You might know by now that I’m not a big fan of blindly adopting the use of plug-ins for Photoshop. A lot of the times, I find the plug-ins too expensive, and not as flexible as simply learning the steps to achieve the same effects within Photoshop. That being said, of course there is a time and a place for plug-ins just as sometimes, there is a place for the ‘auto’ function in your camera.
Another confession I have is that I’m not a passionate landscape photographer. I can be surrounded by incredible beauty of brilliant fall colors, glittering diamond encrusted waves crashing into the hard, dark unyielding cliffs and I don’t particularly feel like picking up my camera to capture it. Perhaps it is just that I haven’t yet figured out how to grasp that immense experience within a single photo. I find myself, in those situations more often then not, taking it all in as an ‘in the moment’ experience through only my senses and memory.
What does fascinate me greatly, is the sky. I love the beauty and texture found in moody skies; the subtle change in hues, and the quickness of which the vista changes. Photographing the sky was always so uneventful though. Never could I catch the depth, or the richness in the texture of the clouds.
Then along came HDR (which stands for High Dynamic Range). This process allows you to combine a number of images which have been exposed at different stops, to create an image that has a much broader range of tones then taking anyone shot could accomplish. HDR photography can be done so that the final image almost looks like a fantasy shot: more art then photography. But it can also be done in a subtle way, stretching the limits a bit without breaking them so that the final image is one that is believable.
For a fantastic step by step guide, take a look at: How to Create High Dynamic Range Images by Jack Howard. Don’t be fooled, HDR is very simple a process to understand, and a tricky one to master. Kinda like that Othello game, or so I am told…
Since CS2, Photoshop has provided us with a ‘convert to HDR’ function. I found that that function did not produce, with any ease, the images that I found to be most believable. Fiddling with the subtle highlights, tone, etc., took a lot of time, and seemed disappointing to me. I’d save that amount of work for a photo that was *really* worth it. Also, when using say, five raw images, I found my cs2, cs3 (and yes, I upgraded to cs4 as well) to slow down to sluggish if not crash on me. Then I stumbled across Photomatrix. This is a wonderful program that can be a stand alone or a plug in. I choose the stand alone version. It is nothing short of amazing. It can crunch through seven RAW files and not even blink. Here’s an example of the work I was able to do. (These photos were just taken off of my backyard deck, for illustration. They have not been processed except to convert then to HDR.)
I took five images with an exposure difference of one stop:
And here is what I came up with. The first image I created an HDR using the tone mapping method found within Photomatrix, and the second image I used the simple blending ‘faux’ convert to HDR method in Photomatrix. The latter image is a bit more washed out, but I’m sure that could be fixed with some further post processing in photoshop. In either case, both images are a lot more richer in the sky detail especially in the Tone Mapping method.
I doubt I will ever get paid to take pictures of the sky, or any landscape, but the satisfaction I get out of seeing a photo of my favourate sky produced a little bit closer to how I saw it with my own eyes was worth every bit of money I spent on that plug-in.