In this blog entry I’ll finish sharing my current HDR workflow. In the first part of this series I talked about camera settings, using Lightroom to process a bracketed set of images, using Photoshop to merge the bracketed set into a 32 bit per channel HDR file and tone-mapping with Photoshop HDR Pro. If you haven’t read part 1 you can find it here.
This blog will share the remainder of my HDR workflow including how I tone-map images with Lightroom 4 and how I use layers (in Photoshop) to combine the best parts of two different versions of an image. I’ll also about some of the more technical details of HDR photography. I’ll be using the same F-4S Phantom II images I used in Part 1 for this entry including the 32 bit per channel .tiff file I saved after merging a three shot bracketed set with Photoshop.
I’ve been creating images for a long time now and one of the things I’ve come to appreciate is the importance of post processing. There’s more than one way to process a digital image and there’s no one result that is always the right one. When we share our pictures with others they represent our own unique vision of an image (our photographic style) and I’ve used post processing on all of my images to create my own “signature style” of photography.
I’ve changed my thinking about what my final images should look a number of times over the years. And if there’s one form of photography where my post-processing has evolved the most it’s HDR photography. In this blog entry I want to talk about how I can take a single set of images and use them to create three or four different looks. Once I have a few options I can choose the best one or I can use layers, blend modes and masks to combine what I like most about different versions into a single final image.
I love sharing my HDR images on Google+ (and other places online). Sometimes I mention the techniques I used to arrive at my final image and I’ll say: “and this image was finished in Photoshop.”
My personal thoughts about HDR photography and post-processing HDR images has been evolving for over five years now. The shot of the lathe (above) is a good example of how I like to process HDR images now and it looks totally different from how I processed HDR images in the past.
I got my start with HDR photography a long time ago when I was certified to operate the Spheron 360 VR camera for Ford Design North America. That is one super cool camera that really taught me a lot about 32 bit images. For his blog post I don’t want to talk about equipment, camera settings, using a tripod or tone-mapping software. Instead I want to talk about how I finish my HDR shots in Photoshop and I’ll be concentrating on some of my personal theories about color, contrast, sharpness and blur.
Above is the end result I got from applying my new HDR toning technique. When I start to create an image like this I don’t have anything specific in mind. I prefer to just see what happens when I start making adjustments. Here’s the complete Photoshop workflow I am now using to create an HDR look with a single image.
The technique I’m sharing will work with any image but it will look a lot better with certain types of images. Interiors, old places, junk yards, sculpture gardens, churches and anything with lots of detail and texture always seem to look best when given the HDR treatment. I’ve had success using this technique on portraits and landscapes but I usually have to do some masking and more blending than I’ll be talking about in this blog series.
The Photoshop portion of this technique will work on any picture (including a jpg image). For the best possible results I like to start with a RAW file that’s been processed with a program like Lightroom. The most recent version of Lightroom (4.1) seems to really excel at creating images for this technique.
People who are new to my blog may not know how much I like to work in Photoshop. I process every image I deliver to my clients and between jobs I often revisit images to practice old techniques and explore new techniques. While I try to keep my processing time to a minimum when I’m on deadline, I will spend a little more time in Photoshop when I’m creating special images (composites, HDR’s, or images that will be blown up and sold as fine art prints). A good rule of thumb for me is to keep my processing time well under 5 minutes per shot and to do as much in camera as I can.