July 13, 2015

Do It Yourself HDR Photos

These days I have a side business where I shoot homes for realtors who are looking to improve their marketability by getting better images for their websites and printed materials. I’ll go to homes and take a series of photos of the exterior and the interiors for the agents and deliver full sized and web sized (MLS) photos all color corrected and finished. Check out my website here. Believe me this is a lot tougher than it sounds and takes a good eye and a lot of practice. Maybe in the future I’ll do a post on shooting interiors, but in this post I’ll show you one of the methods I use for my exterior shots when I’m in a pinch. 

When shooting real estate photos I shoot bracketed photos 90% of the time and use various software programs to blend the images. By shooting bracketed shots, I can capture more of the highlights and shadows which help me get a better finished shot. Clear days with some nice clouds are ideal, but that isn’t the case most of the time. Some days you just can’t get to the home early enough in the morning or late enough in the afternoon (depending on which direction the home faces) and you need to have some ‘magic tricks’ in your hat to help you get your shot. In this tutorial I’ll show you a work-around I use in the rare times when I only have a single image to work on. In this case it’s I’ll be using one of my HDR programs to do my magic. I hope you like it. 

When I’m out driving around, I’m always looking for homes that might make a nice image for my real estate website. Unfortunately on the day I shot this home I was on my motorcycle, I had a camera with me but didn’t have a tripod.  It was taken around 2 in the afternoon so I wasn’t able to get a decent exposure on the sky and the front of the home in a single shot but I really liked the clouds and knew it had some potential.   If I was going to get a nice shot of this home, I would use one of my magic tricks. To start, I would have to make three copies of my photo so that I could process them like an HDR image. Ironically, this home ended up being on the opening page of my website until I find a home that I like better.

My regular workflow process starts by opening my original images (in this case my single image) in Camera RAW and adjusting the Contrast, Blacks and Clarity sliders. After making those adjustments, I then underexposed it by one full stop and open it as a copy in Photoshop so I can save it as a TIFF. This image I will name Dark.

Neutral Copy
Now I go back into Camera RAW and open my original again. I make sure its Exposure is set to neutral (0) keeping my other adjustments I made on the first image (Contrast, Blacks and Clarity sliders) and then I bring it into Photoshop and save it as a TIFF and name this one Neutral.  

Over Copy
Now I open the original a third time in RAW, raise the Exposure on it by one full stop, then bring it into Photoshop and save it as a TIFF called Over.  The reason I’m saving them as TIFF files is the fact that if I need to, I can open them in Camera RAW later if I need to make some more changes and I find it easier to this way.  

Now I import all three of these TIFF files into Lightroom CC where I’ll do my magic, in this case I’m using Photomatix Pro 5.0, but it is currently up to version 5.5. You can also run Photomatix in Photoshop, but I prefer to use it in Lightroom.  Photomatix Pro is one of several HDR programs I have loaded on my system and each one will get me different results. If you have this program loaded on your computer, you can go up under the File Menu and choose it from your Plug-ins. 

When I start up Photomatix, it is going to start up and immediately stop. A dialog box will pop open that allows me to set my Pre-processing Options. Check out the image of my settings. I don’t need mine aligned because it’s a single shot, but I do reduce noise and chromatic aberrations.  In the section called Handling of HDR, I check it to automatically re-import into Lightroom for me. Then I check 8 bit in the Output Format menu. When I have these all set, I click Export on the bottom and Photomatix will start up and quickly stop again.

Another dialog box will open to tell me all three images have the same Exposure settings according to the Exif Data. Like I didn’t know that huh? 

Fortunately the program allows me to change them manually in this dialog box. I set the one called Over to +1.0, the Neutral one I leave alone and the Dark one I set to -1.0.  Check out the image. When I’m done changing those, I click the OK button. 

Photomatix will re-start and does its thing and when it’s done, a screen will open with a bunch of output choices.  I check out my choices and in this case I like the one called Default so I choose that and then click on Save and Re-Import box.  See Image. Photomatix will then save it as a TIFF in my folder and Lightroom will re-import it for me. When I get it saved I then bring it into Photoshop for my final tweaks.

When I get it into Photoshop, the first thing I do is to duplicate my background layer because I never like to work on my original image. I can see I want to do some patching on the driveway and the street in front of the house. When I’m done my patching, I use the Quick Selection tool to select the whole driveway and sidewalk, then pop it on its own layer and feather the edges a little bit. Then I’ll use the Burn Tool (set at about 25%)  to darken the driveway just a little bit. When I’ve got all my tweaks done, I darken the whole photo a little bit more and add some contrast. Finally I crop it down to a 4 x 6 format and trim off some of the street and then Sharpen it and save it as a PSD file. I then make a JPEG copy of my file in sRGB mode  to deliver to my clients.

There are many ways to do the same thing I’m doing here, this methods just works for me. This whole process only takes less than 10 minutes total, but judging by the final photo, I’m pretty pleased. What do you think?  I hope this little tutorial gives you some ideas for future projects yourself. 

Remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!
© D. Gould Photography