I Learned a New and Improved HDR Processing Technique

I stumbled across a new technique recently for processing my high dynamic range (HDR) photographs. This new technique is very well detailed in Kah Wai Lin, in a tutorial he wrote for HDROne (site/magazine). And even though it’s more of a processing over processing of HDR images and the RAW HDR file itself, it’s leading me to better, more realistic-looking photographs.

Check this out. This first image I processed the easy way, 3 images (-2EV, 0EV, +2EV) imported into Lightroom, slightly adjusted in Lightroom, then externally tone-mapped in HDR Efex Pro from Nik Software.

Grand Lake 20120729 528 HDR

And then the image below is the result from following Lin’s process almost exactly. The other difference is that this image was first RAW-processed through Photomatix Pro (instead of HDR Efex Pro, like above). And instead of using Topaz Adjust like Lin’s process entails, I used Color Efex Pro and DFine 2.0 both from Nik Software. Take a look at the result.

Grand Lake 528 HDR (Lin)

Grand Lake 528 HDR (Lin)

What do you think, between these two images, which looks better to you? And why? I’ve already stated my thoughts, above. One last note here too, I’ve got to watch out for color noise artifacts more. This set of images were taken at ISO 800, and while my Nikon D90 performs quite well at high ISO, when processing HDR with any technique, the noise seems to get more pronounced in the end product. Overall, there are more details in the sky, better looking wood grain and colors, and it just looks more like what I saw shooting that night in downtown Grand Lake. Yes, it is a more tedious process to follow along, but I think in the end, Lin’s technique is well worth the extra effort (I just need to get a faster Mac with more RAM to speed up the processing/loading times in this method! Ha! Honey?)

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