Filters after the fact: Digital split ND filters versus HDR

A common dilemma when photographing landscapes is that some portions of the scene are far brighter than others.  A prime example of this, shown below, is when photographing scenes containing both sky and reflection. The reflection is often several stops darker than the primary subject and of course, the sky.

This is how the scene is rendered with no density adjustment. The sky is too bright while the geyser is too dark.

The traditional in-camera solution is to use a split neutral density (ND) filter to balance the overall exposure. A split filter works by reducing the amount of light that reaches one area of the lens. Split ND filters have long been mainstays in the gear bags of landscape photographers. They come in various strengths (able to reduce exposure by 1, 2, 3 or more stops) and are available with transition areas (between reduced and normal brightness) that can either be gradual or abrupt. Yet there are many situations in which they are not ideal.

The most obvious is when the boundary between the area in the scene you wish to darken and the area you wish to leave unaltered is not a straight line, as in the picture of the geyser above. Split ND filters typically change density across half of the filter. Trying to compensate for a V-shape area as might happen if photographing between mountains, or any other non-linear shape will not be as successful. In such cases it’s better to apply a solution in the digital darkroom.

There are several digital solutions that address these issues. Programs such as Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4.0, Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), Lightroom and Aperture all have tools that can simulate the effects of a split ND filter, with the great advantage that the density adjustment can be applied to multiple and non-contiguous areas of the image. Alternately, using HDR (high dynamic range) software such as Photomatix or Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro are options as well.

Whichever program you use, the first step is to look at the histogram of the best-exposed version of the image. The histogram for the image at the top of this article shows clipping in the highlights (notice the spike at the far right of the histogram). An ideal solution would be to combine two bracketed exposures (one containing full highlight data and one with rich shadow detail) into a single image.

 The histogram shows clipping in the highlights.

If you are working with a Raw file, however, it’s possible that you may be able to reveal more detail in the highlights and/or the shadows from just a single exposure. Unlike 8-bit camera-generated JPEGs, Raw files, with their higher bit depth contain greater headroom. To determine the potential for your file, open it in a Raw converter of your choice.  Adjust the overall exposure slider and check the histogram to see how much detail you can pull back in the highlights, even if the rest of the image becomes quite dark.  Similarly, adjust the slider in the other direction to check for detail in the shadows.

In our image, decreasing the exposure by 2/3 of a stop regains the highlight detail, as shown below.  Even better, in this particular image, I don’t lose detail in the shadows even though the overall image becomes too dark. Therefore I can expect that both single image HDR Toning and digital split ND filters will give good results. In addition, I've applied some fill light to create the best starting place for some of the other techniques.

With a Raw file, we have brought out highlight detail that appeared to be lost, by applying an exposure value of -.65. Notice the histogram now tapers off at the highlight end.

If you still see a spike at either edge of the histogram, then these techniques are not going to be able to restore full detail in the highlights and/or shadows - although the resulting image may still be quite pleasing.  While our eyes more easily accept some loss of detail in the shadows, if there is significant clipping, the better approach would be to combine two or more exposures of the image into a single file, which I discuss a bit further on.

Digital Graduated ND filters

I tend to use the Graduated Neutral Density filter in Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 plug-in, because it’s easy to use, you can customize the shape of the filter for each image and it's compatible with Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. Initially I set the Upper and Lower Tonality sliders to extreme positions (they determine how far to lighten or darken each section of the image) so that I can accurately place the Vertical Shift (specifies where the transition between upper section changes and lower section changes occurs) as well as the Rotation and Blend sliders which determine the angle for the transition and how wide a transition area there is between the upper and lower effects, respectively.

Then I adjust the Upper and Lower Tonality sliders to give a visually pleasing result. If I need to remove the effect from an area, such as the top of geyser in this image, I add a minus Control Point. Control Points are used in all Nik products to enable you to specify areas to apply, partially apply or disable the current settings. Control points employ auto masking which avoids you having to make time-consuming selections or create and edit layer masks.

You still have the option to tweak the final results using either the program in which Color Efex has been installed or a separate editing program such as Nik Software’s Viveza. Below I used Viveza to add an adjustment to lighten the geyser further.

Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4's Graduated Neutral Density filter is easy to use and offers great flexibility in defining the area to which the adjustment is applied. The end result after some additional tweaking in Viveza. Similar results can be achieved using Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture.

Photoshop's ACR, Aperture and Lightroom provide adjustment brushes which allow you to simulate a graduated split ND filter with great flexibility. In these programs you create a brush to apply an exposure/brightness change to an area that you define by painting over the image. These programs use auto-masking as well. I do recommend zooming in to 100% magnification after applying the brushes to be certain the masks are accurate. If they are not you can easily modify them.

An advantage of the adjustment brushes in ACR and Lightroom is that you can have a single brush apply multiple changes, so that in addition to exposure changes, it can simultaneously apply clarity or saturation changes, etc.  With adjustment brushes you can easily and accurately customize the area that’s affected as you paint with the brush.

