London – Canary Wharf at Night with HDR 19 April 2014

Roy and Bev went to London a few weeks ago to shoot London at night. We went to Canary Wharf where we all promptly split up and shot our own projects, then met back together a few times to move to another part of the neighborhood. I was mostly shooting bokeh to use for composites, and those are stashed away in my Stock directory. I was quite smitten by the way the different lights bounced around the different types of glass, different concrete textures, and occluded in the moist air. So I decided to try my hand at HDR.

Those of you have known me for a while know that I’m not a fan of HDR as it’s usually presented. I really don’t like the over sharpened, garish styles that are so common and quickly becoming so dated. But I do appreciate the fact that modern digital sensors have a very limited dynamic range, and the vision I want to share is artificially hampered by the technology in my cameras.

I had my tripod with me, and I decided to take some bracketed shots. I learned a lot, and I present these examples not as a pinnacle of achievement, but more as a record of what my first attempts look like so I can look back and laugh at them later. Once I got the images processed, I learned a lot about how to do it correctly and I’d like to save other people the time and effort of making my mistakes so they can do better:

  • Use a tripod on a solid surface and protect it from wind
  • Put the camera into Shutter Priority mode
  • Lockup the mirror before each exposure (Live View will hold the mirror up)
  • Use a remote trigger
  • Shoot one stop brackets at exposures from completely dark to 80%+ blown out

Once I had the images on my PC, I tried using Photoshop’s builtin HDR system. The experience was similiar to the Photoshop 3D system: underpowered and underwhelming. Clearly, I would need to invest in some real software to merge the exposures.

I spent a few hours trawling through forums and google and testing different softwares looking for a package that would work with my workflow and get me the results I wanted. Here are my notes:

NIK HDR Efex Pro2

  • [ Already Purchased ]
  • Select in LR and export to plugin
  • has options for ghosting, CA
  • not very many controls (similiar to Silver Efex)
  • saved a 48bit sRGB 100% size TIFF
  • GPU enabled
  • difficult to get the effects I want
  • easy to save and manage presets

VERDICT – Not the reason to purchase NIK package. Not suitable for my needs.

Oloneo PhotoEngine

  • €124.50
  • NOT GPU enabled, but is multicore enabled
  • supports batch processing
  • Export from LR through File > Plugin Extras
  • Export options (you can choose to send RAW or processed TIFF)
  • great color adjustment interface (color circle + luminence, targeted spectrum sliders)
  • Brightness and Saturation curve adjustments
  • history browser
  • presets suck, but great system for saving and managing custom presets
  • Export options – format, bitdepth, etc
  • no de-ghosting preview
  • de-ghosting doesn’t work well *THIS IS A DEAL BREAKER, IT’S SO BAD*

VERDICT – Not worth twice what HDRSoft is charging, and the deghosting is so bad that some images are completely unworkable when they work in other packages.


  • €80.00
  • Not GPU enabled (initial import and blend very noticeably slower than NIK, Oloneo and Photomatix)
  • Cannot export directly from LR
  • Very easy to target adjustments (tint, shade, saturation, contrast) to shadows or brights
  • SSSSSLLLLOOOOWWWWW UI – barely usable
  • copyright date = 2012; website doesn’t indicate any recent updates

VERDICT – if they’d enable GPU support it might be worth some quids, but lack of updates and glacial UI is a dealbreaker. Good results out of the box, but too frustrating to play with it more than once.

HDRsoft Photomatix Pro

  • €72 [15% discount code widely available through affiliate websites = €61.20]
  • not GPU enabled
  • supports batch processing
  • Updated every 3-4 weeks
  • LR plugin – RMB > Export > Photomatix
  • nice de-ghosting options on import
  • two modes: tone mapping and exposure fusion, like having two softwares in one box
  • can also de-ghost after stacking via lasso select UI
  • UI is shit (floating boxes, doesn’t resize to fit new container size)
  • All the tweaks are hidden under “advanced” buttons

VERDICT – Originally, I didn’t like this but the deghosting is really good, and with some tweaking I can get some good results. This plus SNS-HDR (if the GPU update actually happens) would be a good combo.

I decided on purchasing HDRSoft. The forums indicate it is the most popular software by a wide margin, and my experience has been that it’s the most capable. I really like how I can process a stack with tone mapping, then immediately reprocess the same stack with through the exposure merging algorithm with only a couple of clicks.

I’m still learning how to best get the look I want, but I’ll be posting some some examples where I applied the lessons I learned shortly.

As always, Click to Enlarge: