We were recently contacted by Everimaging Ltd. to evaluate their HDR bracket merging and tone mapping software, HDR Photo Pro. HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography involves taking 3 or more bracket photographs at varying exposure offsets (EV) and merging them, using complex software algorithms to blend the frames. This is intended to create an image that is more reflective of what the human eye actually sees in terms of dynamic range.
Since last year when we joined the HDR imagery field, we have primarily used HDRSoft Photomatix Pro as our merge and tone mapping tool. All our HDR images posted until today’s blog post were done with this product. We’ve created a certain and specific style, what effect would the introduction of new merging and tone mapping software have on our imagery?
Let’s take a look at our first examples.
I would certainly be happy to post this first photo on our blog any day of the week. Rich and vibrant, yet still a little moody in color temperature, this image is a wonderful example of houseboat living on Vancouver Island. The trees in the upper left quarter are a vibrant green, and rather pleasing.
Using the new Everimaging product, I needed several attempts before I was happy with the results. There are many controls available for the photographer to use in fine tuning the merged image. After a fashion a few things became immediately evident. This image has much better water image quality; the anti ghosting algorithms are absolutely incredible. This image was taken with the specific intent of testing this. Close scrutiny will also reveal that the second image is much sharper in many areas, including the entire forest in the background. Colors are much more realistic, and details and textures are noticeably sharper. Now, also bear in mind this is our first image generation using this new product, and my technique was honing as I went along.
This image is another great example showing areas of both water with ripples and surrounding forest to show trees. The entire image seems to be a bit soft, the boat is nice and clear and the dock it’s tied to has wonderful brown wood tones with great details. Again, an image I am happy with and would post without hesitation.
This image is noticeably clearer with more realistic colours and tones in the forested area. If I were to redo this one, I might not generate it quite so sharp, but overall the image quality is near perfect. It is much crisper, and the water around the boat has perfect ripples and reflections, much better than the example above. By this time I am noticing that the overall image quality is much better and the amount of time being spent to process each image is radically reduced due to the real-time rendering engine Everimaging has created. I am becoming more impressed with each passing moment.
This image produced the most readily evident issues that would have resulted in my being not so inclined to use it in our blog. There are 3 areas that contain significant “blooms” of exposure that I am not happy with in the least. The first area is surrounding the white sailboat on the left area of the frame, the second area is in the forest on the mountain pretty much dead centre, and the third is in the waters reflection in the bottom right area of the image.
This image produced excellent results from HDR Photo Pro. Well balanced in terms of blended exposures, we can see no real areas with bloom. Also, the colour of the fascia on the brown building and the attached Coca-Cola sign are both a much better representation of the actual scene as it was shot.
Again, we have another example of an image that I probably would not post. This image was taken only as a test image, this is not really a subject of interest per se, but does show strengths and weaknesses in the 2 processing engines. This image is too soft in several spots, and in the left portion of the frame the sky has a terrible artifact that was produced by Photomatix. This is a common problem we have with our processing in terms of image creation, and in many cases results in sub par results that do not get posted.
This version is just nearly perfect in terms of photo-realism. Well balanced overall exposure, with a perfect sky and really great details in the textures and tones of the wood of the bridge. And once again, the water in the forefront section and it’s reflection are just incredibly blended during the merge.
And in our final examples, we see more of the same. Better and sharper image quality, better overall exposure blending and better overall ghost handling as exemplified in the water areas of the images. There is something with the tone I would process differently if doing it again today with my new found experience with the product, but as these are just demo and test images that were created with my first attempt at using this software, a few minor errors are OK in this context.
From a technical stand-point, I was also extremely impressed with the time savings in terms of the real-time rendering engine. As with Photomatix, extended use revealed that my particular style was able to be achieved with the setting of the slider controls in roughly the same position for each picture processed, with only slight adjustments needed to render the desired results. This supports the fostering of artistic style, and coupled with familiar and well-known parameters for the photographer during processing it creates a comfortable environment to perform bracket merges and tone mapping.
As I continued to use the software processing a shoot captured during an Antique Truck Show, I became more comfortable and happy with the output from HDR Photo Pro. With a bit of adjustment, I was able to create more naturally appearing imagery that provided more dynamic range, subtly. We always strive to produce the most photo-realistic images we possibly can with the technology and knowledge we have. When I first discovered HDR processing I was thrilled, as I was looking for this precise solution in my photography practice, and the results were precisely what I was trying to convey. Now with Everyimaging’s HDR Photo Pro, I am going to process all our images in this application and look forward to producing fine art photography that truly resembles real life viewing.
July 20, 2011 18:41PST
It’s with a heavy heart that I must post a retraction and an apology tonight. It seems that I wasn’t using the application correctly when I did the above test comparison images. When I then tried to use the application correctly, the results were not acceptable and therefore I cannot recommend usage of this program after-all. And for those who may have downloaded and tried the application due to my faulty review above, I am terribly sorry for your time spent following something I had said which was untrue.
The images above are NOT true HDR images. They are only single frame tone mapped images. The mistake I was making was that I was not merging the brackets properly and was only working on a single frame in the set. Both Mrs. Toad and myself remarked to each other as I was going through the test about aspects of the results we were seeing, and it turns out those remarks were really the tip of a much larger hidden iceberg and I should have noticed the problem sooner.
The images taken here, and of the Antique Truck Show series we’re currently running on our blog here, were all hand-held 3 bracket images. When the contrast isn’t too great and I need to move during a shoot I will often go this route and do a hand-held shoot. Today I went out with the idea of specifically grabbing 5+ bracket images to run extended tests to verify my previous results and that’s when my error showed up.
Most of the above statements are still true about the application, except for one key point. There is no anti-ghosting at all. For us, this is crucial. Photomatix may not be absolutely perfect in all respects, but it’s ability to anti-ghost an image, especially when you do it with the manual mode, is almost perfect. This is a key point for us as we shoot outdoors 99% of the time and things ALWAYS move when you’re outside… a bird, a plane, a mosquito, the blowing winds across the tundra… you name it, something moves… and nothing drives me crazier than a bunch of ghosted leaves on a tree. So, without this ability I cannot use this software for our processing, nor can I recommend it to you.
And once again, I apologize profusely if you read my previous post and spent time working with the program. We certainly didn’t mean for this to happen.