There is much mystery and controversy surrounding “HDR” photography and much of it is comes from the infamous fake look that is too easy to attain when tone mapping.  But another method, called Exposure Fusion, makes it simple to get photo-realistic results from the same bracketed set of images.

So if you avoid using bracketing to capture a high-contrast scene, or you don’t think you like HDR, Exposure Fusion might interest you — and may have gone unnoticed when processing images in Photomatix.

Processing bracketed images with Fusion is like a semi-automatic way to layer your images in Photoshop and then choose the best lit pixel from each source image.  One can do this in Photoshop by layering your images and preceding to mask areas in and out which can be very time consuming.

But you don’t have to accept what Photomatix thinks are the best pixels because you can use familiar looking slider adjustments to process your unique scene.  There are even multiple methods of Exposure Fusion in Photomatix with one of them usually working best for a specific kind of scene.  The following are some recommendations to get the most from fusing your images in Photomatix Pro:

  1. As always, pay special attention to capturing the *full* dynamic range of the scene.  Please see my post here for details aboutcapturing all of the dynamic range because taking shortcuts when shooting will make things harder later.

    Fusion Presets
  2. Don’t directly load RAW files in Photomatix Pro because dedicated RAW converters are best at ‘beautifying’ the images.  Since Exposure Fusion simply uses the best from each source image, it’s particularly important to start with the best source images.
  3. If you convert the RAW files yourself, be sure to apply noise reduction and lens correction (don’t forget Chromatic Aberration reduction) during that step.  Also some contrast and highlight/shadows is fine here, however you like it.
  4. Load your bracketed set of TIF/JPG files into Photomatix Pro.  When you see the Preview (that’s when the sliders are showing, notice the pop-up menu in the window with all of the Preset ‘thumbnail’ images.  In that menu, choose ‘Fusion’ so that only presets using other methods don’t distract you.
  5. You can try some of the defaults and presets just by clicking the thumbnails to see what you get right away.  When one of them is close, try tweaking the sliders.  You can always go back to the preset by clicking it again.
  6. One of the places that Photomatix Pro 5 excels is with interior scenes that include a window.  This situation is notoriously difficult to handle by bracketing images so start by choosing the ‘Interior’ preset and/or going to the ‘Fusion/Interior’ method is good for this kind of shot.Photomatix Interior

When processing bracketed images, and I do it often, I normally start with Exposure Fusion.  If I find myself processing a challenging scene, then I might use Tone Mapping. When I do that I know that I’ll probably need to post-process the image after tone mapping to bring back some of the contrast.

I hope that helps someone out there that hasn’t tried, or hasn’t been happy with, ‘HDR’ results.