If you want to read more about HDR, you can do so here. If you want to see HDR photos that I have created using Photomatix, you can see them here. If you are looking for my HDR Tutorial, you can find that here. And lastly, if you want to buy Photomatix, you can get a 15% discount coupon code here.
October 2010 update: HDRSoft has recently released Photomatix Pro 4.0, which is a nice upgrade from the previous version. In the review below, I walk through some of the new features along with screenshots. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts via the comments field below, thanks!
Photomatix Pro 4.0 Review
As you have probably seen from all the mentions of Photomatix on my site, it is a product that I use regularly. It is awesome. I cannot say it any better than that. It really is a fantastic product. It is the market-leading product to use if you want to produce stunning HDR photos. How does it work you ask? Well, let me explain.
The first thing is that you need to have multiple bracketed exposures that you have taken of a particular scene. Everyone seems to do this a little differently. I vary the number of exposures that I take, depending on the situation. I have seen folks take as few as 3 and as many as 9. The most I have ever used is 7 exposures. That does give you quite a bit to work with. It also may depend on how many bracketed exposures your camera is capable of producing at a time.
Here are 6 shots that I took at different exposure values, ranging from -5 to 0. Normally I should shoot something more along the lines of -2 to +2, which is pretty standard, but in this situation the light was fading and I opted for these exposures. As you do this more often, you will often make snap decisions in the field based on your experience. You can see that based on taking bracketed exposures, each frame contains different levels of light, which is exactly what you need to produce HDR images.
You begin by opening Photomatix and you will get this simple menu:
Click on “Load bracketed photos”and then you select your source images from this screen:
Click "Browse" and find your photos, and select them, then click "OK":
Then, wait for this menu to appear:
There are different schools of thought here, regarding whether or not to click on things like “Reduce chromatic aberrations” and “Reduce noise”. All I can say is for you to try different things and see what you think works best. I tend to leave them checked.
I always select "Align Source Images" and "By correcting horizontal and vertical shifts".
After you have figured this out, and if you are skipping the "Reduce ghosting artifacts" button, then click on “Preprocess” and wait for the magic to happen. Ok, well it’s not really magic, it's software, but it will generate an image and most likely you are not totally happy with the picture you see. But that's ok because you haven't really done anything yet. You will get a slider menu where you can make a lot of adjustments. Read on...after this quick detour to explain the de-ghosting function.
Quick detour on de-ghosting - if you want to "Reduce ghosting artifacts"...read this part!
Regarding “Reduce ghosting artifacts”, I feel the same way about that one. It really depends on the shot. I have done it both ways many times and think you just have to experiment and see which looks best to you for any particular image you are creating. In version 4.0 of Photomatix, this is much more detailed than in the previous version. Now you can choose "Semi-manual" or "Automatic". I would probably not use this feature all the time, but thought it would be helpful to include it in the review.
This series of shots has a lot of moving cars, which can be fun but also really challenging. I thought Photomatix 4.0 did a decent job of trying to minimize ghosting, but not fantastic. I will say it is a huge improvement over v3.0 however. I have read on other sites that it does a great job with people but I have not tried it yet, since this version is so new to me. I will update this review when I have had a chance to go through that in detail. Suffice it to say, the feature is improved considerably from the previous version.
By the way, when you select the "Reduce ghosting artifacts" button, and ask to do it "Semi-manual", you are taken to a simulated image of yours so that you can select what area to "de-ghost". You highlight it with your mouse and then right click to select. Easy as pie.
Once you are satisfied with this portion of it, click "OK" and it will take you to your Preprocessed image with the de-ghosting applied.
End of de-ghosting detour...
You will now have a Preview Image, along with a slider menu to make further adjustments, a histogram to check out, and a nice group of thumbnails with some preset options for you. This is very similar to Topaz Adjust, if you know the product. Photomatix 4.0 now gives you the option to just click one of their presets and process from there. I still prefer to manually make my adjustments, but it is certainly an interesting update to the product, and will be useful for me sometimes too I believe.
Here is the main slider menu, which is very similar to the previous version but with some minor updates:
Here is the bottom half of that menu, as it now doesn't fit on a single screen:
Most of my work is done in the top half of the menu anyways, but it is always good to see the entire thing. One thing to note: not far from the top is the "Smoothing" box, which is the same as "Light Smoothing" in v3.0. I always stay with "High" or "Max" because I find that if I choose anything else, the photo starts to look a little strange, with a lot of halos and other recognizable HDR stuff that doesn't typically appeal to me. That is of course personal preference. I recommend trying things a few different ways until you find your own style.
Here is a closeup of the "Smoothing" menu:
This is where this slider menu comes in handy. There are a nearly limitless amount of things you can do with the image in terms of customizing it. The best guide here is just practice and practice until you better understand what all these sliders do to your image. Honestly, most times I do not even touch a lot of these and couldn't even tell you what the heck they do. So again, experience and experimentation are your best guides.
Here is what the histogram looks like:
And here is the Preset menu with thumbnails:
It's kind of hard to see such a small image here, but hopefully it is obvious that the presets are all different and offer some interesting options for you!
Here is the current state of my image, after making some of my slider adjustments in Photomatix 4.0:
I still have a ways to go on it but Photomatix 4.0 has brought it a long way already!
Looks much better than all the original files, doesn't it? I sure think it does, and if you have read this far then you probably agree. HDR brings out so much detail in light and shadow and makes the photos so much more rich. It's almost like being there.
Click “Process” and save the file in your preferred file format (I typically just use JPG).
Well, that's it for the Photomatix Review. Cool product, huh? Now, once I am done with Photomatix, I still have a bit of work left to do on the photo. I generally do touch up in Apple Aperture, and make other adjustments in Photoshop Elements. Both of those are excellent products. One other product that I really like is Topaz Adjust. It can create some really interesting effects in your photos and I recommend that you check it out!
If you want to see my entire HDR process, end to end, then you can see my HDR Tutorial here.