32 bit HDR file editing; is this goodbye to tone mapping?

This is something that was mentioned to me a few weeks ago, a process of taking the blended images that are generated by HDR programs but instead of running them though the tone mapping stage take that image directly into Lightroom and process it from there, sounds simple eh? Well actually it is far too simple and it gives fabulous results.

So what’s the process:

First get out there and take some bracketed shots, now recently I’ve found myself getting a bit obsessive and extending the range of bracketing, I now normally shoot from -5 to +5 in anything from 5 to 11 exposures, in the type of environments that I’m shooting I genuinely think this works capturing detail throughout the entire light range.

Take those images and run them through HDR software, fortunately for these shots I have access to Photoshop CS6 so they were blended in HDR Pro. When the images are blended at the top right hand side of the display there are some sliders and boxes where you can make adjustments, go to the mode box and select ’32 bit’, the sliders will now all disappear, select ‘OK’ this will create the 32 bit HDR file and will take you to the standard Photoshop interface, from the ‘file’ menu on the top ribbon bar select ‘save as’ the format needs to be ‘TIFF’, give your file a name and destination directory, this should now save a 32 bit TIFF file.

Open Lightroom and import the 32 bit TIFF file, now for the tricky editing process, I’ll go through this one stage at a time, ready?

Highlight slider all the way down.

Shadow slider all the way up.

Clarity slider all the way up.

And that is it, to be honest when I first did this the transformation was incredible, the image was very, very sharp and completely devoid of noise, the colours were precise it was exactly as I had observed when taking the picture, to me this was some kind of processing magic, it was also somewhat of a let down. Let me explain, I enjoy going out and taking pictures, but I know the images on the memory card are just the first stage of what I want, the next stage of enjoyment comes from sitting in front of the monitor and transforming that image into something that the eye or the mind sees, this new process had just cheated me out of a couple of hours of creativity and a sense of satisfaction that can only be achieved when effort is rewarded with that ‘oh yes’ feeling.

I have now been playing with this method for a couple a weeks and have found that it has its shortfalls, if looking for a very realistic rendition of a scene with shadow detail and non blown out highlights this works really well, for a location such as a cathedral where the lighting range is extreme and you are looking at recording the beauty already contained within then this is exceptional, and I will be using it for this type of processing in the future, however for some of the more processed images where I am trying to convey a feeling rather than just a visual representation I have found it very difficult to use this type of file, the extra information that tone mapping generates gives me so much more to work with. For outside scenes again I have not really been satisfied with the results with the exception of a night-time urban shot again with extreme light ranges. Something that I intend to experiment with is using these files as texture maps and layers for selective detail, I will let you know the results.

Is this goodbye to tone mapping…..absolutely not!

I would like to mention Si Burns https://www.facebook.com/SiBurns2012 and Alan Carter https://www.facebook.com/alan.carter.75 who switched me on to this during one of the the UK Photographers G+ ‘Hang Outs’

Andrew Steel – I have been shooting DSLR for the last 4 years using Canons, early this year I moved on to the Sony NEX-5, I am convinced that for my type of photography the CSC’s are the right way to go so in the last month I have upgraded to the NEX-7 with a Rokinon 8mm fisheye. Every shoot now is with the intention of processing in HDR except for some night time photography when it is just not possible to get enough light on the sensor.

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