For a while now, I’ve been itching to begin experimenting with incorporating the Photomatix software into my workflow. One bright sunny Michigan morning, I had the opportunity to do just that. I found myself driving through downtown Port Huron after a networking event, my Canon 70D camera, 18-35mm F1.8 Sigma Lens, and tripod conveniently nestled in the passenger seat next to me. As I crossed over the downtown bridge, I decided that it was the perfect time to take some bracketed shots. The morning was clear and the sun was bright. No better time than the present. I found a parking spot, pulled out my gear, and ambled over the bridge pedestrian walkway to the center point. Facing east, I had a great view of the Black River.
Let the Photomatix experimentation begin.
Taking Exposure Bracketed Photos
As the bridge had a tendency to raise for boats passing underneath, I decided I wanted to be quick about it. Deciding against my tripod, I lightly balanced my camera on the rails of the bridge while holding securely onto the straps. This stabilized the camera enough to take a few sets of exposure bracketed shots.
And as I was in the midst of getting snap happy, sure enough the friendly bridge operator ambled over and told me that he was about to raise the bridge for oncoming boat traffic. I kindly thanked him and made quick tracks out of harms way. It was a short session, but I already had what I had come for.
Time for the image processing stage.
Corrective Edits In Lightroom
Back in my home office, I only imported the three bracketed photos I wanted to work with directly into Lightroom (I had only had time to take a handful anyway). Here were the photos I decided to work with:
Initially, I made some basic corrective edits, which is usually my first step after I’ve taken a set of photos. In this case, I tweaked the Exposure, Contrast, and Saturation just a bit for each photo.
In particular, I did my best to recover some of the lost detail in the blown out highlights of the lightest image.
Over to Photomatix
From Lightroom, I first Shift + clicked all three images, and then exported them over to Photomatix via the Photomatix plugin by going to File > Plugin Extras > Export to Photomatix Pro. It immediately presented me with a dialogue box of simple options. Here are the settings I ended up using:
As you’ll see above, I decided to leave it on “Handheld” because I’d been too lazy to use a tripod. Holding the camera steady on the rails of the bridge was extremely helpful, but there had been some notable vibrations from the passing vehicles. This would have been the case had I used a tripod as well. I also left the “Reduce Noise” box checked for any underexposed images. I also left the box checked for automatically re-importing the images back into Lightroom, as I was sure I would want to make some additional final touches.
From there, it opened the image in Photomatix Pro. The main viewing area was in the center, while various sliders were in the left panel, and pre-built Styles (think Presets) were on the right.
Here was the initial result before I played with any of the settings, with which I was not displeased:
But I still wanted to try out some of the Presets. Whenever I’m new to a program, it’s the quickest (and most fun!) way for me to get started. From the Preset menu on the right side, I clicked on the Balanced Preset to check it out:
And I continued trying different Presets until I found one that I thought would be a good starting point. When I landed on the Creative Preset, I knew this was the one I wanted to work with for this image:
From there, I made additional tweaks, such as experimenting with and turning up the Strength, Color Saturation, and Tone Compression Settings. Under the More Options section, I turned up the White Point. Overall, my edits brought back some of the realism to the image, while still maintaining the dramatic feel.
Here was the result:
I ended up saving my settings as its own preset, since I could foresee me wanting to use it again in the future. I named it “Dramatic Surreal.” Then I clicked “Save & Reimport” and was taken back to Lightroom.
Back in Lightroom, I straightened the resulting image, and cropped it a bit.
Then, I applied some additional sharpening via the Detail panel in the Develop module.
Finishing Touches in Photoshop
From there, I exported the file out of Lightroom, and opened it in Photoshop. Not being able to help myself, I further sharpened the photo using the Topaz Detail plugin. As a final step, I couldn’t resist adding an additional layer and hand-painting in some very faint blue and gold hues. Since this was an experiment for fun, I decided to go for an artistic feel.
Here is the final result:
With this being my first foray into Photomatix, I wanted to push the envelope a bit to explore its potential. I found it made it extremely simple to merge my photos as a beginner to the program. It has quite a bit of promise. There will be more exploration in the future, that’s for sure!