Alibony Lessons for Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, and Digital Photography

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Creating an HDR Image: Tone Mapping in Photomatix Pro

Adobe® Photoshop® Elements 9

September 26, 2011

Before You Start This Lesson

This lesson is the second step in the process of creating an HDR image. To get started, see:

Step 1: Capture Multiple Exposures


Step 2: Combine Exposures and Tone Map with Photomatix Pro

In Step 1, I captured several bracketed exposures of a bridge to record the range of tones from dark to light in the scene. In this step, I will combine the exposures and then use a process called tone mapping to edit the results in Photomatix Pro, HDR photography software from HDRsoft.

  1. Open Photomatix Pro.
  2. From the File menu, select Load Bracketed Photos or click the Load Bracketed Photos button on the Workflow Shortcuts toolbox.

  3. Click the Browse button to select the files to load and then click OK. The Preprocessing Options dialogue opens.

    1. Check Align source images and Crop aligned images. It is important to align the images, especially if you did not use a tripod to capture the images. Choose a method for aligning the images. I usually select by correcting horizontal and vertical shifts.
    2. Select Remove ghosts to compensate for movement in the photos, such as the movement of leaves in the wind. I usually select automatically with Detection set to Normal.
    3. Reduce the noise and chromatic aberrations, if desired. I usually leave these options unchecked. The more options you check, the longer the process of merging photos will take. I prefer to remove noise in post-processing.
  4. Grab a cup of coffee or read your mail while Photomatix Pro aligns and merges the images - it may take awhile. The merged image will appear in the workspace. In the Adjustments panel, select Tone Mapping and choose Details Enhancer from the drop-down list. From the View menu, check 8-bit Histograms. The histogram will help when setting the Black Point and White Point sliders.

  5. Photomatix Pro comes with a set of presets that you can apply to your image and then tweak afterwards. You can also save your own presets. In this lesson, however, we will not use a preset and adjust the settings manually.

    Tip: Click the help icon at the bottom of the Adjustments panel. When you hover over a slider, help will appear to describe the effects of that slider.
  6. Set the basic options for the image.

    Strength determines the strength of the HDR effect. Suggested: 80-100.

    Color Saturation. Slide left to reduce saturation or right to increase saturation. Too much saturation will make the image look surreal. Suggested: 46-65.

    Luminosity Slide right to brighten or left to darken the image. Suggested: -2.0 to +2.0.

    Detail Contrast Affects the contrast in the details. Slide right to increase contrast and darken the image. Slide left to reduce contrast and lighten the image. Suggested: -2.0 - +2.0.

    Lighting Adjustments The most important slider - slide left for a gritty look, right for smoother, more natural look, depending on the overall effect you want to achieve.




  7. Click More options to show and set more basic options.

    Smooth Highlights Slide right to reduce noise and graininess in blue skies.

    White Point Slide right for increase contrast and brighten the highlights; slide left for images that are blown out or too light.

    Black Point Slide Slide right to increase contrast and darken the shadows; slide left to open up shadows.

    Gamma Rarely used. Affects contrast by lightening or darkening midtones.

    Temperature Rarely used. Gives the image a warmer or cooler tone.

  8. Set Advanced options. Micro-smoothing smooths out details, can help with noise in skies.

    I rarely use the other sliders in this section.

  9. When you are satisfied with the adjustments, click Process.
  10. To save the processed image, from the File menu, Select Save As. If you plan to edit the processed HDR in another program, you can select the Open saved images with option and select or add the program you want to use. Click Save to save the image.


Watch and Learn

The following video shows the process of merging and tone mapping the bridge photo in Photomatix Pro.

Correction: In the video, the three bracketed exposures are taken at -2EV, 0EV, and +2EV.



Next Steps

The processed bridge image is not the final image. To complete the image, we will apply finishing touches in Photoshop Elements 9.

Step 3: Apply Finishing Touches in Photoshop Elements


Updated on July 31, 2013