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Creating Natural Looking HDR Images using only Lightroom and Photoshop

12 Sep 2013 / 2 Comments / in blog
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Many people do not realize that many of my images are HDR (High Dynamic Range), I believe the reason is because I strive to make my images look realistic and/or natural. The HDR process has gotten a bad rap because many people take an artistic route and create images that don’t necessarily reflect the real world. When Lightroom 4 was released, the fine folks from the Lightroom team gave us a new and interesting new way to create High Dynamic Range images. This has been my preferred method of processing HDR images for quite some time now since it produces some of the most natural looking images.

Best of all the process is super simple. Check out the video to learn how you can do this yourself.

Using Photomatix and Lightroom together

31 Jan 2012 / 8 Comments / in blog

As you may know I am a big advocate and user of Adobe’s Lightroom and I use it to manage ALL of my images. I am also a dedicated user of Photomatix for HDR processing.

I am often amazed by how many people do not know that both programs work very well together and you can have a complete image processing workflow by having Lightroom pass on your images into Photomatix for HDR processing.

Using Lightroom as a front-end to Photomatix has a number of advantages over using it independently, most importantly to me is that I believe Lightroom does a superior job at converting my RAW files to TIF which is what Photomatix uses to create the HDR images. Yes Photomatix can process and convert your RAW files, but Lightrooms image processing engine is arguably the best in the industry so why not take advantage of it? There are certainly many more advantages and that may be a topic for a future article.

Here I want to detail for you the way in which both programs integrate and how to use them correctly.

When you first download Photomatix you will notice that your download included two files, the Photomatix application and a file called “Photomatix.lrplugin” this is the plugin needed to complete the Lightroom and Photomatix integration.

I am not going to detail here the instructions on installing the plugin but will direct you to the instructions that the Photomatix folks have put together for your convenience:

Once you have the plugin installed correctly, you have a few different options of invoking Photomatix, but they all start by selecting in Lightroom the images you want to use for your HDR processing. Once you select the 3 or more images in Lightroom, the easiest way to work with them in Photomatix is to go to “File” menu in Lightroom and select “Plug-In Extras -> Export to Photomatix Pro…”

As soon as you you select that menu you are immediately presented with a dialog box to select a bunch of options on how to pass the images into Photomatix. In my experience this dialog box is where people get confused most often. For the purpose of this article I am only going to touch upon the bottom section “Handling of processed image” because this is where you are going to tell Photomatix what to do with your Final HDR image.

First you want to make make sure you have the first checkbox selected “Automatically re-import into Lightroom library” it should be obvious but what this does is whenever you “save” or “process” your HDR result in Photomatix the image is automatically added to your Lightroom library, in the same folder where your source images were located.

The second option I like to select is “Stack with first selected photo” and again there are a few reasons for this. First is that I like to “stack” my HDR images with their source images, so this automatically does that for me, second as I will detail a little later in the article, this makes it super easy to then “find” your resulting HDR as it will be conveniently stacked with your first source image.

In regards to the “File Name” dialog box, Photomatix tries to come up with a filename that makes sense and one that is descriptive of the source images, but sometimes this file name is too long and confusing, so here you have an opportunity to tell Photomatix the exact filename to use when saving the resulting HDR file in your Lightroom library. We all have our own preferences, but I like to include the image range that was used to create the HDR. In the example above you can see that I used the files between 3847 and 3850.

Last, In the output format you WANT to use “TIFF 16-bit” because this will give you the best quality possible, so I always stick with that.

Once you press the “Export” button Lightroom exports your images as TIFFs and hands them to Photomatix to do it’s magic. And this is where you start your HDR fun. Go ahead and process the image whichever way you like, whether artistically or realistically it’s up to you.

Once you are satisfied with your adjustments in Photomatix, you want to click on the button titled “Save and Re-import” near the bottom of your adjustments panel. This will cause Photomatix to process your HDR file and drop it into your Lightroom Library. Once Photomatix is done processing you can simply quit it, and jump back into Lightroom for further adjustments and work on your HDR masterpiece.

Now if you selected the option “Stack with first selected photo” in the export panel, the image should appear right there next to your first source image, very convenient. If you did not select that option you may or may not immediately see your HDR image in your grid view in Lightroom, and most of the times the reason for this is because of the “sort order” you have set for your grid. If this is the case, simply scrolling down to the bottom of the grid, or maybe the top (depending on your sort setting), will oftentimes reveal the HDR image. If you still can’t find it change the sort option to “Filename” and it may then be easier to find based on the filename you gave the file.

If all else fails… there was a version of Lightroom that would not immediately show you the processed HDR image in your grid view in your library, the grid view had to be “refreshed” in order for Lightroom to then show you the processed HDR file, you can do this simply and quickly by selecting another folder in Lightroom and then re-selecting the original folder. Once you do this the image will magically appear.

I hope you found this quick tutorial helpful, if you have any questions feel free to contact me.