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Macphun Aurora HDR (and matters HDR) - part 2 of 1 2

by Mike McNamee Published 01/02/2016


The Photoshop options are more limited than Aurora and this default, auto-image is always rather flat, requiring quite a lot of adjustment.

Photoshop Methods
In Photoshop you can use HDR Pro to merge files automatically. This also provides a limited number of presets and a modest collection of sliders. At the extremes, the outcomes can be as garish as those made with Aurora. The default condition was rather boring and flat, and additional modifications would certainly be required.

To create an HDR image from a bracketed set, highlight the sequence in Bridge then click>Tools>Photoshop>Merge to HDR Pro. On our system it took 1m 20s to collect five Nikon D810 shots together and open the Merge To HDR Pro dialogue panel. From this panel the Tone and Detail sliders (Gamma, Exposure and Detail) may be adjusted to achieve the desired result. In our example, nothing acceptable was generated! Even at two stops underexposure there was some highlight clipping in the clouds before the sun. The +2 image was still a little too dark and an adjustment of +1 stop was required (ie a total of +3 stops). Combined with the -2 image, this gave an effective range of five stops.

Photoshop - The Manual Stitch
None of the automated routines from the Adobe software worked particularly well and so we resorted to manual stitching. This has the advantage of leaving the photographer in control of the elements that are represented in the final blend; one of the issues with landscapes is the breeze moving trees and bushes so that a combination of five shots is something of a mish-mash.


Photoshop easily goes over the top.

The sequence we used is as follows:

  1. We chose the highest and lowest exposure variants based on the detail in the sky for the low exposure and the bushes for the high exposure.
  2. Both files were highlighted in Bridge and then we clicked Tools>Photoshop>Load Files into Photoshop Layers. We have put the top layer into 'Difference' mode to highlight the misalignment caused by the use of hand-holding rather than a tripod.
  3. Select both layers in the Layers palette then click on Edit>Auto Align Layers. This matches the main features including the shore line and bushes.
  4. We then used the magic wand to select the base area of the dark image to make a sharp, hard-edged mask by clicking the Make a Mask icon with the selection active.
  5. The mask was then painted upon, freehand at low opacity, to blend the transition across the fields to the bushes in the foreground. The mask may also be adjusted using the Refine Mask Edge tool.
  6. Finally the Layer mask was selected and blurred to eradicate any unsightly transitions.


It seems that if you want an 'HDR look' then the better option is to go to a bespoke software such as Aurora or, on the PC, you could usefully look at Photomatix. It was interesting to note when scanning quickly through Martin Evening's book, Photoshop for Photographers our eye was taken by his landscape shot in Glen Etive, in the chapter on HDR, only to find on closer looking that the shot was a manual Photoshop stitch. This is perhaps a valid point, there is often enough flexibility in manually stitching a bracket sequence providing you take the trouble to learn the masking techniques - something you should probably be learning anyway.

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1st Published 01/02/2016
last update 25/03/2020 12:33:24

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Updated 25/03/2020 12:33:24 Last Modified: Wednesday, 25 March 2020