[A larger version of this image can be seen on my gallery at SmugMug, here (Opens in a new tab/window)]
This image represents to me, 1) a continuation of a series of shots taken on one spectacularly cold Maine morning, and 2) a chance for further experimentation with blending output from two different HDR programs.
As for the first point, I had to drag myself out of a very warm, very comfortable, downy sleeping bag to shoot the sunrise. Strong coffee is my friend.
To the second point…
This was taken from a set of three brackets (ISO 200, f/2.8, +/- 2 EV.) I ran the set through Photomatix Pro 3 and created several different tonemap files. One of the tonemaps was a Shadowmap for later use, one a Vivid (saturated) version and one a “nice” version (“nice” because I just thought it looked nice.) After producing those tonemaps, I also fed the brackets into HDR Expose, adjusting settings until it looked just right.
The output from HDR Expose was quite good on its own, but I thought it could use an extra touch, so I went to the Photomatix output to take a look. As it sometimes turns out, while the output from HDR Expose was solid, clear, and ‘true-to-life’, Photomatix output often has more punch and detail due to the available microcontrast settings. There’s just something about the tonemapping process that jazzes up certain features.
Using the Shadowmapping technique, I layered the Shadowmap on the Vivid layer, toned down the saturation, and then blended it with the ‘nice’ tonemap. The result brought some subtle but necessary detail to the distant woods and some of the clouds.
When all of that looked good, I flattened the layers and copied the result on top of the HDR Expose version. Setting the opacity of the Shadowmap down to about 25-30% in Normal mode gave me a good result… other blending modes were too dark. The result was a highly realistic image — thanks to HDR Expose — with subtle but important details, color, and microcontrast from the Photomatix layer.
From there, the image took a trip into Topaz Adjust 4 for further punch-up. Using the NIK Color Efex Pro Darken/Lighten Center filter, I added a subtle dark vignette around the edges. Toward the end, I wasn’t delighted with the darkness of the distant shoreline, so I added an Exposure layer and masked it in to bring up the trees just a bit.
Surely, there are other ways to do this sort of processing, and some of them are bound to be easier paths to the same end. But each element seems to bring something to the final version, and playing around with different combinations can be both rewarding and frustrating. Sometimes I do wonder if I should have just popped a single 0EV file into Topaz to see what would have happened. Maybe tomorrow morning… over a cup of coffee.