This is a Photomatix Tutorial. This started out as a how to on tone mapping, but it ended up explaining most of the program’s functions since the mapping process isn’t overly difficult by itself. This is accumulated knowledge from my personal experiences starting as a Photomatix newbie through becoming quite proficient with its options. Most of this is fairly easy to discover on your own, but instead of having to play with every feature, I’ve explained it here.
It’s important to note I’ve included in this photomatix tutorial my own default settings when I use the program. You may end up setting your own. I started out using the original default settings, but found them wanting in regards to little details I felt were necessary. Think of the original settings as the starting line and over the course of the journey you will likely make your own corrections.
Photomatix Tutorial: Options When Working With Tone Mapping in Photomatix Pro.
Let’s Define Tone Mapping…
It’s important to lay the groundwork for making HDR photographs by explaining tone mapping.
HDR image means High Dynamic Range image. In the process of tone mapping, when you take an HDR image that’s 32bit, and you need to convert it to a standard size like 16bit or perhaps 8bit, you will tone down the resolution but maintain certain details. For starters, with a digital photo you will have to display it on a monitor or perhaps print a copy. For this, you will need it converted to 16bit or less. This is where tone mapping comes in to alter the original image.
You can also tailor the image to look original or alter it as you desire. The net effect of this is that you can have a standard photo or a dynamic range photo in greater detail than you thought possible. Naturally, much of this is contingent on what your HDR software allows. They’re not all created equal and may not possess all the options for high definition images. Some of them were designed with tone mapping high definition photos in mind and some were not.
However, with Photomatix you will be in luck. Tone mapping with Photomatix gives the user plenty of options for realistic and surrealistic photos.
Techniques for Tone Mapping with Photomatix
For starters, we need to lay out the three types of tone mapping in Photomatix for HDR photos. Each of the methods comes with different options, so based on which one you choose, you will end up with a different style of photo.
- Detail enhancer – to turn a standard photo into an HDR photo, using local colors, use this option. This method enhances the photo’s details, and is quite popular for converting standard images into HDR images. It offers all the necessities, and will come up time and time again throughout this guide.
- Tone compressor – this differs from the detail enhancer by employing global colors to render an HDR photo. The result of this is that a more natural photo is created, and it cuts down noise and effects from halos. One big difference here from the first is that the final product has a tendency to lack certain details and some depth.
- Exposure blending – logically enough this hassle free option blends the options between detail enhancing and tone compressing. However, it still doesn’t feature some of the options that the detail enhancer does.
With those three options behind us, let’s move on to the work horse of Photomatix, the detail enhancer. It covers everything most people could possibly want pertaining to touching up HDR photos for realistic or dynamic purposes.
Working With the Detail Enhancer
The menu for detail enhancing has a lot of options consisting of 8 categories with 15 options for controls.
Let’s talk about them.
Summary of Controls for Tone Mapping
Being this a Photomatix Tutorial, below is a description of each control and how you can tweak your photo.
Succinctly, this control deals the strength of a photo’s contrast. For example, a bigger number for a sky would darken it and enhance its details. At the same time, this would brighten the foreground and extra details would pop from the shadows. Realistic images tend to keep this value lower, but for a really abstract photo you might try maxing it out for a wild effect. Most people would probably set this between 50-75, because the average photo doesn’t need the pixels going crazy on this option’s extreme settings.
This is a fairly obvious setting. This option enhances a photo’s colors. For the masses this control will probably hang around 55-65.
This option enhances shadows’ details and brightens the image. Many people just max this setting out unless they need a really natural looking image.
This option controls what most people refer to as the sharpness of an image. Its controls range from 0-10, and are also affected by the “Strength” setting, which, if set to zero, will render the Micro-contrast useless. The average photo would probably set this around 5 just to sharpen the image a bit.
Primarily, this option controls the amount of detail in a photo. For example, if you turned off “Light” mode and raised the value, you would lose some of the photo’s details, but the image would look more authentic. Many people keep the light on and set the smoothing low. The light enhances the photo in a way many people appreciate.
This setting has a major effect on the brightness of a photo. Many people use this setting quite a bit to play with a photo’s contrast, and it works well in conjunction with the Black Point.
By default, Photomatix leaves this option on zero. Just as the White Point enhances white and brightens an image, this option enhances black and, while still enhancing the contrast, darkens the image. This needs to be sparingly like its white counterpart, but together they can add dramatic effects to photos. Usually just turning it up around 25% suffices.
This option simply darkens and brightens the whole image at once (globally), not just the whites and blacks discussed above. Once again, keeping this around 25% normally seems to give the photo the right look.
This feature controls the coolness and warmness of a photo. The temperature of a photo is controlled by its blues and reds. More blues equal a cooler photo, and more reds equal a warmer photo. Most people only adjust this option minimally, because it can dramatically change the look and feel.
This option affects the colors in your photo’s highlights. For example, if you turn it up your sky will get more colorful, whereas if you turn it down the sky will lose color and enter the grey scale until you’re left with just blacks and whites.
This is the same thing as the Saturation Highlights option, but it affects shadows. Most people leave this option alone because minor tweaks don’t really make a big difference. But sometimes, for a funky effect, people turn it down to zero which changes all shadows to blacks and whites.
This is another option for tweaking a photo’s details, but the downside is as the details increase, so does the noise. Turning this value down brings out a photo’s details, but this comes at the expense of making the photo look stylized and messy. If you set this to 30, your photo will become almost fuzzy smooth and lose many details. Many people prefer to have this around 6-10 to balance the best parts of each extreme.
This is another way to affect the smoothness of an image, but it only applies to areas of light. By default, the photo also gets brighter as the value is increased. Many people adjust this setting differently from photo to photo depending on what kind of feel they want. When people want their whites to pop they’ll typically turn this up.
Logically this is the opposite of its “Highlights” counterpart and affects a photo’s shadows. By default, this also darkens the photo. Typically, the way shadows fall already looks pretty good, so people only adjust this if they have a specific reason for wanting to darken shadows.
Since shadows contain shades of dark, low light photos may have clear shadows and noisy shadows. Adjusting this can reduce the noise in a shadow so that everything looks smoother. Most people just leave this at zero for their HDR photos, preferring the natural look.
That concludes this Photomatix Tutorial. There are other guides available that feature photos and videos that may possibly give more details to help with your HDR journey. It’s a very rewarding tool for enhancing photography.
Remember your basic rules concerning lighting and positioning and using a tripod when necessary. When you’ve observed all that, you’ll notice that Photomatix can dramatically enhance your already well crafted, well planned, and well-conceived photo masterpieces. Hopefully this Photomatix Tutorial will help your visions come true.