I am continuing with some experiments that have been spawned by my interest from the sunset pics a couple of weeks ago.  In that experiment I toyed with the idea of minimizing my exposure brackets for HDR from 5 to 3, staying within the +/-2 EV range but throwing out the +/-1.  I found it pretty well received and although there are some great reasons for reducing my brackets to 3, I have yet to practice it.  I am still addicted to the 5 exposure bracket capturing for the simple fact that, what happens if I don’t get those +/-1 EV brackets?  I know the world will not come crashing down and humanity will still progress, but I just can;t seem to let go.

For this weeks experiment I am throwing around the idea of the +/-1 and +/-2 EV’s being created in Photoshop.  You can very easily take a single RAW file and successfully turn it into five 16 bitt TIFF files and merge them for HDR in Photomatix or the like, but is there any difference in quality from 5 bracketed exposures from the camera?

The Experiment Details:

The Control Group

  • To conduct the experiment accurately, I photographed the following image using Auto Exposure Bracketing @ 5 exposures with a +/-2 EV range @ 1 EV per exposure (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2 EV) in RAW format.
  • I then processed them in Photomatix Pro 4.2.
  • Finally,I processed the tone mapped image in Photoshop CS 6.
Variable #1
  • I took the 0 EV image from the bracketed set.
  • I brought it into Photoshop CS 6 and bi-passed the ACR interface.
  • I ran an Action on the image that would break it down into 5 separate TIFF images at different exposures using the  Exposure Adjustment Layer (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2 EV).
  • I then ran them through Photomatix using the same settings as the Control Group.
  • Finally, I applied the same processing techniques used in the control group as well.

Variable #2

  • I took the 0 EV image from the bracketed set.
  • I brought it into Photoshop CS 6 and applied a generous Clarity (+100) and Noise Reduction adjustment to it..
  • I ran the Action on the image that would break it down into 5 separate TIFF images at different exposures using the  Exposure Adjustment Layer (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2 EV).
  • I then ran them through Photomatix using the same settings as the Control Group and Variable #1.
  • Finally, I applied the same processing techniques used in the previous images, with the exception of the High Pass sharpen layer as the Clarity slider took care of that pretty well for me.

Here are the results:

 

The Conclusion:

Based on this experiment, I am thinking option #3 may be the best.  I did not want to come to that conclusion, but look at the highlight control in the mortar, the blowouts are at a minimum.  The shadows look much more realistic.  My only complaint, the saturation in the reds got a little out of hand, but that could have been handled easily enough with the hue saturation adjustment layer.  However, modifying it for the saturation would have thrown off the control group.  Also notice the detail in the metal, the sculpted forge marks are impeccable!

So what have I learned from this experiment?  Instead of pulling my hair out trying to get the perfect bracketed series of exposures, I have other options.  This will be especially important with scenes that contain a lot of movement.  Or how about those incredible shots you have of animals at the zoo?  This method would seem to suit those quite well.

You can be sure that I will continue to experiment with these “pseudo” methods.  In the past I never would have paid them any mind, I was an avid advocate that anything but brackets was cheating, fake, and not true HDR.  Since then, my mind has matured about what HDR really is, it is the extraction of a higher level of dynamic range from any one scene.  Does that mean that you must shoot brackets?  No, it alludes that you can do whatever you can within your means to extract that higher level of dynamic range.

What do you think?

Blake Rudis
f.64 Academy and f.64 Elite are the brainchildren of Blake Rudis. While he is a landscape photographer he is most passionate about post-processing images in Photoshop and mentoring others.

For Blake, it is less about the art and more about the process. He dives deep into difficult topics and makes them easy to understand through his outside the box thinking.
Blake Rudis on EmailBlake Rudis on FacebookBlake Rudis on InstagramBlake Rudis on PinterestBlake Rudis on TwitterBlake Rudis on Youtube