Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro reveals photographic details previously hidden to the naked eye


By Scott Koegler

HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos have become increasingly popular in the last couple years. The best examples combine multiple images of the same scene, taken with various degrees of under and over exposure This technique often reveals details that are usually beyond the exposure range of a single shot.

There are many different software applications available for making HDR images, and nearly all of them are able to produce adequate results. However not all of the applications are easy or intuitive to use. And the combination of ease of use and range of control is what sets Nik Software's HDR Efex Pro apart from every other HDR editor, including Photomatix and Adobe Photoshop.

If you have used any of the available HDR applications, you probably understand that the process of creating an HDR image is a subjective one. That is, there is no right or wrong, but the range of results available from the process is very wide, ranging from highly realistic to psychedelic.

Nik's HDR software has a few built-in concepts that help users achieve results based on general guidelines. This makes the process more predictable and is one feature that really sets it apart.

Getting started

The process starts with importing the image or images (it's possible to create an HDR image from a single image, or from multiple images of the same scene). Once the images appear in the editor window, a column of preview images appear along the right side of the application. For those working in either Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture, the workspace shown in Figure A will look comfortably familiar.


This is the basic Nik HDR Efex Pro workspace. (click for larger image)

The right column shows previews of the image in a variety of HDR settings that are grouped in categories including Realistic, Landscape, Architectural, Surreal, and others. In addition, it's possible to create your own presets and save them for reuse.

I like the ability to quickly and easily preview my image in several presets because it lets me pick one that fits the mood of what I want to achieve from the shot. The same results can be achieved with applications that don't offer presets, but I find that the presets help me decide what direction to go.

Once a preset is chosen the results can -- and should be -- fine tuned by using the controls on the right side of the window. The process is again simple and intuitive, starting with the main control a the top of the list: Tone Compression.

All HDR applications do tone compression, but not always as part of the logical sequence. I like to start there, but it's usually not the last time I use the control. Like any image editing function, trying different setting is part of the process.