I think it’s pretty obvious I like HDR. If it isn’t obvious I’m not sure how the title “My Life in HDR” didn’t tip you off, but welcome. Anyhow I digress, The point is I really like HDR. It solves a bunch of technical limitations of today’s cameras and allows me some creative freedom I wouldn’t normally have. Plus I think when HDR is done right, it just looks cool.
However, HDR isn’t always great. For every problem it solves – it can create other. Ghosting, halos, overly dark clouds, “smudgy” skies etc are all problems that every good HDR artists struggles to eliminate. Sometimes this can take me hours, and even then I’m not always thrilled with the end result because the problems just can’t be corrected.
Still HDR was the best option for getting a decent exposure when you had extremes in range. HDR meant never having to choose between blowing out the highlights or losing all the shadow detail, unless I wanted to of course.
Enter Lightroom 4. I’ve shown on the blog how impressive Lightroom 4 is at recovering detail from shadowy areas and saving a poorly exposed shot. Today Iwant to show you why it might just be Better at creating an HDResque photo than HDR is.
Lets start with the base image. I think we would all agree this is a poorly exposed image. The highlights are too bright, hte shadows too dark. The colors are washed out. That’s what happens when you are shooting into the sun. That’s why I shot the shot as part of an HDR bracket set.
Now lets look at this same image when processed as part of an HDR bracket set. Originally I ran the photo through Photomatix but didn’t like the result. Then I re-ran the brackets through Unified Colors Float 32 and ended up with a similar set of issues. The picture below is the one from Float 32.
At first blush the photo looks better. You can see into the shadows, you aren’t blinded by the blown out highlights. A definite improvement. Now look closer and you can start to see the problems creep to the surface. Look at the sky. Notice the dark haloing around each of the bridge cables. Both programs struggles with the change in contrast between the steel cables and the bright sky. It makes it look dirty and slightly out of alignment.
Secondly, the brightest part of the water was bad after HDR processing There were hundreds of tiny “rips” in the waves. Not visible at first but the closer I inspected, the more distracting they became. There are lots of other tiny flaws, things you don’t always catch at first but that show up like a sore thumb when you print. Not a good image.
[NOTE: The image was further processed with Nik Color Efex Pro 4 to try to salvage it hence the color difference between image 2 and 3. It didn't work. So much for that 30 minutes of my life]
Finally this is the image as edited using just Lightroom 4. I was able to recover most of the important highlights, a lot of the shadow (I could have pushed it more, but liked it a bit darker), detail on the bridge and fix the colors to look more natural. I have none of the weird “dark halo” issues that I had in the HDR image – look at the difference in the cables – and the sky is cleaner. All in all it’s a better photgraph, took 1/10th of the time and only took 1 frame not 7.
Doest that mean I’m over HDR? No, not by a long shot. There are still times when I’ll use it as an artistic choice or to solve other issues. It’s just nice to know that Lightroom 4 gives me another viable option.