tell which was processed in Photomatix and Lightroom and was processed only in Lightroom? (No fair checking the EXIF data)

Stone Mill

Stone Mill Landscape
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shots taken with a Canon 40D tripod mounted, 17-40mm f/4 L at 23mm, f/11 at ISO 200 on SanDisk digital film. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Stone Mill

Stone Mill Portrait
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shots taken with a Canon 40D tripod mounted, 17-40mm f/4 L at 21mm, f/22 at ISO 200 on SanDisk digital film. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Trick question. Both images were post-capture processed using Photomatix Pro and Lightroom.

Another Quick HDR Capture

Here’s a close up image from the Monument Hill Historical Site near La Grange, TX. Like my previous image, I processed this by merging three raw (.dng) files and tone-mapping the result in Photomatix Pro 3.1 (beta). The detail brought out by the merge and tone-mapping is outstanding and as you can tell the amount of noise created is minimal.

Statue on Monument Hill

The Statue on Monument Hill
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shots taken with a Canon 40D tripod mounted, 17-40mm f/4 L at 22mm, f/11, 1/125th, 1/350th and 1/1000th of a second at ISO 200 on SanDisk digital film. Post processed using Photomatix Pro 3.1 (beta) and Lightroom 2’s Develop module. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Photomatix Pro 3.1 Beta – Lightroom 2 Plug-In

I’m just beginning my exploration of HDR (high dynamic range) processing and how it fits in my current Lightroom 2 workflow. Like most photographers, I find the idea of expanding the dynamic range displayed in certain images to be very compelling. After all, who wouldn’t like their images to show more detail in the shadows without blowing out the highlights?

I’ve spent the past few weeks reading literally hundreds of blog posts about different HDR shooting and processing techniques and reviewing the software available from various vendors. At the end of all this research I still wasn’t sure how HDR processing would fit into my Lightroom workflow until I saw a note on HDRSoft’s web site about a beta version of Photomatix Pro 3.1 and their new Lightroom 2 plug-in. So I took the plunge, bought a license and installed everything in just a matter of minutes.

Here’s my first test using an image with a moderate dynamic range (mostly dark shadow areas and fairly bright highlights). The image on the left was processed entirely in Lightroom while the image on the right was merged from three “bracketed” raw (.dng) exposures, tone-mapped in Photomatx Pro 3.1 (beta) and then cleaned up in Lightroom.

Monument Hill

Monument Hill
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shots taken with a Canon 40D tripod mounted, 17-40mm f/4 L at 19mm, f/8, 1/125th, 1/350th and 1/1000th of a second at ISO 200 on SanDisk digital film. Post processed using Photomatix Pro and Lightroom 2’s Develop module. Click on the image above on the right for a larger version.

I’m very impressed with the results using the default settings in Photomatix Pro 3.1 beta. The detail in the shadow areas under the trees looks very natural and the noise level is acceptable. My only issue is with some of the halo artifacts that show up where the sky meets the tree tops. Other than that, it’s a fairly decent exposure.

Click on the image on the right to see a more detailed version.