Tag Archives: high dynamic range

HDR: Nik Software is now free!

Last week I posted about using software to merge HDR or High Dynamic Range images. Well, just a few days ago, that software went from $150 to free. So that means an awesome refund for me, and even more incentive to try Nik Software for everybody else. Nik Software includes an HDR merger and a variety of effects ranging from black and white to faux vintage. I’ve had the package for three weeks, and I’m still finding new and exciting aspects.

I spent the weekend in northern New Mexico and Taos. I’m behind on everything, but I still couldn’t wait to assemble a few images. Without comment, here they are below. Happy photo editing!

High Dynamic Range photography: beyond Photoshop

Have you ever taken a picture where the brightest areas were lost to white and the darkest areas were lost to black? It’s an old photographic challenge with fun new solutions.

For over a century, photographers have used clever techniques to incorporate large brightness ranges in images.  Ansel Adams used dodging and burning to compress the dynamic range of film to the smaller range possible on paper. For challenging scientific shots, scientists produced film with three layers, each capturing a different film speed. Today, given multiple exposures of a scene, computers can auto-merge the best parts of each image in a process called tone mapping. The resulting shot has become known as an HDR or High Dynamic Range image. In just the last decade, the process has become much simpler and more useful.

Photoshop is the most famous of the merging softwares, but it isn’t the best. For years, I wrestled with Photoshop’s clunky and artificial looking HDR outputs. If you think of HDR as a pejorative, Photoshop may be why. Fortunately, there are other pieces of software out there that do a better job. I recently purchased the Nik Software package, which includes HDR Efex 2. I have several hundred old captures that I gave up on in Photoshop that are new and exciting and beautiful again. If you’ve ever tried making HDR images and felt disappointed, you should check out the market again. The results from HDR Efex and Photomatix are glorious. Happy tone mapping!

A note to Mac users: as of March 2016, the HDR Efex plug-in for Lightroom does not always work. I had to email the company and get them to send me a module file. Their email was detailed enough to suggest that this bug is common. With the module file, it was an easy fix, so contact the company if you too encounter this challenge.


HDR Efex (left) and Photoshop (right)

In the case of the cave image, I vastly prefer the HDR Efex image. The Photoshop controls aren’t intuitive, and even their built in presets mostly look awful. Some of the Nik presets are too extreme for my usual preference, but many of them look great immediately. In the case of the waterfall image, I prefer the HDR Efex image, but I don’t dislike the Photoshop image. The light is more exciting in the HDR Efex image, and I did it quickly and easily.


I’ve had HDR Efex for about three weeks. The first two weeks are free with a fully functional trial copy. Below are some of the images I’ve assembled. I’m pretty happy with it so far, especially after years of feeling uninspired by Photoshop’s HDR function. Happy photographing!

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Heading west

Today is my official last post from the east. I’m going to be very disorganized for a couple of weeks (I’ve already been a bit), but I’ll keep posting. It’s hard to leave a place you love, but I have high hopes for my new digs. I mean, just look at it!

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Working some HDR magic on an already-gorgeous vista. All it took to get here was a terrifying tram ride!

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Cuttlefish! Low light photography with the A7s still knocks my socks off.

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Like, seriously, try snapping jellyfish on a camera with a max ISO of 3200. You can’t do it! Definitely enjoyed my ISO with the jellyfish tank.

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Merging photographs

Lately I’ve been improving my Photoshop skills with courses from Lynda.com. If you want to learn a design program, I strongly recommend them. In a year, I’ve learned so much about Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Lightroom, JavaScript, CSS, photography, and more. In Photoshop alone, I learned way more than I figured out in 15 years of experimentation.

With my new learning, I’ve been able to breathe new life into old photos. Over the past several years, I took numerous sets of photos that I intended to turn into panoramas and HDRs, but then I could never get them to look right. With newfound skills come newfound confidence. Check out these beautiful images!

 

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American Southwest near Moab, Utah at sunset. Assembled from 40 24-megapixel images captured with a Sony Alpha 100. When it was assembling, it tied up over 100 gigs of space. This version is 1500×557 pixels; the full size is 19,000 x 7,000!

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Detail from above photo, center-left at horizon.

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Mount Saint Helen’s in Washington state. Assembled from 6 24-megapixel images from a Sony Alpha 100.

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Detail from above photo, center left.

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Waterfall in Central Virginia along the Blue Ridge Parkway. High dynamic range image assembled from five slow-exposures. Smart sharpen and high pass filters to add sharpness and clarity.

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Rainforest in Olympic National Park. Before assembly, I reduced noise and applied lens corrections. High dynamic range image assembled from five exposures. Smart sharpen and high pass filters to add sharpness and clarity.