Nik shook up the world of HDR with their release of Nik HDR Efex Pro back in Fall of 2010. I was fortunate to beta test the exciting new HDR toolset from Nik and shared my initial thoughts and feedback in a previous blog post. This time around, I’m going to share an example walk-through tutorial of a recent Moonscape HDR that I processed:
Photo 235 of 365 photo project.
Canon 24-105mm @ 70mm
ISO 200, f/11
11 Image HDR
- Nik HDR Efex Pro
- Nik Color Efex Pro
- Nik Viveza 2
- Adobe Lightroom
- Adobe Photoshop CS5
- Noiseware Professional
The first thing I do after importing the raw images into Lightroom is to select one of the images in the HDR series and make some initial adjustments such setting the blacks slider back down to zero.
Then I make sure to select and enable profile correction which is an awesome new feature in Lightroom 3.x.
Next, select the camera profile under Camera Calibration. Typically, I’ll select ‘Camera Standard’ instead of the default ‘Adobe Standard’.
Once all the initial adjustments are complete, I select all of the images and select ‘Sync Settings’.
Select the settings to Synchronize.
The one area that needs some improvement in Nik HDR Efex Pro is photo alignment. The built in alignment functionality is good for most simple 3 image HDRs shot with a tripod but I’ve found it to produce less then desireable results with larger bracket series such as this 11 image HDR. Photoshop remains the best alignment tool so I selected all 11 images and opened them up as layers in CS5.
The alignment can be done either manually or using a handy new ‘StackAlignCrop’ script that I recently discovered. I typically use the script which does a great job for bracketed series of images shot on a tripod with little to no camera shake. If the alignment issues are severe, I’ll resort to manually aligning which isn’t very much fun but it can save a series of images that otherwise would have suffered with some severe ghosting issues.
After the alignment is complete, its time to export the layers to new files that we’ll use to render the HDR.
Now its time to render the HDR with the aligned images. This is accomplished in Lightroom by select all the images. Then Export > HDR Efex Pro.
An initial dialog box will pop up requesting how many stops between exposures. For this series, I used my Promote Control shutter release to capture 11 images at 1 stop between each image.
Next the HDR Efex Pro program will launch with initial preview of the HDR image.
There are many wonderful presets to select but I typically start with one of my saved custom presets and tweak from that point.
After completing the minor adjustments using the awesome sliders and u-point feature, I’ll compare both the original and new HDR previews. When I’m satisfied with the results, its time to select ‘Save’ to render the final HDR image.
After the image is saved, it will auto show up in Lightroom right next to the original exported images used to create the HDR. For me this is where the intense processing starts. The composite HDR image does a great job pulling out the shadows and highlights into a nice image but its almost always far from the final result that I’m seeking. Next, I’ll take the HDR image and a couple of the original exposures to manually mask in a few details. This is accomplished by selecting the desired images and opening up as layers in Photoshop.
In this image, the HDR resulted in a nasty halo around the rocks so I used one of the original ‘darker’ images to mask in the sky to help remove some of the halo. This is accomplished by creating a layer mask, selecting the brush tool and painting with black to bring in some of the detail of the original image in the area of concern around the rocks.
Next, I applied ‘Polarization’ filter using my absolute favorite Photoshop plugin suite – Nik Color Efex Pro.
Then it was time for some basic image adjustments. Nik Viveza 2 is quickly becoming one of my favorite toolsets for this effort. Sure most of the same edits can be made using built-in tools within CS5 but Viveza with Nik’s u-point technology makes the edits so much quicker and easier.
The sky needed some minor brightness adjustments so I created some control points to apply the brightness adjustments. To duplicate a control point, hold ‘option key’, then click and drag a control point to create a duplicate with the same settings. This works great for creating several control points across the image.
The control points will typically overlap into some other areas thats not desired. The easiest way to combat this is to manually add some default “zero” control points which reverts the image back to its original setting the the selected area of the control point.
Another very cool feature of the control points is to click and drag to select multiple points at the same time. Then adjustments can be made to all of the selected control points at the same time.
Lastly. I like to review the before and after previews before clicking “OK”.
Next up, my absolute favorite Nik Color Efex Pro preset – Tonal Contrast. This really help adds some awesome ‘pop’ to an image. It’s easy to get carried away with this preset. I like to start at 50-40-30-20 and adjust as needed with goal not to go too crazy. If I find some areas that I don’t want the effect, I can use the same u-point functionality to add some ‘Zero’ selections in the image as I did in this one to keep the water looking natural as possible. This can also be achieved using a layer mask but the control points are much, much faster.
The ‘tonal contrast’ left the image with a very ‘edgy’ feel so I decided to apply one more Nik Color Efex Pro preset – Glamour Glow. This gives the image a nice softness look; however, by default it will greatly oversaturate and shadow an image so I’m always always manually adjusting down the overall saturation and glow sliders before selecting ‘OK’ to apply the preset.
At this point, I felt it was time to apply some noise canceling using my favorite toolset – Noiseware Professional. Lightroom has some pretty good noise canceling built-in which works well for typical images but I find it underwhelming for my HDRs where noise is almost always a challenge. In Noiseware, I’ll typically select ‘Stronger Color’ and manually mask add/remove the noise canceling.
Next, its time for some image sharpening. I prefer to use the built-in High Pass sharpening within CS5 by creating a new composite layer (cmd+option+shift+E) and selecting > Filter > Other > High Pass.
Typically, I’ll leave the slider set to 3.5.
Last step for sharpening, I set the layer mode to ‘Vivid Light’ and adjusted the opacity down.
Next, I created another composite layer and set the mode to ‘Soft Light’ which helps fill in the blacks. I adjust the opacity down until it adds just a subtle increase – typically in the 25-35% range.
When I’m satisfied with the edits, I’ll ‘Flatten Image’ which saves TONS of disk space. The downfall is I wont be able to go back and make adjustments to the layers used to create the image. The disk space saved is worth the risk to me as some of these HDR images can balloon to over 1gb in size while editing.
Then its time to save and close the final image.
Then its always interesting to compare the initial raw HDR with the edited version using the side by side comparison preview in Lightroom.
Finally, add the keywords, title and caption before uploading.