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Creating High Dynamic Range Images with Photomatix Light 2.0

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High Dynamic Range (or HDR) photographs have an “image problem,” if you’ll pardon the pun. Aside from the assumption that all HDR images have an unnatural, painterly quality to them (not so!), there is also the perception that it is difficult to create HDR photos. Photoshop master Dan Moughamian presents the second in a series of articles focused on affordable and quick High Dynamic Range (HDR) software tools that can help you get started with your own HDR photography portfolio. This article covers Photomatix Light 2.0, which is an application sold by French developer HDR Soft.
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Photomatix Light 2.0 is a stand-alone program; you don’t have to launch it as a plugin from another application, and its workflow is perhaps the simplest of any application I’ve yet tried. Photomatix Light is a streamlined version of the popular Photomatix Pro application, and is designed to get you from bracketed exposures to finished HDR photo as quickly as possible. Let’s take a look.

Camera Setup and Image Evaluation

As noted in the first article, before any HDR software can work its magic, you need to handle the camera side of the process. Stabilize the camera with a tripod or other method, and take a series of three to five bracketed exposures, making sure that your aperture values and focus point are the same for every shot. This will aid alignment and focus quality. Ultimately, the reason for the bracketing is so you can capture all the tones in the scene.

What I typically do for most lighting situations is to vary the exposures by one stop and take additional shots on either side of a 0EV exposure. For example, if you have broad range of dark to light tones, you might want to capture the following exposure values for your scene: -2EV -1EV 0EV +1EV and +2EV.

Next, use your favorite raw editor to make sure the collection of images provides a good amount of tonal data in each region of the histogram. It’s also a good idea to check the focus on each shot at 100% magnification. A single blurred image can cause problems when the HDR software attempts to align the bracketed photos and remove ghost artifacts (more on these topics next).

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