Sunday, 18 March 2012

HDR - More Experimenting with Tone Mapping.

Much of our free time these last couple of weeks has been spent experimenting with Tone Mapping both in Photoshop and After Effects, as HDR work requires a bit of practice to get it looking the way you want it to look. 

Just to remind those of you who may not be familiar with Tone Mapping, it's the HDR like effect applied to a single image as opposed to multiple images captured with different exposures. 

When working with HDR for still images, we're currently using the Photoshop plugin  HDR Efex Pro by Nik Software. Although we plan on getting Photomatix too, so we can see which one works best for our particular visual style and workflow.

Anyway, back to HDR Efex Pro.... With an image loaded into the HDR Efex Pro interface a default look is applied (the preset looks are listed with thumbnails on the left of the screen), which is often way too strong - but on the right side of the screen you'll find all the settings, such as Exposure, saturation, warmth and curves that you can tweak to adjust the look.

One of the features we really like about HDR Efex Pro is the way you can apply individual Tone Mapping techniques to just parts of the image by adding "control points".

The HDR Efex Pro interface.  We've added another control point here to bring out details in the face, such as hair.
The “structure” setting is the one you have to be really careful with – it enhances details such as hair beautifully, but applied too strong and it leads to that “over cooked” look or kind of embossed look many poorly executed HDR pictures have. It’s a fun effect to play around with, so feel free to play around with it, but keep an eye on how it affects the whole picture.

Another great feature with HDR Efex Pro, is that you can switch the preview to "split preview" or "side by side preview" so you can compare the Tone Mapped image to your original as you work.

But to get the effect you want, and not make it look obvious that you’ve used Tone Mapping, you might have to apply different versions of the effect on multiply layers, masking parts away of each layer and play around with the opacity of each layer.

It's worth mentioning here that Photoshop does also have a native Tone Mapping filter (in the image adjustment menu). Yes, it is very basic, but it's still a pretty powerful tool and you can get some nice effects with it.

Photoshop's HDR Toning filter is a basic but still very powerful tool, and really helped bring out the detail in our photo.
The best advice we can give when it comes to HDR work is to just play around with it, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Portrait of a Tone Mapped Cat.