Many of you asked me how do I process my HDR files and how do I add that WOW effect on my photos. This article describes the full HDR photography processing workflow that I apply on almost all my photos.
I took this photo of Chateau Chillon in Montreux (Switzerland) at sunset time. The photo on the left is the original raw file straight from the sensor while the right one is the final version processed with Lightroom + Photomatix Pro.
Initial Lighroom Processing
To process HDR files, you need to have multiple photos of different exposures, bracketed photos (use a tripod for low light condition to better control the noise). For the images used in this article, I took three photos of the Chillon Castle at Sunset time. One under-exposed (-1ev), a second one (0EV) and a third one over-exposed (+1ev).
The first thing to do is to slightly process the three bracketed photos using Lightroom. For instance, adjust the colors, contrast, clarity, noise and lens distortion as shown in the next three before/after photos comparison below.
Exposure: 10 sec at f/18, iso 125
Exposure Bias: (-1 EV)
Exposure: 20 sec at f/18, iso 125
Exposure Bias: (0 EV)
Exposure: 25 sec at f/18, iso 200
Exposure Bias: (1 EV)
Photomatix Pro Processing
Once the initial processing / adjustment / correction is realized on Lightroom. Export to Photomatix Pro. Apply the deghosting filter either manual or automatic to remove all the ghosting effects. I always use the automatic one (set to 100%) and the results were always great. There are different mode for processing HDR such as Tone Mapping or Exposure Fusion. Full guide on how to use Photomatix Pro is available here: HDRSoft Photomatix Pro support page.
Other great software that I have tested couple times is Nik software collection from Google HDR Efex Pro (Google Nik software collection).
Comparison between the raw file at 0 EV and the HDR version processed with Photomatix Pro
Final Processing Touches with Lightroom
Comparison between the HDR version processed with Photomatix Pro and the final version of the HDR after being processed with Lightroom
Once you process the three bracketed photos with Photomatix Pro. You can add further post-processing in Photomatix pro before final export. However, I usually prefer to apply the post-processing final touches in Lightroom. Try both methods and see for yourself which one fits best your needs.