To HDR Or Not To HDR?
You know HDR is a verb, right? I didn’t realize until WordPress renamed my link that I’d used that title before (see that post here). Which do you like most? The non-HDR version (above) or the HDR version (below)? There’s no right answer of course but my favorite is the non-HDR image. I’d post them side-by-side but WordPress is giving me formatting fits…will update the post if I ever figure it out.
While in the Seattle area for a wedding last month my son and I went on a short photowalk in the little town of Snohomish. Snohomish is one of those cutesy towns with shops for tourists and all that. That morning it was just wet, dreary, and cold — somewhere in the high 30s with a stiff breeze to go along with it. The wet and dreary thing makes for decent HDR conditions typically but the cold I could have done without, especially having had temps in the low 80s when we left Austin the afternoon before.
On our walk I grabbed some brackets of these stairs for a semi-abstract image. It’s sort of urbex but maybe I’d call it “garden urbex” with all the moss growing (the stairs were surrounded by plants and flowers too). The dynamic range frankly wasn’t very high but as I’ve posted before one can get cool images just going through the tonemapping process. Last night I decided to process this scene but as I inspected the brackets I determined that using a single exposure would give me the image I wanted. Part of that decision was driven by the fact that I’ve gone through a few of David Nightingale’s (chromasia) tutorials and was itching to try my hand at some things. On a whim I took 5 exposures and did an HDR for comparison. It’s not an entirely fair comparison though as I only spent a quick 5 minutes tweaking the Photomatix output. However, I wasn’t really interested in trying to match the single exposure I processed. Rather, I purposely processed it without even looking at the single image so that I would rethink everything as I went through the process again (albeit very quickly).
Some details on the processing of the single-exposure image (shown at the top of the post): I began with the intent of going black and white but as I played with the channel mixer I ran across some color settings I liked. I ended up using -26 red, +129 green, and -7 blue. I used various curves layers to tweak parts of the image to taste (see the screenshot showing the masks below). All curves were simply adjusted on the RGB channel. This image was ripe for some individual color adjustments but I only have so much time for all this photo stuff.
A quick rundown on the curves layers: the darken and s-curve layers were blended in normal mode and the s-curve went a little stronger on the highlights side. The lighten and “curves 1” (forgot to rename it) were in luminosity mode and as you see from the masks, targeted very specific parts of the image. Curves 1 was a very strong s-curve to bring out the contrast in the beam along the steps. “Lighten” brought out a bit of detail in the wet shadows in the nooks and crannies. I topped things off with a vibrance adjustment of +14 (the HDR image had a +25 adjustment b/c the curves layers I used didn’t bring nearly as much color as in the other image).
Notice that the original (below) has a piece of peeled paint on the bottom step. I cloned that out since it interrupted the edge of the frame. It fit with the image but was just in the wrong place. That’s the only cloning I did.
Cropping was difficult. Not quite happy with it but I was less happy with the 17 other ways I tried.