Multi-Image HDR vs Single Image HDR

Copyright ©2014 James P. Jordan

15 Shot HDR of Old Farm Workbench

Let me start by saying this is by no means a scientific observation. In fact, were it not for spell-check I probably couldn’t even spell “scientific” but that’s not the point! This is just a quick and dirty comparison, mostly so I can see how they look online. 

I’ve done a number of High Dynamic Range (HDR) images in the “true” fashion, i.e.; multiple images combined using HDR software (as seen here in the old farm workbench image) and I’ve done many just using a single image with an HDR plugin applied in PhotoShop, usually, HDR Pro or Google’s (nee NIK) HDR Efex Pro and, depending on the subject, the comparisons are close. Note the disclaimer that it depends on the subject. Darker images and those with large dark areas tend to show the noise a lot more when using a single image conversion. So I decided to try both options on the same images and make a comparison. As I said, the images here are not what I would call “control” images in that I only used the same, untouched Canon .CR2 RAW files converted to PSD using Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and imported into Photoshop CS 6.5. Using ACR I only sharpened the images, did a little noise reduction and knocked down the harsh highlights just until the warning highlights disappeared. Once brought into Photoshop the images were resized to 12″ x 8″ 300 DPI or 8″ x 12″ 300 DPI respectively and then either merged using software or, in the case of a single image, an HDR plugin filter was applied.

Below are some of the results:

12 image merged in HDR Pro in Adobe Photoshop

12 image merged in HDR Pro in Adobe Photoshop

 

12 image merged in HDR Efex Pro 2 in Adobe Photoshop

12 image merged in HDR Efex Pro 2 in Adobe Photoshop

 

Single image with HDR Efex Pro 2 applied in Adobe Photoshop

Single image with HDR Efex Pro 2 applied in Adobe Photoshop

The additional images below were chosen for the amount of detail present in the subject as well as the high contrast between the window and the bark areas of thework bench. You can really see the noise in the single image.

 

15 image merged in HDR Efex Pro 2 in Adobe Photoshop

15 image merged in HDR Efex Pro 2 in Adobe Photoshop

 

14 image merged in HDR Pro in Adobe Photoshop

14 image merged in HDR Pro in Adobe Photoshop

 

Single image file with HDR Efex Pro 2. Note noise in shadows and loss of detail and color in the highlights.

Single image file with HDR Efex Pro 2. Note noise in shadows and loss of detail and color in the highlights.

 

Comparison of single image file with HDR Efex Pro 2 (left) and multi-image merge using HDR Efex Pro 2 (right)

Comparison of single image file with HDR Efex Pro 2 (left) and multi-image merge using HDR Efex Pro 2 (right)

 

Detail comparison of single image and multi-image using HDR Efex Pro 2

Detail comparison of single image and multi-image using HDR Efex Pro 2. (Note the noise in the shadow under the bench.)

In comparison, using multiple images merged in a stand-alone HDR program or through Photoshop’s automate feature produces images superior to single image conversions but I think both have their place. For quick and dirty, a single image would work, especially if there isn’t a lot of dark areas in the image. For something that requires more detail, more effort and might be used commercially or printed, multi-image HDR is the way to go. There’s just a lot more latitude for the HDR program to work with in combining the images into your finished masterpiece.

One thing of note though. There has been a “fad” since HDR became more mainstream where photographers are over-applying the look. Unless there is a specific need, say you’re trying for an “other worldly, sci-fi” look, please, PLEASE don’t over do it. It looks kitschy and gimmicky and tags you immediately as an amateur. Start with a good, interesting image. You never want to rely on plugins to make your photograph interesting. Like cooking, you have to start with the best ingredients and then add “seasoning” to improve the dish. Dumping a ton of garlic into a stew won’t make it taste better if you used bad meat!

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