I’ve always been pretty suspicious of HDR. When Photoshop originally turned up with “merge to HDR” in CS2, I certainly tried it out, but was unable to get anything but the most ghastly results. Certainly nothing that could persuade me that it was a better technique for dealing with high contrast than masking two exposures. Where HDR has been highly and successfully exposed, through sites such as Trey Ratcliffe’s “Stuck in Customs”, all I can say is “de gustibus non est disputandum” - it doesn’t appeal to my tastes, but I can recognise that it can be a valid artistic decision.
However (funny how my second paragraphs often start off with “however”), I have carried on fiddling about with now and again, and have evaluated a fair number of software tools. I finally decided to take the plunge, and buy Nik HDR Efex Pro. Partly because I like Nik software in general, but mainly based on what I could see on Jason Odells, “Luminescence of Nature” web site. Odell, along with Tony Sweet, shows a series of “natural” HDR landscapes which are far more to my taste than Ratcliffe’s ultravividity, and started to convince me that maybe HDR can be worthwhile.
So, early one morning last week I set off to try it out in practice. I wanted to see if HDR could provide me with a more satisfying image in a situation where contrast was high, but still just about manageable in a single exposure.
First, here is the single exposure which I find the most acceptable (Olympus E-3, f/11, 0.6s at 1SO 100, +0.3ev):
Next, an HDR image from HDR Efex Pro, using 5 exposures at 1ev intervals, starting with HDR Efexs’s default setting, and adding a little “structure” and 10 points on the “Method strength” slider:
The differences are not that huge. First of all, I think that the HDR image remains credible, which is the first hurdle. It also shows more tonal detail in the mid-tones and shadows (the submerged stones, for example). However, it also slightly exaggerates the highlights. Well, seeing as this was only my second attempt, using a software package with a vast array of adjustments and options, I would say it holds some promise.
The application itself is very nicely done. Easily the best HDR application I’ve tried in terms of ease of use and general workflow. The inclusion of Nik’s U-Point system for targeted local adjustments is a unique selling point, and a very effective tool.
I doubt that I’m going to turn into an HDR maven - although I must confess that I can’t deny a certain cheap thrill sometimes in turning all the sliders up to 11 - but in some circumstances it looks like it can add clear value to the end result.