Basic Photography Article - #11 HDR Photography Part 4 - MickeyRountree

Basic Photography Article - #11 HDR Photography Part 4 HDR with Photomatix

In this article I'll explain how to create an HDR image in HDRsoft Photomatix 5. This is probably the most widely used HDR program, and it's my choice when I want to get wilder than the photorealistic look I get in Lightroom. You can purchase or download a trial at

I'm using the same six images we used in HDR Part 2. The first step is to select our images and then there are two main ways to get them into Photomatix depending on whether you use Lightroom or not.

The way I prefer to work from Lightroom is to configure Photomatix as an external editor. This allows you to define what type of files will be sent to Photomatix, the color depth, and what file to start to run Photomatix. Once you have Photomatix set up as an external editor, select all of the files you want to use, right click (PC) and select "edit in" and select Photomatix. Lightroom will then convert your raw images to the file format you specify (I use 8bit TIFF) and open them in Photomatix. Again if you don't know how to configure an external editing program here is an article showing how.

Editing in Photomatix from Lightroom

After you select edit in Photomatix, you will see the dialog box below. If you shot in raw, Lightroom will automatically create TIFFs (or whatever file type you specified when setting Photomatix up as an external editor) and that is your only choice. If you shot JPGs or TIFFs you will have the option to edit the originals.

edit options

If you don't use Lightroom (and why don't you?) or if you want to work directly with your raw files, you can start Photomatix, and import directly. Choose load bracketed images, browse to their location and click open.

Opening images from Photomatix

Then choose Merge for HDR processing as below.


You will see your images listed in the box. I always leave "show 32 bit image" unchecked. Click OK

select images

Whether you selected you images in Lightroom, or opened them in Photomatix you will see this import dialog. I always leave align source images checked. Then choose whether you shot handheld or on a tripod. You can leave crop aligned images checked, but that really only applies if you shot handheld and the program had to do a lot of shifting to align the images. Again ghosting options are only necessary if something with the picture was moving, so I left it unchecked. I always choose reduce noise on underexposed and normal images, leave strength at 100% and I always check chromatic aberration. Depending on the speed of your computer, and the number and size of your files, it may take a couple of minutes to do all of the corrections and open your new image in the main editing window.

merge options

Below is the main editing window. On the left are the individual controls, and on the right are several presets. I have created several of my own presets that are my usual starting point. My suggestion is to click through the presets until you see something close to what you like, and then start adjusting sliders to fine tune the look.

editing window

In the image below, I started with my own "medium painterly high black point" preset and adjusted from there. I almost always leave strength at 100%. I usually don't change saturation from the default of 50 since I prefer to adjust that later in Lightroom. I usually have tone compression high, between 8 and 10, and detail contrast between 6 and 10. Lighting adjustments I rarely change from medium. Surreal and surreal+ pretty much do as they sound like, and they're usually too much, even for me.

Smooth highlights I usually leave low, sometimes even 0 as here. The white and black point settings really depend on the individual image, but I generally have the white point less than 1 and the black point between 6 and 10. I've found that a higher black point creates more realistic shadows. If you'll notice, most of the extreme HDR's that you love to hate, have almost no shadows, and that is part of the unreal look. Gamma adjusts the overall exposure as well as the balance of highlights and shadows. Increasing it lightens the image, decreasing darkens it. Small adjustments make pretty big changes. I also don't usually change the color temperature, but wait to do that back in Lightroom.

If you have some settings you really like, before applying them, you can save them as a preset, for later use. When your image looks good to you click apply at the lower left.


After a few seconds, you will see the finishing touch box. I usually select "sharpen with mild sharpening", but don't use contrast or color controls. Again I'll do them back in Lightroom.

finishing touch

Choose where to save your image and in what format. I usually choose 8 bit TIFF. 16 bit has more color information, but the files are much larger, and if I edit them in Photoshop, many plug-ins only work in 8 bit mode.

save image

Here's how my image looks after editing in Photomatix.

After Photomatix

Back in Lightroom I adjusted the color balance by selecting the eyedropper tool and clicking on the gray spoke of a wheel. I set the white and black points by shift-double clicking on their pointers. I increased the exposure, added some contrast and added a good bit of clarity and some vibrance.

editing in LR

And here it is with Lightroom edits. Of course I still have more editing to do in Photoshop, but that's for Part 6.

After LR Edits