News and Views from Dave Wilson

Photomatix – buy it.

by on Feb.08, 2008, under Photography

Hamilton PoolAs you will probably have noticed, I’ve been playing with Photomatix from HDRSoft for a month or so now and I’m happy to report that I’m hugely impressed.

I originally bought the software to take some of the donkey-work out of creating blended pictures. In the past, I had used Photoshop layers and masks to blend together multiple exposures to give a single image with detail in both the darkest and lightest areas (like the Hamilton Pool image to the left). This manual process results in great pictures but is hugely time-consuming. Photomatix, however, will perform this magic automatically – merging multiple exposures of the same scene into a single 16- or 32-bit per sample image and then allowing you to remap the tones back into the usual 8-bit per sample range.
Although Photoshop CS3 also allows you to do this, for some reason, the results using Photomatix appear to me a great deal better. Contrast is higher, colours are more saturated and the overall image is generally just a lot more interesting looking. For comparison, here are two HDRs, one generated in Photoshop (on the left) and the same thing from Photomatix (on the right).
Texas House of Representatives Texas House HDR
In this case I did, admittedly, set out for a more contrasty feel in the Photomatix version but it took a lot less effort to get where I wanted to go than using the Photoshop HDR tools.
Aside from doing what it is advertised for (and what I bought it for) extremely well, I discovered another ability of the software that so far has really proven most useful. The problem with true HDRs is that you have to (a) plan in advance that you want to create this kind of picture and take multiple exposures of the scene and (b) carry a tripod with you so that you can do this. However, if you shot in RAW format, Photomatix also allows you to open a single RAW file and perform some serious mucking around with the image, generating some quite startling results.
Caerlaverock Castle Interior Culross Street 2 Archway and Volcano 2
I had heard about this ability before but had not really comprehended how useful it would be. One thing that didn’t dawn on me at all, however, was that the same ability could be used not only to create somewhat outlandish, dramatic results but also to perform more subtle fixes to subpar images. The first image here, I had written off as unusable until I started playing with it in Photomatix. The second was a reasonable image to begin with but the tool brought out the detail in the sky, improved the general saturation and contrast and generally improved it a great deal.
Mount Doom Low Tide on the River Forth 2

Overall, then, I end up getting three tools in one at the bargain price of $85. The nice folks at HDRSoft are also offering a 15% discount to readers of this blog. Just enter coupon code “DaveWilson” when you buy the software from here. By way of full disclosure, I should point out that this is a win-win since I get a small commission on all sales using this code too.

By the way, if you think any of the images here are good, take a look at Trey Ratcliff’s site for some of the most outstanding examples of what you can do with Photomatix if you really know what you are doing.

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