More HDR Exploration

This image was created using 5 exposures +2,+1,0,-1,-2, EV
This image was created using 5 exposures +2,+1,0,-1,-2, EV

Click on any image in this post to open it in a new window.

Today I am going to share several versions of one image to further illustrate the HDR process. In the image above I combined 5 exposures using NIK HDR Efex PRO 2. I then started with one of the realistic presets in NIK HDR Efex PRO 2 which I adjusted to my vision for the image. After getting it where I wanted it I created a custom preset that recorded all the adjustments I made to the image. I named the custom preset Pine Mountain #2 and saved it in the custom preset panel in NIK HDR Efex PRO 2 so that I could use it with any image I chose. I then started applying it to some of the single frames from this scene.

I’ll start with this frame which is the -1 EV underexposed frame. As you can see it is very dark and lacks detail in the shadows.

-1 ev exposure
-1 ev exposure

Below is the same image with the Pine Mountain #2 preset applied. It opened up the shadows and brought out a greater color range as well as some shadow detail.

-1 EV after applying Pine Mountain #2 preset
-1 EV after applying Pine Mountain #2 preset

I followed the same process for the 0 EV exposure below. This exposure has better shadow detail than the underexposed frame but it is beginning to show some blown highlights in the upper area, notably the small amount of sky and the mountain laurel leaves.

0 EV exposure
0 EV exposure

Once again I applied the Pine Mountain #2 preset I had created earlier to this single frame which produced the image below. There is now more detail in the shadows, the colors are richer but the sky is starting to gray slightly.

0 EV after applying Pine Mountain 2 preset
0 EV after applying Pine Mountain 2 preset

Lastly I used the overexposed image with the +1 EV and followed the same procedure with it. Once again the highlights are blown in the sky and on the leaves as well as on the rocks themselves.

+1 EV exposure
+1 EV exposure

This is the overexposed image after applying the Pine Mountain #2 preset.

+1 EV exposure after applying Pine Mountain #2 preset
+1 EV exposure after applying Pine Mountain #2 preset

Once again there is marked improvement both in the highlights and in the shadows but it still isn’t as rich as the first image in this post that was created by merging multiple exposures in NIK HDR Efex PRO 2.

My conclusion from this experiment is that; while there is increased detail in the shadows, better highlights and increased tonal range available when using NIK HDR Efex PRO 2 on a single image; the use of multiple exposures produces a richer more detailed image. I stand corrected regarding my earlier post about the differences in single vs multiple image HDR processing and the results that are attainable.

I hope this helps my readers and that they benefit from my exploration and experimentation with the NIK HDR Efex PRO 2 software. I feel certain that these results are repeatable regardless of which software is used be it Photoshop, NIK, Photomatix or any of the myriad of other HDR programs out there.

10 thoughts on “More HDR Exploration

  1. Very well done, Nick.

    While I agree with your conclusion, there are situations when a multi-exposure approach is impractical. An example is my photograph taken as the Circle Line tour boat approached the George Washington Bridge in the Hudson River. Another is my skyline of Cleveland from a tour boat on Lake Erie. Early on, I created a series of exposures using virtual copies of the image in Lightroom and combining the resulting images.

    Although not the result I could have gotten with true multiple exposures, the approach yielded significantly improved detail. For existence, the under-structure of the George Washington Bridge in the the original image was fully lost in the shadows, yet by blending the original image with four virtual copies (+1, +2, -1, and -2), the structural detail was exceptional, and cloud detail was enhanced as well.

    Now I use NIK HDR EFEX 2 on the single image with richer results, in less time! And time is money!!

    Keep up the great work, my friend.

    Best,
    Lauren

    1. Lauren you are so right about the difficulties that shooting multiple exposure entail. As a matter of fact I stopped shooting multiple exposures in the mountains last week for one day so that I could ditch the tripod and be more spontaneous in my shooting. I’m more likely to shoot a single frame with a good histogram most of the time but for this post I purposely shot the multiple exposures to illustrate the differences that HDR and Faux HDR have.

      Thanks for your comment and your continued support.

  2. Beautiful Image Nick! I’m glad you saw the HDR light about using multiple exposures for HDR! LOL!
    As far as your tripod, try shooting HDR images hand held sometime, you might be surprised at how well they turn out. Again, a very nice image and thanks for sharing the explanation.

    1. @Richard… Lauren is right; in the image I used to illustrate this post the light was as good as it was going to get. The formation was on a north facing mountainside. The big advantage that HDR has is the ability to record detail in both the shadows and the highlights. In this case the photo has very little direct light which made the little bit that was there slightly problematic. There is some backlight in the top center which is subdued by the HDR process while the shadows are opened up.

  3. Richard….Good or perfect lighting is almost non existent outside a studio. Scenes usually have good highlights, mediocre mid-tones, and very poor shadow areas. Or it could be a mixture of these problem exposure areas..That’s why people bracket their shots to account for these. The only other thing I can think of would be to use off-camera strobes to fill in the areas that are lacking.

    Steve

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