A place for experimental photographers

Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR plug-in

Ever since my taste for HDR photography started to develop, I’ve always used Photomatix Pro and thought that it’s all I will ever need to process my HDR images. Recently, however, I have started experimenting with Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR plug-in and the results can be seen below.

I have to say that I like these images more than the ones processed with Photomatix Pro. In my opinion, the Merge to HDR plug-in gives them a more natural look and gives the user an opportunity to control different aspects of the picture. Obviously, you can achieve a similar effect with Photomatix Pro but Photoshop has changed the way I was shooting my HDR. Since Photomatix can process RAW, TIFF and even JPEG files, I’ve been always capturing one RAW file, creating and exporting brackets to 16bit TIFFs and finally stacking them together. This is called ‘HDR from a single RAW‘ and I’ve always been promoting this kind of HDR photography. It’s easier and more practical when shooting moving objects but it does produce considerably more noise as a single RAW file contains far less information about the dynamic range. When I captured 3 RAW files (-2/0/+2EV) and processed them in Merge to HDR, I realised how little noise the final output produces, comparing to HDR from a single RAW images. Unfortunately, Merge to HDR will only process RAW files.

I think I will still shoot HDR from a single RAW, but only when it’s absolutely necessary. Like I said, genuine HDR produces far better quality and far less noise but it’s also more challenging, simply because you will have to take three pictures while holding your camera as still as you can. However, there are ways to compensate for the difficult conditions of genuine handheld HDR photography. First of all, use a tripod whenever possible to reduce camera shake or at least a monopod. If you don’t have or cannot use one, use your camera’s auto-bracketing mode combined with your camera’s high burst mode. That way the brackets will be taken really fast one after another. Finally, take advantage of the Vibration Reduction if your lens is equipped with a VR engine. Finally, try to maintain a natural posture as tense muscles will make your arms shake after a while.

Remember, to produce brackets, your camera will have to adjust the shutter speed in each capture. In order to produce an overexposed bracket, the shutter speed will be considerably slower than for the two other brackets. Always start with the shutter speed ranging from 1/60 to 1/80s and not less. Otherwise, the overexposed bracket will be blurred due to extremely slow shutter speed ranging around 1/20s, which is too slow even for an extremely steady hand.

Thanks for tuning in and good luck with your HDR exploration.

If you are interested in exploring HDR photography, make sure you subscribe to Farbspiel’s HDR cookbook, which is currently the most comprehensive HDR photography blog.

Also, there is a very detailed HDR tutorial on Picture Correct.

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8 responses

  1. Great post – a good, informative read as always! I’ve been getting into HDR recently and even sold an HDR image to a major magazine recently so very keen to learn everything I can to improve my technique and hopefully get some more work. Keep up the good work! 🙂

    October 26, 2011 at 2:10 am

    • There’s nothing like the relief of fniding what you’re looking for.

      November 1, 2011 at 8:41 am

  2. Great atrilce, thank you again for writing.

    November 1, 2011 at 2:15 am

  3. Great! thanks for the share!

    November 15, 2011 at 3:05 am

  4. Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely well written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR plug-in . Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely comeback.

    January 25, 2012 at 1:26 am

  5. Good job dude, keep up the very good work.

    February 20, 2012 at 6:48 pm

  6. Yeah! Excellent piece, continue to keep up the terrific work.

    March 5, 2012 at 3:33 am

  7. I found your site on google, Love your blog. However thanks for this good experience to read your article.

    March 7, 2012 at 12:40 am

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