In ACR and Lightroom you can also opt to use the gradient tool with the Exposure slider to emulate a split ND filter. Unfortunately you run into the same difficulties and limitations as with a split ND filter used while taking the image; namely that the transition area must be a straight line. It can be a little awkward to then try to add or remove the effect from an area that projects beyond that line. For example in the image above, the geyser would become even darker and would have to be readjusted using the Adjustment Brush. Of course the advantage of this approach is that the changes are made to the raw file itself rather than a converted file

Pros:

  • Realistic and natural looking results.
  • Easy to do using several popular software programs.

Cons:

  • May require more steps to achieve final desired appearance.
  • May have to check image at high magnification in some programs to ensure transition area is accurate and that any auto masked areas are correct.

HDR Toning

An alternative solution is to use single-image HDR toning. To use any of the HDR  programs, it’s best to begin with a Raw file or at least a 16-bit TIFF file. Most HDR software programs include options to modify the overall exposure, contrast and color saturation in addition to expanding the tonal range within the image. Some offer considerable choices in both the style of the algorithms as well as the strength of the effects.

Depending on the settings you choose, the results may be fairly realistic or quite surreal. It’s easy to get a bit carried away in some of the HDR programs and in most cases the image will be more dramatic, but potentially less natural looking.

I favor Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro because of the unusually large number of choices in algorithms the program uses as well as a large selection of presets that serve as good starting points. The image below shows my original Raw file processed in Nik software’s HDR Efex Pro with settings chosen to keep the image somewhat realistic. You can see, however, that this result is different than the split ND version I created earlier, with increased image detail at the highlight and shadow ends and more saturated colors.

The original image processed in Nik software’s HDR Efex Pro with settings chosen to keep the image close to realistic.

If the initial histogram indicated significant clipping in your image file and you have several files of the exact same scene photographed at different exposures, combining them in the HDR program of your choice may create the best results. For the best results you want at least three separate image files, each captured at a different exposure. One file should contain no clipping in the shadow areas (even if this means the highlights are blown out) and another file should contain no clipping in the highlights (even though the rest of the image may be too dark) and one or more exposures in-between these two extremes.

This image was created by combining three separate exposures in Photomatix Pro.

A more tedious method of achieving a similar effect in Photoshop is to use the command File >Scripts > Load Files into Stack command to create a single image with each exposure as a separate layer. Then you can use layer masks to reveal the best parts of each file. This approach was more common before the arrival of effective HDR tools. Yet in cases where the tonal variation is clustered together in an area such as an overly bright sky or a distractingly dark subject, this approach is still effective and can lead to more realistic results.*

Pros:

  • After adjusting the sliders in a single interface, the image may not need any further work, particularly with programs such as Photomatix and HDR Efex Pro.
  • Dramatic results are easy to create.

Cons:

  • Final image may not look as natural as desired unless restraint is used.

Conclusion

Both digital graduated neutral density filters and single image HDR toning, as well as multi image HDR processing can effectively even out the exposure within images that have areas that are far too light or too dark. They are the solutions of choice when the boundaries between the light and dark areas are not a simple straight line. HDR Toning is particularly well suited to images where the light and dark areas may be more scattered throughout the image, whereas digital split ND filters are preferable when seeking the most realistic results and there are discrete large areas of the image that are too light and/or too dark. The techniques discussed here work best when full highlight and shadow detail have been captured by the camera sensor in Raw format.


For full disclosure, I am a member of Nik Software’s Team Nik. However I write about the products I use and use those that are the easiest and yield the highest quality results for me. Of course you may prefer other software to achieve similar results.

*For more details on this see Photoshop CS5 for Nature Photographers; A Workshop in a Book. (Anon & Anon)

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.

Comments

Total comments: 95
ohai6763
By ohai6763 (Feb 8, 2012)

Nice Article. In my opinion I Think the photo looks better with the HDR features. They might of used it a tad bit overboard, but overall i would have to say its a very nice picture.

0 upvotes
LaFonte
By LaFonte (Oct 13, 2011)

Is this an advertisement for nik tools dressed as an article? The author Ellen Anon is even listed on the nik software under Team Nik so clearly this isn't just about photography but a bit about how to mention different NIK tools in each other paragraph.
NIK tools are allright, but then what did you do to the final images? Everybody has different tastes, but this sort of wet hdr procesing was so WOW and IN five years ago untill everybody started doing it to every image possible. Soon we will call it vintage look.
My vote for DPHDR instead of Photomatix, far easier to go as soft or as hard on the image for every possible taste.

1 upvote
Ellen Anon
By Ellen Anon (Oct 13, 2011)

LaFonte, I indicate in the article that I'm part of Team Nik and in no way try to hide that. However what I write about are the tools and techniques that I personally use and teach. I've included a discussion of all the software that I use that can create similar effects and try to include the advantages and disadvantages to each. And there are other software programs out there that you may be familiar with that you prefer - which is perfectly fine. I'm just trying to indicate in what situations one program may work better and when another may work better as a starting place for people who may be new to some of the processing. And just to be clear, Nik does not pay for any mention in any of my articles.

1 upvote
madeinlisboa
By madeinlisboa (Oct 11, 2011)

Photomatix has a Fusion mode besides Tone Mapping. You get a perfectly exposed photo from a set without the unnatural look and light glitches from Tone Mapping.

