Our step-by-step guide teaches you how to navigate the most popular HDR
programs, including one you may already have at your fingertips.
HDR WITH PHOTOSHOP CS2 AND BRIDGE
If you own Adobe Photoshop CS2 and Bridge, you already have a High Dynamic Range Processor at your fingertips. You can merge photos to HDR either directly through Photoshop CS2, or through Bridge. We're going to explain the Bridge route, since the thumbnail views make it easier to select your images to merge to HDR. It is not very intuitive, and again it involves multiple steps, and it is easy to want to give up, thinking that you're doing something wrong, when you've probably just inadvertently missed a step.
Make sure both Bridge and Photoshop CS2 are launched. Select the images in Bridge that you want to merge into an HDR image. Under the Tools Menu, select "Photoshop," and then select "Merge to HDR." Leave any option boxes that pop up set to default and click OK.
Photoshop and Bridge will chug away for a few moments, and eventually, you will get a window that shows a preview of your merged HDR "negative." (See below) You've only got one option at this point: Set White Point Preview. Slide it to the right, and your preview gets lighter. To the left makes it darker. You're mostly guessing as to what this will do to your overall HDR image once you get to the Tone Mapping stage, so just leave it where it is, for now.
Once you click OK, Photoshop will output an HDR file. Again, it's not going to be pretty -- nothing like the HDR images you've seen on Flickr or other photo sharing sites. Again, this is because of the limitations of monitors to properly display the 32-bit depth information. Your Photoshop HDR "negative" must be developed and crunched back down to a smaller bit-depth, low dynamic range space; but hopefully, we'll preserve all those rich shadow details, and great highlights along the way. (See below)
When you bring your 32-bit HDR image into Photoshop, you do not have many image-editing options. Under the Image>Adjustments Menu, you can adjust Exposure, and you can apply a Photo filter, but for the most part, you are extremely limited with what you can do to make image adjustments.
I have the feeling that many users may bail out at this point, disappointed with the results they've achieved, thinking that Photoshop CS2 isn't all that advanced in HDR processing. Don't let this happen to you. Photoshop offers a Powerful HDR processor, with Curves controls.
But there's no button or menu option to directly pull it up, which is confusing. To Tone Map your HDR file, first select Image Menu> 8 bits, which will crunch your HDR image into LDR space. But before it does its crunching, it opens up the HDR Conversion window, complete with preview and Curves Control. Make sure you click the arrow button to expand the Toning Curve and Histogram display. (See below)
This first image shows the HDR file with no adjustments made. There are some slider options under the first three drop-down menu options, which offer some degree of acceptable image "developing." But the fourth, Local Adaptation, unleashes the full power of the Curves control.
Using the super-techical "eyeballing" method, I made a 10-point Curve and was satisfied with the initial HDR "developing." Final image enhancements would again be applied globally in the 8-bit compressed space of Photoshop. (See below)
I clicked OK and Photoshop opened up an 8-bit version of my image, showing the HDR adjustments. The colors and contrast were a tiny bit flat, and my feeling was that this image needed increased saturation (Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation) to really make the pink building and the turquoise sky pop. A simple S-curve kicked up the contrast, and I'd manage to make an image that had a tonal range wider than the shooting conditions allowed, with a playful, vivid color palette.
Attentive viewers may be able to discern how many frames were combined in this image, by counting the number times the ghosted car appears, in whole or part. I chose this series deliberately to illustrate what happens when there is a moving subject in the frame. (And if you look very closely at the lead photo, you'll also notice that the fisherman has ghosted edges.) You can use it as an image element for interesting effect, or you can be careful about making sure there are no mobile objects in your frame as you make your bracketed exposures. (See below)
As with Photomatix, there are a number of steps that can be confusing and counterintuitive, but with some practice and experimentation, you may find that the HDR tools in Photoshop CS2 work for you and your High Dynamic Range visions.