Taking control of the HDR image

Default Processing After Adjustments

Tools like HDR Efex Pro 2 provide an amazing range of control that enables users to create a specific look in their imagery. One of the most powerful set of tools to control the look of images in HDR Efex Pro 2 can be found in the Tone Compression section. These adjustments give the ability to create a customized look in each image, from realistic to artistic, and every step in-between.

Use the Tone Compression slider in the upper right hand corner to balance out the brightness range of the image. Moving the slider to the right darkens the highlights and brightens the shadows, effectively compressing the dynamic range. Increasing the Tone Compression made it possible to reproduce every tone in the scene, something that would not have been possible had the scene not been shot as an HDR image.

The Method Strength slider enables you to dial in the amount of the unique processing that is created by the HDR Method. In this case the slider was increased to 85%. The result of the slider changes based off of the settings made within the HDR Method section. It is often best to increase the Method Strength first to see if the default HDR Method will achieve the desired look. The default settings will often increase the texture of the image, as with this particular shot, and the added texture really helps to draw attention to the plane.

The overall direction that the image is going is nice, but it can go even further. Open the HDR Method section to get to some of the more advanced controls found in HDR Efex Pro 2.

In the HDR Method section start with the Depth tool, which helps to add a sense of dimension to the photo. Set the Depth setting to Strong, accentuating the effect as much as possible. The Depth tool is a really interesting and powerful tool. One of the common problems in creating HDR images is that the resulting photos can often lack the feeling of depth and dimensionality. This flatness can occur due to how tone mapping algorithms compress image details, striving to fit 32-bits per channel of image information into a 16-bit per channel image. The Depth adjustment takes care of this problem by adding in some of the visual cues of depth, accentuating shadows and adjusting the contrast around objects, making the final image feel more real and photographic.

Then adjust the Detail control to address the details throughout the image. This tool can be highly transformative, with the range from Soft, to Realistic, and even Grunge for maximum fine detail. The Detailed setting is chosen in this case because it accentuates the final details in a way that flatters the subject matter.

Finally, the Drama control is adjusted, which provides control over stylizing the tones and contrast of the image. The Drama algorithm can be found in a few other Nik Collection tools (Snapseed has a Drama filter while Silver Efex Pro 2’s Amplify Whites and Amplify Blacks are based off of this same algorithm) and was named Drama due to the way that it made images with fluffy clouds look incredibly dramatic. The Drama control in HDR Efex Pro 2 can be used to bring a unique style to images, and Drama was definitely needed in this image. The adjustments range from Flat and Natural on the left side to the more stylized settings on the right. The Sharp setting is best to create the most engaging effect for this image as it gives a great stylized but honed look with nice shadows and bright highlights.

Note: It never hurts the image to experiment and click on each of the settings, whether it is an HDR Method adjustment, a Control Point slider, or any of the tools within HDR Efex Pro 2. The best way to really get to know the software is to click on each of the tools and slide them around watching for the results. If you don’t like what the tool did, use the short cut (Command, Z) on a Mac, or (Control, Z) on a PC to undo. Below are the 6 different Drama adjustment settings, as even with just this one tool, an entirely different look can be created to accomplish a totally different feel.

Drama Adjustment set to Flat Drama Adjustment set to Natural
Drama Adjustment set to Deep Drama Adjustment set to Dingy
Drama Adjustment set to Sharp Drama Adjustment set to Grainy

To fine-tune the results, click on the Tonality section and darken the image with the Exposure slider, in this case set to -14%.

Then, to make sure the shadows had the desired detail, the Shadows slider is moved to 31% and the Highlights slider to 36% to brighten the highlights overall.

The Contrast is set to 33% for some added punch, the Blacks slider is adjusted to 19%, and the Whites slider to -26% to set the black and white point.

Lastly, 14% Structure is added for a little bit of extra texture.

Next, open the Color section and reduced the Saturation slider, in this case to -20%, and the Temperature slider to -5% to cool the image off a little bit. The resulting desaturated, slightly cool look of the image is the desired outcome.

Then, take a look at the result thus far. Some sections of the image could use a bit more selective control, so open the Selective Control section to access to the control points. Five control points were added to this image.

The first control point is above the airplane to remove the yellow cast with the Temperature slider as well as remove Saturation.

The second control point is added to the orange cone beneath and behind the airplane, which is darkened and desaturated, reducing the distraction that such a bright and colorful object creates.

The third control point is added to darken down the left side of the image which is too bright and would have also distracted away from the subject in the image.

The fourth control point is for the front of the airplane. By leaving all of the sliders in their neutral or default state, the effect from the third control point is prevented from applying to this area. This technique, often called a constrictive or anchoring control point, works by helping to differentiate objects from one another. When the third control point is added, that control point considered both the left side of the image as well as the front of the plane when the image was darkened. By adding another control point to the front of the plane, it essentially instructed HDR Efex Pro to consider the plane as a different object from the left side of the image. This is a powerful technique that makes it possible to make incredibly precise and complex selections really quickly.

The fifth and final control point is used to bring a little attention into “Peachy,” the figure of the woman on the airplane. A little bit of saturation and contrast is added and the Exposure slider is used to lighten her up to draw attention toward the center of the image.

To draw a little more attention to the center of the image, finish the image with a Vignette, found within the Finishing section. Use the drop down menu of Vignette options and chose Black Frame #1 to give a slight dark border around the image.

Once the enhancements are complete, click on the OK or SAVE button in the lower right to save the image and return to the host application.

Image by Dr. Jason Odell

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