Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro reveals photographic details previously hidden to the naked eye

Other controls are happily familiar, and do pretty much what one would expect of them, including Exposure, Contrast, Saturation, etc. It's simple and quick to adjust these controls, and any changes made to them show up immediately in the image.

Tone mapping

A function called Tone Mapping is the heart of every HDR application, and some are better than others. Nik has created four different tone mapping algorithms as a way to increase the application's flexibility.

Fortunately, the details of these are hidden behind more friendly names like Sharp, Clean, Dingy, Diffused, Fresco, Harsh Details, etc. These are available from a selection list, and can be applied by simply selecting your choice. And once selected, it's possible to change the amount of effect applied by percentages.

See Figure B with a 50% application of the BrightSoft filter. This is similar to the way Photoshop allows control by applying transparency to layers.

FIGURE B

This sample image has the BrightSoft method applied at 50%. (click for larger image)

The range of modification available is stunning, as you can see in Figure C with a 100% application of the Dingy filter.

FIGURE C

This image has the Dingy method applied at 100%. (click for larger image)

Another difference from most HDR applications is what Nik calls its Control Points, as shown in Figure D.

FIGURE D

The control point can be used to apply adjustments to specific areas of the image. (click for larger image)

Adjustments made during the process of combining the images and modifying their look are done on a global basis. That is, they affect the entire image. This global affect is standard with other HDR processors. Nik's HDR adds a control that allows for local adjustment of specific areas. See Figure E where the window area is dark.

FIGURE E

The window area is dark and lacks detail. (click for larger image)

This works similarly to Lightroom's Adjustment Brush that can apply any of the available adjustments to specific areas of the image, as shown in Figure F. Other HDR applications leave this process to be accomplished in the image editor like Photoshop, but those methods don't allow the application of the full range of HDR manipulation.

FIGURE F

Applying an exposure adjustment to the window area reveals the detail captured by the multiple exposures. (click for larger image)

Editing capabilities

I'm impressed by the extent of the editing capabilities delivered in Nik's HDR Efex Pro. It delivers a tremendous range of image manipulation and artistic flexibility. It even includes the ability to apply vignettes to the image.

I'm reluctant to apply vignettes to the image at this point because even with the adjustments so far, I will still use Lightroom to make final edits, and if those edits include cropping, the vignette applied in HDR Efex Pro will be lost.

However, HDR Efex Pro's Levels and Curves adjustments can apply the final touch to the image, and should be used here because they take advantage of the complete range of exposures available from the multiple images that comprise the HDR image. Once again, Nik has included a few presets as starting places for its levels and curves adjustment tool.