I recently went on a photo-walk to Tew’s Falls in Dundas, Ontario with a group of photographers from Google+. Tew’s Falls is the tallest waterfall in the Hamilton area with a height of 41m (135 feet). The hike in takes about 45 minutes through the woods, along Logie’s Creek. There’s a very pretty smaller falls called Lower Tew’s Falls along the way to the main falls and we all stopped to take photos there. The weather was fantastic for hiking but not so great for photography with a beautiful blue sky with very bright sunlight. Lower Tew’s Falls is shaded by trees but there are gaps and you end up with very bright spots of light in your image. Lighting at the main falls was even worse with half of the falls in shade and the other half in direct sunlight. The dynamic range exceeded the capabilities of my Panasonic LX7 so I used HDR to come up with the images you see below.
Here’s how I processed the last image of Lower Tew’s Falls.
I used the auto-bracket feature of the LX7 with a 3 EV bracket because of the bright patch of sunlight in the top left corner. I set the camera to aperture priority at f/5.6 and under-exposed by 1/3 EV resulting in 3 exposures: -3.3 EV, -0.3 EV and 2.6 EV. After loading the raw images into Lightroom 5, I disabled all sharpening and added a bit of noise reduction. Here’s what the three images look like out-of-camera.
As you can see, there’s a bright patch of sunlight in the top left plus some patches of sunlight on the water and surrounding rocks.
I then export the three images to SNS HDR using its free Lightroom plugin. Once in SNS, I adjusted the image to even out the brightness between the hot-spot in the top left and the rest of the image. Here’s what the TIF file that comes out of SNS looks like:
I then take the TIFF file into PhotoShop CS6 where I start processing the image using a few of the Nik plug-ins.
The first is the Nik RAW pre-sharpener since up until this point there hasn’t been any sharpening applied to the image. I find that if you sharpen the image prior to processing it with your HDR software you end up with noisy artifacts that are difficult to remove later because HDR processing tends to emphasize micro-contrast.
Then I used Nik Viveza and added some control points to the water to reduce saturation and to increase structure, adding back some fine detail to areas that tend to become white blobs.
Next is Nik Color Efex Pro where I applied the following filters. First is one of my favourites, the Pro Contrast. I used two control points to restrict the filter to the water with Dynamic Contrast set to 40% and Correct Contrast to 18%.
Next is the Skylight Filter at 20% that adds warmth to the image. Control points are used to exclude the filter’s effect from the water.
Finally the White Neutralizer is used with control points to restrict it to the water.
The last step is output sharpening with the Smart Sharpen filter set to 100% and 1.0 pixels with Gaussian Blur. Here’s the final image again. As you can see, the main difference between the final image and the TIFF is that the water is brighter and has more detail, plus the image is a little warmer overall.
Of course, all of the above processing can be done without using the Nik plug-ins and just PhotoShop adjustment layers however the plug-ins are very convenient and do a great job. The control points make it easy to control where the effect is applied. I originally owned Color Efex 4 Pro and received the entire collection for free when Google acquired Nik.
I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.