Free HDR Tutorial Step 2 – Creating your HDR image

Photomatix Free TrialNow that you have taken your exposure(s) it’s time to use Photomatix. I use Photomatix Pro, I have tried lots of HDR software and find Photomatix Pro the best and it is affordable. Download a free trial and when you’re ready to buy it save yourself some money use the Coupon code ‘ON3LEGS’ for a 15% discount, you can get it from here -> Photomatix DOWNLOAD

Today I am using Photomatix 4.2.5 – you may be using a later or earlier version so things may be slightly different… however, I would assume it would all be fairly similar to what is in this tutorial.

When you first open Photomatix Pro you will be greeted with a ‘Workflow Shortcuts’ menu. There are 7 buttons on it, but I only ever use the top one ‘Load Bracketed Photos’, you can do the same thing as me if you like…

Photomatix for HDR

Just hit the ‘Load Bracketed Photos’ button and you will be greeted with another window… ‘Select bracketed photos’ – you can use the browse button, I like to use the drag-and-drop on my mac directly from finder. Either way, you just need to find the exposures you would like to use and get them into Photomatix so it can do it’s thing! I use the RAW files, I have found that I get better results using the RAW files in Photomatix. I once believed that photomatix just turned them into a jpeg so it could create my HDR photo, but it doesn’t. According to the techy people over at Photomatix, it would not make sense to do this, it would just take longer and degrade image quality, instead, your RAW files are converted in linear space into some 16 bit super duper working file… that’s enough technical mumbo jumbo… just beleive me, using RAW or TIFF files has resulted in better results for me…  Once you have selected your bracketed photos, click the OK button.


When you hit OK you will have another window pop up, now you get to make some choices about how Photomatix handles your files with these Preprocessing Options.

Align Source Images – The only time I use this is when I haven’t used a tripod to take the photo’s. Photomatix does a good job of aligning your images, so if you shoot several exposures hand held, this will make sure your images are aligned.

Remove Ghosts – Now you too can become a ghostbuster… okay, that was silly… You only need to use this if something was moving in between each exposure, for example, a boat, a car or a person may have been moving accross your frame as you took each exposure, this results in them being in a different spot for each exposure and in turn, confuses Photomatix and it will try to put them all in the shot resulting in ghosting. I suggest if you’re going to use this function, use the selective Deghosting Tool. It is very good and intuitive. I usually remove any ghosting in Photoshop, but if you weren’t going to use photoshop (step 3) then you would want to remove ghosting now at step 2.

Reduce Noise on – If you had to increase your ISO or it is a night shot, I would recommend selecting this, I keep the strength at around 125% on all source images, I find it works well.

Reduce chromatic aberrations – I have always thought ‘chromatic aberrations’ sounds like the name of a band… but it’s not… it is in fact some ugly purple, magenta or green coloured pollution that you will find on areas of high contrast in your images, particularly when you shoot into the sun. Sometimes known as purple fringing, so if you look at your images close up and spot any of this stuff…tick the box!

RAW Conversion Settings – If you are using RAW files you will get a couple more choices… personally I would have adjusted white balance before this point, if not though, you can change it I guess. And just leave Color Primaries as Adobe RGB.

Ticking any of these is not going to do any great harm to your image, so if you’re not sure… tick the box! Once you’re done with your selections, hit the Preprocess button and wait for all the HDR goodness to happen!

Photomatix Pro

Photomatix will churn away for a little bit (depending on many things…) and eventually you should end up looking at a screen filled with the beginnings of your HDR image (click on the picture below to take a closer look). You will see to the right of the main image is the presets window, it is full of presets that will make you and your friends puke… so hit the X and close it… you will also see the histogram, I keep this open and use it as a reference as I work on my image to make sure I am not losing any light info. Obviously, you will see your HDR image and as you can see here, it is a little washed out and lacks the oomph you would expect, on on the left of the image is all of the sliders we will use next to spice up the image.

Photomatix Screenshot

Now it is time to work on the image. For me, my plan is to get my image 80-90% to completion in Photomatix. The final 10-20% happens in Photoshop afterwards (Step 3). The things that I want to be great in my Photomatix image are either the most important aspect of the photo, or the area that I know will be difficult to work on in Photoshop. Just have a play with the sliders on the left for a little while and you will get a feel for what they do.

I don’t have a fixed method for what slider I move, and how much to move it, because every image is different. Usually, I will start by pressing the Default button down near the bottom of all the sliders, this resets everything to the same position everytime for me. I then move Strength to 100 and then I usually jump down to the Black Point and slide it up until my image has the depth I am after. Detail Contrast is the next thing I play with and maybe a little saturation. You really just need to move all of the sliders about until you’re happy with what your eyes see. When you’re happy with the way your image looks, hit the Process button below the sliders. (Click on the image below for a closer look)


When you hit the Process Button. Photomatix will do it’s thing and then another window will pop open, just like the upsell at MacDonalds… these are optional ‘Finishing Touches’… If you don’t like the upsell you can just deselect the ‘show this window after processing’ option. I don’t like much of the upsell, but I am impressed with the sharpening… so give it a little try and see what you think. I would say that if you were not going to clean up in Photoshop (Step 3) then you would want to play a little with the Color and Sharpening here. If you’re going on to Step 3, you can do all this fancy stuff then!

The Upsell

Once you’re happy with the finishing touches you have selected, press the Done button and viola! You are the proud owner of a newly created HDR Photo… well done! Just hit (command W for Mac) or the X to close the window and Photomatix will ask you if you want to save your image and where. I am sure you can work that part out!