Natural Looking HDR II: My Workflow

I did a brief blog on how about keeping HDR images looking natural, so now I thought I would take you through my workflow.  The HDR software is HDR Efex Pro from Nik Software, but I will also be using a little bit of Photoshop to blend in parts of original exposures with the HDR using Layer Masks.

Natural Looking HDR using HDR Efex Pro and a touch of Photoshop

Natural Looking HDR using HDR Efex Pro and a touch of Photoshop – Final Image

The first thing I do is export my the auto-bracketed exposures from Lightroom to HDR Efex Pro. Next I click on the Default Preset.  All the values over on the right hand side panel are automatically set to zero producing an image like the one below.

Natural HDR using HDR Efex Pro - Stage 1

Natural HDR using HDR Efex Pro – Stage 1

Over on the right hand side panel, I start at the top and first adjust the Tone Compression.  I don’t go above eight or nine for the value. It all depends on the image I am working with.

Next stage is to systematically work down the sliders, adjusting each one only slightly, trying not to go too over the top.

Natural Looking HDR using HDR Efex Pro - Stage 2

Natural Looking HDR using HDR Efex Pro – Stage 2

Natural Looking HDR using HDR Efex Pro - The Settings

Natural Looking HDR using HDR Efex Pro – The Settings

My final step while still in HDR Efex Pro, is to use the Control Points so adjust certain areas of the photo.  In this case the old pier I applied control points to lighten it a little using the exposure slider, then the Structure slider, Contrast slider and so on.

Natural Looking HDR using HDR Efex Pro - Stage 4 - Using Control Points

Natural Looking HDR using HDR Efex Pro – Stage 4 – Using Control Points

Once done, I send the now HDR image back to Lightroom, where it is ‘stacked’ with my original exposures.

Depending on the HDR image I sometimes combine part of one of the original exposure with the HDR.  In this example, exported the HDR and one of the original auto-bracket shots in Photoshop using the Edit In… Open As Layers in Photoshop.

A Layer Mask was applied to the HDR layer, and with the Brush Tool selected and Black as the foreground colour, I paint over the main sea area.

One of the main problems with HDR and things that are moving, such as the sea, you can get ghosting, things that don’t actually look natural.

What I want to do next is clear up any dust bunnies (those annoying bits of dust on the sensor), and adjust certain colours.  I could do the selective colour adjustments in Lightroom, but since I am already in Photoshop I may as well do them there.

The first thing I always do once the photo is open in Photoshop is remove those dreaded dust bunnies.  I do this by using the Spot Healing Tool, which can be accessed by either pressing the ‘J’ key or by selecting it from the Tool Box.  It is now just a case of zooming into the image, and clearing away those nasty dust bunnies or imperfections.

When the cleaning up has been done, I next create a Hue & Saturation Layer Adjustment Layer.

First I adjust the Saturation of the whole image, then move on to each individual channel.  You will notice that when you create and Hue & Saturation Adjustment Layer, by default you are on the MASTER channel – this adjust everything.  By clicking on the down arrow, you can select individual channels starting with Red, then Yellow and so on.

For my image here, after I adjusted the Master channel, I then boosted saturation in the Red channel, turned the Lightness down a bit, then moved to the next channel and repeated the process.

Natural Looking HDR using Color Efex Pro - Saturation Boost

Natural Looking HDR using Color Efex Pro – Saturation Boost

Final image is nearly in sight, but when creating  HDR images you do tend to get a lot of noise in your final images.  Using plug-ins such as Noise Ninja, Define 2 etc you can remove quite a bit of this.

Also, if you want to take things a little bit further, like I have with my image, try adding more third party filters.  My final image was run through Color Efex Pro – hope you like and hope this article was of some use?

Natural Looking HDR using Color Efex Pro

Natural Looking HDR using Color Efex Pro – The Final Image with a little Extra

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2 thoughts on “Natural Looking HDR II: My Workflow

  1. Pingback: Natural Looking HDR II: My Workflow « Mark White Photography

  2. Pingback: Natural Looking HDR II: My Workflow « Mark White Photography

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