Guide to HDR Photography: Part 2


Check Your Histogram* – You might have seen one of these before and not thought much of it. A histogram is a graph that shows the distribution of light captured in an image. It’s like having each pixel of your picture line up according to its tonal value. The taller the line, the more pixels you have at that value. The right side of the graph represents white and the left side, black. If the distribution in your histogram is touching either side, that means information is missing from the scene. It’s crucial to check because the goal here is to make sure you’ve captured all of the available light. If you haven’t, adjust your exposure as needed to compensate. The pictures below show a series of histograms that would pass the histogram review.

*Not to be confused with Hipstergram, which is another eBook and set of commentary entirely.

Nikon D7000 Histogram

Under Exposed (-2) – Normal Exposure (0) – Over Exposed (+2)


Check for Movement – It can be heartbreaking to think that you’ve captured an amazing set of bracketed shots only to find that your overexposed (+2) is blurry and unusable when you get home. Don’t make that mistake. Check for blur by zooming in and pixel peeping. It’s okay.


{Collect $200}


Load Your Shots – You might not actually collect $200 for this next step but you’ll feel like you’ve passed GO all the same. With Photomatix open, click LOAD BRACKETED PHOTOS. Find and select your photos and click OK. (If you have Lightroom or Aperture, plugins allow you to export to Photomatix directly).

Photomatix Application Window

Photomatix (version 5.0) Application Window


Photomatix Version 4.0 and Version 5.0 Dialog

Version 5.0 Dialog – Version 4.0 Dialog


A new dialog box will open with a few check boxes. We typically only use the first check box, which tells Photomatix whether or not to align your images and in what manner to do so. Make sure you select the appropriate option based on how you took the pictures. Feel free to mess around with the other options to get acquainted with them. Sometimes the REDUCE CHROMATIC ABERRATIONS option comes in handy. When you’ve made your final decisions in this window, click PREPROCESS and hold on to your hat and glasses! Now is when things start to take shape and get really fun.


When Photomatix finishes churning, the screen below will open with a first look at your new HDR. The default settings are a little dull and in need of tweaking. (Not twerking. This is a twerk-free zone.) Can you see why we need all three exposures from the examples below? The normal is nice but the light fixtures are blown out and the shadows are lost. The under exposed gives us the information we need for the lights. The over exposed shows what’s lurking in the shadows (like the chairs at the table by the window!).

Normal Exposure (0) – Under Exposed (-2) – Over Exposed (+2)


While Photomatix has a few different methods for processing HDR, we stick with the DETAILS ENHANCER 99% of the time. Let’s take a look at those sliders!



Strength – This affects the overall enhancement to details. We keep it set pretty close to 100 most of the time.
Color Saturation – As straightforward as this might sound, it will surprise you with how much it varies. Some photos might look dull until you get up near 80, while others look great at 40.
Tone Compression/Luminosity – This adjusts how much the shadows and highlights are pulled toward the midtones. Moving the slider to the right will make your photo look more like a painting. Move it to the left for a more natural look.
Detail Contrast – This further enhances details. A higher setting will make your image darker, with more blacks.
Lighting Adjustments – This is where things can really go crazy. In a way, it’s similar to the Tone Compression/Luminosity slider. Moving this to the right will create a more natural looking image. Moving this to the left will create something that was probably dreamt up at Woodstock. Choose wisely…
Smooth Highlights / Shadows – Dials back some of the tone compression from the Strength, Tone Compression and Lighting Adjustments sliders.
White/ Black Point – Adjusts overall image contrast. Every other setting is pretty dependent on how these are set.
Gamma – This adjusts midtones brighter or darker.
Micro-Smoothing – This adjusts enhancement to small details and has a big role to play in how much texture an image has. A higher value can be great for smoothing a sky.


Don’t let the sliders overwhelm you. Take them one at a time and adjust them to your liking. There’s really no right or wrong way! When you’re happy, you’re done. Click APPLY & FINISH and save your new HDR image. Each new image will behave differently and present its own unique challenges. Tackle them like the pro that you are and keep growing!


Here’s the final image nice and big! (After a few additional adjustments in Photoshop.)
Inside the lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel at Disney California Adventure