Working with Dynamic Range in HDR Projects 4
By Willem, Jan 17 2016 06:03PM
When I first started editing my photographs on a computer around 8 years ago people used to fit into one of two camps when it came to HDR photography; you either loved it or hated it. Fast forward to today and the fact is you can’t ignore it no matter your feelings on the matter. There is a very good chance that the phone you carry around every day uses the process. We know this for sure because if you’re fortunate enough to own an iPhone, they don’t even attempt to hide it. At the top right of the phone you will see the little “HDR” logo. Apple lets you turn this off, but others are less forthcoming and less flexible with their offerings. We start to see HDR in some of the more advanced consumer and lower end DSLRs on the market today as well. My point is that the technology is here to stay and has progressed significantly.
I started using HDR software several years back and some of my early work received a lot of complementary comments from friends but it was also an extremely challenging prospect to balance the effect and avoid anything gimmicky. As cameras got better and Photoshop’s Lightroom improved, I completely ditched the dedicated HDR software and worked with the 90% solution that Lightroom offered. Recently I have been fortunate enough to work with some new software that was loaned to me by a company called Franzis. If you haven’t come across them yet you should check out their website and offerings. Now in their fourth iteration, HDR Projects 4 Professional is a fantastic piece of software that combines so effortlessly into Lightroom that anyone would be pre-programed to use it. Now if you don’t read any further take these three things away 1) HDR Projects 4 is a very useful HDR tool 2) Their selective adjustments brush puts Adobe’s to shame 3) It is a perfect companion to Adobe Lightroom.
I recently came back from Meteora in Greece where I was confronted with a lot of situations which the dynamic range of my camera simple couldn’t cope with. Ie I either had to sacrifice a well-lit foreground for a blown out sky or a well exposed sky for a dark or black foreground. The gut response in this situation was to set up a tripod and whip out some graduated filters but the harshness of the mountain skies meant that this was really a case for some bracketing and post processing.
The process for getting running on HDR Projects 4 is quite straight forward. For the purposes of this discussion I have used Lightroom as my starting point simply because it is part of my photography flow. So as usual, you open up Lightroom, import your photos and start browsing through. I came across this image of Saint Stefanos nunnery which I had managed to retain some of the sky in, but completely lost details on the bottom and left side of the photo.
Exporting to HDR Projects 4 was as easy as right clicking and letting the program switch you over automatically. You can even import the photo with whatever corrections/edits you have already made, which is simply fantastic. When you first land in HDR Projects you are welcomed with a complicated, but ultimately quite logical entrance screen. The only con about this screen is that it forces you to make decisions upfront which you won’t understand the first time around. If you’re not quite sure what to do tutorials online have assured me that just simply clicking through this is the best option until you are an experienced user. In fact, that is one of the nice things about HDR Projects 4. The defaults and pre-programmed settings are ace! You can be sure that when you eventually get down to post-processing you aren’t facing an hour long jargon-filled battery-draining experience. In the version I used I had access to 134 defaults which crossed a wide variety of photo subjects and tones. With the Meteora picture, I jumped straight to “Natural Dark Back Light” since I had taken the photo with the sun off to the top right of the photo.
There are a couple of neat editing features to use regularly when editing HDR photos. Most of the editing is done on the left side panel and the “Optimization Assistant” is one of the first you want to look at in order to tweak some of the default settings to improve the image quality. In my case the greens were too strong so I had to tone that back slightly using the “Dynamic” slider. The other option you’re going to want to use a lot is the “Corrections” tool which is similar to some of the spot removal tools we know but with one improvement: spot identification. I would like to see an improvement to the spot identification tool which on its own is a great concept, but still perhaps in an infancy phase. If you’re using a 4-year-old camera like me, spots are an increasingly regular frustration.
Exporting the edited photo back into Lightroom was disorienting at first but as soon as I realized what HDR projects 4 was doing it made perfect sense. Whilst moving over to HDR Projects you aren’t asked to save the photo, but going backwards you have to save the project you are working on so unfortunately the changes are permanent, but fortunately the changes don’t overwrite what you were originally doing in Lightroom in the first place. Once you get this the importing of photos is extremely quick and efficient. The same functionality is built in for other programs as well.
Overall I can see myself using this HDR software regularly and I’m currently experimenting with using less extreme ranges and optimizing the outputs. As you can see from one of the attached screenshots it fits onto lightroom like a glove which really makes it a treat to use.