April 08, 2009

Photomatix 3.1, CS4, HDR tutorial

HDR tutorial using Photomatix 3.1 and CS4

I haven't updated this blog for a long time, and much has happened since my previous entry. I mave bought a Canon 5D MarkII, and Photomatix has been updated to 3.1, and Photoshop to CS4. I have also changed how I usually process my HDR images.

This tutorial will hopefully give a start on how to use Photomatix 3.1 and Photoshop CS4 for normal processing.

I expect that you know something about Photomatix (Like how to start it, and how to navigate the UI). I do also expect you to have RAW files. See my bracketing tutorial if you don't know how to take the photos.

Enough said, let us start with the processing.


Step 1)
Start Photomatix, and select the files that you want to tonemap. You can either do that by selecting Process -> Generate HDR..., or by using drag & drop. (That is, you can drag 3 exposures or a single RAW file onto Photomatix and drop). Click Ok after you have selected the source file(s).

Step 2)
A dialog named Generate HDR - Options will appear

I usually select "Align Source images" and "By matching features" if I haven't used a tripod and have multiple files. I do also check "Reduce chromatic aberrations".

Click Ok after you have done that. The program will then convert your RAW files, and that might take some time especially if you have large files.

Step 3)
You will now see an image that hasn't been tone mapped, and it looks pretty ugly, something like this:

Click on the Tone mapping button that you can see to the left of your image.

Step 4)
A settings dialog will appear on the left side of you photo. This is where you do the basic processing of your photo. The first thing that I usually do is that I select "default" under the "Presets" option that is almost at the end of the dialog. I do that because I use different settings for each image that I process.

The settings that I almost always change are the ones that are marked as red in the image below:

A short explanation of the settings (that I use) in the dialog.

This slider controls how much the rest of the settings should affect the image. I usually use a value of 80-100.

Color Saturation:
This is how much you want to boost the colors in the image. I used to use a very hight value here, but I'm now mostly using a value of 60-80.

One thing that you need to watch out for is getting areas where the colors are too strong. Such things usually happens with the red and green colors. Reduce the color settings if you see problems like this:

There are no details left in the circled area, and it looks like the colors are bleeding.

I seldom touch this slider.

Light smoothing:
I usually set this value to "very high" since I think that the light becomes more natural at that setting. Setting it to e.g. very low gives a weird effect the some HDR photographers like when they do their first HDR images.

I usually leave this slider at 0, but I might increase it a bit to increase the contrast (to something like 2). Using a negative value gives an image that is a bit flat.

White Point:
This is usually a slider that I experiment much with. It controls the bright areas in the image. A sunset can benefit from a high value.

Black Point:
This is also a slider that I experiment much with, but I usually keep it at a value less than 0.03%. Night images and sunsets can benefit from higher values.

I usually make the image a bit too bright using this slider. The reason that I do that is that I know that my image becomes darker when I process in Photoshop. I usually use a value between 1 and 0.8.

I usually leave this one at 0, except for night images where I might use a negative value.

Saturation Highlights and Saturation Shadows:
I usually leave these at 0, except for night images from a single RAW file.

I almost always use 0 instead of the default value of 2 for this slider.

Highlights Smoothing, Shadows Smoothing and Shadows Clipping:
I usually leave these at 0, except for night images from a single RAW file.

Step 5)
Click on the process button when you are satisfied with your settings. The settings that I used for the image in this tutorial can be seen below.

Step 6)
The processing in Photomatix is done! Now save the tone mapped image, and open up Photoshop. This tutorial will use Photoshop CS4, but an earlier version can be used.


Step 7)
Open up the saved tone mapped image in Photoshop and add a curved layer that you set to mode "soft light". That will boost the colors. We will also use this layer to increase the contrast. We do that by changing the curve so that it becomes s-shaped.

Step 8)
The colors have now been increased, and so has the contrast. We can no easier see that the light isn't even over the whole image. Parts of the landscape is shadowed by a huge cloud. We need to fix that, but we also need to make the image a bit brighter, and we'll use a levels layer to fix that.

Note that we want to place this layer before the "soft light" layer, so select the background image before you add the level layer.

Step 9)

We will now try to fix the light so that it becomes more even. We first add a curve layer that we set to mode "screen", then we select the mask of the layer, and finally we use a soft brush with opacity set to something like 2-4%. Select white color and then paint in the image in the areas that are too dark. Note that you first must make the mask black.

Step 10)
We also need to fix the light in the areas that are too bright. We do that by adding a curve layer where we drag the curve down so that the image will become darker. We then select the mask, and paint with a soft brush in the areas that are too bright. Note that you first need to make the mask black.

Step 11)
The image is now almost complete, but we have areas that are too vivid, and the whole image is also a bit too vivid. Let's convert the image into black and white, and use that layer and the mask to reduce some colors. Remember that you have to make the mask black, and then use a soft wgite brush to only make some parts less vibrant.

Hurray, we are now done! I've been a bit sloppy, and I have also added a black border. Here's the end result.


MAAZ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
davemanning said...

Excellent job on this and your other posts. Thanks for taking the time to share your secrets.

Nikola Tomovic said...

Great tut Kaj... its a pleasure to see your work flow . Its easy to learn when you make tutorial like this one


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your WF. Great stuff and well presented.

Eugene (cleaneugene at flickr)

Unknown said...

Great tutorial, thanks for sharing!! I've had a hard time finding tutorials that explain how to use photomatix. Thanks!

Sheikh Naveed said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

I use https://aurorahdr.com. This photo editor with the stunning beauty of the effects has got additional useful functions. But it is only for mac os.