HDR Efex Pro 2 is the first major upgrade to the popular High Dynamic Range plugin for Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Lightroom. Before HDR plugins like this one, photographers had to “pick their poison” when faced with a high contrast scene. Because of limitations with digital sensors (and previously, with film), we had to choose between capturing either the highlight details or the shadow details (never both), while also capturing a range of mid-tone details. HDR Efex Pro 2 helps us work around these limitations.
Technically, the option of “blending highlights and shadow details” has existed for many years as a manual layering and masking technique in Photoshop, but it is often time-consuming when more than two exposures are required. HDR can impact every part of an image and in subtle ways; for that reason, trying to re-create the effect with layers and masks is very challenging in many cases.
HDR Efex Pro 2 automates this “layering process” and then allows you to set the look of the photo using a variety of presets, tone-mapping controls, color settings, and finishing options. This article covers the biggest changes to the HDR Efex Pro workflow since version 1, so that you can get started making HDR photos right away!
New Merge Dialog
One of the biggest changes to HDR Efex Pro 2 is the process of choosing and merging your exposures. Nik Software (now a Google company) added a new stage to the process (see Figure 1) that allows you to:
- Choose which of your shots will serve as the “baseline exposure”
- Examine the details of the HDR preview for evidence of ghost artifacts or chromatic aberration (CA)
- Set the degree of ghost removal and chromatic aberration removal
- Ensure that all of the shots are properly aligned once they are merged together
Figure 1 HDR Efex Pro 2’s new Merge dialog is very helpful for handling ghosts, CA, and setting the “base look” for your HDR photo.
Once you’ve loaded your chosen shots into the dialog, the first step is to examine the preview and then click each one of the thumbnail photos at the top of the window, waiting a few seconds after each click to see how each changes the preview. This process can help to identify ghosts, and remove any color artifacts or halos that may appear in the initial preview, particularly if there’s a bright, direct light source in the frame. Once you settle on the thumbnail you like best, use the magnifying glass on the preview to open a special two-mode loupe.
This loupe will magnify the shot at different levels, depending on whether you choose the Deghosting mode or the Chromatic Aberration mode. Just click the highlighted text, then drag the loupe around to magnify different parts of the preview. If you find evidence of ghosting (for example, leaves that are blurred because they moved slightly from one exposure to the next) or CA (color fringes, typically found along high contrast edges), you can use the controls on the right side of the window to remove these artifacts to varying degrees.
This method gives you more control than an “on-off” control, so experiment a bit and re-check the preview as you go, to see which settings work best.
Finally, you can use the new slider control directly beneath the preview to set your “white point” and overall brightness in the scene. Typically I will brighten things just to the point where the brightest details start to clip, knowing that I can often “recover” them at the next stage of the process, and also add simulated “fill light” if the processed preview ends up looking a little dark. Once you’re done, click the Create HDR button to merge the data in your exposures and move to the next step.