If you want to divide a room full of photographers and start a fight between them, just bring up the topic HDR. High Dynamic Range imaging has been around for a while but has exploded more recently on most photo sharing sites like Flickr. What causes the impasse among photographers is that there is no agreement on what is a “correctly” made HDR is. I put “correctly” in quotes because I truly believe that like all art, photography is very subject to the person the person viewing it. I am not going to dive into the fray and start a scene but for the most part I embrace what HDR can do and use it semi-regularly.

With all that out of the way, lets take a look at what an HDR is. In the photography realm you start with 3 photographs taken at different exposures, one under exposed, one over exposed and one correctly exposed. I will then combine them into one photograph and get the benefits of all 3 exposures.

Here are the 3 photographs I am going to be working with in this Before and After. I took them on my last visit to downtown Chicago. It had been a while since I made it to downtown to just shoot and I forgot how awesome of a area Chicago is from a photographers standpoint. There is a reason why Chicago is continually chosen to shoot full blown Hollywood movies when it is no where near Hollywood.



Correctly Exposed

For creating the HDR and and applying the first round of adjustments, called Tone Mapping, I use Photomatix Pro. Photoshop does offer a HDR creation process but I have had much better results using Photomatix. As usual, I am starting in Lightroom, I highlighted the 3 photos and using the Photomatix plugin, I exported to Photomatix using the following settings. I have Photomatix setup to go directly into tone mapping, you can look at the image before tone mapping but its not worth looking at. Trust me.

Here we are in Photomatix

In Photomatix my goal is bring most of the color back and still maintain the existing sharpness levels. Depending on the style of photo I am working with, such as a senior portrait or a landscape, it will change how I go after the sliders. For Landscapes I start by lowering the Strength and Smoothing and raising Color Saturation, Micro Contrast and Saturation Highlights. Now there is not really a right or wrong way to here, remember photography being very subjective, but for the photo I was trying to maintain a true sense of realism and tried to stay with those confines. I ended with this.

Good, but with some Lightroom tweaking it be even better. So to automatically send this photo back into Lightroom, just close the photo down and the photo will show up on your filmstrip right next to the first photo used in this selection.

Back in Lightroom I am looking at doing 2 things, bring the exposure/contrast up and boosting the colors some but staying as close to real as possible. For the exposure/contrast I raised the Exposure (duh) Fill Light and Blacks, for this:

After the first edits Lightroom:

For the last step I am going to go for the color boost and I achieved that by raising the Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation. By raising these, I did darken the image some so I added just a bit more exposure.

With the final adjustments in place I cropped the image just a bit and I give you the merged and edited HDR. BOOM!

Did you like it, did you hate it or have an idea for a Before or After? Just let me know!

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