Case Study: Editing Extreme HDR Photo

Today I want to share with you the extreme case of HDR editing.

Point Wolf Covered Bridge

At the very end of the last summer, I went to driving trip to the Atlantic Coast where I visited Maine, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

In New Brunswick, while visiting  Fundy National Park,  I discovered Point Wolf Covered Bridge.

There is no lights inside, only 2 windows on each side of the bridge. But even with both windows open it was very dark inside. Every time car approached the bridge it would stop because it was impossible to see if somebody was inside.

Shooting

When I was inside the bridge looking through the window in the direction of Bay of Fundy I realized that it would be a perfect opportunity to photograph the scene with the extreme dynamic range.

Due to the limitations of my Sony A6000 I only took 3 bracketed shots with 3EV intervals. I knew I could take 2 series of 3 shots, but I decided to test if it was possible to use only 3 exposures.

I took 3 bracketed shots on a tripod with the following setting:

  • 0.5 s, f/8, 14mm, ISO100
  • 1/15 s, f/8, 14mm, ISO100
  • 1/125 s, f/8, 14mm, ISO100

Processing

When got home I analyzed the photos of the Point Wolf Covered Bridge I discovered that the dynamic range of the scene was extreme, 27EV (stops). The Dynamic Range of Sony A6000 sensor is 13 EV which makes it less than half.

After I imported 3 bracketed shots into Lightroom I decided to test various HDR tools and techniques to see which works the best for this particular extreme case.

Photomatix

I started with Photomatix. I select 3 images in Lightroom and using command Edit > Photomatix Pro I sent them to Photomatix.

Below is the result of HDR merging in Photomatix:

In Photomatix, I used Tone Mapping for the Process and Detail Enhancer for the Method with the following edit values:

Lightroom Merge

Next, I used Lightroom HDR module to merge 3 images for HDR. When brand new HDR image in DNG format was automatically imported to Lightroom I used Lightroom Rapid Editing applying Natural preset first and then TOOLKIT adjustments.

Lightroom Editing Formula: Natural (2, 9, 17, 32, 38)

Luminosity Blending in Photoshop

At this point, I had 2 different HDR version of the same scene, but I was not completely satisfied with the result.

I decided to give it another shot using Luminosity Blending in Photoshop. Digital Blending with the Luminosity Masks is the advanced editing technique where you blend multiple images in Photoshop with the help of transparency masks (for more details check my Review: “The Art of Digital Blending”).

Blow is the result of Luminosity Blending:

The final Layer Palette in Photoshop:

Conclusion

My favorite technique for producing natural looking HDR images is HDR blending in HDR Merge module of Lightroom. It is the fastest and most straight forward process, plus it works well with Lightroom Rapid Editing System.

But in some extreme cases, like the photo from today’s case study, the Luminosity Blending in Photoshop is the only way to produce a clean and well-balanced image. Even though the Luminosity Blending is the most complex and time-consuming technique, it gives us full control over every aspect of HDR blending.

Deconstructing Featured Photo

Camera: Sony a6000
Lens: Sony 10-18mm
Focal Length: 14mm
ISO: 100
Aperture: F8
Bracketing: 3 shots (-3; 0, +2)
Tripod: FEISOL Tournament CT-3442
Ballhead: FEISOL CB-40D

Processing: Luminosity Blending in Photoshop

Lightroom: import, tagging, export to Photosho as Layers
Photoshop: I opened 3 bracketed photos directly in Photoshop and placed each image on separate layer. Then, I used luminosity masking techniques to blend everything together.
Photoshop Plugins:

by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.