Ultimate De-ghosting for HDR Imaging

In this advanced tutorial, we'll show you how to easily create a single High Dynamic Range image from 63 source files using Photoshop CS3 Extended's Smart Stacks feature!

Ultimate-De-ghosting-for-HDR-Imaging
Ultimate-De-ghosting-for-HDR-Imaging

Here at PopPhoto.com, it's our responsibility to stay ahead of the curve on imaging trends and technologies. One of the emerging trends we've been out front on is high dynamic range imaging (HDRI) - see our first HDRI tutorial - a technique that pushes the boundaries of digital imaging by merging a series of photos into a single frame with greatly increased tonal detail.

We recently demonstrated how the new "Smart Stacks" feature in Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended can be used to remove unwanted elements from your photos.

Taking the Smart Stacks feature a step farther, we'll now show you how to use Smart Stacks and bracketing to create a pristine High Dynamic Range image free of unwanted tourists and vehicles!

For our source images, we visited the Red Mill at Clinton, NJ, a photogenic old building beside a millpond and next to a truss bridge that leads to the downtown district. Everyone captures this building from the same spot across the pond - it's on tourist brochures, phonebooks, postcards and more - so they might as well just permanently install a tripod for everyone to use!

But every one of these photos looks the same. We wanted a different image of this overly exposed piece of Americana. We decided to focus on the classic truss bridge and use the mill as a background element. But we wanted a clean shot of just the bridge without the endless stream of foot and vehicular traffic you'll encounter at noon on a beautiful summer day. It's the perfect situation for both High Dynamic Range Imaging, due to the challenging high-contrast lighting, and Smart Stacks "Tourist Erasing," due to the constantly moving elements against a static backdrop.

Our tools included a tripod, cable release, one huge CF card and a DSLR with a serious Auto Exposure Bracketing sequence. In this case we chose the Canon EOS 1D Mark III with the Canon 17-40 f/4L and a Tiffen Circular Polarizer to burst 14 7-shot Auto Exposure Bracketing sequences at +/-1 over the course of 10 minutes. From these 98 shots, we gathered enough frames at each shutter speed to make a 9-layer Smart Stack at each exposure level effective at eradicating the tourists and cars.

Then once we had a tourist-free Smart Stack source image at each exposure level, we merged these into a 32-bit HDR and Tonemap with three different programs to see which output file we liked the best. And what's the result? Follow our slideshow tutorial to find out!

New to HDR and Smart Stacks?

This is an advanced tutorial. If you are new to HDR and Smart Stacks, you'll want to check out our earlier stories on HDR and Smart Stacks.

PopPhoto.com/hdr: An introduction to HDR with walkthroughs of the HDR workflow in Photomatix Pro and Adobe Photoshop CS2

CS3 HDR workflow: The basic workflow in CS3, highlighting upgrades from CS2

FDRTools Workflow: Basic and advanced workflows in this cool, economical HDR program

Deploy Smart Stacks: Tutorial on using Smart Stacks for tourist erasing in CS3 Extended, and a work-around for those who don't have this most expensive specialized version of CS3.

Is it ridiculously amazing, or just ridiculous, to combine 63 source images to make one final image? Talk about it in our forums!

