TONE MAPPING FUN WITH PHOTOMATIX
Photomatix can also tone map a single image, provided that it is a 16-bit TIFF. If you have multiple files open that are 16-bit types, it will only tone map the active one -- it will not automatically merge your LDR images into an HDR "negative" if you choose the Tone map option.
I accidentally tested this out with a Canon 5D RAW file of Drayton Hall, also in Charleston, S.C. In Adobe Camera RAW, I set exposure to -1.5 and saved this image as a 16-bit TIFF. (See below) I also saved it at normal exposure, and at +1.5. My intent was to merge these exposures into one HDR image to be tone mapped. But the Tone mapping option was available (not grayed out), and I selected Tone mapping, thinking that Photomatix would automatically merge my three open exposures.
It didn't. It simply Tone mapped my active image. (See below)
I liked what I saw, so I saved the image and imported it into Photoshop to add a bit more saturation and contrast and saved my image. It really pulled up the color and had great detail in the trees and clouds. (See below)
But it wasn't what I was trying to do, which was merge the three exposures into one HDR "negative" to be tone mapped.
I went back into Photomatix and opened my three exposures again, and followed all the proper steps to create an HDR image prior to Tone mapping. Once the HDR was created, I made the HDR image the active window and selected Tone mapping.
And the results were awful. I played with the sliders and settings, and it still looked awful. (See below)
So it turns out, my accidental skipping of a step in the full HDR workflow actually yielded a better result!
So, keep this in mind: Photomatix will allow you to tone map a single 16-bit image, and it will not automatically merge your Open 16-bit images if you select "Tone mapping" rather than "Generate HDR." Depending on your source image, this may actually be a better option, in some cases.
I think this underscores an important point about HDR imaging, regardless of the program: It is not an exact science, there is no simple formula to follow, and your results may vary wildly from one image to the next. But if you don't get discouraged, and keep experimenting, you can continue to learn how to best use this tool, as we'll see in the next section.