A software ND filter won't recover lost highlights. It will never work as the real thing.

1 upvote
GCoyne
By GCoyne (Oct 20, 2011)

The "unnatural look" that you refer to is because most people who use HDR software either do not know what they are doing or they actually like that dreadful "chunky" look. Please understand that the goal of HDR photography should be making an impossible image, not an ugly image. As my wife said, "looking at your [my] images is like the computer screen is a window and I'm looking out that window." At that point I knew I had figured it out.

3 upvotes
bpirvali
By bpirvali (Oct 9, 2011)

Thank u so much for this informative article.
The one point that I have to disagree is that it is very hard using brushes to simulate a graduated filter. Brushes apply a constant setting to an area unlike a graduated filter where each pixel gets a different brightness.

I really wish lightroom's graduated ND was more flexible :(

0 upvotes
Ellen Anon
By Ellen Anon (Oct 11, 2011)

Thanks for making a good point. I think that it would be nice to have brush controls included within the LR and ACR graduated ND tool. That would be an easier workflow.

0 upvotes
thinkfat
By thinkfat (Oct 12, 2011)

A layer mask could come in handy here. Using GIMP, which does not have a Grad ND tool built in, I'm helping myself with a "Soft Light" layer that is applied on top of the image, holding a black-to-transparent gradient. A layer mask can be applied to that layer, which can be painted into with any regular brush.

0 upvotes
snake_b
By snake_b (Oct 8, 2011)

Why not just use Nik's HDR program?

0 upvotes
cico
By cico (Oct 8, 2011)

I bought Photomatix 5 years ago and from time to time I try new HDR software, I must say that in most cases I find it really difficult to come out with a photo which is not overdone. Especially with single photos. Luckily for single photos my old and faithful copy of Olympus Studio has an image filter from Apical Imaging that does wonders (I think it just applies different curves to different parts of the image, but it's automatic i.e. single click and a threshold slider).

0 upvotes
JRMDC
By JRMDC (Oct 7, 2011)

Nice article. I just want to chime in to mention some jargon. For some time I have been using the term "Pseudo-HDR" to refer to single-image processing that separately adjusts different parts of a single image whose dynamic range is otherwise excessive, whether by a "single image HDR toning" technique or a "digital graduated ND filter" technique. I am certainly not the originator of the term. I do think it is much more concise than the terms used here.

The terms here do create a breakdown into two sub-categories; until now I had simply thought of them as pseudo-HDR using software I have vs. pseudo-HDR using software I don't have. :)

0 upvotes
Mescalamba
By Mescalamba (Oct 7, 2011)

1) I can do better than this via PP
2) Buy yourself physical graduated ND filter, cause PP isnt free, more you shift exposure less color accuracy you get, regular graduated ND mounted on lens wont shift your colors (unless its crappy one)
3) composition and light could be better.. and photography is about composition and light

1 upvote
Mike Worley
By Mike Worley (Oct 10, 2011)

You can do better? So take the opportunity to contribute something useful and show us how it's done.

Mike

2 upvotes
MP Burke
By MP Burke (Oct 7, 2011)

The use of the graduated ND filters (sometimes in combination with polarising filters) has been established for years in landscape photography with colour slide film. I think most scenes are best served by using raw capture to optimise DR and some filtration if necessary.
I dislike many of the results from this so-called HDR technique. (I think it ought to be called DR compression as the result is to reduce the DR of the original scene by darkening some areas and brightening others) It often looks to me like the foreground and the sky were shot at different times of the day, or on different planets.
Another disadvantage of the "HDR" technique is that it requires multiple exposures and thus requires a tripod and a static subject. When I go out taking photographs in Snowdonia there is usually, unavoidably, significant wind which moves vegetation around and thus will lead to a blurred watercolour-like wash if long/multiple exposures are used.

3 upvotes
toak20
By toak20 (Oct 22, 2011)

You do not need a tripod to take multiple exposures. Sure its probably better but I have taken many without and photomatix pro has done a good job of lining them up. You do need camera that can do Auto Exposure Bracketing so that once the camera is held to your eye you can take all exposures in rapid succession.

0 upvotes
QuarterToDoom
By QuarterToDoom (Oct 7, 2011)

Is it me of some extra simple adjustment would have done the trick. To me the original photo looks just fine.and the final one looks unnatural.

5 upvotes
Maciej K
By Maciej K (Oct 7, 2011)

The final result here is not impressive at all, the ground looks unnatural at best. There are shade spots, weird glow and unnatural hues.
Buy a GND filter and you can get much better results with much less work.

1 upvote
spidermoon
By spidermoon (Oct 7, 2011)

I rarely use those big guns for simple adjusting light/shadow/contrast, i'm using FastStone Image viewer, try this with the first jpg: open the photo, use Adjust Lighting on the left menu (move your mouse to the left), push shadows to +50, highlights to -50, contrast to 10. This works very well, even on the original 800k jpeg. For funny HDR looks, push shadows to +60, drop highlights to -80 and push contrast to 50 ;)
With original jpg or raws from camera this work surprisingly well.