Step-5-This-simple-organizational-trick-saves-so
Step-5-This-simple-organizational-trick-saves-so
Step 5: This simple organizational trick saves so much time and cuts the chance of erroneously putting photos in the wrong subfolder.
Step-7-Select-File-Scripts-Load-Files-into-Stac
Step-7-Select-File-Scripts-Load-Files-into-Stac
Step 7: Select File> Scripts> Load Files into Stack.
Step-9-The-Smart-Object-will-open-in-CS3-Extended
Step-9-The-Smart-Object-will-open-in-CS3-Extended
Step 9: The Smart Object will open in CS3 Extended. Select Layer> Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Median.
Step-11-Repeat-Steps-7-10-with-each-exposure-leve
Step-11-Repeat-Steps-7-10-with-each-exposure-leve
Step 11: Repeat Steps 7-10 with each exposure level folder.
Step-12-We-ve-now-got-an-HDR-source-folder-that-w
Step-12-We-ve-now-got-an-HDR-source-folder-that-w
Step 12: We've now got an HDR source folder that will contain all of our Smart Stack HDR source images.
Step-13-Once-each-exposure-level-has-been-success
Step-13-Once-each-exposure-level-has-been-success
Step 13: Once each exposure level has been successfully Smart Stacked and saved, it's time to make our 32-bit HDR image. Open the HDRSourceFiles folder in Bridge and highlight all 7 images. Then select Tools> Photoshop > Merge to HDR.
Step-16-Since-we-re-already-working-in-Photoshop
Step-16-Since-we-re-already-working-in-Photoshop
Step 16: Since we're already working in Photoshop, we'll now merge our identically sized source images to HDR via Photoshop under File> Automate > Merge to HDR.
Step-19-The-HDR-preview-window-will-appear.-If-it
Step-19-The-HDR-preview-window-will-appear.-If-it
Step 19: The HDR preview window will appear. If it looks good, make sure the Bit Depth is set to 32 bit/Channel and click OK.
Step-27-We-ve-now-got-two-Tonemapped-output-image
Step-27-We-ve-now-got-two-Tonemapped-output-image
Step 27: We've now got two Tonemapped output images, the top from FDRTools, and the lower from Photomatix Pro. We're a little worried about the sky looking overdone in the FDRTools version, so we select the Photomatix Pro version for final work-up.
Step-28-First-we-re-going-to-boost-the-saturation
Step-28-First-we-re-going-to-boost-the-saturation
Step 28: First we're going to boost the saturation by a few points to make the colors snap more.
Step-29-Next-we-add-a-subtle-shadow-highlight-S-c
Step-29-Next-we-add-a-subtle-shadow-highlight-S-c
Step 29: Next we add a subtle shadow/highlight S-curve to add some contrast to the scene. We still want to make some final image adjustments, but with a very light touch, so we've got to get a little creative.
Step-30-We-re-going-duplicate-the-image-under-Ima
Step-30-We-re-going-duplicate-the-image-under-Ima
Step 30: We're going duplicate the image under Image >Duplicate. We convert the duplicate image to Lab Color under Image> Mode > Lab Color. Select only the Lightness Channel in the Channels Palette and Select the entire image (Select > All, or CMD+A).
Step-31-Going-back-to-the-original-image-we-past
Step-31-Going-back-to-the-original-image-we-past
Step 31: Going back to the original image, we paste in the Lightness channel, which becomes a monochromatic layer.
Step-34-Add-some-Unsharp-Mark-to-Layer-1-and-we
Step-34-Add-some-Unsharp-Mark-to-Layer-1-and-we
Step 34: Add some Unsharp Mark to Layer 1, and we are just about finished.
Step-35-We-flatten-the-image-via-the-Layers-Palet
Step-35-We-flatten-the-image-via-the-Layers-Palet
Step 35: We flatten the image via the Layers Palette and we can then save our full-resolution image. We'll then resize for the web, but before we do that, check out the next slide.
Step-37-A-couple-of-quick-swipes-with-the-Clone-t
Step-37-A-couple-of-quick-swipes-with-the-Clone-t
Step 37: A couple of quick swipes with the Clone tool removes this distracting element. Preferably, we would have done this step earlier in the workflow, but since there's not critical detail in cloning in some blue sky, it's OK to do it after Sharpening.
Step-38-Here-s-our-final-result-from-63-photos-co
Step-38-Here-s-our-final-result-from-63-photos-co
Step 38: Here's our final result from 63 photos combined in Smart Stacks to eliminate the traffic, and merged in HDR to show detail throughout the scene. It takes some time both in the field and on the computer, but we think it's well worth it!
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