Photomerge Exposure


 

The HDR community has been talking a lot about using Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom to create HDR images which look much more natural.[1]

Just recently I read an article by Andrew Steele in HDR One, the online magazine dedicated to HDR about this very process.[2] The idea is that you use the Merge To HDR facility in Lightroom to send your brackets to Photoshop’s HDR Pro and then bring the 32 bit HDR file, saved as a TIFF, back to Lightroom for final adjustments.

Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop CS6 – Merge to HDR

In Lightroom you only have 3 sliders to worry about,

  • Highlights (fully to the left)
  • Shadows (fully to the right)
  • Clarity (generally, fully to the right)

Sounds pretty simple and if, like me, you prefer to create more natural looking images, it’s definitely something I’d like to investigate. However, not everyone has Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom, I know I don’t, but I have downloaded 30 day trial versions of both, enabling me to give it a try.

In the meantime, I was wondering if good results could be achieved using PhotoMatix, probably the most used HDR software, and say Photoshop Elements.

Straight away, I’ve run into a problem. Photoshop and Lightroom can work with 32 bit TIFF files, and that’s what this procedure calls for. Elements, however is strictly 16 bit and the HDR file from PhotoMatix is 32 bit, meaning Elements will not open the PhotoMatix file.

But there is a solution of sorts. Photoshop Elements has guided modules and one of those modules is called PhotoMerge Exposure.

Elements

Adobe PhotoShop Elements – Photomerge Exposure

Adobe recommend Photomerge Exposure to efficiently handle scenes in photos with exposure challenges. You can blend two photos together to get a perfectly exposed photo. Sounds familiar.

Steve mentioned in his article that the Lightroom/ Photoshop combination didn’t work so well in all situations. I’d be interested to see if this was the case with Elements. For this little test I’m going to be trying a combination of different situations, using both Elements and the Lightroom/Photoshop combination.

  • Daytime
  • Sunset
  • Inside
  • Hand Held
  • On a Tripod

So let’s get started. If you want to see larger versions of these images (1360 x 900) just click on the image and it will take you to my Flickr account.

Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop CS6 – Merge to HDR

Taken on a rainy, grey day, using the tripod. This was a bracket of 3 (-2 to +2) from a Pentax K-30. Here’s the Adobe Elements version.

Elements

Adobe PhotoShop Elements – Photomerge Exposure

After the Photomerge Exposure, all I did was get Elements to Auto Smart Fix the image. It’s a one step procedure, which corrects overall colour balance and improves shadow and highlight detail, if necessary. Is that what Lightroom’s three sliders, Highlights, Shadows and Clarity are doing? I’m not sure but I know what version of the two above I like.

The next image was taken on a sunny but cloudy day. It’s a bracket of 3 again (-2 to +2) only this time it’s hand-held. First up I’ll show you the Photoshop version

Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop CS6 – Merge to HDR

I don’t really know what to say about this one. I did have to dial back the clarity slider because the whole image justĀ  looked too harsh. Bright sunlight doesn’t look good, that’s for sure. Let’s see what Elements can do.

Elements

Adobe PhotoShop Elements – Photomerge Exposure

Much better, I used the same procedure as the earlier image, finishing it off by using Auto Smart Fix. One thing I will say, I like the colour and tone of this image, it doesn’t look as harsh as the Photoshop version, but I’m not so sure about the shadow area at the base of the tree. It’s just a little too dark.

For my next image I’m going to move inside to Wells Cathedral and the cloisters

Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop CS6 – Merge to HDR

Photoshop has done a good job with this one. You can clearly see the door at the end of the passage, especially if you enlarge the image. You’ll also notice the ghosting of the lady in red. My fault, I forgot to correct it. This is a bracket of 5 (-2 to +2), the camera was mounted on a tripod.

OK! The Elements version for comparison.

Elements

Adobe PhotoShop Elements – Photomerge Exposure

Here I think the saturation is a bit too strong. I could dial it back but I wanted to show the images, without any additional processing. The only exception was the church which really was extremely harsh. I have a problem though. Once again the shadows look a little too dark. In the larger, full-scale image on Flickr you can see the door but only just. On the plus side, Elements took care of the ghosting automatically.

Staying inside, this is a bracket of three (-2 to +2). I wasn’t allowed to set up the tripod so it had to be a bit of a snatched shot. Outside was a bright sunny day with clear blue skies. As usual I will present the Photoshop version first.

Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop CS6 – Merge to HDR

It’s pretty obvious what is wrong here. Something has gown wrong at the alignment stage in the Merge To HDR. Either that or Photoshop could handle the mis-alignment of the images. How did Elements manage this one?

Photoshop

Adobe PhotoShop Elements – Photomerge Exposure

You can see that the alignment is fine, once again the colours look richer, but of concern is the dome area, where those golden stars are just a black mass.

My final image is a bracket set of 5 (-2 to +2) and is hand-held. It was taken in southern Spain on a sunny day in early spring.

Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop CS6 – Merge to HDR

Probably in these two images is the difference between both methods most obvious, The upper image is brighter, looks sharper, but in that brightness the sky has almost lost definition. Whereas, the bottom image looks softer, but you can definitely see the clouds and overall colour is certainly different from the top image

Elements

Adobe PhotoShop Elements – Photomerge Exposure

If I were seriously going to use this as an alternative to tone-mapping I would go with the Adobe Photoshop Elements every time. I just prefer the results that can be achieved, with the exception of the shadow areas, which could be considerably brighter.

[1] Trey’s Variety Hour – Episode 48

[2] 32 Bit HDR File Editing

 

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7 thoughts on “Photomerge Exposure

    • I used to use Photoshop but it was getting too expensive to upgrade it all the time. I analysed how much of pshop I was actually using and realised that I could get everything done just as easily with Elements. The organiser is crap compared to Lightroom but it does work so I will stick with it

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  1. Very informative, Mike, thanks! I have PS Elements 9 (a gift) but am not using it since it wants to take over the organization of my photo files before it will upload the program files. HDR function on free-ware Picassa 3 is all I’m using right now. PS: I’ve been a Pentax fan since I the K1000. Currently use the K-01 (rated semi-pro, the camera, certainly not me) and have used its built in HDR feature with qualified success.

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    • Hi Cheryl, the K-30’s HDR function is so-so, although they say it has the same engine as the K-01. Up until now I have always used dedicated HDR programs but the one thing they all have in common is noise. It’s the very nature of tone-mapping that you will induce noise. That’s why I like this process. My merged photographs are cleaner, a little flat maybe, but nothing that can’t be corrected in Elements.

      I love the K-30. Although it’s supposed to be an entry-level camera it’s got far more features than my aging Samsung GX-10 (K-10d in disguise). I’ve been very impressed with speed of the autofocus system and the high ISO noise levels, which are minimum

      Mike

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      • Thanks for explaining the connection between noise and HDR programs. I’ve noticed the image looks fine when editing but when load it up to my blog the noise is obvious.

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  2. So many interesting details and great shots here Mike. I am still plodding along in the slow lane with any processing still confined to iPhoto tools. I look at Photoshop and Lightroom but with so much to chose from I give up and leave it to another day. Also, I did take advantage of a free trial of PS but haven’t managed to download it properly yet, by which time the 30 days will soon be over. . . .

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