Wednesday, March 4, 2009

HDR workflow

To those of you who asked, here's some brief description of my current HDR workflow:

An often neglected topic in HDR discussion is the source image alignment problem. I like the freedom and spontaneity of working with the camera hand-held. So most of the time I don't carry around a tripod. This can make for a challenge with HDR.
Photomatix can only handle slight registration between the shots. Photoshop does better (with auto layer alignment) but still leaves a lot to be desired when there is serious registration.
What really works for me for alignment (and sometimes even for HDR and tone mapping) is PTGUI - this panoramic stitcher does a fantastic job with alignment (Windows only). And so I end up with a workflow like:

  1. Import RAW into Lightroom (or photoshop raw)
  2. Export the shots to 16bit TIFF images (preserve all information, and keep exposure data in EXIF)
  3. Load them into PTGUI and align
  4. Export the "panorama" in separate layers into new 16bit TIFF files
  5. Load into Photomatix, generate HDR and tone map
  6. Save processed image to a 16bit TIFF
  7. Load into photoshop or lightroom and post-process

It takes much less time than it sounds...

Sometimes, I can get decent HDR tone mapping straight in PTGUI, and then all I need to to is export the final tone mapped image from PTGUI and then Photomatix is not needed. However, PTGUI is not nearly as flexible as Photomatix for the tone mapping step.

Also, it is possible to generate the HDR from PTGUI and then do just the tone mapping in Photomatix, but generally I got better results with Photomatix when generating the HDR in Photomatix and tone mapping in the same session. There was a mention in some article that Photomatix remembers some information that is generated during the HDR generation that it can use for better tone mapping. This info is not saved in the HDR, and that's probably why tone mapping in the same session seems to work better.

There are several good articles on HDR workflow by Uwe Steinmueller on his site, outbackphoto.

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