Fine-Tuning Your HDR Photo
The final step in creating your HDR photo is to work with the Tone Compression and Global Adjustments settings (primarily), and secondarily the Selective Adjustments and Finishing Adjustments if necessary. We’ll cover all but the Selective Adjustments here, as it’s easy to create a good final result without them in many cases.
- Tone Compression: This is the setting that creates the overall contrast between elements in the scene and thus the “HDR Look”. The further you move this slider to the right in most cases, the more surreal your image is likely to look, as the shadows are brightened, the mid-tones are made darker and the highlights maintain their brightness. Moving to the left tends to have the opposite effect, “flattening” the tones so that all become relatively brighter. In effect, moving the slider well left will create an image that looks like the brighter exposures from your original bracketed series. Note that this slider can have a different impact, depending on which preset you are using.
- Global Adjustments: Many of these settings work like their counterparts in Lightroom and ACR. This is why, when processing raw exposures for HDR, you can generally stick to things like Crop, Noise Reduction, and Lens Correction. You want to bring that exposure data together first, and then alter the basic contrast and color settings in HDR Efex Pro as a single shot. An exception is when you have large amounts of clipping for the darker tones, in the brightest exposures, and vice versa. Then you can use Lightroom’s Blacks and Recovery settings, respectively, to improve that situation before merging your shots.
Figure 4 These two previews demonstrate the difference between a negative compression value (top) and a very high compression value (bottom).
Exposure works like Brightness, brightening or darkening the entire image. Contrast and Saturation perform the same functions, while Structure works a lot like the Clarity setting, improving apparent sharpness or softening the image. Blacks will protect the darkest tones by allowing you to brighten them and nothing else, while Whites performs a similar function for the very brightest tones. Warmth works like the White Balance function, warming or cooling the overall tonality of the scene.
For example, if you shot your scene on a bright afternoon or morning, you could use Warmth to remove some of the blue cast in your scene, and use Whites to prevent any very bright areas from clipping, maintaining their detail. Figure 5 shows a before-and-after preview, after the Global settings were applied.
Figure 5 The Global Adjustments in HDR Efex Pro work on similar principles as those found in the Lightroom (and ACR) Basic panel.