In June this year we were camping in Kingston on Murray and I wanted to capture the sun setting over Loch Luna. A fallen log in the water provided nice foreground interest to the sunset but it was difficult to choose a suitable exposure. In the end I took 2 photographs. (see below) The left image was exposed to get correct exposure in the colourful sky. The right hand image was exposed to get correct exposure of the log. The camera was on a tripod so that the two images were an exact match, except for the exposure.
This process sounds a little involved, but is actually very simple. In photoshop I opened the 2 images. Next I opened NIK HDR efex Pro from the filter menu. NIK filters is a free plugin that you can import into photoshop or lightroom. I imported the opened images into the NIK HDR program. The merge dialog appeared. This allows for assigning exposure values, aligning the two images and ghost aretfact reduction. I did not feel I needed to change any of the settings and proceeded with the photomerge. Once merged the tone mapping dialog opens.
The HDR image has a broad dynamic range and cannot be easily displayed or printed. Tone mapping is a process to resolve this image into a more manageable form. There are many and various ways to do this and the dialog gives you a paintbox of different effects. I chose “deep 1” and proceeded to process the image. Deep 1 seems to give good tonal variation, similar to the original image, whereas default gives a much flatter result. Once completed the resultant image (top of the page) opened in Photoshop.
In photoshop I did some adjustment of curves and sharpening and straightened the horizon.
Successful HDR images give equal detail in all parts of the image. You can see the clouds in the fiery sky as well as the grain of the trunk and the roots under the water. This is just not possible with the standard approach, even with Camera RAW. Often the process will result in increased saturation. This can be reduced, but in this instance I liked the rich colourful effect and left it as it was.
If you want a more natural look, you can take one of the original images (say the darker one) and lay it over the top of the HDR image as a new layer. By adjusting the opacity of this layer you can chose how strong you want the HDR effect to be. You can then merge the two together.
I hope that is easy enough to follow. Best of luck with your own HDR images.