2 upvotes
Joe M Amadas
By Joe M Amadas (Oct 7, 2011)

me too, I shoot so that the highlights are not blown out and then get the detail out of the too dark areas with around up to +50 for the shadows. contrast is mostly a bit enhanced as are saturation and sharpness.
done in a few seconds, simple and free

try for yourself, just download the original picture above and change in faststone to:
shadow +38
highlights -18
saturation +8
contrast +5
sharpness +17
and wow

Comment edited 10 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
wutsurstyle
By wutsurstyle (Oct 7, 2011)

Thanks for the simple comparison for use who are learning photography. I like the original image processed in Nik software’s HDR Efex Pro the best.

0 upvotes
itsastickup
By itsastickup (Oct 7, 2011)

With the first image a soft NDGrad and +1/2 EV would have been fine. The darkening would not have noticeably affected the rock and even if it had could have been slightly lightened in pp.

This is also true of street scenes and people pics. While the soft NDGrad does darken the buildings the effect is usually unnoticeable except to those looking for it. Further the benefit is greater than the disadvantage.

Real NDGrads are much more flexible than mere landscapes.

0 upvotes
Reilly Diefenbach
By Reilly Diefenbach (Oct 11, 2011)

For landscapes, or mere street photography? Yawn.

0 upvotes
Mauro.B
By Mauro.B (Oct 7, 2011)

Nice article, nothing critically new though.

The Nik Software hype was a bit too evident to my taste (Color efex + Viveza + Hdr efex... c'mon guy).

1 upvote
CARREGAL70
By CARREGAL70 (Oct 7, 2011)

Nice article - thankyou! I have a Sony Nex 5n coming. Can the HDR and DR functions on this camera supplant post editing in PS Elements 9. In other words does it make ND filters and post editing obsolete?

Could you explain the effects of other graduated colour filters such as Cokin graduated mauve, blue and sunset. I realise this is a subject for another article but thankyou again for this one.

0 upvotes
Ellen Anon
By Ellen Anon (Oct 7, 2011)

I've not had a chance to try the particular camera you mention but as a general rule when features like this are available in camera they may mean less post processing work.. However the caveat is that the camera will make its best guess as to how you want the image to look, but it may not always get it right. After all, it's using algorithms programmed into it for scenes that seem similar to what you're viewing through the camera, but sometimes it may misunderstand or you may prefer a slightly different interpretation.

1 upvote
Charlotte Lowrie
By Charlotte Lowrie (Oct 7, 2011)

Excellent overview of some of the ways to process images like this. This will help get me started using the latest Nik plug-in. Thanks for the article, Ellen. Beautiful image to illustrate the different techniques.

2 upvotes
tinternaut
By tinternaut (Oct 7, 2011)

Nice article. I've had some limited success using a grad ND (and await the opportunity to practice this more) and I've experimented with Photomatix but really, I prefer to wait for the best of the light and capture as much data as possible (and sometimes that means taking Aperture's burn brush to the sky and the occasional bit of dodging).

1 upvote
Ellen Anon
By Ellen Anon (Oct 7, 2011)

I agree with you that its' best, when possible, is to wait for the best light and capture as much information as possible in camera. My approach is to take the time to capture the best image possible in camera, then optimize it in the post processing.

1 upvote
DannyFracture
By DannyFracture (Oct 7, 2011)

I keep my HDR work & my normal photography seperate.
I feel that i like to do both & that's just because i get a kick out of playing with the image.
My normal photography just consists of a few tweaks in Lightroom really & that's it. :)

1 upvote
wetsleet
By wetsleet (Oct 7, 2011)

I don't get it. How can any 'digital' ND filter recover detail which was burnt out in the sensor? Likewise, how can a 'digital' HDR produce a dynamic range greater than what was captured in the sensor. It is not possible to digitally 'magic-up' information not recorded by the sensor.

So these digital techniques are surely more akin to the dodging and burning of the darkroom days, where the dynamic range limitation in question is that of the paper, not of the negative. As such, they are no substitute for physical filters, which will adapt the dynamic range of the scene such that scene can be recorded, albeit with the scene's original dynamic range distorted to fit within the limitations of the sensor.

3 upvotes
elefteriadis alexandros
By elefteriadis alexandros (Oct 7, 2011)

-''...darkroom days, where the dynamic range limitation in question is that of the paper, not of the negative...''
-SO TRUTH!!
-Something start to move in our brain..??

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
BitFarmer
By BitFarmer (Oct 7, 2011)

Well, phisical filters will make the sensor to get a better dinamic range, thats the only real choice, but alsao a raw file has more range than the "paper", that now translate as "JPEG file" or final print, as you wish.

If you have a RAW, you have 1 or 2 stops in dinayc range to play with as you "develop it", but if you use a real filter, you have 3 o 4 more stops that a "real stops".

0 upvotes
elefteriadis alexandros
By elefteriadis alexandros (Oct 7, 2011)

-I agree but that is the half story.
-Physical filter use first in film no something new here, stay away that 3-4 stop for a wile.
-How about color accuracy and smooth gradation in that extra 1-2 stop in raw,(when the film any way can give you more than 3-4) and how about the transition from a light tonality to complete white, (that ugly holes in the sky).
-That is the real problem in digital, the sensors close to its limits can't keep the color and tonality in the same manner as films.
-And now put back those physical filters on film and look what they can give you..

