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Like this article? We recommend Improved UI, Tone Compression, and Method Controls

Improved UI, Tone Compression, and Method Controls

While the HDR Efex Pro 2 user interface is similar to version 1, there are new additions including a more efficient Presets Library (easier to browse by category now), and a new History panel that lets you step through your HDR process (you can also use the shortcuts assigned in Photoshop for “Step Backward” and “Step Forward”). More importantly, the HDR software engine that “maps” all the tones in your exposures into a single shot has been refined and improved. This allows you to better emphasize certain areas and to protect important details.

Figure 2 shows the user interface in its default configuration, showing presets at left, a large preview in the central part of the window, and HDR panel controls at right.

Figure 2 HDR Efex Pro 2’s presets workflow has been improved, and offers more powerful and intuitive controls for Tone Compression and HDR Method.

To get started, choose a preset (the Realistic and Landscape presets produce the most authentic photographic looks). When you’ve found one you like, close the panels on the left side of the interface to allow for a larger preview. For this example, I chose the Balanced preset, which creates a good amount of contrast and detail, without looking surreal. Once that’s done, open the Tone Compression settings.

You’ll notice in Figure 3, the HDR Method (the “style of HDR” that the plugin applies as a starting point) has been given a complete overhaul in HDR Efex Pro 2. Instead of having a long list of “method presets” to choose from—and often having to try several of them to get a good start—we now have three simple controls:

  • The Depth control is a great way to prevent your image from looking too flat; it looks at the high contrast areas of your image, and accentuates them in different ways to create the illusion of added depth in the frame. For very high contrast shots, I leave this set to Normal most of the time, and for lower contrast shots, the Strong setting can make a nice improvement, as it does here.
  • The Detail control acts a lot like the Clarity setting in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom, accentuating regions of local contrast, either by smoothing them out or making their texture more obvious. For this setting, I often choose Realistic or Accentuated, depending on how important the textural and small details are to the shot. In this case, the softer look of Realistic was more appropriate for the smooth and rounded rocks, and the cascading creek.
  • The Drama control adds an extra “kick” to the contrast; it tends to brighten the brightest areas as you choose stronger settings, while darkening some of the darker areas. Here again I tend to leave this set to Natural or Deep, as the stronger settings are over-the-top for my taste, at least with landscape or architectural subject matter.
  • When the software combines these three settings, they create the “HDR Method.” Thus, you can use the Method Strength slider (near the top of the panel) to make the combined look of the settings I just described, more apparent or more subtle. You may need to zoom in to at least 50% to see how the details in the shot react to changes in Method Strength. Sometimes a relatively large boost is needed to see any obvious difference.

The Tone Compression slider (also shown in Figure 3) works in tandem with Method Strength, allowing you to control the overall range of tones. The further left you move this control (into the negative values), the more the very bright highlights (things close to white) and the darkest tones (close to black) will clip (becoming white or black, respectively). The further right you move it (positive values), the less clipping there will be anywhere in the image, and the flatter the image will become. In the latter case, you are “pushing all the tones towards the middle” of the Histogram. Here I reduced the compression from the preset value slightly to enhance the contrast and background detail, while giving a boost to the Drama setting and Method Strength to add some perceived depth.

Figure 3 The Tone Compression settings allow you to gain more control over the details and tonal range of your HDR photo.

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