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by Tim Zurowski on Sun Mar 19, 2017 5:24 pm
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I'll start by saying that I have never been involved with HDR images until today, when I took my first test samples. A few questions:

1) I tried the trial version of PhotoMatrix, used HDR Efex Pro 2 that comes with the NIK collection and Photoshops Merge to HDR feature. HDR Efex Pro 2 is free. Is it as good as any other choices for someone like me who will likely be doing less than 1% HDR photography?

2) I see it mentioned a few times that you typically do not need more than 5 bracketed files for HDR landscapes. Would you agree? If not, how many shots do you typically take for landscapes?

3) Do you always bracket at 1 stop, or is it worth taking more images at 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments?

4) Can you leave a polarizer filter on, or should that be taken off for HDR files?

Much appreciated :)
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Tim Zurowski
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by E.J. Peiker on Sun Mar 19, 2017 6:39 pm
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1. There are much easier HDR programs than those especially for beginners. I still sue Photomatix because I have years of experience with it and now how the 20 or so different controls behave - this is not a program that you learn in a day or even a month of daily use from the standpoint of being able to ahndle any situation. I would completely stay away from Photoshop's version and the Nik program has never worked as well as Photomatix for me from the standpoint of getting a completely non HDR look. Here's a roundup. Aurora seems to almost always get the nod for the most natural looking straight out of the box:
https://www.captainkimo.com/hdr-software-review-comparison/

2. It depends on the scene, but it is very rare that you need more than 5 shots and often 3 is enough.

3. I think 1 stop brackets are pointless with today's dynamic range sensors. 3 to 5 shots spaced 1 2/3 or 2 stops apart will get you what you need 99% of the time. I use 1 2/3

4. Yes you can, and should if the situation dictates, use a polarizer.
 

by Tim Zurowski on Mon Mar 20, 2017 10:27 am
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Thanks EJ . . . . . . that is all great info to start from. I will probably just use the NIK Efex Pro 2 software for now, since it is free. Down the road if HDR is something I might get into then I might consider a better app.

So, do you ever use any of their built in presets, or do you always use your own custom presets? I ask, because I can't really find any of their presets that look nice and natural.
Cheers
Tim Zurowski
www.timzphotography.com
 

by E.J. Peiker on Mon Mar 20, 2017 12:26 pm
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I don't use the Nik stuff HDR program and none of their defaults look anything even remotely close to what I would ever want any photograph to look like.  In Photomatix, I will sometimes use one of the many canned profiles as a starting point.  Many of us will also take two or three different renderings and then combine them using different overlay methods to get the result we are looking for.  I have also created some of my own presets that work for different situations - for example I have a slot canyon one that tends to get real close everytime if I'm inside a slot canyon.  There is simply no canned method that works for every situation.  every photograph is completely different.
 

by Tim Zurowski on Mon Mar 20, 2017 2:11 pm
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Thanks EJ

I agree that the PhotoMatrix (PM) presets do look better than the NIK one's, but none of them really looked right for me. The NIK preseta are exactly like you say "don't look anything even remotely close to what I would ever want any photograph to look like" I do find that NIK seemed to allow all the same tweaking that PM did, but then I have only had a couple of hours on them. So if I am going to do my own tweaking and forget their presets, I think NIK will be fine to learn on for now.
Cheers
Tim Zurowski
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by Wade Thorson on Mon Mar 20, 2017 5:16 pm
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I've had good luck with the HDR function in Lightroom CC. It'll take your RAW files and output a nice flat image, with all the DR you need. The results don't look tone mapped like some of the HDR programs that tend do over cook the files. From there you can adjust to your hearts content.
"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."
                 -Shakespeare Troilus and Cressida


Alpine Imaging | Wade Thorson Photography
 

by Tim Zurowski on Mon Mar 20, 2017 5:30 pm
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Thanks for the LR suggestion Wade. :) I would give it a try if I had Lightroom. I have never owned or used Lightroom, so unfortunately it is not an option for me. I will say I tried the Merge to HDR feature in CS6, and it was horrible compared to NIK Efex or PhotoMatix. I am getting new 24mm and 50mm primes this week and plan to go out and dive into the HDR thing. Hopefully after that I will have a better understanding about it and a better idea of which application I will need or prefer.

