How to do HDR from Start to Finish Using HDR Efex Pro (Part 1)

In this article I show in details my workflow to make HDR with HDR Efex Pro.

Bonjour mesdames et messieurs today I bring you with me for an adventure! We are going to shoot the Antelope Canyon and I am going to show you my full workflow to make HDR!! Are you ready for this? Because it is going to be intense! I am really going to show and explain you in details what I want to create and why.

As the title states pretty clearly, I’m using some plug-ins in this tutorial that are now being sold by Google. You can just search for Nik HDR Efex Pro and it’ll pop-up. I’m not sponsored by them, I just find it to be great software. I know some pros don’t like to share what software they use, but I think that’s silly. Alright so here is the end result of what we are going to get.

WARNING: If you don’t want to spend thousand of dollars crossing the world to go to the Antelope Canyon, wait for hours in the burning sun, cross the desert and risk your own life, with lovely Indians but a very shaky bus, all you have to do is subscribe to my newsletter here to get the RAW files for this tutorial and all my other free presets and goodies. You can also follow along on my video tutorial for this lesson here.

I was dreaming for a long time to go to the Antelope Canyon, it really is a beautiful place and heaven for landscape photographers. When I travel to go to a certain place I really try many techniques to make sure I cover the subject and that I can work with it and I am going to show you many of the different things I do.

For the little story, I didn’t take the photographic tour because I didn’t have the time or the money for it. So I took a regular tour with tourists. The problem was that we were visiting as group so I was the last one in the group to wait for the group to leave and then I had another group coming behind me so I had only a few seconds to take each shots. I had a tripod ready to use, so I set my camera down and I took three exposures:

Normal exposure:

Underexposed photo:

Overexposed photo:

So in my rush to get the shot, I shot the normal exposure at f/4 and I regret it now because the photos are not super sharp and with the autofocus sometimes it would focus on one part of a rock and not the entire photo but anyway I really didn’t have much time to take the shot:

I decided to shoot it at f/4 and 400 ISO, which I never do, but I wanted to HDR the hell out of it in less than a second because the tourist would be in my shot otherwise. But it was my decision so I could take the shot and do some bracketing.

A lot of people asked me how to retouch HDR, there is two ways; one is to retouch the photo and then HDR it and the other ways is to HDR it and then retouch it. I am going to show you both ways. Now I am going to show you

First I select the three photos and export them:

Step 1. Export the photos to the Desktop. I choose to export them on the desktop to re import them afterwards in Google HDR Efex Pro (which works better for me than Photomatix in certain photos, but I have both softwares and am often surprised at how the difference in results gives me something I am looking for in one photo, but not the other. Anyways, I recommend having both). So I select the three photos, I right click and I press Export> Export…> Desktop.

I rename my shot Antelopes and select TIFF file, ProPhoto RGB and 16 bit component because it makes the best file quality and space wise:

I have a little problem of communication between Lightroom and Google HDR Efex Pro that is why I exported it on the desktop and then I open HDR Efex Pro and import the photos from the desktop:

I select Alignment to make sure that my three photos are aligned, then I do not select Ghost reduction because there is nothing in movement in my shot and I select the Chromatic aberration in case there is any it is always good to fix this. Then I can just click on create HDR:

Now that HDR Efex Pro did his magic I get different presets on the left that you can choose from, one that I really like is called Deep 1:

But I want to show you how to create this effect from scratch so I select the default HDR:

I always put Tone Compression around 28, and Method Strength to around 64 if you put it at a 100 it will have a very HDR look to it. Those two settings are going to change with the other settings that we are going to use:

Then we have the section called HDR Method, it is the more important section, you can choose Depth, Detail and Drama and for each setting you can make it more or less. For Depth you have the choice between Strong, Normal, Subtle or Off for this photo I am going to go for Normal. For Detail you have Soft, Realistic, Accentuated, Detailed and Grungy which is really intense so I am going to go with Realistic and the last one is Drama and there is Flat, Natural, Deep, Dingy, Sharp and Grainy and on this photo I am going to for Deep:

Then I want to lower the Exposure a little bit (-25) and boost the contrast (+22):

All the Nik software have a really cool tool that I love to use which is called Structure which is in the Tonality section so I am going to add some (+31), what it does it just gets the details to pop out I just love it:

The last thing section is called Colors and I am going to add some Saturation (+28) because those colors, this red is so amazing I think it is good to enhance it. All those settings depends on the look that you want to give to your photo, I change the settings all the time depending on the photo, the message, the look, the mood etc..:

I am going to recap so for the Tone compression I just went a bit stronger, for the HDR Method I set the Depth in Normal, the Detail in Realistic and the Drama in Deep. I might just boost the Shadows +60 and the Highlights +36 then I add some Structure and Saturation.

