Friday, March 4, 2011

The Case For HDR Toning Over Merge To HDR Pro

In Monet's Garden 2011
Okay, if you click on today's image you'll see that it's a couple steps beyond just plain HDR.  The scene kind of reminded me of any of several Claude Monet paintings, so I "finished it" with a Pointillism Filter (Filters/Pixelate/Pointillize)  with the minimum (3) Cell Size.  I really didn't like what it did to the sky, so I popped on a Layer Mask I had already made (and used several times) to bring the sky back to a non-HDR, non-Pointillized state.  If you follow this blog at all you've probably seen me say that I don't particularly like HDR'd skies.  The final image (sans Pointillazation) looks just about exactly like the three shot Merge to HDR Pro version without the issues (I hate that expression, they're problems) I ran into with HDR Pro.  If I wasn't fussy about the sky and could accept the sky pushed by HDR Pro there wouldn't be any problems.  Then I took the shots with HDR in mind I set the camera to a five step (one stop per step)auto-bracket and fired away.  Because of the scene, no tripod was used.  The exposures were 1/2000, 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, and 1/125 at F8 with a focal length of 57 mm at a 35 mm equivalent.   With those spec hand holding was not a problem.  I used the high, low and mid exposures to make a three shot HDR.  The bench, which didn't move at all came out tack sharp.  The trees on the other hand had some movement in them.  With the Remove Ghosts checkbox ticked HDR Pro picked the middle exposure as the base of its selection.  That was fine because I wanted to use the middle exposure to bring the sky back to a natural condition.  That's when the stuff hit the fan.  To find out about the trials and tribulations I ran into, hit the "read more".

I figured I was in. I used the middle exposure for the sky and HDR Pro used the same exposure to Remove Ghosts. No problem, right? Not so much. I made a Alpha Channel Mask using Calculations (Image/Calculations) to create a nice, sharp, solid black and white mask. It looked great with all the fine detail I could ask for. The trouble started when I applied the Mask to the original image which I had brought over as a Layer. I looked like it was a couple pixels off from the HDR Pro image. Using the Move Tool (V) I tried going left, right, up and down one pixel at a time. I also went up one/left one, right one/down one and any combination you can think of trying to match the Mask to the image. It was a no go.

I made a Alpha Channel Mask the opposite way and applied it to the opposite Layer. Still a no go. I tried combining the two Masks and that was a total disaster. I just couldn't find a pair that didn't look like a blurry image. I lined up individual branches, the edge of the house, the setting arrangement, the hedges, you name it and I probably looked at it. It just looked blurry.

I didn't think HDR Toning would produce as nice a feeling in the scene as doing a Merge to HDR Pro, but I had to try something. As it happened, I was able to get almost the exact same results with HDR Toning as I had with HDR Pro. My experience is that that doesn't happen too often. In fact, this is the first time I was happy with the result. From there it was a piece of cake. I Duplicated the image (Image/Duplicate) to have an exact copy to do the HDR Toning. I did make the Layer Mask before duplicating the image so I could reverse the procedure without needing to make another Mask if needed. Didn't need it. I did the HDR Toning to one copy, brought the other copy other as a Layer, popped on the Alpha Channel Mask and was in.

From there it was the typical saturating of colors (Red. Yellow, Green, Cyan, and Blue [Magenta had no effect] using Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers. Contrast was increased using a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer (I know, it's like using a sledge hammer to put in a tack). It was sharpened using a High Pass Filter (Filter/Other/High Pass) and vignetted with another Layer Mask. Between each major inflection point the entire stack was converted to a Smart Object. That permits going back to the original Background Layer, making any changes and updating the final image without needing to delete anything that was done from start to finish. A great way to use Smart Objects.