Software – What do You need?

“What software do I need?” That was a question I was asked the other day after going through a tutorial of several different methods that I use for generating images. The first was a simple blend in Photomatix and then finished off in Lightroom. The next was how to create a 32 bit tif in Photoshop and then use Lightroom to bring out all of the detail. The final image was a 32 bit tif created in Photoshop, edited in Lightroom, duplicated with Silver Efex Pro to create a texture map, blended in Photoshop and finished in Lightroom. Those three methods had pretty much used £1000 worth of software.

When the question came “What software do I need?” I found myself asking the same question. Do I really need Photoshop to create a 32 bit file? I had tried previously to use the 32 bit file that Photomatix generates but had experienced fairly poor results, however I thought I would head over the HDRsoft website to see if there were any updates.

Happily I found a lightroom plugin for existing owners that processes bracketed images selected in Lightroom through the Photomatix engine and then opens up the 32 bit file in Lightroom, and it works perfectly. Okay, next, do I really need Lightroom? YES, every image I process, every image I have ever processed goes through Lightroom -for me it is an absolute must have. Do I really need Silver Efex Pro? No not really, after all I’m producing a texture map not a black and white masterpiece. I’ve already decided that I need Lightroom, surely I can produce a decent texture with that. So now it’s back to that Photoshop question as the next step is blending using layers, bear in mind that I already own a copy of Elements 10, so the answer has got to be again ‘no not really’ I’m not using the advanced features that Photoshop offers, there are a couple of niceties that I would miss but they are not essential, so no.

The person that asked me the question was starting off in HDR photography, so I recommended Photomatix Pro at £53 from HDRsoft, including the 15% discount from the HDR One website (Use the StrangeLands code), and Lightroom at £80 from amazon – £133 for software, much more realistic as an amateur photographer, if you want to add Elements that takes it up to £210, but will that give the desired results over software costing nearly 5 times the amount, well let’s see.

Three brackets were used at +2,0,-2 the correctly exposed image was ISO200 f2.8 and a shutter speed of ½ second, I had the camera resting on the footplate of a barrier.


  • Open Lightroom and locate the images:
  • Select bracketed photos from either the Filmstrip or the Grid.
  • Right-click to invoke the contextual menu.
  • Select Export and then Merge to 32-bit HDR
  • Select the desired option and click on the Merge button

In case the merged image does not show once the merge has completed, click above the filmstrip and checkAll Photographs.

You can then adjust the merged image on Lightroom’s Develop module

Once in ‘Develop’ adjust the following:

  • Highlights -100
  • Shadows +100
  • Clarity +100
  • Saturation +100


With the ‘Adjustment Brush’ set ‘Saturation’ to -90 and paint the flagstones in the foreground and the top corners to de-saturate.

At this stage I will crop to final print size.

Export to a working directory as a PSD file and rename filename_colour.psd

Import this file back in to Lightroom (do not use the existing file already in Lightroom)

The next stage generates the texture map

  • Convert to ‘Black & White’
  • Highlights +100
  • Shadows -100
  • Clarity +100
  • Contrast +33
  • Exposure +0.12



Export to a working directory as a PSD file and rename filename_mono.psd

Okay, that’s stage 1 complete, next, open both of these files in Elements.

  • Create the images as layers with the colour version being the top layer
  • With top layer selected choose ‘Hard Light’ as the blending mode
  • Adjust ‘Opacity Slider’ to 45%

  •  ‘Flatten Image’
  • Save as filename_working.psd
  • Copy colour layer and paste onto working layer to create two layers
  • Unlock the background layer and move the colour layer to the back


  • Set the foreground colour to black and select the ‘Eraser’
  • Settings ‘200px soft round’, mode ‘Brush’ and ‘Opacity’ 100%


  • Erase the graffiti detail to bring the oversaturated background through.


  • ‘Flatten Image’ and ‘Save’

Stage 2 complete and ready to finish off in Lightroom.

  • Import to Lightroom
  • ‘Highlights’ -10
  • ‘Whites’ -76
  • ‘Blacks’ -5
  • ‘Clarity’ +86
  • Post-Crop Vignetting ‘Amount’ -14


And that is pretty much it.


Just a recap on the software used: Photomatix Pro, now that it has the export to 32 bit file it’s the only HDR program that I need. Lightroom, is just superb. Elements, I must admit that I found it a little frustrating, Photoshop does give you a lot more choice on settings in brushes and blending, on saying that though, Elements did give me the desired results.

To be absolutely honest I am really pleased with the result, I had previously edited the Image using Photoshop and Silver Efex Pro, the differences when comparing the images are minor and are nothing to do with quality, but slight differences on the settings I used. I must admit that in future I will be using these three pieces of software until I get to a point that I am no longer getting the desired result.

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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