0 upvotes
bill hansen
By bill hansen (Oct 7, 2011)

Wetsleet - multiple *processings* of a *single* exposure really can't capture more detail than was in that (original) single exposure, as you say. However, multiple *exposures* certainly can do that. Very often (not always), just two exposures are necessary to retain all the highlight detail and to bring out as much detail as desired in shadow areas.

Even when "dodging and burning" are able to simulate a full range of detail, that "dodging" will bring out digital noise in shadow areas. That may not matter for small displays such as web postings, but it will make a big difference for larger prints.

Comment edited 11 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
lastpost
By lastpost (Oct 7, 2011)

A lot of DSLRs (and I dare say maybe some up market compacts) have HRD option built into their bodies - I have this on my Pentax Kr. Set up for HRD the camera automatically takes three frames - +3, normal, -3 EV - and then this is processed in about 15 seconds. I understand Nikon has gone a step further and their HRD program shoots five frames bracketed between +5 and -5 EV.

0 upvotes
Cy Cheze
By Cy Cheze (Oct 7, 2011)

ND filters, whether built in or external, reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor, so that there is less blow out of the bright areas. The shot with the ND filter is then merged with the one without it. The merge can either bee automatic, as in the HDR mode of some cameras, or when editing the two (or more) shots. It would be nice, though, if the cameras also contained either a graduated filter, or that the ND filter could function dynamically, using some crystal diode, so that the darkened area or transition could be adjusted to fit need.

0 upvotes
elefteriadis alexandros
By elefteriadis alexandros (Oct 7, 2011)

YEAHH !! Don't move people!! i take a 2-5 pictures with my super duper camera because i want to hold the highlight under control..
UUps they move, maybe i shot from now on only landscape..

0 upvotes
graybalanced
By graybalanced (Oct 8, 2011)

"I don't get it. How can any 'digital' ND filter recover detail which was burnt out in the sensor?"

HDR Toning works when nothing got burnt out. I tried some HDR landscapes once, but when I got home I realized that HDR was not necessary because I noticed that in one of my exposures, all the detail I cared about...including the highlights...fit in the histogram. It looked flat, but that was why HDR Toning exists: For when you did not clip the ends, which means you have it all in a single exposure, but you want to compress all the important parts into a picture with more contrast in the right places.

Also, HDR toning can be good for when you have a photo with a wider than normal DR that you cannot reasonably capture via multiple exposures (i.e., sports). Here again the value of HDR toning is in more intelligent compression. Not just a curve, but also involving local contrast.

0 upvotes
elefteriadis alexandros
By elefteriadis alexandros (Oct 7, 2011)

-Yes, first photoshop, (money and months to familiar with that..) then filters, then again some extra money for Nikon software,( ..familiar with that..), then double triple exposure (forget if the subject move..) shot raw and give money for extra space in hard drive to gain maybe 1-2 stop, maybe in the end some pictures looks dull or fake....
-Huh start all over again..
-Hey dude take some real film camera and go out to take real pictures!!

0 upvotes
marco1974
By marco1974 (Oct 7, 2011)

Yes! But I'd like to add: nothing prevents one from using 'film photography' techniques (like GND filters, spot metering + zone system, etc.) with DSLRs too...

0 upvotes
elefteriadis alexandros
By elefteriadis alexandros (Oct 7, 2011)

-Of course, filter yes, the photometry is the same, but more critical in digital because of narrow dynamic range.(after all that's the reason of this article.

0 upvotes
lester11
By lester11 (Oct 7, 2011)

That 'full disclosure' needed to come at the start of the article, not the end.

3 upvotes
smithim
By smithim (Oct 7, 2011)

Agreed - if an article is going to be heavily biased (almost an advert, really) then the reader should be informed up front

0 upvotes
BitFarmer
By BitFarmer (Oct 7, 2011)

I don't agree with this: If he works making a HDR filter, he knows better than my what is it all about, and at the same time he comments on other soft that make the same or similar work, including photoshop, lightroom, ACR... if he have all those tested and preffer one over the other for some aspects, it is ok to say so, it is not and "add" for me as far as he is honest and recommend his likings, not just his products.

Would you like to read about what soft use for each think the photoshop main programmers? I'd love, even if they use PS for 90% of the things.

3 upvotes
Debankur Mukherjee
By Debankur Mukherjee (Oct 7, 2011)

Not sure but can this be done in Photoshop CS5 - Image > Adjustment > Shadow/ Highlight Tool.
Kindly comment......

0 upvotes
Ellen Anon
By Ellen Anon (Oct 7, 2011)

As you know there are always numerous ways to accomplish a task when using Photoshop. The Shadow/Highlight tool can be used, but it tends to sacrifice mid tone contrast in order to gain visibility of detail in the shadows and highlights. If you use S/H, I recommend decreasing the tonal width as far as possible that will let you still modify the lights and darks as much as needed. Sometimes this adjustment works well as a starting point. Thanks for asking about it.

