HDR Your Shot!

This will be a tutorial for any beginner HDR photographers. On May 30, 2011 I made my first HDR tutorial, using a brief step-by-step explanation on how to achieve an HDR image from 5 expousers or more. I suggest you take a look on this tutorialbefore you go on reading.

The achieved image:

Software I use:
1)Photomatix PRo (required)- You cannot do an HDR photography if you don’t have Photomatix or other HDR software. Simply it combines all the exposures you took. You can try it out for free.
2)Photoshop (recommended)- you don’t have to use Photoshop, but I always use it for final adjustments to my image.
3)Topaz Adjust (optional)- I love Topaz Adjust because it pop out all the details and colors in my picture. You can buy the entire bundle because it comes with other software that can do only good for your pictures.
Now lets start:
1. The first thing you need is a tripod. HDR image is basically many expousers for the same shot combined together. So if you didn’t’ have a tripod, and you have some objects moved, then your final image will look horrible.
2. Focus your lens using the Auto switch on your lens, then lock it on Manual.
3. Set your F-stop on 11. This is what I usually do because it gives me a sharp image.

4. Using the Exposure Composition Scale (look into the eye finder on yoru camera) and you will find a ruler looks like (-2,-1,0,+1,+2). The first shot should be on the 0, it is the correct exposure.

*Advice: I usually take 7 to 13 shots. It’s always better to take more than 5 images because it will give your image more details, or perhaps, more places in your picture will be balanced in color.

5. In the below images, I took 13 images (-6,-5, -4,-3,-2,-1,0,+1,+2,+3,+4,+5,+6). I don’t really know the exact technique to decide how many exposures you need to take, but you need to reach as white as possible and as dark as possible. Which means, when you take the lowest exposure, it needs to be almost completely dark, and when you take the highest exposure, it needs to be almost completely light.Here are my exposures:

Now once you are happy with your exposures, you go back home and eat some yummy food. OK I am kidding. Photomatix Procomes in, and here where the fun and magic starts.6. Open Photomatix. Browse all the images together and click OK like below. Another dialog will show up. I don’t usually care about it a lot. It is self-explanatory. Click OK once again.

7. It will ask you to highlight any ghosts (Deghosting). Ghosts are any moved object. For example, you want to take an HDR image for an electrical stair in the airport…people will be moving. The picture will be blurry because remember you combined 13 images together. So the Deghosting helps you to freeze on shot in all of these 13 shots. Instead of having a person moving in 13 diffeent position in each picture, you will have it only in one. After circling your ghosting areas, you can preview you then click OK.
8. On the top left, click on “Tone Mapping/Fusion“.
9. Now it is your eyes that will decide what is nicer to enhance your image. There is no “right way” to pull those sliders, it is just you who judges what is good enough to enhance. For this image, I used “Fusion Adjusted“. Do NOT use the Grunge enhancer. It is very common and make your HDR image horrible and not realistic. I usually use “Fusion Adjusted” or “Compressor-Deep“.
10. I pulled the Saturationslider to the right because the place was very pale and had light colors. Saturation made the yellow and blue pop out. Do NOT over saturate, HDR is about light not over-saturated colors. Do a reasonable saturation in order to pop your colors for your advantage.11. I pulled the Black Clip to the right as well. It make the color black of the bridge darker and more interesting. It doesn’t work for all images, for this images I needed it because I wanted the bridge black color to be darker.

That’s all I usually do in Photomatix. Again, you can pull sliders and enhance your image more. Don’t stick to one rule, always try and see what comes out better.
This is the resulted image:

You can say you are done here but for me I go into two more steps. Photomatix is not enough, it sometimes mess up parts of your images. So I take my picture to Photoshop and edit it using Topaz Adjust as well.
12. I take my image to Topaz Adjust. It is such an awesome software that worth the money! there are so many different labs of Topaz, but I usually use Adjust only. You wouldn’t understand what I did if you don’t have this software. Briefly saying, I used the “Exposure Color Stretch“. The nice thing about Topaz is that it has a small viewer window on the top left. There is so many types of enhancer and you can literally skim through them in 2 minutes and pick your favorite one.
There are sliders also in Topaz. I either use the Saturation, Detail Boost, and Sharpness or leave it as it is.
13. I always use Smart Sharpness in Photoshop because usually in HDR, the details become kind of blurry. Use the reasonable amount of sharpness and apply it to the picture. I then straighten the picture if it is crooked, and burn and dodge some spots.
Now we are officially done. You took your expousers, you combined them in Photomatix, you took your image to Topaz and enhanced it, then finally you edited your image using some smart Photoshop techniques. I hope this tutorial was useful to you, and if you have any questions, please contact me or leave a comment 🙂Final Image:

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