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The technique involves exposing a range of identically framed shots at shutter speeds calculated to expose for points between the darkest and lightest parts of an image. By default, where an image contains extremes of light and dark, cameras only expose perfectly for a part of the picture, whereas the naked eye is quick enough to compensate for the variations in light reflecting from the various surfaces included in the field of vision. The picture here for example might have been challenging because the sky is much brighter than the tree so a choice for a single exposure would be to expose for the sky, leaving the tree as a silhouette, or to expose for the tree, leaving the sky to be blown out. With HDR I take a range of shots at different shutter speeds and build a composite in software to get the optimal exposures combined in one image.
I’ve used Nik Software’s HDR Pro 2 for these shots, partly because I’m a big fan of Silver Efex Pro, their essential Black & White plug in for Lightroom & Photoshop, and partly because I’m trying to achieve results that are on the lifelike end of the scale, something that Nik advertise as a strength of their software. This is an entirely subjective decision, I like drama in a photograph, but like Techno or Heavy Metal, it can be wearing if it’s applied indiscriminately. Objectively, I decided that using realism as a yardstick would present a measurable and repeatable test of the software.
Those familiar with Nik Software will know that the user is presented with a range of presets, choose one that is close to what you want to achieve and fine tune it. All of the presets are achievable from the default image in any case, and some people prefer to start with the default and add to it selectively.
I use Adobe Lightroom to organise my pictures, here the original images are exported to HDR Pro. Note that the behaviour of other Nik plug ins is different, the user chooses “Edit in….”. This is slightly confusing, but makes sense since this is not an edit, but a composite of multiple images. The images are automatically aligned, but that doesn’t mean that you can throw random images at it. Ideally, the shots should be taken using a tripod so they match pretty exactly. I separated the images by one half stop, so in this case from -1.5 to +1 on the meter, giving me six images ranging from darkest to lightest. They don’t have to be in order, I shot the dark darler images progressively from 0 and then shot the lighter images. The software loads the images, aligns them and produces (in time) the default HDR image.
HDR Pro 2 does not work with presets from HDR Pro which may disappoint some people. The reason is the software has been radically overhauled, using new tone mapping algorithms and bringing the user interface into line with Nik’s other programs so legacy presets are now deprecated. It won’t take long before new presets are available, but for now, including the default rendering, there are 28 presets ranging from the realistic, through black & white to the properly hallucinatory. The screen can be split showing both the default and the edit in progress and the controls offer Nik’s proprietory U-Point technology to work on sections of the picture and a range of generalised controls allowing the user to adjust tone mapping, colour, contrast etc across the whole image.
I’m beginning to like this software, it achieves what should be the aim of all software; it allows the user to get on with the creative work rather than wrestle with obscure and obdurate user interfaces. I’m not a massive fan of the overblown school of HDR Photography although the results are undeniably impressive, however HDR is an interesting branch of photography. The software, be it Photomatix, HDR Pro or Photoshop itself is getting more sophisticated and it certainly has a place in the kitbag.
Followers of iPhoneography will know Snapseed for its iPhone and iPad implementations. It is in my opinion the best value and possibly the most full featured editing app available to mobile photographers. Nik Software of course are equally well known for their professional editing tools Silver Efex Pro and Viveza to name but two. The release of Snapseed for the desktop at £13 in the Mac Store poses an interesting question – who is it aimed at exactly?
I decided to test the capabilities of the software using a problematic photograph I’d taken in Iceland. In the original RAW file, the picture was underexposed because of the unusual amount of pure white snow in the picture. I needed to boost the exposure to bring the snow up to the brilliant white it was in real life, but in so doing, lost the detail of the mountains. Bringing the red jacket through completely overexposed the snow.
I exported the file to jpeg as it was intended for the internet – this immediately set me on the path to a downgraded picture, so it may have been better to have taken the RAW file, however Snapseed does not offer the same degree of control over the RAW image as Aperture, relying on the underlying OS support for RAW in order to deal with the picture.
Snapseed offers two categories of adjustment, Basic and Creative. The Creative adjustments are mainly combinations of filters and textures – not what I was after here. The Basic controls offer Image tuning, Cropping & Straightening and Details. Given the issues I mentioned earlier, the main work was going to have to be selective. I needed to bring out the red of the woman’s jacket and bring up the detail of the mountain in the background.
Snapseed uses the same u-point technology in Image Tuning that Nik apply to their professional tools. Click on the area you need to adjust to create a Control point, adjust the size of the control point so that the changes are localised and then apply contrast, saturation and brightness as required. These controls gave me exactly what I needed. I was then able to use Details to bring out the structure. Time elapsed – about fifteen minutes.
For £13, this software is good value – as a taster for the professional tools it is excellent. I would not use it to create prints or images for print publication, but for internet publication I think its fine.
Positives: RAW Support, Ease of use, speed, price
Negatives: limited feature set (but very reasonable for the price)
Conclusion – although the feature set is limited, it is capable. This is very much a fun application delivering decent results quickly and easily. It does not offer the same levels of resolution as Aperture or Photoshop. Its mobile photography++. iPhone editing for the desktop and an inexpensive introduction to Nik Software!