Seeing the Light with HDR Pro New in Photoshop CS5

Commercial Photography by Brian Rodgers Jr.

I finally got the opportunity to start experimenting with Photoshop CS5′s new HDR Pro. Having been an avid user of Photomatix Pro, I was kind of set in my ways, and I had a specific workflow. I will say that there are things that I like and dislike in both programs. At this point, I can’t say just yet that I prefer one over the other. As with any application, it takes time to learn and experiment to see where it fits into your workflow.

Though I’ve had Photoshop CS5 since it’s release back in April, I haven’t had the need to really create any HDR images. I’ve been super busy with weddings and portraits, leaving me no room to really fit any HDR in. Having said that, I had some rental lenses for a few more days. One of which was a Canon 10-22mm wide angle, which is what I shot the image above with. Great lens by the way   I knew that I wanted to shoot some kind of landscape or building using this lens. So I headed off to the local river walk around sunset. I really wanted the challenge of shooting low light HDR. There are a few things you need in order to make this happen. First off, you need a tripod to secure your camera and prevent camera shake. Second, I recommend using an external shutter release. You can also use the self timer on your camera in order to prevent camera shake. As with any low light situation, any camera movement can make or break an image. And lastly, you need to bracket your shots. To create an HDR image, you need at least 3 different exposures. However, you could use 9 different exposures if you’d like. For the image above, I used 3.

Now, after downloading the images, I used a brand new feature in Photoshop CS5 called “Mini Bridge.” Which is basically a smaller version of Bridge CS5, conveniently built into a panel right within Photoshop. Why does this feature rock? Because you never have to leave Photoshop. So after finding my 3 exposures -2,0,+2, I used the Merge to HDR Pro feature. This opens all 3 images into Photoshops HDR Pro. The image opens with it’s default settings in place. It’s honestly a descent starting point, especially after looking at the built in presets (ughhh don’t get me started). There’s no real magic here, knowing what each slider does, I basically started playing with the sliders until I got the look I wanted. Keep in mind that this process can take some time, you can make presets to use as a starting point, but when all is said and done each image that you create will be different. So using the same preset for multiple shots will unlikely give you the results you are seeking. It works on a case by case basis.

Here is the HDR Pro interface:

Notice all of the settings available to you inside of HDR Pro. Remember that it takes time to really get what you are looking for when it comes to HDR tonemapping. It’s also good to note that once you leave HDR Pro, you still have other post-processing to do. Take a look at the “remove ghosts” feature inside of the HDR Pro interface. This feature is great when you have moving objects in your image, such as moving leaves on a tree. Turning this feature on helps remove ghosting by taking the exposure with the least amount of movement from your series of exposures. Lastly, don’t forget the very important S-Curve. You can manually adjust the curve of the image by clicking on “Curve” next to the “Color” tab right inside of HDR Pro. Here you can make adjustments to your shadows, highlights and midtones.

Now after you’re done tweaking the settings in HDR Pro, click Ok. Your processed HDR image will open in Photoshop. You may notice that the image looks different inside of Photoshop CS5. I’m still trying to figure that one out…But wait, you’re not done! Save your image as a jpeg or tiff file. Open your image in Camera Raw. Tweak your image accordingly. Make the necessary adjustments including exposure, fill light, blacks, clarity etc. Finally, open in Photoshop to make any other corrections or enhancements to your image.

Hopefully this image above gives you an idea of the kind of work that goes on after you tonemapping your image in HDR Pro, and making adjustments in Camera Raw. You may also notice that in the layers panel above, there is a layer called “sky.” If you go back to the before and after HDR image at the beginning of this post, you will see that the original image has a plain boring sky. How do we fix this? We add in a new sky from a photo we’ve previously taken and compositing it in using Photoshop. That’s it, see ya next time!


Brian Rodgers Jr.

Brian Rodgers Jr. is a commercial advertising photographer based in South Bend Indiana. Brian has a wealth of commercial photography experience photographing everything from commercial portraits, RVs, large commercial vehicles, product and food photography, to multi-million dollar mansions. Furthermore, he has created brand images for national companies and his work has been published in various national and international publications including Photoshop User Magazine, Dentaltown Magazine, Incisal Edge Magazine, and the popular web based show "Photography Tips & Tricks" produced by Kelby Media Group to name a few. Brian’s overall body of work demonstrates a real cultivation of skills behind the lens as well as a wide array of cutting edge post production techniques. He provides his clients with exceptional images and ensures customer satisfaction through his relentless work ethic. Brian is not just a photographer, he is an artist. Retouching his own work allows him to deliver a product that reflects his vision as an artist. And his clients are never disappointed in his abilities to produce consistent, compelling images. Fun Fact: He shot his own portrait