1 upvote
graybalanced
By graybalanced (Oct 8, 2011)

The midtone contrast loss in Shadow/Highlight is why there is a Midtone Contrast control in Shadow/Highlight so that you can compensate to taste. You have to reveal the advanced options to see the Midtone Contrast option, thought.

But ultimately, the Shadow/Highlight dialog does not have the level of control of HDR Toning. You should really take a look at that Debankur, it goes well beyond Shadow/Highlight.

0 upvotes
Michel Vanier
By Michel Vanier (Oct 21, 2011)

But why not use PS "Merge to HDR Pro" ?

0 upvotes
Cheedr
By Cheedr (Oct 7, 2011)

Very elaborate tip...thanks.

1 upvote
HiRez
By HiRez (Oct 6, 2011)

HDR brings everything towards a flat grey mess. Pictures need definition and HDR tends to remove it. Yes, you can see more detail in the shadow and/or highlight areas, but it just never looks natural, no matter how good the software or how skilled the artist/photographer.

Sorry, but I still prefer a more natural looking picture with some clipped highlights or shadows.

11 upvotes
marco1974
By marco1974 (Oct 7, 2011)

I agree 100%

0 upvotes
elefteriadis alexandros
By elefteriadis alexandros (Oct 7, 2011)

-Hmm my friend you are so right, that is the limit of digital photography any way, digital is for commercial work, if you want art picture for your wall shoot film.

0 upvotes
jeans
By jeans (Oct 7, 2011)

I strongly disagree.
HDR is a two-step process - first, you get all the data in a single file that holds more data tan can be displayed anywhere, be it display or paper. If you would compress the dynamic range linearly, you would get a really flat-looking image with most of the details, but totally without punch. This first step is mostly automatic. The second step is to map tonal values so that your image looks natural and has local contrast. This is the step where lots of images get ruined. Just as when cooking a meal, you can't leave it totally uncooked or overcooked - both results would be bad. The uncooked one is just flat-looking image (bland taste). The overcooked result can have some burnt parts and the food would be too hard to eat and not even look tasty - it means "grunge" look in HDR - too much local contrast and very unnatural looking results. HDR done right though - cooked just right and with some added spice - can look amazing!

Regards,
Jean

2 upvotes
Jon Canfield
By Jon Canfield (Oct 6, 2011)

Nice article Ellen. I too prefer Nik's tool to Photomatix for more realistic results and the ability to fine tune areas with the control points.

3 upvotes
krebss
By krebss (Oct 6, 2011)

Why is HDR always resumed to Photomatix? Yes it's the most used software for HDR but it's far from being the best for natural results (unless your really master it) and ease to use. I use DPHDR and can get very realistic or dramatic results very easily depending on my mood. And there are many others.

I've stopped using Photomatix exactly because of the look of the image above. No other HDR software give this ugly look.

Also, in the Pros, you say "may not need any further work" well, in most case I disagree. I can't remember any image I didn't improved in post processing after the tone-mapping.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
Ellen Anon
By Ellen Anon (Oct 7, 2011)

There are many programs that do HDR and I tried to give examples from three popular ones - not just Photomatix. Each HDR program gives slightly different results and has different advantages and disadvantages. Some find one easier to use than another or you may prefer the look of one or another.. I find that when I use the Nik HDR Efex Pro I often don't need any further processing because it includes a Curves adjustment as well as Saturation, etc that can be globally or locally applied.

1 upvote
duartix
By duartix (Oct 7, 2011)

@krebss:
Are you my unknown twin brother???

Comment edited 24 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
dccdp
By dccdp (Oct 6, 2011)

In my opinion, the original picture is actually better than the processed result. It looks more natural, the unprocessed shadow areas outline the shapes better and give "depth" to the picture.

The final result is just a flat, artificial, oversaturated, cartoonish picture.

7 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (Oct 6, 2011)

I agree. The original is very slightly too light in the sky and too dark on the ground. Some very slight editing and its fixed. The images are over processed in this article IMHO. Maybe to make a point though.

2 upvotes
taotoo
By taotoo (Oct 6, 2011)

I also agree. 95% of hdr images I see are hdr for the sake of it.

5 upvotes
marco1974
By marco1974 (Oct 7, 2011)

exactly my point, also!

0 upvotes
increments
By increments (Oct 6, 2011)

I don't think Aperture (without a plugin) does have an adjustment brush that would mimic a ND filter.

If I'm wrong please correct me because it would be very useful!

0 upvotes
Paul_R_H
By Paul_R_H (Oct 6, 2011)

In Aperture 3 you can 'brush in' curves or levels adjustments to whichever portions of an image you choose. I believe you couldn't do it in Aperture 2, which is why I waited until v3 before switching from Bibble 5. Also Aperture 3 is now quite cheap on the Mac App Store if you use Snow Leopard or Lion.

3 upvotes
increments
By increments (Oct 6, 2011)

Thank you Paul, I've found the option now. That's a big help.

0 upvotes
Ellen Anon
By Ellen Anon (Oct 7, 2011)

Thanks for responding Paul, and you are absolutely correct. Aperture 3 has an entire series of adjustment brushes and is a major improvement over what was available in Aperture 2.

