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Old Apr 4, 2009, 2:03 AM   #1
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I've been playing around this week with Photo Matix. I've always wanted to try HDR but didn't know if I'd want it enough to pay for a software program. I had tried the HDR option in CS4 but it seemed like I just got the worst of each exposure, instead of the best.

I started off using the raw files with Photo Matix, and discovered the problems you get if you are trying to take anything that's blowing in the wind, or moving (like the camera because even with a monopod I'm not good at holding it completely steady for a 5 exposure burst bracket), and I thought what I was getting was a bit soft for my taste.

Then I discovered that if I converted the raw files using DXO's default settings first, then use the tiff files in Photo Matix, the little bit of extra sharpening that DXO does helps the program line up the objects in the picture.

What do you think about these pictures?

There are several different ways of doing HDR, and they produce very different results. In this case, I liked the boat from one method but the background from another, so I just moved the boat from one version to the other.

It seems to do quite well with interiors. It doesn't show as well in this picture (you can see it clearly in the full sized picture) but the two people on the sofa are both looking at laptop computers!

I can't decide if I like this picture or not. And if there's any way to improve it. This one I used the raw files, and the program did something I didn't like to the color, so I converted it to b&w. I think the picture may be an "almost" picture, unless someone has some suggestions. There are things I really like about it.

Here's two different versions of the same picture, processed with different methods. Which one does everyone else think is the better picture?

The second one looks like it suffers from HDR halos (though it isn't all halo, it was early morning sky and the sun was just behind the mountain on the left). It's also the one that has much more of the typical HDR look to it.

Finally, the first time I tried this one using the raw files, it didn't quite work. However, I think it did all right using the DXO tiff files. It gives the stream much more softness and feeling of motion than any of the individual frames (as though I was using a slower shutter speed than I actually was), and it also softened the extreme contrast of the sunlight coming through the trees.

It's a fun thing to try, and I think I'll probably use Photo Matix enough to justify its price (something I hadn't been sure of before I tried it).

Since I'm new to this program and HDR in general, I'm always open for suggestions and comments.
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Old Apr 4, 2009, 6:50 AM   #2
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I like the HDR effect you got as the pictures do not look over processed as many HDR pictures do.

Of the two pictures of the lake I like the first one best, as the reflections of the trees in the lake are more vibrant and sharper.

I like the B&W tree stump with reflection. It has that Ansel Adams Yosemity look to it.

The picture of the Ahwahnee Lounge is wonderful. It is a difficult room to photograph due to its size and the large number of incandescent lights in the room. The HDR gave the shot a nice even tonal quality.

I like the river photo but have nothing to compare it to so cannot tell if it is an improvement.

In general I like what you have achieved with the HDR software and it encourages me to give it a try myself when the weather in New England improves enough to do some landscape photography. Photo Matix looks like a winner.
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Old Apr 4, 2009, 7:18 AM   #3
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Climbing up the ladder again, Harriet!

There are amongst the best HDR photos I've seen, I agree with Keltech on almost every point. Not over processed, just perfect.

Isn't the lounge from your home? I'm a bit dissapointed if it isn't.:-)

The tree stump is very interesting and different. My remark isn't about the HDR/BW conversion (which I like a lot), but about composition. I think the picture loks a bit top heavy, I'd like the stump to have a little bit of more space over it.

Of the lake pictures the first one looks best on my monitor.

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Old Apr 4, 2009, 8:07 AM   #4
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Those are all very well done. And I agree, they are quite tastefully done, not overprocessed. Some of my attempts have wound up looking like old postcards.

I agee also that the first of the two lake scenes is more to my liking. Just a bit brighter on my monitor.

My favorite, however, is the interior scene. Looks like a page out of Architectural Digest.

And next would be the water flowing over rocks. Very well done.

I have tried Photomatix, and have not done much more than try it. I like the results, but it seems too time consuming. Does DXO differ much in it's approach?

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Old Apr 4, 2009, 8:35 AM   #5
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I think you did great, Harriet. They all came out quite nice.

I love the image of the Inn. There is so much too look at.

My first thought on the stump was I think I'd crop off some more on the right. Almost to the point to be inside the reflection part. And, I agree with Kjell to add more space to the top of it. Other than that, I like it.

I, too, like the first of the two lake images. The second one on my monitor just doesn't seem as clear and vibrant.

I haven't tried the HDR, but keep reading about it when reading through stuff on the K20. If I ever get the courage, you've shown me it does do well.

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Old Apr 4, 2009, 8:46 AM   #6
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The end results are...what should I say...spectacular! I'd be interested to see the braketed originals. I have not tried HDR imaging as yet; your images are giving me inspiration to do it!
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Old Apr 4, 2009, 10:49 AM   #7
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Hi Harriet,

I really enjoyed them all, you did a wonderful job! I agree with Kjell, that #2 is your living room - right? By the way, who washes all of those windows?

Did you use the 3 or 5 image option for these? You have struck the right balance in the processing, where by the technique actually adds to the finished result. I often wondered how HDR would work on items in motion - your stream, and it turned out just perfect.
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Old Apr 4, 2009, 11:10 AM   #8
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Here are the bracketed shots:

The first 5 are the shots as converted by DXO. The second two are both HDR versions - there's several different ways that Photo Matix goes about merging the pictures, and they give different results. In this case, I liked the boat in the first one, but preferred the rest of the second one. So I just used CS4 to select only the boat (minus the top) from the first one and pasted it on the second one, which is what gave me the picture I posted first.

