Making Lemonade from Lemons with HDR Efex Pro 2
I’m one of those people who usually hates “grunge” HDR shots and when I use HDR I normally try for as realistic an interpretation as possible. In fact, one of the reasons that I particularly like HDR Efex Pro 2 (HEP) is because it’s easy to get realistic looking results.
I admit that I fall into the trap of thinking about using HDR only in situations when one area of the image would clearly be too dark if I exposed for the bright areas (or vice versa). What I often forget is that sometimes HDR can save the day when you’re faced with flat lighting.
On a recent trip to Iceland, the weatherman decided to give me a nudge to remind me that if I wanted to come home with any images, I was going to need to be creative. On previous trips there I’ve been blessed with dramatic lighting and phenomenal aurora displays, but this time we were grateful for those brief moments when it stopped raining. The cloud cover was so thick most of the time that lovely storm lighting didn’t appear either. So I opted to try HEP with some of the images.
Situation one: The ice on the beach was beautiful and the waves were dramatic, but the lighting, even with a thin break in the clouds, was flat. I had opted to photograph the waves using very slow shutter speeds to try to add some impact to the images. Often I opt to use Color Efex Pro 4′s Pro Contrast and Tonal Contrast in such situations to maintain as realistic a result as possible while increasing the visual intensity of the image. However, the images were so flat, that it seemed something more drastic was in order. So I opened HEP on a single image, and was amazed to discover the amount of light and contrast it was able to identify within the image. The image went from blah to “oh my” with the click of a preset! For most of the images in that series I started with one of the “Deep” or “Outside” presets and then customized them as needed. The graduated filter let me selectively lighten the foreground, while the exposure and color controls let me customize the depth of the shadows and brightness of the highlights as well as the color parameters. My final results are more painterly than I usually create, but in these circumstances, I like the result. A more documentary interpretation tells the factual story of blah weather, but it fails to tell the story of the magic I feel every time I’m here. The more dramatic painterly interpretations more accurately convey the feelings I experience in the area, even though they are not perfect literal interpretations.
Situation two: Seljalandsfoss is an unusual waterfall because you can walk behind it. I’ve been there several times hoping to get some shots from behind the water. The first time I didn’t have any way of protecting my camera from the spray (and the wind was blowing the spray that way) and on another trip there was so much ice that the path was impassable even with cleats. This time the path was clear, the rain paused, I had a rain cover for the camera to protect it from the waterfall spray, and I set off with determination. Not surprisingly, the area behind the waterfall is quite a bit darker than outside, so I shot the images using various exposures, from -2 to +2. However, to my eye the lighting was flat both behind and in front of the waterfall. I opened a series of images in HEP and initially did a realistic interpretation. However in hindsight, even that version had more color variation and contrast in the shadow areas than I was aware of seeing in reality. I quickly realized I was drawn to the thumbnails of the more painterly presets and began using them to create dramatic versions that made the image look better than it had in reality. Cheating? Maybe … but I prefer to remember the waterfall with the beauty and drama of the painterly versions. That tells the story of what I felt, more accurately than the more realistic interpretation.
By using HEP I was able to create lemonade from lemons, and have some images that I like from a trip where the weather was far from ideal.