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Hi-Tech Studio: HDR Software

HDR (high dynamic range) photography, in theory, is capable of displaying more of the range from shadows to highlights than the human eye can see. HDR merges together several images at varied exposures to capture the full range of tones. The final image, when created this way, is technically a composite. You’re capturing details from the extreme ends of the dynamic range, and using your software, you can control contrast, color and lighting in the final image.

HDR photography can be natural-looking or it can be surreal-looking. Descriptions such as "hyperrealism," "synthetic pop," "grunge art" and more have been used to describe HDR images that are taken to the extremes. Through experimentation and experience, you can arrive at the aesthetic that works for your photographic vision. As HDR software evolves and is refined, new features are constantly being introduced. The current lineup of available software makes it easy to create flawless photographs, provided that solid technique is used at the point of capture.

As software technology has improved, many, but not all, of the common image-degrading issues associated with HDR composites have been reduced or eliminated. Color fringing, for example, has haunted HDR images created from multiple frames. You’ll see the artifacts when a line of red, green, blue or magenta occurs at a boundary of contrast. This is magnified when working with HDR because HDR algorithms are all about contrast. This is something to look out for when working with your images and that your software should be able to help compensate for.

Noise is another issue that plagues HDR imagery. It’s responsible for the grungy look that’s seen in some heavily HDR enhanced images, and it’s particularly common in single-image "tone-mapped" photos. One reason for the noise increase is because the software is boosting the dark areas within a frame. When you’re compositing multiple frames and exposures to create your HDR image, noise is less of an issue. Whenever possible, you’ll have the most overall control over an image and you’ll minimize the noise by creating your HDR image from multiple exposures.

Unified Color Technologies HDR Expose 3 and 32 Float v3 Photoshop plug-in allow you to merge multiple frames from handheld bracketed shooting. The new file browser automatically detects bracketed exposures using thumbnails instead of filenames, and it can generate a batch-merge function. Upgraded alignment capabilities, including fully automatic and manual assist options, calculate proper fit while the refined deghosting algorithms reduce artifacts created by movement from frame to frame within a scene by using a key frame as a reference. New Adaptive Tone Mapping enhances local control of contrast, color and detail retention. List Price: $119 (HDR Expose 3); $89 (32 Float v3).

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