An HDR Workflow
Article by Darin Rogers
I won’t be discussing any particular topic with this post today, but rather I’ll be walking through the steps I took to process this image.
Of course, if you were to process this image yourself, you might do it differently than I do. Nothing wrong with that. The only ‘right’ way to process a particular image is the one that fits your vision. However, I think it can sometimes be helpful to see other’s workflow. Even if you’re familiar with HDR processing, or post-processing in general, by watching what someone else does it’s possible to pick up some useful tips or techniques that will help you achieve your vision.
The image I’m working with today is from a quick one-week trip I took recently to the Philippines. The church, Basilica de San Martin de Tours, is located in Taal, Calabarzon, near the Taal volcano south of Manila. It is said to be the largest church in the Philippines and SE Asia. I can only assume that’s true.
How I processed this image isn’t particularly difficult or complicated. I was primarily going for a natural look and attempting to bring out some of the detail in the ceiling; which makes sense, of course, since the ceiling, including its lines and details, is what the image is about.
I started out with a standard three-shot, +/- two-stop exposure. The first step was to reduce the chromatic aberrations that were apparent along the edge of the window sills in each image by clicking the tick box under Lens Corrections in Lightroom. It’s a good idea to do this prior to opening the images in Photomatix or other HDR processing software.
Once this was done, I exported the 3 images to Photomatix. The export settings I used are shown in the figure below. Because I wasn’t using a tripod, I checked the tick box for Align images in case there was any movement between shots. In truth, I usually leave this checked by default even if I do use a tripod.
You may wonder why I’ve checked the box for Reducing chromatic aberrations after I just did so in Lightroom. The reason is… well, I don’t know. I’ve never found the chromatic aberration tool in Photomatix to be all that useful. However, I leave it checked just in case it’s doing something I’m not aware of. But, as you’ll see later in this article, the chromatic aberration I just eliminated comes back once again.
Once imported into Photomatix, I adjusted various settings using the Exposure Fusion process. I use this process more often than Tone Mapping as I am able to get the results I’m looking for more consistently. As I was going for a natural look with this image I went pretty light with the Strength at -4.0. I felt that the over-exposed image needed to be de-emphasized in the blend which resulted in the Blending Point set at -2.0. I tend to make minimal adjustments with the Local Contrast since it’s similar to Clarity in Lightroom and Photoshop. A few tweaks to some of the other settings and it was ready to send back to Lightroom.
An image isn’t finished once you re-import it from Photomatix. In the interest of space I won’t go into every single adjustment I made and you can see my final adjustments in the screenshot of the history panel. I will make note of a couple items, though.
One of the first things I did was to do some minor straightening. I was traveling light this trip and I didn’t have my tripod with me for this shot so I was resting the camera on a flat railing. It was a fairly sturdy surface but I wasn’t able to take the care I should have in getting a properly aligned image. Even after straightening, it still wasn’t perfectly aligned. I could have tried to fix it more with the Transform tool under Lens Corrections but this would have required significant cropping and the pixel bending it would subject the image to would probably do more harm than good. I do tend to be rather anal when it comes to straight horizons and proper alignment but not so much that I’ll throw an otherwise good image just because it’s slightly off kilter.
Although I don’t show it here, you’ll also note that I had to remove chromatic aberrations once again. Even though I had checked Reduce chromatic aberrations in Photomatix, some fringing reappeared where I’d previously removed it and it was necessary to remove it again in Lightroom. In reality, no one would likely notice the slightly pink fringing that appeared along the bright edges of the windows, but if I know it’s there I have to do something about it. The windows are also rather bright areas that can be a bit of a distraction so I did some minor burning of the brightest areas to try and reduce their impact.
A bit of sharpening, a slight vignette to help keep the eye from straying out of the image, a minor white balance adjustment and, there you go. This image could have been done any number of ways and you may have done some things differently. However, I hope that in seeing how I did it you were able to pick up some useful tips or techniques.
Darin Rogers is a freelance photographer, writer, and part-time engineer. He is currently based in Darwin, Australia. You can see more of his work at www.darinrogers.net.