If you’ve ever seen photography that just seems surreal and wonder how the photographer took that shot it’s actually a technique known as HDR. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and these photos are built by merging multiple shots of the same image at different exposure levels. Photographers then combine these photos in a digital program to create a sometimes surreal looking final photo with more detail, contrast and vivid colors then that of which could have been achieved in just a single photo. If you have a digital SLR camera you can usually set them for AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) which will take multiple shots at three different exposure levels — one normal, on darker and one brighter. To achieve a truly surreal photo sometimes more than 3 shots may be required but this technique will take some getting used to and require some fine tuning. Also, if you can shoot in RAW format or the largest file setting is usually the best way to capture the image giving you the most flexibility with your photos settings.
Once you’ve started taking these photos you’ll want an easy solution for merging the photos and creating your HDR photos. I have seen a website in the past that will merge three photos but the results are not that great and offer no options for adjustments. If you own Photoshop Cs2 or higher you can use the “Merge to HDR” feature for and combine the photos but the options are very limited — however in CS 5.5 the options and preset seem to be a little better for a built-in option but nothing that great and still left me wanting more.
Wanting to be able to control my HDR merge and have adjustment options I started looking for another solution to help with my HDR Photography. Upon my research I found a few plugins that will run right in Photoshop, that were good but seemed a bit sluggish, and I felt that a standalone program may be the better option. Why stand-alone? — Well, not everyone owns the latest version of Photoshop and may want to start working with HDR in another program and use another editor such as the freeware editor, GIMP. After some research and browsing some online forums I found Photomatix from HDRSoft which is said to create stunning photographs of high contrast scenes.
HDRSoft offers a few versions of the stand-alone software including Photomatix Pro and Photomatix Essentials that run on both Windows and Mac OS X. They also offer a Photoshop plugin for tone mapping but even they don’t really suggest it as it does not have all the features of the stand-alone program. In addition, HDRSoft has a plugin for Apple’s Aperture and Photomatix Pro will also work with Adobe Lightroom.
HDRSoft offers a free trial download of Photomatix and they recommend that if you are new to HDR photography and don’t want to be overwhelmed with options to purchase the essentials version of the software which can be upgrade to Pro at any time for an additional fee. The biggest difference is that Photomatix Pro includes advanced features such as batch processing and selective deghosting, as well as the Plug-in for Adobe Lightroom. And, if you are a student or a teacher HDRSoft does offer academic pricing too — which I suggest taking advantage of.
Since I have a background in Photography and photo editing, I chose to review the PRO version of Photomatix as I felt comfortable that I would understand the advance feature set offered in the software. The software installs easily and upon launch the interface is pretty straight forward — and the HDRSoft team has done a pretty good job on producing some tutorials and videos to help you get started. Looking around the interface I loaded my photos from a recent photo shoot and imported them — once imported a new window opened up as seen in my video overview and I was given many advanced options along with presets too. There are a lot of sliders and controls to alter everything from detail, contrast and more and the presets were very helpful too. After about twenty minutes or so playing with all the features I was able to achieve the look that I wanted for my final HDR photo of construction equipment seen in this review. The only thing that really stood out to me was lack of presets — Compared to some of other tools that I demoed they seemed to have many more presets. That said, Photomatix Pro does allow you to create, save and load custom presets which is great but finding them on the net is no easy task and they seem to be on other people’s website. I think that HDRSoft should really launch a forum or page where users can upload their own tutorials and custom presets to share with the community.
Again, I think HDRSoft has done a great job with the training videos and tutorials they produce but perhaps a weekly webinar or podcast would be nice to learn more about the advance features, HDR photography and getting the results you want. HDRSoft has done a fine job developing software to meet my HDR needs and after reading some basic tutorials I was able to master the program pretty good too. I did find some other presets on the net which I installed that I really like and I’m always looking for more to make my HDR customization job quicker. Just remember presets are never really perfect but the more you have the quicker you can get to that final image.
For around $99 Photomatix Pro is a great stand-alone tool for both Windows and Mac platforms and will easily help you to produce great looking and stunning HDR photos. If this is something that interests you I highly recommend downloading the demo version of Photomatix and experimenting with your photos and see for yourself how easy yet powerful this program is. For me, having to spend less than $100 to achieve a high-priced final look is certainly worth the investment and HDRSoft will also provide free updates for up to two years after your purchase on the software.
Watch the video below If you would like to see a quick overview of the software.
If you are looking for a tool to help you get started in HDR Photography and also have all the advance feature you need to create an amazing final product then Photomatix from HDRSoft is the tool for you and for that PhotoMatix Pro gets one Damn Good Review.
Want to purchase PhotoMatix? — Save 15% by using coupon code, “DamnGoodReviews” on the Photomatix website.
[toggle title=”Program Features”]
- Creation HDR images
- Tone Mapping
- Exposure Fusion
- Automatic alignment hand-held photos
- Reduction of noise and chromatic aberrations in HDR images
PhotomatixPRO from HDRsoft offers a great way to jump into HDR photography and editing.
- Good amount of presets
- Easy to use
- Free updates for two-years
- Needs more users submitted and shared presets