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I’ve again stumbled upon someone claiming that one Raw is as good if not better then bracketing when making a HDR image…
Thought I’d debunk this ones and for all.

This is the bracket I used in this example, it’s from -4 ev to +4 ev, 9 exposures.

Out of those 9 exposures I made this HDR in Photomatix Pro 4. There are virtually no clipping just some pixels directly in the sun.

This is the middle (0 ev) Raw file.

This is the HDR from a single Raw file, using the same settings as in the above, both the white and black end are clipped, there are lots of noise and loss of detail. The shadow areas that are without details are turning grey because of the tonemapping tries to compensate for black, it could be pulled down but that wouldn’t change the amount actual dynamic range, just make it harder to see.

And finally this is the middle exposure Raw file converted without ever going to HDR, but using every slider in my raw converter to pull out every last bit of information. There are clipping in both highlight and shadow and excessive amounts of noise, but to my surprise, the detail in the shadow area are greater then the single Raw HDR.

Still, the dynamic range in this is no where near what it is in the multiple exposure version. There are times when using one single Raw file is the way to go, for example if you have moving targets, but generally bracketing gives you a wider dynamic range with much less noise.


I got the very bestest of comments on flickr: I think HDR, at least HDR done fairly modestly doesn’t destroy the image, but rather enhance it… HDR is not a specific look, but a way to get more tones to a photo, a Higher Dynamic Range… Sometimes it’s nice to have the very high contrast that generally digital cameras produce, but that is not real, it’s just the bad sensor technology we have today, I have no doubt that in the future sensors will increase in dynamic range and soon pass both analog film and later the human eyes… But until then we have to use the tools that are available to us…

HDR is such an infected word that it’s almost getting ironical…

Single frame


By the way, here is the flickr photos.

Original photo

This is one of the first HDR photos a friend of mine took, it’s shot with a borrowed Canon 300D, it’s a very nice photo and shitloads better then my first tries at HDR but I thought there was more potential in the picture so I asked if I could play with the raw files and this is kind of a walk-through of what I did to the raw files. Maybe someone can snap something useful up… maybe not… anyways, here goes… =)

First I opened the images in Adobe’s browser Bridge, I am not a Canon user and my OS can’t view the images in Finder it seems. I selected the images that are a part of this bracket and opened them in Camera Raw

In Camera Raw I set the white-balance on the snow to something close to white, put all the sliders to neutral (zero) and also set the contrast curve in the next tab to linear

Over the list of thumbnails [Select all] then [Synchronize] -> Everything (So all the images get the same settings in the Raw conversion)

Under the list of thumbnails is a button called [Save Images] I saved the converted images as 16 bit tiffs…

Go make coffee while Camera Raw is working, then go to Photomatix. Select [Create HDR Image] then browse to where you saved the images and open them.

Unless you are absolutely sure that there are no movement of the camera click the [Align source images] and Matching feature is the better alternative. I usually don’t use either reduce CA or Reduce Noise because I can do a better job in the post processing, this time I saw that the images were very noisy so I clicked that… The Reduce ghosting option is not very useful in this picture, that is more of a summer thing… =)

Aah the HDR image… take a break to admire it before clicking the [Tone Mapping] to make it a Low Dynamic Range image again…

This step takes a bit of fiddling around, there are no correct way to set the sliders but this is how I did it…

Strength: 100 (I can always fade back later)
Color Saturation: 60 (here too I want to go a bit over the top so I can fade back to what I like later)
Luminosity: +8 (I still don’t really know what this actually does… I set the overall brightness with gamma…)
Light Smoothing: 3 of 5 – Medium (It’s easy to make cartoonish HDR’s by dragging this too low… I usually use 3 or 4 on this)
Micro contrast: +8 (I like to keep this one high, it brings structure to the image)

White Point: 0.015% (Where to clip the white end of the histogram)
Black Point: 0.010% (Where to clip the black end. Usually you don’t want to clip much of the ends, unless you want a black night sky for example)
Gamma: 0.51 (This is where you set how bright the image should become…)

Temperature: 0 (This is worthless if you are shooting raw, the converter is making a hell of a much better job)
Saturation Highlights: 0 (This is good for toning down the colors in the highlights, snow for example)
Saturation Shadows: 0 (Good for colored shadows)

Micro Smoothing: 20 (This smooths out halos and other artifacts from the HDR process, good slider, I like)
Highlights Smoothing: 0 (I never needed any of these last three, they sure are good for something but I haven’t figured it out yet)
Shadows Smoothing: 0
Shadow Clipping: 0

360 Image: Not checked (this is for panoramas, sometimes it can help to get more light to the edges but normally this is not interesting for me)

When you’re done with the sliders and buttons press [Process] and watch the progress bar, that coffee is done now by the way. When you come back from the kitchen go to File and Save As, 16 bit tiff, check the open in Photoshop box.

