Part 1 -Before and After HDR pictures
Part 2 – Good vs Bad HDR
Check out my brand new HDR Photography blog!
Yesterday we reduced three images to one, removing halos and chromatic aberration in the process. Today we’ll learn how to tidy up your image by removing noise, sharpening and making your image more contrasting.
For those of you with experience of using the Unsharp Mask tool, any type of noise removal plugin and adjusting curves, you’ll be beyond this tutorial.
You really need an external noise removal Photoshop plugin for this – noise removal using Photoshop tools is not great. I recommend Noiseware.
Step 1: Bring the file named ‘Noise’ into Photoshop. If you’re using the Noiseware plugin, click Filter>Imagenomic>Noiseware Professiona. For this picture I chose the preset Weaker Noise in the settings tab and pressed Ok. If you don’t have a plugin, try this decent video tutorial on noise removal.
You’ll notice that there isn’t a great deal of noise in the picture in the first place. That’s because I almost always set the ISO on my camera to 100. Every now and then, in lower light or when there are moving objects, I’ll raise the ISO.
The main problem is that as with chromatic aberrations, noise is exaggerated during HDR. I have no idea why.
Before Noise Removal
After Noise Removal
As you can see, the white dots in the after picture have been smoothed out. I run noise removal on just about every picture I create.
Sharpening Your Image
Again, for reasons I don’t understand (I don’t understand much), after HDR, images tend to lose some of their sharpness. This is made worse by the noise removal process.
Not to worry, the sharpening tool in Photoshop, while maybe not the best, is more than capable of making those edges pop.
Step 1: In Photoshop click on Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask. It’s up to you which settings you want to use. On this photo I dropped the radius down to 1px but cranked the amount up tp 500%.
Now click on one of the images to expand the view, press right or left, and you’ll see the subtle differences.
It’s important that the differences in this photo are subtle. There’s so much detail in the tree, the sky and the temple, that if I increased the radius any more, the photo would have obvious white lines around the edges of these details.
We’re almost finished.
Photoshop curves are another way of manipulating light in your image. We are going to use it here to increase the contrast and make the image pop. I could use the contrast function in Photoshop, but that doesn’t give me as much flexibility. I could also use the Levels function, but I like Curves for some reason.
Go to Image>Adjustments>Curves. You’ll see a line going from top right to bottom left. To keep it simple, the top is brightness and the bottom is darkness. To increase the darks in your picture, slide the little arrow looking thing in the bottom left along to the right a bit. You’ll see the contrast changes.
Now go to the centre of that line and push it down slightly. These will darken the mid tones in your image. I’m aiming to darken in and around the leaves of the tree here.
As you moved the line down, you’ll probably have noticed the sky darken slightly. All you need to do is go about 3/4 up the line and push it up slightly. You’ll see the lighter areas increase in brightness. Play around with the curves a little bit until you achieve a result you’re happy with.
Finally, we’ve reached the last leg. There’s just one thing left to do – cropping. This is purely down to personal taste. For me, there’s too much dead space in the sky and on the ground, so I cropped away until I was happy. Don’t be scared to crop your image, just make sure you’ve saved the full version first.
And there you have it.
We’ve gone from the top image to the bottom in a few short lessons.
I really hope you’ve gained some useful information from this series of tutorials. We’re not finished yet, mind you. Every week I’m going to expand on this, discussing things like RAW vs JPEG and Handheld vs Tripod.
Be sure to visit regularly, check out my photo essays, and say hi in the comments section.
For people who have followed this tutorial, I would love to show-off your wonderful pictures. And if you have a before and after comparison to show the improvements you’ve made, that would be amazing. I’d happily include your facebook/flickr/twitter/website URL.
If you don’t have Photomatix, you can enter our photo competition for a chance to win the full version completely free.
One of my readers, Ryan Cragg, emailed me his before and after shots. I was extremely pleased with the progress. Pay attention to the halos around the trees and the lack of detail and vibrancy in the sky and throughout the picture. The final shot is much more balanced, clean cut, and sharper. Great job Ryan!