HDR - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

4, August, 2016

A lot is said about HDR and how it looks fake. Well, that was the old days, and much of the results were due to tone mapping. What we would use in the field nowadays is better described as Image Fusion rathe than HDR. The process of merging images to produce a High Dynamic Range of tones from the deepest shadows to the brightest highlights. 

What follows is a list of HDR branded software and the difference in effects. Each software was run with 5 images of varying exposures to cover all tones throughout the range. Non of the softwares used had any alterations or effects applied. They simply were used to produce a final image with the software producing it's base rendering. Some results are better than others, but as photography is subjective, I'm sure some people will like one result and not others, and some people will like something completely different. The object of the exercise is to see how each software handles the tones, for example do they will give detail in the shadows in the bedroom, but also thought the brightness of the exterior through the window?

The room was from a hotel shoot last year and was chosen as an example due to the wooden elements in the shot. Frequently I see images with old wood that looks red and unnatural, so lets see that we got. The results are in no particular order!

These are the 5 original images used.

First up is Photomatix 

Aurora HDR


For me in this instance Photomatix just has the upper hand over Lightroom, with Aurora coming in a poor third.

I personally have used all three softwares for various jobs, and find that Lightroom is often my preferred option. However, one huge advantage with Photomatix is that it can batch process. This means that as long as your exposures are consistent then it is possible to set up Photomatix and leave it to process all of the images from your shoot, while you sit back and have a cuppa or three.

One other pointer in this exercise was that Photomatix was the quickest in processing the files, followed again by Lightroom, with Aurora trailing behind once again. One disadvantage of using Lightroom is that when the images are first rendering it is not possible to use Lightroom, whereas using Photomatix does free up Lightroom for you work happy on you other images. So reading this, I would imagine that you think I am a Photomatix, kinda guy? Well yes and no. In most instances I prefer the results produced by Lightroom over Photomatix.

Since originally writing this I have added an example from Nik HDR Efex Pro 2. Once again the result is very pleasing and the tones are excellent throughout the image. Like the others (Aurora apart), straight from the software the image produced is realistic and in no way looks fake. Nik is certainly another piece of software to consider. I did use it for quite a while when I first started experimenting with Image Fusion, but preferred the batch processing of Photomatix, and convenience of Lightroom.

Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

This incidentally below is the final image I went with. It has a little more contrast and crispness and better colours. This was done using one of the processes above and a little secret element, which people that attend my workshops get to see. 

Thank you for reading.


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