Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Time to Update My Post-Processing Toolbox

My eyes have recently been opened to the potential powers of modern-day image post-processing tools and methods.  Since 2005 when I received Photoshop Elements 2.0 (included with my Canon 20D purchase) I've pretty much stuck with my usual post-processing workflow and have not really evolved with the times.  With my archaic methods, my ability to deal with images taken in difficult lighting (such as when the foreground is shaded or dark compared to a very bright background) was very limited.  My version of Elements was too old to even be able to use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).

So I've been reading up and what people are using today, and I downloaded a trial of the latest Photoshop Elements 10 and have been playing with that, and learning about the included ACR.  I have also been reading online about HDR, and downloaded a free trial of Photomatix.

Three Post-Processing Options
The three images above are the results of my explorations into this new software on a RAW image that was taken in difficult lighting.  My husband and I were sitting in the shade, having a beer, on a bright sunny late-afternoon in Tucson.  The foreground was very dark, yet the background elements and sky were very bright.

The left-most image is a result of adjustments using ACR and PSE 10.  In ACR I was able to lighten the foreground considerably using the "Fill Light" slider.  I also tweaked the "Vibrance" slider to the right to deepen the blues and yellows in the image.

I then thought I'd generate 3 TIFF files, adjusting the exposure of each in ACR (-2ev, 0ev, and +2ev), and blending them together.  This is known as "pseudo-HDR", because the source file of the HDR processing is a single RAW image.  In the above comparison, the middle image is a result of Photoshop Elements "Photomerge Exposure Merge" capability (new since PSE 8), and the right-most image is a result from my trial of Photomatix Pro.  In Photomatix, I started with the default setting of the Details Enhancer, then tweaked the sliders and knobs until I was satisfied.  There are so many sliders and buttons with this tool, it seems like it would take quite a bit of experimentation to get satisfactory results.  The results can get pretty wild with Photomatix.

So in looking at the comparison, all are much better than I could have gotten with Photoshop Elements 2, but I can't help but appreciate how much the beer bottle "glows" in the Photomatix version.  I've experimented with other images in my Photomatix trial, including bracketed exposures, and this glowing effect seems characteristic of the software.  It's pretty neat, if not realistic.  In a sense, since I am predominantly a nature photographer, I have in general been preferring the greater realism I can achieve with ACR and PSE10, whether I make the fill light/recover adjustments in ACR, or I merge multiple exposures using Photomerge.  

But I have to admit, for man-made objects, the results from Photomatix are pretty cool.

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