Photoshop… I was trying to open one of the middle exposures to blend back some of the tonemapping but the image was so very noisy and it didn’t align very well so I figured that I don’t need to fade this back, it’s fine just like it is.

I opened a filterpack called NIK Color Efex Pro, I’ve been using NIK filters for some time and I find them very good.. the module that was on was Glamour Glow, though it was not what I wanted it looks pretty nice…

What I did want was the module Tonal Contrast, it brings out the contrast in a nice way, without messing up the levels to much.

I like to work on the tones in a black and white converter / darkroom emulator, This is called NIK Silver Efex Pro and it’s without any doubt the best black and white converter I’ve tried, it’s better then the actual darkroom…
I pulled up structure and contrast, and adding some light to the snow

Added a magenta color filter and some vignette, that looks fine I think –> [OK]

Back in Photoshop set the black and white layer to only affect the luminosity, and not the colors.

There was a little color artifact around the sun that made the sky look green, I made a layermask and remove that then copied the merged layers to a new one (Mix)

Next step is to try to get rid of the most of the noise, I used a Noise reduction filter from NIK called Dfine

To get back some of the noise structure I faded the layer back to 80% and mixed down…

Finnish up with a slight curve adjustment, Flattened the image and saved…

Photo by Jussi Väisänen (click on through his blog too and give him some traffic.)

The End


Today we’ll learn how to make a HDR (High Dynamic Range Rage) image out of a single GIF. The first thing you need to do is to go out into the nature and shoot your GIF image, now most cameras doesn’t save to this format so for this example we’ll use RAW instead and convert it later… Be sure to bracket a lot when doing the actual shooting so that you have a lot of images to choose from when you get home… In my example I bracketed 9 exposures with 1 EV spacing.

Picture 15

For this example I choose this exposure… +1 EV… Simply because I like it the most and I’m the photographer guy…. the artist.

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Then open your image in Photoshop, or whatever program you prefer, it doesn’t really matter.

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You’ll get to this wicked looking program with lots of knobs and buttons that no normal human can possibly understand… Just ignore them all and open the image… After all we’re artists, not computer programmers…

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This took unusually long on my computer… Just chill out for a while, get a coffee of something, it will open eventually…

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In order to save our image as a GIF file we need to convert it to indexed color, ie. no more then max 256 colors…

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Save it as a “Compuserve GIF”, quit photoshop and open it in PhotomatRix

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PhotomatRix is being stupid, can’t read GIF files… But it seems like it haven’t got a problem with Jpeg files… so we’ll need to convert…

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Re-open the image in Photoshop and change the mode to RGB Color. Don’t worry, you destroyed all the colors when converting it to indexed color, and you will not get them back, this is just because you need to have RGB Color mode in order to save as Jpeg.

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Check the image that it still looks like a GIF… This one is fine, save it as the middle (0 EV) exposure (as a Jpeg)

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Then go to Image > Adjustments > Levels

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Set the midpont at various places and save as different exposures… I used 0.1, 0.5, 1, 2 and 5

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When you’re done saving your pics open them in PhotomatRix, you will need to fool the program that you have some idea of EV spacing… I told it I spaced 2 EV in between the exposures.

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Since all the images in the stack are from the same GIF file you don’t really need anything on this next page… they are perfectly aligned and no ghosting…

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Amazing… =)

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Ths is the “real” HDR image, but in order to get something the monitor can show us we need to tonemap it back to a LDR

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The default setting, you probably wanna drag the sliders around for a bit to get the look you want.

Picture 34

One single GIF HDR sees the light of day… =)

I have been thinking about making a HDR timelapse for some time and I wanted to make one of the dawn or the sunrise, I haven’t had the chase to do it though because of rain or sleeping however, this morning I went out about one hour before sunrise and set up the camera to take +/- 2ev brackets. I don’t have a intervalometer (is that even a word?) so I have to press the shutter by hand, I used my PDA to show a clock so  could see when to press and pressed the shutter 300 x 3 times… I had the aperture at f/4 and shot in aperture mode. When I’ve been shooting just under 900 photos, 300 brackets, the battery in my PDA started draining… I would have liked to go on for a while sine the sun was staring to paint the marsh but I had to give up since I didn’t have any other way of splitting up the time in half minute pieces…

When I got home I put the photos to batch process in photomatix and went to sleep… After that it’s just sequencing and encoding… I made a HD1080i version for myself and a smaller H.264 for flickr and youtube…

Now I’m gonna go have a look if it’s raining or not… if it’s not raining I’ll go for a walk, which I really would like to do, if it’s raining I’m going to bed…