Photomatix is the granddaddy of HDR software, first released in February 2003 and currently in the recently released Version 4. It runs as a standalone program with convenient plug-ins to integrate it into Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. Using the Lightroom plug-in, for example, lets you select your source images and automatically export them to Photomatix. You create the HDR image in Photomatix and, when you save the result, Photomatix imports it back into your catalogue – which makes for an efficient workflow.
In standalone mode you start by loading your bracketed sequence of images. The interface is rather basic looking but clear enough in use. Photomatix reads the EXIF data and determines the different exposures. If this doesn’t work the program will ask you to input the values. For some images I used exposure compensation of +/- 2EV for bracketing but because the basic exposure was identical I had to enter the values manually; Photomatix ignores the exposure compensation EXIF data.
If you have moving objects in your bracketed shots the program will try to correct for this ghosting. I found the semi-manual mode worked best. This lets you draw around the ghosted areas and select which bracketed image gives the clearest result. However, the de-ghosting only works in Tone Mapping or with the default Exposure Fusion methods.
Photomatix processes the images into an HDR file which you can opt to display. This takes about 40 seconds on my PC (2.13 MHz dual core 4GB). The image looks very odd as it can’t be accurately displayed on your monitor, but the advantage is you can save this file as a master to create different treatments of your image without re-processing.
Next choose how to map the dynamic range of the HDR file to the restricted range of your monitor and printer. Photomatix provides several methods and a huge number of settings, so you need to experiment.
The image appears in a large preview window with the relevant controls on the left side relating to the method chosen. There is a range of pre-set effects, displayed as thumbnails which let you quickly compare different processing methods and settings. There’s a handy loupe showing a 1:1 view so you can check the results in detail.
When you’re happy with the result click the Save button and you are done.
ABOVE: Here you can see the difference between the original and edited versions – the details have been well pulled out, but it’s easy to go too far with HDR.
Photomatix has all the features you need for producing HDR images, whether you are looking for a very natural look or the more extreme styles. The workflow is logical and easy to follow especially using the Lightroom integration (and the same should apply to Aperture). The manually assisted de-ghosting works well and gives more control than other automated methods.
Taken from the February 2011 issue of Advanced Photographer magazine