1 upvote
increments
By increments (Oct 7, 2011)

Ellen, if you use Aperture 3 would you consider writing some PP tutorial articles for DPR?

Comment edited 14 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Ellen Anon
By Ellen Anon (Oct 10, 2011)

@ "Increments" I do primarily use Aperture 3 in my PP and I'll ask the staff at DPR if they'd like tutorial articles about it. Perhaps if others are also interested in articles like that, you might let DPR know. Meantime, I do have a book available on it that you might find helpful.

0 upvotes
Z (is real)
By Z (is real) (Oct 6, 2011)

(My name is Zalman Stern. I work on Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom.)

Both Camera Raw and Lightroom have a gradient tool built-in, which is not shown in the article. (It is separate from the brushing tool.) Significantly, local corrections (gradient or brushed) within Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom work on results within the raw processing pipeline and thus are different than layer blending after raw conversion in Photoshop or via Nik's plug-ins (which also work on converted images).

As always, there are many ways to work on a photo, but the built-in gradient tool using the Exposure channel is the simplest and fastest way to simulate an ND grad filter. The same applies to most other full featured raw conversion programs.

Nik makes great products and if one prefers their approach, then one should use their software. However, the easy no extra plug-ins solution works great too and should be covered in a general audience article such as this.

7 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Oct 6, 2011)

Thanks for your comment, Zalman. We'll look into this and update the article.

0 upvotes
babart
By babart (Oct 6, 2011)

There's always about 6 ways to do something in Photoshop. I second the information above about the gradient tool. Also, however, in ACR one can create "snapshots" which are two processing results under the same DNG envelope. One can adjust an image to optimize the bright sky, save that as a snapshot in ACR, then readjust the image to optimize the forground and save that as well. Combining the two images as smart objects, and with an appropriate mask, combines the sky and foreground quite nicely. The result looks quite natural if you don't overdo either processed image. Using smart objects also allows one to go back to ACR and modify either snapshot if necessary. Takes the guess work out of HDR methods, not that these aren't useful when done well.

BAB

Comment edited 55 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Oct 7, 2011)

Zalman, Your points about the gradient tools are well taken. They are quite effective on images where the grad filter effect is needed along a linear path. As the article points out, however, many situations call for luminance adjustment along a different shape, which is why the article mentions the adjustment brushes. While you could certainly create a gradient and then paint over areas of it with the adjustment brush set to counter the gradient's effect, the article focuses on more direct editing techniques.

1 upvote
Ellen Anon
By Ellen Anon (Oct 7, 2011)

Zalman, BAB, and Amanda, thanks for the comments. Indeed there are always lots of ways to get to an end result in a digital darkroom and you have mentioned a couple other good approaches. We added coverage about the Gradient Filters that Zalman mentioned, but as I said in the article, the issue is that they require a linear path which is often not what you have in a real world situation. BAB, before the days of HDR programs I always taught people to process images that way when they encountered these issues. The challenge lies in accurately creating the layer mask which can be time consuming. But again, the more approaches that you know, the more tools you have in your arsenal. Then you can select the best one for you to use to optimize your image to get the look that YOU want.

1 upvote
canuck dave
By canuck dave (Oct 6, 2011)

Thanks Ellen Anon. Some good info here.
But with some of the negative 'input' posted here it makes one wonder why folks should go to the effort of trying to help one another.

3 upvotes
Ellen Anon
By Ellen Anon (Oct 7, 2011)

Thanks Dave. I agree it would be nice if people were perhaps a bit more polite, but discussion is good and it's OK for people to have differing opinions. One of the nice things about digital processing is that there are so many ways to go about doing something and you never know where you're going to pick up a tip that will serve you well. I'm glad you found some of the info helpful. That's my goal.

2 upvotes
marco1974
By marco1974 (Oct 6, 2011)

Hmmm... I actually like the "uncorrected" image best. LOL

Comment edited 24 seconds after posting
5 upvotes
Peter K Burian
By Peter K Burian (Oct 6, 2011)

This is a very useful article with lots of valuable information. Of course, people who want 200 pages about HDR can buy a book on this topic. But for an overview, this was great. And a gorgeous photo to illustrate it as well.

2 upvotes
bill hansen
By bill hansen (Oct 6, 2011)

Perhpas I'm missing something, but I don't see anything in this article which allows more flexibility than making a "false HDR" out of a single exposure, processing the RAW image once for the highlights and once for the "shadows", opening both versions, making a layer mask, and then "painting in" either highlights or shadows.

Even more flexibility is obtained by making two exposures, one for highlights and one for shadows, and blending the two, using layers and a layer mask. It's a very simple technique, widely used for years.

The other questions is whether *true* HDRs made using Nik, Pixmatix, Artizen, or another HDR program, are better than any of the above. Really good, true-to-life *true* HDRs are difficult to create. For those who like the hypersaturated, highly contrasty images produced by off-the-shelf HDR processing, that's easy, but it's not what the original article was about.

