One of the great things about HDR Efex Pro 2 is that the starting point presented by the software is a really natural, good-looking image. Additionally, with the range of powerful tools available, the image can be tweaked and enhanced to exactly match the desired effect.
The starting point looks nice, but it could use a little more punch. To accomplish this goal, the following adjustments are applied:
Using the Tone Compression section in the adjustment panel on the right hand side of the interface, slide the Tone Compression slider to the right to lighten the shadows and darken the highlights. Then, increase the Method Strength slider to control the amount of Drama and Detail in the image.
Once the tonal range is as desired, the image can be further enhanced by opening up the Tonality section. Clicking on the word Tonality expands the section and provides access to the tools. Using the Exposure slider, the image can be brightened globally. Next, the Highlights slider is increased to brighten the lighter portions of the image. In this particular case, the Highlights slider is increased to 45% to make sure the sky and reflections are bright enough. The Shadows slider can also be used to lighten or darken the darker tones in the image, if desired.
Increasing contrast by dragging the Contrast slider to the right can increase the overall dimension or 'pop' of the photo. Adjusting the Blacks and Whites sliders along with the Contrast slider helps to fine-tune the white point and the black point. Increasing the Blacks slider lightens the black point and ensures that there is full detail in the shadows. Moving the Whites slider to the right lightens the Highlights so that the bright highlights have full detail, and a full range of tonality in the image overall.
It's important to check out the histogram while adjusting the Blacks and Whites sliders, especially using the highlight and shadow clipping warnings. Rolling over either of these options will show the pure black (red) or pure white areas (green). Clicking on the option will leave it displayed on the image until the option is clicked again.
Finally, once the image enhancements are complete, click the OK or SAVE button in the lower right corner to save the image and return to the host application.
Image by Ed Heaton