I took a set of XPan frames of a scene in Iceland back in 2009, with the express purpose of seeing if I could make an HDR composite from them, and get the gritty, high contrast, low saturation “grim up north” look so beloved of brands such as 66 North.
There are 3 exposures, one “normal”, one 1 stop below, one 1 stop above. I decided to try running them through Nik HDR Efex (NHE from now on). On the first try I fell at the first hurdle. Although NHE has an auto-align feature, it cannot cope with input images with different sizes. Since I had tidied the scans up a bit, they were all slightly different.
So I rescanned all three using exactly the same size, and tried again. Unfortunately, it is absolutely impossible to get three completely independent scans exactly aligned, so alignment was still required. At least now they were the same size. So, back into NHE. The input processing takes something like 15 minutes or more with these large images, but again the results were hopeless. The alignment was completely off.
So I decided to try pre-aligning with Photoshop’s Auto Align. This worked fine, very well in fact. So having nearly perfectly aligned images, I fed them back into NHE. And 15 minutes later, NHE mangled them way out of alignment. Back to the drawing board. I turned off “alignment” in NHE, and gave it another go. This time it worked, or well enough. In terms of alignment there are still some artifacts at 100% zoom but for smaller viewing sizes it works.
So then it was off to fiddling with the wide range of settings in NHE, and eventually I got something close to what I wanted.
However, with film as the input, NHE makes grain explode. I had to do a lot of cleaning up, especially in the sky, and the results are most certainly gritty.
It would probably have been a lot easier to do it with digital, but there is a rather unique look coming out of film here, and have got a process that sort of works, I might try refining it.