It seems the most popular HDR photos are taken by travel photographers who have the luxury to travel around the world to exotic places. HDR Macro photography is great way for hobbyists to create interesting HDR photos that rival the travel HDR shots without requiring a extensive travel budget and in most cases without having to leave your existing local area. In this example, I’m going to share post processing HDR Macro workflow that I used to create one of my recent HDR images Earth Day Tulips.
I’m a Lightroom user so the first step is to select my images and export to Photomatix. I used my bracketing trick on Canon 7D to capture the 5 images that I’m going to use for this HDR. In the Photomatix export dialog box, I typically will leave Align images selected and select generate HDR while leaving the rest of the options unchecked.
After initial processing during the export, the image will open up in Photomatix. Then I select ‘Tone Mapping’ to continue. Notice the ‘align image’ didn’t do a good job with this one because the flowers were moving a lot while capturing the series of images. I’m not going to worry about it for now as I’ll fix later in Photoshop.
After adjusting the sliders, I selected ‘Process’ to generate the HDR image. Then
I saved and re-imported back into Lightroom.
When exporting to Photomatix, there is an alternate option to ‘Fuse exposures’. I prefer this option for landscapes and images where I want a more natural look and feel result. I decided to go ahead and create a HDR Fuse image for this project as well with the intention to merge details between the initial HDR and the Fuse adjust image. In the Exposure Fusion window, I typically leave everything default and only adjust color saturation slider. Then select process and re-import back into Lightroom.
I used the Lightroom option to view the HDR and Fused images side by side. This helped me determine which image I was going to use as my top/primary layer when editing in Photoshop.
Next, I selected the original 5 images and the two new HDR images created by Photomatix and opened them as Layers in Photoshop. This is one of my favorite little time saving features of Lightroom vs opening up all of the images individually and manually pasting into layers.
After the images opens in Photoshop, the first thing I do is organize the layers. I moved the two HDR images to the top. Then I arranged the original images from darkest to lightest.
If you remember way back when I first exported into Photomatix, I had major alignment issues. This is how I fixed that issue. I started by hiding all of the layers except the bottom two. On the second layer up, I reduced opacity down to 50-55% and I zoomed in to a portion in the image that clearly displayed the alignment issue. I used hotkey ‘V” on my keyboard which allowed me to drag around the image until the alignment issue was resolved.
Once the layers aligned as desired, I reset the opacity back to 100% and moved up to the next layer.
I repeated the same process and continued until I reached the first HDR layer.
Next, I selected the top layer and created a layer mask so I could merge in the details between the two HDR image layers at the top.
After I completed all of the desired masking, I selected the top two HDR images and merged layers together.
Next, I selected the layer that represented the normal exposure in the bracketed series and moved it below the top layer. Then I created a layer mask on the top layer and merged in the details of the normal exposure layer.
I repeated the process for a couple additional layers. I ended up discarding the two darkest layers as they didn’t offer any details that I wanted. Then I selected ‘Flatten Image’ to merge all of the layers into a single background layer.
Next, I used Nik Software Color Efex Pro 3.0 ‘Pro Contrast’ filter to quickly adjust the contrast in the image.
Then I used Nik Software Color Efex Pro 3.0 Tonal Contrast filter to bring out the detail in the flower petals.
The tonal contrast filter brought out details in the entire image but I only wanted to bring out details in the petals so I created a layer mask. Inverted the layer mask with hotkey “cmd+I” and used brush tool to paint in the details of the flower petals.
Next, I decided to try using a Glamour Glow filter in Nik Color Efex to soften the image.
The Glamour Glow softened the entire image so I used another layer mask to bring back the detail in the flower petals.
The Glamour Glow layer also greatly increased the saturation so I created a Hue/Saturation layer and adjusted down the overall and reds saturation.
I was just about ready to call it done after the Hue/Saturation adjustment but I decided to try a Topaz Adjust Spicify filter just for kicks.
I liked the Topaz effect but it was a bit strong so I just brought down the layer opacity until it looked good.
All of the HDR processing created some noise especially after the Topaz filter so last step was to reduce the noise with Noiseware Pro. I typically select ‘stonger color’ option in Noiseware as this will reduce the noise while barely impacting the details of the image.
Lastly, I created a layer mask for those areas where I wanted to ensure detail wasn’t disturbed by the Noiseware filter.
Finally, I closed/saved in Photoshop and opened up in Lightroom where I applied some minor cropping and increased the blacks slider just a tad. Then I added keywords metadata and title to the image before exporting to my blog and flickr stream.
This was a fun experiment. The biggest challenge in this image was the alignment issues but they were easily overcome with layer masks in Photoshop. I’m very much looking forward to creating some additional HDR Macro images. If you have any questions or feedback, please do share!
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