Getting started with HDR: What software do I need for HDR?

Empty Carnaby early in the morning. A London Phonebooth stands just at the gates of Carnaby. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

HDR photos are great – and you of course can learn how to make them too! You need a piece of software, you can use it for free, but it will watermark your images. If you want to buy, it you can use the coupon code for Photomatix Pro to 15% discount:

Coupon code: caughtinpixels

Photomatix comes in different flavors at different prices, but if you want to make photos like the one of Carnaby in London above, you do require to buy the “Photomatix Pro”. It is the only one with the real artistic options.

The High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos are highly popular these days. They look awesome, and definitely look like something, you don’t get from you average snapshot camera or DSLR camera. Some have wild effects and almost look like paintings, while other are more natural looking.

What I like about HDR photography too, is how you post-process them. I find it is how close bound computers and computer graphics. I have always been fascinated with computer graphics and the combination of photography and computer based manipulation is just my cop of tea.

But how to start out on HDR photography? What software is essential?

Essential Software for HDR photography

What software is really needed for making High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos? There are many opinions on that, but there is one essential piece of software, that you really need to have and that is a piece of software to put together your bracketed exposures. When you shoot HDR photos you typically end up with at least a dark, normal and bright image of the same scene. The three images you have to merge into one image. There are many on the market, but there is one to rule them all and that is Photomatix Pro.

What Photomatix Pro will do for you is a two step process. First of all it will merge your images into a 32-bit image, which in itself is a bit flat and boring to look at. In the second step it will post-process the 32-bit image, the post processing is called tone mapping and the tone mapping is what you gave you the HDR look.

You can try out Photomatix Pro for free as long as you like, but you will get watermarks in your images. When you are ready to buy, I can offer you a discount of 15% by using this coupon code “caughtinpixels”.

Download Photomatix Pro. Get 15% off by using coupon code “caughtinpixels”.

And the next step is to learn how to use Photomatix Pro to get good results.

Then you too can make a photo like this:

Canal in old Middle ages town.

From a starting point that looks like this:

Canal in an old middle age town

Additional software for making top quality HDR images

If you really want to make a top quality HDR photo you need to do a little more than just using the image that you get out of Photomatix Pro (or any other HDR software). The tone mapping process often creates halos (bright areas around objects) and other artifacts, which you will have to fix, if you want your image to be a top quality HDR image.

If you had moving objects in the scene when you shot your three brackted shots, you will get ghosting (e.g. you can see a person twice in the image) in the photo. You can fix ghosting in Photomatix Pro, but if you are going for the top quality HDR, you can get better results if you fix it in other ways.

What you need is a piece of software that allows you to blend the three original shots and the image from Photomatix Pro, but only to extend that you decide, because it is a process that needs a human touch. The technology you need to use is called Layer Masks. What Layer Masks makes it possible to do is to stack your bracketed images and your Photomatix version on top of each other. You can then start to blend various parts of the layers together into a final image. This way you can then fix problems the image may have from Photomatix and you can fix ghosting, while you still keep the great HDR look. And that’s the way to make a top quality image and that’s why you need a piece of software that supports Layer Masks.

Both Photoshop CS and the new Photoshop CC offer Layer Masks, but if your budget doesn’t allow you to get either one, there is a completely free and very good alternative in GIMP.

Photoshop Elements does not support Layer Masks, but there is a work around allowing you to achieve the same result, but it is a more cumbersome way to do it and I really recommend using GIMP instead of Photoshop Elements, when it comes to working with Layer Masks.

Photoshop CS is now called Photoshop CC and is a cloud and service based solution, that you rent for a smaller amount to be payed each month. I live in Denmark and can get a Danish version of Photoshop CC, however, the Danish version is 15-20% more expensive than the English version and, more importantly, I can’t Google any of the Danish terms, because nobody blogs about using Photoshop CC in the Danish version. Just stick to the English one, you can get so much more help from Google.

The same goes for GIMP. Be sure to get the English one, otherwise you will run into problems, when you try to find articles to help you using GIMP.

Buy Photoshop CC

Buy Photoshop CS6 or Photoshop Elements

Download GIMP (free)

And the next step is to learn how to blend images using Layer Masks to remove halos etc. to get a top quality HDR.

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