HDR refers to high dynamic ranging imagery and is usually associated with light-based virtual or 3D imaging. It deals with a wide and dynamic range of luminance or brightness and contrasts starting from the darkest possible image to the lightest possible image. Thus, the higher the range of illuminated images, the better is the depth you can expect in your output. Usually, images of the sky serve as the best subject, but you can get better output when your pictures are at the same angle and share the same point of focus across several variations. However, you can take HDR shots based on any image, and the ones dealing with light elements are best suited for such experiments.
You'll need a camera that captures pictures across luminance levels. You need a minimum of two images, which can be JPEG images. Here, the pictures are bracketed at -1, 0 and +1 on the spot meter. Make sure you have a tripod so that your pictures are aligned. With RAW images, you not only get better lighting, but you can also use just one image to get the HDR effect.
Click the 'Load Bracketed Photos' button in the 'workflow shortcuts' window. Check the 'Align source images' option and ensure that they are matched by features. Click 'Load'. The 'Reduce ghosting artifacts' feature takes care of images with slight motion blur, while 'Reduce noise' helps control high ISO images.
Once you have your images converted to JPEGs, pick the effect you desire to see on your picture from the list of effects from the tray at the bottom. There is no right or wrong here; just go with your instincts. Since the image has specs of illumination, we have picked ‘Default' settings as the base to further enhance the image.
Once the base image is ready, select 'Tone Mapping'. Set the strength value to 100, and set the color saturation and contrast as per your needs. Try not to over saturate or create very dark contrast. Check on the ‘Light Enhancements’ option to add light effects. Use the ‘Surreal+’ option with caution, as it can make your picture look fake.
Processing the file
If you don’t enjoy tone mapping, you can play around with exposures, color balances and compressing tones. However, tone mapping is a good way to familiarise yourself with HDR techniques. Once you are happy with the output, go ahead and hit the 'Process' button. When the HDR formatted image is ready, just save the file, and you’re good to go!
TIP: Working with single RAW file
If you don’t have a tripod and or the required bracketed images, you can still try HDR effects on Photomatix Pro with a single RAW file. Just click the Batch Single Photos option, load the image and apply the required settings and click RUN. The only downside is that you won’t really be able to see how the settings make a difference to your image, until it is converted.