Step 3 – Time for the Photoshop clean up!

Now you’re onto the final part. Now that we have our HDR photo, it’s time to fix anything that Photomatix did not do well. Remember, this 3rd step is optional, you can get away with just using the first 2 steps if you want. You would just want to make sure you were 100% happy with what you created in step 2 with Photomatix as that will be your finished product. You could have used the deghosting, noise removal and some sharpening etc in Photomatix as I showed you in Step 2, but I Like to do all of that fancy stuff in Photoshop.

If you need to get Photoshop. Adobe have an awesome deal for photographers, you get Photoshop and Lightroom for a low monthly amount and I think you get the mobile app too! You can get it by CLICKING HERE

Here’s what I do…, I like to open all of the original exposures, plus the HDR version that Photomatix created in photoshop as layers. There are many ways to open files in photoshop, I am not going to turn this into a photoshop tutorial, there are plenty of them on the web already! Anyhow, I use Adobe bridge to locate my files, select them all, then I go to Tools->Photoshop->Load Files Into Photoshop Layers, then I sit back for a few moments whilst Adobe does all the hard work for me and loads my files into Photoshop as layers.

load as layers

Make sure your HDR photo from Photomatix is the top layer (as it is in the picture above), if it isn’t, you can just click and drag it to make it the top layer. Now it’s time to take a look at the image and see what you don’t like about it. Anything I don’t like about the HDR version (the top layer) I am going to fix with layer masking. I may use all or just one of the original exposures, regardless, they’re all open as layers in case I need them.

There are a few things I am not happy about this photo, the sky is one of them. Typically Photomatix will ruin your sky, especially if it’s a blue sky… to fix it I take a look through all the other layers until I find one with a sky I like, and then using a layer mask, I paint through the one I like onto my HDR photo (The top layer). I do the same thing for anything else I don’t like about the image. This is also how I remove ghosting, if something was moving, I will just find an exposure where I like the position the moving subject was in, and I will paint it through! Click on the image below to take a closer look at the image and see what I am going to fix…

things to FIX

You will need to know how to use layer masking… Once you know how to use layer masking the same technique applies to each area you want to fix. Once I have selected the layer that I like, if I need to, I will move it by click, hold and drag to place under my top layer in photoshop. I then need to create a layer mask, select my brush, adjust opacity and paint away.

Painting black on a layer mask means we will see the layer beneath, paint white if you make a mistake or want to reduce the amount that you can see through the mask.

photoshop layers

Once you’re happy with the result of your layer masking, press cmd E or ctrl E and your two layers will become one, and your changes become part of the top layer. If you want to use something from any of your other exposures, repeat the steps above. You can use every photo if you want or just one. If you’re happy with your image, select all layers and hit Cmd E or Ctrl E and you will just end up with your final image.

Sometimes I will want to add more detail or colour using a plugin, this is how I bring out detail and colour in certain areas of my image. With your top layer selected, you can right click it and select duplicate layer or hit Cmd J or Ctrl J and it will create a copy for you. Select the copy and now you can make any changes to that you want whether you use a third party plug in, or just use photoshop to tweak a few things, you can then create a layer mask like we did before and paint through what you want to your top layer. Once your done, Cmd E or Ctrl E and you will have your final image. CLICK HERE to check out how I use my favourite plugin Topaz Adjust

The only thing left to do is save your finished masterpiece  I usually just save my final images as a jpeg. I will save one at full size, maximium quality, and then I resize the image to 1500 pixels wide and save as high quality, these smaller files are good files for sharing on the web.

Hopefully you have found this to be helpful and you will be creating stunning HDR photos in no time!

The Before Photo

This was straight from the camera, my D700 did it’s best… it looks nothing like I remember when I was standing there… (click on the photo for a closer look)

The Before Photo

And after a little HDR processing

This looks more like what I remembered that morning… (click on the photo for a closer look)

The final Image