In this Photomatix HDR tutorial I am working with Photomatix 5; the most recent version of this software. If you don’t yet have Photomatix, you can get a 15% discount on checkout by using the promo code: photophique.
A high dynamic range (HDR) photograph is comprised of multiple exposures, these are then merged into one to create a single image with superb tonal detail. I get good results using just three exposures, although some people prefer to use more.
You can use five, seven, or nine images or more if you wish, although if you’re just starting out it may be easier to use three to keep things simple.
Shooting multiple exposures
It’s best to shoot your images using a tripod, this ensures consistency and stability, so we know the images will correctly merge and align together. If shooting three exposures then I need one image at regular exposure, one set at -2 (two stops below), and finally one at +2 (two stops above).
Most DSLRs and premium mirrorless cameras will have a Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) mode, so you can set that to the number of exposures you want and it’ll do the rest for you. I shoot in aperture priority mode with manual focusing to ensure consistency across all aspects of the images.
Also make sure you are in Continuous Shooting mode so you only have to press the shutter once (or better still use a remote trigger).
I’m working with a seascape I took at sunset, you can see the three exposures I captured below.
Importing to Photomatix
Once you’ve opened Photomatix Pro, you’ll be presented with the screen below, select the Load Bracketing Photos option on the top left, you’ll then get next window in the centre where you can locate your images.
Please note that I’m using JPEGs in this example, but it is normally best to work with Raw files in order to extract maximum detail.
Once you selected your images and pressed OK, the Merge To HDR box appears (as shown below). If you’ve captured your images with a quality tripod-based camera then you don’t have to select many of the options here.
Do not use the ghosting option unless absolutely necessary, if you want to reduce noise, again I wouldn’t do it at this stage, if needed I’d probably do it in Define 2 at a later stage.
Once you made the selections as above hit the Align & Merge To HDR button at the bottom.
Below is the default workspace you’ll be presented with in Photomatix. There are a number of presets on the right, these do all the work for you and produce varying styles of HDR images. I always use custom settings, these are located on the left.
I always use the Tone Mapping process, and the Details Enhancer method. As you can see, the image looks a little flat by default, so let’s look at the settings I used to transform this shot.
The main settings above are fairly self-explanatory, I’ve gone for strong overall Strength and Saturation, but kept the Tone Compression down to keep things looking relatively realistic and photographic. I’ve also used the Lighting Effects mode on its Natural setting, this helps this image pop a little as it’s a low-light shot.
There is then a More Options panel, you can see the settings I’ve used here below.
You can adjust the white/black points, the Gamma setting is important, this adjusts the brightness of the midtones of the image, which also effects the overall contrast of the image.
I’ve opted for a dark and moody shot and it suits my chosen image, but it’s all about finding the right style for the photograph you have, and the ultimate style that you want.
If that wasn’t enough, there is also an Advanced Options panel for yet more control. You can see the settings I used below:
Here the Micro Smoothing option is important, basically the lower the setting, the more surreal or unnatural the image may look.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of options here, I should point out that when you hover over the sliders in Photomatix Pro, a description of each setting appears at the bottom of the workspace to help you.
Whilst this is very useful, it doesn’t take long via basic trial and error methods to get a good feel of the main settings, and what they mean for your images. You can see from the screenshot below, the above settings have had a dramatic effect on the image. Colour, contrast and detail are massively improved.
Once you’re happy with your shot hit the Apply button, you’re then presented with the final image, from here you can save image via the top menu and choose File > Save As. From here you can choose to save in either TIFF or JPEG formats, I normally use the maximum quality TIFF as this is a lossless format and preserves more detail.
Once you image is saved you can take into Photoshop for final adjustments (if needed), let’s take another look at the final shot:
Whilst you can get good HDR images from Photoshop, dedicated software offers far more precise control, and for that reason Photomatix is my preferred choice for creating HDR images. Whilst it may seem a little tricky to use at first, primarily as there are a lot of options, with a little practice it really is a user-friendly piece of software that gets great results.Back to Top