Our step-by-step guide teaches you how to navigate the most popular HDR
programs, including one you may already have at your fingertips.
GETTING STARTED WITH PHOTOMATIX
Photomatix by HDRSoft is a $99 standalone program that creates and processes HDR images. (The Tone Mapping feature is also available as a plug-in for Photoshop CS2 for $69). Photomatix is solely dedicated to merging images. It has some bare-bones image adjustment functions such as crop, resize, and sharpen, but you'll probably want to do any image preparation such as resizing and resampling in your usual image editing program, such as Photoshop, before opening your photos into Photomatix.
We're going to start off by walking through my process, which yields the lead image for this story. I chose three shots from this bracketing, (1/640, 1/60 and 1/15 at f/5, ISO 400, on the Canon 5D, with a 17-35 f/2.8L at 17mm) to resize and save, and open into Photomatix. Your images can be either 8-Bit or 16-Bit JPEGs or TIFFs; both formats will work with this method. (See right)
Once the source LDR images are opened in Photomatix, choose HDRI from the top menu, and select "Generate HDR." A pop-up window will tell you which images it will merge, which should be all of the opened images, so be careful that you only have one series open in the program at a time. Click OK, and another pop-up will ask about response curve options. I chose "Use Standard Response Curve (Recommended)."
Click OK and Photomatix goes to work, merging your bracketed Low Dynamic Range photos into a High Dynamic Range image. After a while, the status bar will fill up, and Photomatix will launch a new window displaying your HDR image.
And it looks awful. Posterized, thresholded, dithered and bandy. It looks nothing like those amazing HDR images that you've seen. Don't panic. Nothing is wrong. It is just part of the process. You're only halfway there. (See below)