Are you an HDR tone-mapper searching for post-processing technique to create more realistic HDR?
Maybe you’ve grown out of surreal HDR and wanted to try something new.
Either way, you’ve come to the right place.
In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to create more natural, realistic HDR with exposure fusion in Photomatix.
Creating HDR In Photomatix Pro
Photomatix Pro is a premium HDR software that has been on the market for several years now. In my opinion, it’s a fantastic software for beginners because of its simple layout and intuitive adjustment panel.
You can create HDR with Photomatix Pro in 2 ways:
Tone mapping and exposure fusion.
These are 2 different processes of creating HDR with completely different visual effect.
Don’t know the differencet?
You can read more about the 2 in this tutorial on tone mapping vs exposure fusion.
Exposure Fusion Is The Method of Choice For Clean and Natural HDR
When your multiple exposure have been merged into a 32-bit HDR, you’ll come to a window with adjustment sliders on the left and presets on the right.
Here, you can choose to process your HDR with tone mapping or exposure fusion.
Post-Processing With Exposure Fusion
The first thing you’ll notice after clicking on exposure fusion is the “method”. Once you click on the scroll down menu, you’ll find yourself faced with 6 options.
You might get excited at this point and start exploring each method and compare the result.
Or, you couldn’t face the hassle of making an effort to learn each method and give up completely.
Well, you don’t have to.
Because I’m going to do the hard work for you. So, keep calm and carry on reading. 🙂
The Adjustment Panel
Before we dwell into each method of post-processing with exposure fusion, let’s look at what’s there is to offer in the adjustment panel for each.
I’ve summarised it below.
- Fusion/Natural – Strength; Brightness; Local contrast; White clip; Black clip; Midtone; Colour saturation
- Fusion/Interior – Highlights; Shadows; Local contrast; Brightness; Colour saturation; Highlights depth
- Fusion/intensive – Strength; Colour saturation; Radius
- Average – No adjustments available
- Fusion/Auto – No adjustments available
- Fusion/2 images – No adjustments available, but you can choose which image you want to merge
Comparing Each Method
Essentially, only the first 3 method allows you to fine tune your HDR image.
All methods above create natural, realistic HDR. It’s only the matter of personal preference and also the type of image you have. What I would recommend is to experiment with each to see the effect.
For the purpose of objective comparison for each method, I merged 3 bracketed exposure and use the default settings in the adjustment panel for each.
Fusion/Natural is one of my preferred methods for exposure fusion in Photomatix.
It has more options for tonal adjustments that you can play with to your liking. Apart from adjusting the strength (how much local contrast is accentuated) and the brightness, you can adjust the local adjustments and midtone.
Local adjustment is equivalent to clarity in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw Filter. It increases the contrast in between the adjacent pixels without affecting the overall contrast.
Midtone adjustment affects the midtones (duh…) and leaves the darkest dark and the brightest bright alone.
Moving white clip to the right makes the white whiter; Moving black clip to the right makes the black blacker.
Personally, I prefer to adjust midtones luminosity mask instead of overall contrast because it gives a more subtle and natural tonal adjustment.
Used to be called Fusion/Real-Estate. You probably figured it out already, it’s designed for real-estate photography.
Images created with Fusion/Interior has a more evenly distributed light. Compared it to Fusion/Natural, there is less vignetting around the corner and the brightness is dampened slightly in the centre of the example image above.
Moving the highlights and shadows slider adjustment will change the brightness of the highlights and shadows.
Highlights depth affects the colour of the highlights. Moving it to the right increases the depth of the highlights. Moving it to the left will darken and add some subtle saturation to it.
I know what you’re thinking – It’s like surreal HDR in tone mapping.
There isn’t a lot to adjust in Fusion/Intensive. The only adjustment you need to pay attention to is strength and radius.
Increasing the strength will accentuate the highlights and create halos. Use radius (by moving it to the right) to reduce the halos. Radius controls the area used to calculate the weighting of the source images.
No adjustments available in this method.
Although, that’s not a bad thing at all. The HDR image created with this method is actually quite natural looking.
Comparing it to Fusion/Natural, the light distribution is roughly the same but the tones are a bit darker.
No adjustments available. Photomatix merges the exposure and apply adjustments automatically.
The image looks natural in general but not as realistic as the above.
6. Fusion/2 Images
In the last method (which I hardly use), you can to choose which exposure you want to merge from the adjustment panel.
Once you have clicked on an image in “First image” and “Second image”, Photomatix will instantly give you a preview of the image. You can re-select the images if you don’t like it.
Exposure fusion in Photomatix Pro is an alternate way of creating natural and realistic HDR images. The advantage of using Photomatix Pro lies in the simplicity of the adjustment panel.
For more tutorials on HDR photography, check out the HDR resource page!
Thanks a bunch! This helped me a lot since i was about to get started with more serious astrophotography, do already own a Photomatix Pro 6 license, and was looking for a decent way to do exposure stacking without Photoshop/Lightroom.
Glad to hear that!