So now save it and name it NOLIGHTROOM meaning there was no Lightroom applied to this photo:

Back to Lightroom and I am going to do the second way to do HDR, I am going to retouch one photo and then make it HDR.

I always prefer to retouch my photo in Lightroom and then to use another software and you are going to see why and you will be able to compare the two photos. I select the normal exposure photo to retouch.

Step 2. Adjust the Highlights and Shadow. First thing I did was I brought the highlights to -100 and the shadows to +100 as usual. (If you’ve read my tutorials or watched my videos, you know this is part of my workflow. You can get a more complete statement on why I do this in almost all my photographs by reading this how to article here.)

Step 3. Adjust the Whites and the Blacks. Next I will increase my whites to +49 and lower my black to -37. (If you’ve read my tutorials or watched my videos, you know this is part of my workflow. You can get a more complete statement on why I do this in almost all my photographs by reading this how to article here.)

Step 4. Adding Clarity and Vibrance adjustments. I put Clarity at +46, which is really going to define the edges and give more character to the photo,and then I set the Vibrance at +38 it is going to make the colors pop.

Step 5. Exposure adjustments. I want to boost the Exposure (+20,0) to make the overall photo brighter:

Step 6. Apply Lightroom Camera Calibration. Camera calibration just gives different settings and interpretations of the colors captured in your RAW file. You can try out different ones and see the best mode for your photo, on this one I choose the camera landscape, I think it looks great:

I like the camera landscape and because it made the photo brighter I am going reset the Exposure at 0 and add even more Clarity (+72):

Step 7. Apply some Noise Reduction. A very important step, so I go to the Lightroom Detail section and adjust noise reduction by bringing the luminance to 30 and then in sharpening amount adjust it up to 70, I was at 400 ISO but there was not a lot of noise because it was correctly exposed:

Step 8. Enable Profile Corrections. Go to the Lightroom Lens Corrections panel and choose Enable Profile Corrections. It is a simple thing that can remove distortion caused by the spherical nature of the lens glass. Remove the Chromatic Aberration in case there is any.

Step 9. Adjust White Balance. Because it is a RAW file I can change the white balance if it was a Jpeg I would not have that many choices. You see the daylight coming in is pretty blue so I want to enhance this in adding even more blue +3354 and some Magenta +15. I like the contrast of the blue and the red:

Step 10. Adding even more Vibrance. I set the Vibrance to +63 to make the red even more pop:

Step 11. Apply these settings to the other photo. So I got the best out of this RAW file so I am going to apply the same settings on the other photos and I can do that very simply because all the shot have the same exposure. So I select all the photos and press Sync> Check All> Synchronize:

Step 12. Export this photo to the Desktop. I select all the photos, right click and choose Export> Export to desktop and I name my subfolder Retouched in Lightroom:

I open HDR Efex Pro and import the retouched photos:

I just select create HDR because it is the same that the earlier photo:

Statistically retouching the photo before to make them HDR works better for me.

Now that I have my HDR file I just play around with the different settings and see what looks best:

For the first panel called Tone Compression I set the Tone Compression at +26 and the Method strength at +64 then the HDR Method for Depth I am going to go for Normal, for Detail I am going to go with Realistic and the last one Drama I am going for Deep.

Then I open up the Shadows to+65 and +9 for the Highlights. Then I lower the overall exposure (-23) and I set the Structure at +41.

Then you can just play with the presets as well. For example I tried Deep 1 on this photo and I lowered the Exposure (-16) and the Saturation (-9):

I save the shot:

Back to Lightroom I import the two shots that we came up with, I have to select only those two shots and not the TIFF files:

In Lightroom I created a folder for this tutorial episode number 70 so I add those 2 photos to this folder:

Here you can compare the two photos we retouched (Shift+C), the first one is the photo HDR then retouched and the one on the right in the one that we retouched first and then HDR it:

I personally prefer the one on the right, the one that we retouched first and then HDR.

Now let’s compare (shift key and C) the normal exposure photo just retouch and the HDR retouched photo:

I like the HDR photo it is more impressive it is more wow I think but the RAW file retouched has more details and his more natural so it depends on what you want to get.

Here you go for this first part of the tutorial! I hope that it inspired you to do HDR or not and that you feel free to create as you which!

On the part 2 I am going to show a few other tricks that you can do to retouch and make your photos look amazing so stay tune and if you liked this first article don’t hesitate one second to share it with the world! You can go to the second part by clicking here.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter here to get all the RAW files and other free goodies! Thank you for your support and Au revoir!

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