Bill Hansen

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
Noam Gordon
By Noam Gordon (Oct 6, 2011)

Then there's also ACDSee Pro (now in new v5.0), which has the amazingly effective "Advanced Lighting" feature (formerly called "Light EQ"), which allows extremely powerful, flexible, AND intuitive manipulation of light levels in the image - from minor shadow pushing and highlight supression to full-scale single-image HDR toning. It's a truly unique feature not available in any of the Big Ones (LR, PS, AP, C1, etc.).

Disclaimer: No, I don't work for ACDSee. Yes, I'm a very happy user since v2.0.

Comment edited 48 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
canondigi
By canondigi (Oct 6, 2011)

Can anyone comment on the use of the digital split ND filter in LR3? I've tried to use it but it's not very easy to get good results....

0 upvotes
burnymeister
By burnymeister (Oct 6, 2011)

What specifically isn't working for you? I find it incredibly useful. You can adjust the exposure you want and even the angle.

0 upvotes
canondigi
By canondigi (Oct 6, 2011)

I guess it just feels clumsy to me...I do like that you can adjust the angle. I'm going to try out Nik's software and see if that works better for me.

0 upvotes
Ellen Anon
By Ellen Anon (Oct 7, 2011)

You can adjust the angle as well as the distance for the transition from light to dark using the tool in LR, but again, it must follow a linear path, which is less than ideal in many situations. Nk's approach is more flexible I think.

1 upvote
jdhill66
By jdhill66 (Oct 6, 2011)

Another situation where this technique is helpful is casual flash photography where near portions are too hot and far portions are too dark.

1 upvote
Ellen Anon
By Ellen Anon (Oct 6, 2011)

Good point, although ideally with a flash you can set the camera exposure for the ambient light and then adjust the flash ( reduce it's output) to properly light the subject. However sme built in flashes don't let you reduce their output readily ( although you can trick it by putting a piece of tissue in front of it to decrease the output.)

1 upvote
Marksphoto
By Marksphoto (Oct 6, 2011)

Balooney, they showed an easy to do image. I could have achieved an even better result in Photoshop ACR by using the dodging tool on the selective rocky areas, completely avoiding the sky. Could have had a masterpiece ready in seconds without the need to write articles.

0 upvotes
bill hansen
By bill hansen (Oct 7, 2011)

while I don't know about "masterpiece" or "in seconds", I do agree that PhotoShop ACR can work well. Processing twice, with layers and a layer mask, works much better. Two exposures, one for highlights and one for darker tones, works better still

0 upvotes
Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Oct 7, 2011)

Marksphoto,
If you're really using the dodge tool in PS (since ACR does not have a 'dodging tool'), may I suggest you explore using a curves adjustment layer and edit the layer mask, unless of course you're using PS4 ;-)

0 upvotes
abe
By abe (Oct 7, 2011)

The point isn't the article, it's to sell books.

0 upvotes
Marksphoto
By Marksphoto (Oct 7, 2011)

Amadou Diallo

ACR RAW processing doesn't have such tools but it does have an ajustment brush option to darken and lighten selectively, just like we used to dodge and burn in a darkroom. I don't correct in PS anymore but keep doing the right thing

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Marksphoto
By Marksphoto (Oct 7, 2011)

abe, you are exactly right. There are people who will actually buy it because the article ended up on dp

0 upvotes
Roberto Peradotto
By Roberto Peradotto (Oct 7, 2011)

It's always good to read an unbiased article by an independent author.

2 upvotes
BigLens2c
By BigLens2c (Oct 7, 2011)

This reminds me of asking 3 radiologists for an opinion on a CT, you'll get 4 opinions on what's wrong with the patient.
Same is true with digital processing.
For minor tonal corrections I use the graduated filter in Lightroom.
When shooting when I know I'll have a great contrast range that can not be held in one exposure I'll HDR it.
Hopefully the camera manufactures will continue to expand the tonal range of their sensors. That's why I lust after the new Pentax Digital 645!

0 upvotes
a-flying-wuss
By a-flying-wuss (Oct 7, 2011)

I'm still new to photography so maybe the following question is stupid. The image in this example was shot with an ultra wide angle lens (14mm!) at f/22, I thought apertures smaller than f/11 produce significantly softer image (f/22 usually gives ~1.5-2 times lower resolution than f/5.6-f/11) and depth of field shouldn't be an issue at 14mm anyway... so does it make any sense at all shooting at f/22 with a 14mm lens?

0 upvotes
Bob Topp
By Bob Topp (Oct 11, 2011)

Not so, Abe,

The article might make me consider buying some extra software, but in fact, it pointed out things about software I already own that I have not taken advantage of. I appreciated the issues addressed by the author, even if this overall topic has to come up pretty often. It always helps to see alternate solutions compared side by side (and without my having to buy the software up front).

Thanks for the effort, Ellen.

BT

0 upvotes
FishSupper
By FishSupper (Oct 17, 2011)

Reading through this thread reminded me why I became turned off from DPR just a few years ago. Most of the posters are opinionated (and bilious), convinced that they know the best and only solution to obtain the optimum result. There is no respect for others views nor an understanding that there are 'many ways to skin a cat'.
It's a shame that the writer of this honest article aimed providing basic alternatives, should receive such mildly abusive ripostes.
I'll go back now to my regular haunts - I should really finally delete the old bookmark for this site.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 95