Here's the bracketed shots of the Ahwahnee's lobby.

I had tried to take the middle one (the one the camera thought was correctly exposed) and tried bring up more in the shadows but couldn't get as good results as the HDR version I posted above. I also spent a lot more time playing in Lightroom than I ended up doing with the HDR version.

DXO doesn't do HDR. It's simply (well, it's not a simple program) a raw converter. It also makes adjustments to jpg and tiff files, but it's primary purpose is to make adjustments to pictures, like ACR, Lightroom etc. does. They've taken certain cameras and lens combinations and done extensive tests with them, measuring geometric distortions and softness, noise and contrast of the combinations. It then makes appropriate corrections based on their measurements, and also allows you to do additional processing (perhaps adding more noise reduction, additional sharpening, changing contrast/levels, colors, making different geometric changes etc.). It does a reasonable job with the K20 and other lenses that it hasn't measured, but it really shines with their specific combinations. It isn't a program for photo management, like Lightroom or Bridge, I'd equate it more to ACR (but much better in my opinion).

What I did here was take the 5 bracketed shots and just used the default settings. Both were taken with the 12-24 and that lens is one of the Pentax lenses they have measured, saved as tiff files. The DXO program adds a bit of sharpening, which I think helped Photo Matix align the frames, especially with the boat picture. I let the program do it's thing (it does take a bit of time for it to take 5 very large, full sized K20 pictures in, align them and then do it's tone-mapping to come up with a picture). But then, DXO isn't exactly quick to convert files either. I then made some changes - there's a bunch of sliders where you can adjust things. Last night I went to the software's website and looked for tutorials since I didn't understand what each of the sliders would do (some are obvious some are not) and found one that gave a quick, clear instruction for which slider did what and which ones worked together or against each other. That made a big difference to me and it made things much faster for me to figure out what to get what I wanted. It makes my input time much faster. But like anything else, it does take time and isn't for those who don't like post processing in general.
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Old Apr 4, 2009, 12:01 PM   #9
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1 and 2 are my favorites. I've been playing with HDR's in CS4 with results nothing like this. Images do not seem to line up very well and turn out soft. If I understand you correctly in these photos you did not use CS4. You used DXO to convert and sharpen then used Photo Matix to put them together. What you did with these photos is outstanding. It's results like this that make me try that much harder. Thank you for all the information and starting this topic.

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Old Apr 4, 2009, 5:59 PM   #10
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That is correct.

Workflow looked like this. It's a bit cumbersome and there's probably a better way of doing it, but I worked like this, to try to keep things straight in my mind (since I've only been using DxO for less than a month and Photo Matix for a couple of days).

1. Copied files from card to hard drive using the finder rather than LR. DxO needs all of the metadata undisturbed to work correctly and so they recommend not using it to transfer pictures.

2. Opened DxO and chose the appropriate files for the HDR. Clicked "process now". I have the program set up to save the files as 16 bit tiff files, but you can have the program save the files in a number of different ways.

I haven't been able to get anything close to this with using CS4's HDR option either. The book I have on Lightroom (by Scott Kelby) talks about doing HDR in CS4, but even going through his suggested steps, I still wasn't able to get anything I liked. This is much easier than what he was talking about.

2. Opened Photo Matix, chose the tiff files that DxO created (which are enough sharper that the HDR picture was both better aligned and sharper) and did the tone mapping (or exposure blending, another way it can create HDR pictures). There's two different methods of tone mapping and you can switch between the two to see which one will give you the results you want for the particular scene. While the boat picture looked better with one method, everyone agrees that the lake picture looks better with the other method, so you can't make a blanket statement that one is better than the other.

3. Processed the HDR and saved it as a separate file (I also chose 16 bit tiff for this).

4. Opened the file from step 3 above in CS4. Resized the picture using bicubic sharper for screen size, added my usual smart sharpen (fine setting)/USM (contrast setting) that I use for most re-sized pictures, converted to 8 bit color and saved as jpg. I don't know if it makes a difference to save the intermediate files as 16 bit or not, but it's not like it takes much to change it (I have an action in CS4 set up for this, along with another action for the common sharpening settings so it's simply a matter of a couple of keystrokes, no time at all).

Both DxO and Photo Matix have the option of working as plug-ins with Lightroom. I may try doing essentially the same thing but starting from LR - then you don't have to keep selecting the files within the various program's open menu - they are right there in front of you in LR. But that brings up a number of other questions about where you are going to put the various intermediate files (all those tiff files) and whether you are going to use collections or not. I find LR gets slow if you have thousands of pictures in it, so I tend not to use collections, using LR mostly for working files right then, rather than as a photo organization tool. And while I usually do keep the intermediate tiff files on DVD, it's only as an afterthought. I don't want to have them added to the folders with the originals.

All this sounds far more complicated than it really is, a case of it's easy to do but not to explain. I spent little time in DxO, just enough to select the files and process them using the default settings. I spent more time in Photo Matix, playing around with the options to get something I liked. Then hardly any time in CS4 since I have the resizing, sharpening and mode change set up as actions.
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