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Book Review: The Photographer’s Guide To HDR Efex Pro by Dr. Jason P. Odell, Ph. D. And Tony Sweet

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High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography has been around for a long time, but it has only been since 2005 with the release of Adobe Photoshop CS2 that it has become practical to create this style of image that were once difficult to produce. Since that time, more products have come to the market to make the photographers job easier and the results much better. The latest of these products is Nik Software’s plug-in for Adobe Photoshop – HDR Efex Pro.

Along with both being authors and instructors, Odell and Sweet are also beta testers for the new product and it was there that they realized that this would be a unique opportunity to educate their clients about HDR tone-mapping with this new plug-in. This has become the eBook The Photographer’s Guide To HDR Efex Pro. The book contains four main sections and is 188 pages in length.

“Introduction to High Dynamic Range Photography,” begins with a background on what HDR is, and how it relates to both how you see in the real world and how a camera sees. You are then introduced to software methods for tonal compression as well as an overview of this process works.

Next you will learn about techniques for shooting HDR in the field. They go into good detail on how to set up the shot, what variables need to remain constant, the need for using a tripod, the use of some sort of remote shutter release, and how many frames should you shoot. Finally they finish up with some post processing basics and recommended settings for RAW processing as well as pros and cons of using HDR for photography.

“Welcome to HDR Efex Pro,” next looks at Nik’s newest product and what the advantages it offers to the HDR processing world. They start off with how to install the plug-in and how to launch it from Photoshop, Adobe Bridge, Photoshop Lightroom or Apple Aperture. They also show you how you can use HDR Efex Pro as a stand-alone application using TIFF files.

Next they look at the HDR Efex Pro interface pointing out all of the different screen areas and the interface options such as preview modes, the various panels, the image adjustment tools, settings, preset browser, and where to find help.

“Working with HDR Efex Pro,” begins with a quick-start guide to using the product in all three interfaces. Then the talk moves to image alignment because even though you may have use at tripod, there may be times that the wind could still cause some shake, you may not have a cable release which could cause movement, or the situation may call for not using a tripod.

The next topic is about ghosting – that is when an object moves between frames, and how you can fix the problem. Then it is on to the image adjustment tools, the tonal compression control, and global adjustments sliders. Here they give a lot of good detail about each of sliders and how they work.

From there it is now on to the HDR Methods pull-down list where they take on each of the 20 different methods, what they do, and which of the preset groups that method is used in. They also show images and how they are affected at each of four different percentages. They also break down the methods in to several “families” such as realistic, artistic, and intense.

Now that they have completed the global adjustments, they look at the selective adjustments. In the Nik software product, these are known as control points. Here they show you how to use these control points to get the best adjustments to localized areas. Then they complete this panel off by showing you the finishing adjustment tools which are the vignette and levels and curve tools.

Next they move on to the HDR Presets panel which gives you 33 starting points through pre-made settings. When you select one of these, they automatically set the adjustments for you. They finish this section off with showing you a HDR Efex Pro editing workflow. This includes a workflow for within the plug-in as well as outside the plug-in.

“Creating Fine Art High Dynamic Range Images,” now gets into the heart of making images. This section takes up most of the remainder of the book in which the authors provide their recipes for creating HDR images. This section is broken down into four general categories – natural, artistic, black and white, and special. Each section first presents the various recipes and then provides a gallery of the author’s images with detailed descriptions on how they were created.

The natural recipes look at landscapes, natural exteriors – such as city streets, and natural interior – such as inside buildings, and how best to treat them for HDR, yet still make them look realistic. Artistic does the same thing, but now to bring out a higher grunge look to them. Here there is also a bleached color recipe as well.

Black and white recipes look at both standard black and white conversion using HDR methods as well as intense methods. The special techniques are how to tone-map a single image to get an HDR feel to it as well as two methods for creating panoramic HDR images.

The Photographer’s Guide To HDR Efex Pro finishes up with three appendixes. The first is a listing of the HDR Efex Pro keyboard shortcuts. The second is a list of the standard HDR presets the come with HDR Efex Pro. The third is a listing of the author’s custom presets that they describe in the book and that you can add to your own collection. These presets also come with the download as well and include a separate document on how to install them on your system.

The Photographer’s Guide To HDR Efex Pro comes as an eBook in PDF format. While it is secure, the authors not only allow you to print a copy, but in the licensing of the book they let you take it to a printer to have it professionally printed as well. The book is available at Luminescence of Nature Press for $24.99 USD.

The Photographer’s Guide To HDR Efex Pro is very well written and organized in a logical easy to understand progression. It takes you through every panel and slider, clearly describing each one and the affect it can have on your image.

The Photographer’s Guide To HDR Efex Pro also contains many of the author’s images and gives you a basis for what can be done to your own images. HDR Efex Pro is a complex product with a lot of features and this book does a great job of breaking it down into understandable bites. If you have HDR Efex Pro and want to make the most of it or if you are thinking about buying HDR Efex Pro, then I can highly recommend The Photographer’s Guide To HDR Efex Pro

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.