Cheers
Cheers
Tim Zurowski
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by DChan on Mon Mar 20, 2017 5:42 pm
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Presets are just templates, or short-cuts. If they fit the look that you're after, choose preset and save yourself tons of time. If not, you can still use presets as the starting point and tweak them to your liking. If the final result looks over-cooked, likely because you have skipped the fine-tuning part of the process.

I use Photomatix. Tried EasyHDR but did not spend much time to learn it :-( I take as many shots as my camera auto-bracketing can give me @ 1/2 stop apart. It's auto and it's 9 frame/sec and so why not ? :-)

Oh, I don't use presets.


One more thing. After going through the HDR program, don't think that's the end of it cuz you can still run it through Photoshop and the like to get to the final result. There's something Photoshop does do better.
 

by Kerry on Tue Mar 21, 2017 9:44 am
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I've been using Photomatix for about 10 years now. The first five (or so) years I spent trying to fine tune a workable approach. Fairly early on in the process I decided that none of the preset options, alone and as rendered, provided the look I was after. Once I decided that I would probably have to combine multiple renderings using different blending modes in Photoshop it freed me up to do a lot of experimenting. I ultimately produced my own custom presets (using variations of three different PM renderings) and I almost always blend two of these in Photoshop as a fundamental starting point for a final image. I've invested a lot of time with PM so I haven't spent much time playing around with alternatives, but I have on one or two occasions used HDR Efex to good effect when I simply couldn't produce the result I was looking for with PM.

As for capture, I use one-stop increments with bracketed sets. I've experimented and I like the results I get with five-shot one-stop brackets better than three-shot two-stop brackets, but YMMV. I have occasionally found it necessary, in extreme situations, to expand the bracketing sequence to seven or even nine shot sets. When there are objects subject to movement in the frame (flowers, foliage, etc.), generally speaking the fewer shots taken the better as any movement will produced ghosting in the alignment stage of the HDR rendering. A nice feature in PM--I think they introduced it three or four years ago--is the ability to manually select a single frame as the basis for certain sections of the final image. This can be time-consuming, but with a bit of experience with this feature the ghosting problem I mentioned can be eliminated, as long as the subject matter in question is sharp in at least one of the combined frames.
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by dougc on Tue Mar 21, 2017 11:05 am
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I found this site very helpful: http://www.stuckincustoms.com/
 

by Wade Thorson on Tue Mar 21, 2017 12:43 pm
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Tim Zurowski wrote:
Thanks for the LR suggestion Wade. :) I would give it a try if I had Lightroom. I have never owned or used Lightroom, so unfortunately it is not an option for me. I will say I tried the Merge to HDR feature in CS6, and it was horrible compared to NIK Efex or PhotoMatix. I am getting new 24mm and 50mm primes this week and plan to go out and dive into the HDR thing. Hopefully after that I will have a better understanding about it and a better idea of which application I will need or prefer.

Cheers




As far as one button HDR the Lightroom option is my go-to.  I have and used Photomatix, and NIK HDR programs, but they don't use RAW files for their processing, and the presets tend to over-cook the images as stated.  If you dig down into those programs you can get the desired effect, but like EJ said every image is different, and you may have to choose which program to use, based on your final vision, and experience.  Honestly, lately, with the current DR in modern sensors I haven't been using HDR to get the desired image.  I still bracket my images, but usually choose the one closest to my desired exposure.

Now if you want total control of your images, and have a clear vision of what your final product is, and are really savvy at following directions and using Photoshop CS6, Tony Kuyper's Luminosity Mask Actions can not be beat for multiple exposure blending.

