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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gadget Bag: HDR Software

When used in moderation, HDR software helps you maximize the dynamic range in your photos. Here’s a look at the tools that are available for doing it.

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This Article Features Photo Zoom

Unified Color technologies HDR Expose 3 and 32 Float V3; Photomatix Pro 4

Photo manipulation has always been employed to enhance details, even out exposure and increase contrast. Local dodging and burning was done in film darkrooms, with Ansel Adams and W. Eugene Smith leading the way. Digital darkrooms, such as Lightroom, Photoshop, Aperture and other processing software, use similar concepts in a different methodology to make similar enhancements and manipulations.

In essence, HDR (high dynamic range) photography focuses on more accurately representing the full spectrum of shadows and highlights that the human eye can see at one time instead of, for instance, the higher contrast (sometimes silhouetted) visuals that are a technicality of the camera's optics. HDR achieves this eye-like field of vision by merging together several images at bracketed exposures. Similar to a collage, you're able to capture details from both the shadows and highlights in the over- and underexposures, as well as choose the contrast, color, lighting and depth of field from each shot that work best together to create an overall image representative of the scene you visualized in the field.

Over the past few years, while HDR photography has gained public interest, it has also been engulfed in controversy over how much is too much. Once the technology became easily available to the public, it was liberally applied in degrees varying from slight adjustments for a natural look, to surreal explorations of hyperrealism, to synthetic-pop grunge art, creating a diverse field of art. For some, this artistic flair has caused a backlash, but for us as nature photographers, HDR is about matching the viewer's eye, which can be done when maintaining a subtle hand with the technique. HDR is a tool for any photographer in situations where you're dealing with difficult contrast, yet you still want to maintain a natural look.

Luminance HDR
Each person sees colors and light differently, and there will be varying opinions about when the limit or excess of HDR manipulation has been reached. Through experimentation and experience, you can develop your own technique and discerning eye to decide when your images have reached the perfect level for you.

As HDR software develops, new features are constantly being introduced. One challenge when merging photos is "ghosting," which occurs when a subject doesn't line up perfectly between multiple images. This could be due to shooting handheld instead of on a tripod, or wind blowing through trees. Some software auto-corrects for this issue locally.

Unified Color Technologies has upgraded the standalone software HDR Expose 3 and 32 Float V3 Photoshop plug-in to allow multiple frames to merge from handheld bracket shooting. The new file browser automatically detects bracketed exposures using thumbnails instead of filenames and can employ a batch-merge function. Upgraded alignment capabilities, including fully automatic and manual assist options, calculate proper fit, while the reengineered deghosting algorithms reduce movement in a scene by using a key frame for other frames to reference. New Adaptive Tone Mapping enhances local control of contrast, color and detail retention. List Price: $119 (HDR Expose 3); $89 (32 Float V3). www.unifiedcolor.com

Color fringing, or chromatic aberration, is another problem that haunts HDR images more often than single images. Chromatic aberration is when a line of red, green, blue or magenta occurs at a boundary of contrast. This is magnified when working with HDR, since HDR is all about contrast. This is something to look out for when working with images, and your software should be able to help compensate for it.

Everimaging's standalone HDR Darkroom 2 Pro uses a clean interface for control over 30 parameters for local and global tone mapping, including lens correction for chromatic aberration, curve adjustments, color temperatures and full color space management, along with highlight/shadow adjustment and noise reduction. Alignment and ghost reduction are done easily upon import. Batch processing can be done with RAW files. Additionally, you can upload directly to social media. While easy to use, this level of custom control is great for those with some previous HDR experience. List Price: $89. www.everimaging.com


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