Luminosity Masks Photoshop Panel

It's not light reading, or for the feint of heart, but revered the world over by many photography professionals. He has created panels that load into Photoshop, and make some of the complex actions automatic.  If you don't want to purchase the panel actions, his tutorials will teach you how to make your own.  Great stuff if you have the time to learn.

Wade
"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."
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Alpine Imaging | Wade Thorson Photography
 

by DChan on Tue Mar 21, 2017 11:27 pm
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Wade Thorson wrote:
I have and used Photomatix, and NIK HDR programs, but they don't use RAW files for their processing,...



Actually, Photomatix use RAW files. You can import the raw files directly into Photomatix. Also, not all of their presets are over-cooked. In fact, I'd say not many of them are. Yes, like many other software, you do need to learn to use the program to get the best of it.
 

by Wade Thorson on Wed Mar 22, 2017 9:16 am
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DChan wrote:
Wade Thorson wrote:
I have and used Photomatix, and NIK HDR programs, but they don't use RAW files for their processing,...



Actually, Photomatix use RAW files. You can import the raw files directly into Photomatix. Also, not all of their presets are over-cooked. In fact, I'd say not many of them are. Yes, like many other software, you do need to learn to use the program to get the best of it.




Indeed, it's been a while, and I haven't updated the program since moving to El Capitan.    However, the output options did not include DNG, at last check. Just JPEG or TIFF 8 or 16 bit.  Maybe it's time for an update and another look.  Same goes with NIK it will take your RAW file directly, but saves it as a TIFF.  In Lightroom, what happens in RAW stays in RAW. Which was really my point.

Wade
"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."
                 -Shakespeare Troilus and Cressida


Alpine Imaging | Wade Thorson Photography
 

by Tim Zurowski on Mon Mar 27, 2017 12:26 pm
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It's been about a week now and I have immersed myself into taking HDR images and demoing the various software available. I ended up (reluctantly) purchasing PhotoMatix. The programs I demo'd were PhotoMatix Pro, NIK Efex Pro 2, SNS-HDR Pro, Easy HDR, Machinery HDR, HDR Projects 4 and Luminance HDR. In most of them, there were pros and cons. I almost went with SNS-HDR Pro, but in the end stuck with PhotoMatix. PhotoMatix does the worst job of all of them with handling the blown whites in the + exposures. I spent a lot of time talking to their support on the online chat about this issue, and even sent them some file samples. In the end, they were unable to resolve the issue for me, but I have found workarounds for it. PhotMatix just has the most in-depth features and tweaks and seemed to produce the best results for me. The two reasons I did not go with SNS-HDR were they do not allow for white balance adjustment while loading the files, and the open with photo editor feature does not work with Photoshop. He said he is going to add the white balance feature in a future upgrade, but he cannot figure out how to fix the open with Photoshop feature. All of these and more work well with PhotoMatix. Both have Batch Processing which is another plus. Easy HDR and Machinery were both good, but lacked in some areas and I found them more difficult to produce a good final product. Also (can't remember which one) would only save as JPEGs. I would liked to have tried Aurora, but it is Mac only software.

After all of this demoing and deciding, I do somewhat agree with you guys that HDR is becoming a bit more redundant for nature photography, if you are going for "natural" looking scenes. They are great for surreal images, which can be fun. For fun I processed an HDR image from 5 bracketed files in PhotoMatix and the same image using just one of the 5 files in CS6. They both look equally great to my eye, so I am not sure of the need for HDR. It has only been a week, so my thoughts about it will likely change in time as I get more involved with it.
Cheers
Tim Zurowski
www.timzphotography.com
 

by DChan on Mon Mar 27, 2017 11:19 pm
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This may help:

http://thehdrimage.com/hdr-how-many-exposures-are-enough/

I found that you'd get better tonality doing some tone-mapping with the HDR program. The images also for some reason look sharper and more...3D.  All in all, it's fun.
 

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