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« Lightroom instructional tutorials and DVD's | Main | Pentax Optio WS80 waterproof camera »
Sunday
Apr172011

A Review of Nik HDR Efex Pro

Limon, Colorado Grain Elevator

Black and white photography has been a passion of mine for my whole career, and I've spent a tremendous amount of time learning the nuances of how to make the most technically skilled images I can in that genre.

In the days of film, there were limitations to the latitude a particular medium could record.  Although color negative could capture more than black and white negatives, you were still limited to six to seven stops between highlight and shadow in terms of what could be recorded in one exposure.

That's one of the reasons why Ansel Adams developed the Zone System for black and white films.   By adjusting the exposure and processing time, it was possible to either expand or compress the dynamic range of the film.  In doing so, either more detail could be captured (N minus development), or overall contrast could be boosted (N plus development).

Needless to say, it was a laborious process, both in the pre-visualization (knowing what you wanted the image to look like when it was printed), exposure (lots of calculations), and processing (altering time and temperature in the development stage).

But with digital capture, the limitations of dynamic range are no longer a problem if you are shooting in situations where you can do multiple exposures.   Yes, digital camera sensor still have limited dynamic range,  but if you make separate exposures that hold all the detail in the highlights, and all the detail in the shadows, you can assemble the resulting files.  By doing so,  you can  see in your photograph everything your eye can see.  And more.

In the early days of digital capture, I would make multiple exposures, then place all of them as layers in one file in  Adobe Photoshop.  Then I would make masks and reveal all the details I wanted by taking parts of one layer and parts of another to make the perfect exposure.

Now,  NIK Software HDR Efex Pro has come on the scene and made all that laborious effort a thing of the past.  It automatically assembles multiple images (I generally shoot between 7-9), into one file.  Once that is done, you have lots of options for finessing the picture through the program interface, which is elegant and well organized. 

On the left side are numerous visual presets for the look of the file, and there are preset categories to help you sort through the possibilities.  Once you've chosen a preset, you can then move to the right side and further enhance the image with tone compression, plus global adjustments for exposure, contrast, saturation, structure, blacks and whites, and warmth.

The topper in all this is that like the other Nik software programs, HDR Efex Pro uses the U Point ® Technology.  This powerful tool allows you to control local areas for exposure, contrast and saturation.  So in essence, it allows you to burn, dodge, and alter the look of the image before you exit the program.

To be clear, Nik HDR Efex Pro is surely going to be more of a hit with people shooting color, and I've gotten some great results in that category.  But because black and white is where my heart is, I was interested to see what it could do in that environment.  

In this example, I chose the Monochrome, Contrasty preset from the left side.  Then on the right side, I backed off the contrast and whites, and added some structure (which enhances details in textured subjects).  One nice feature of the program is that if you want, you can save the formula you like as a custom preset, and access it for similar images.  Next, I added two control points in the sky, grouped together so I could add contrast between the sky and clouds in a uniform way.  Finally, I added a control point in the tank on the left and adjusted the contrast and density just a bit.

This whole process was incredibly easy, and the resulting file is impressive.  Something that might have taken days in the darkroom was accomplished in just  a few minutes.  Amazing.  What a great time to be a photographer.

As full disclosure, I have had a relationship with NIK for several years.  But I don't use or endorse anything I don't fully believe in.  Never have, never will.  I highly recommend this latest member of the NIK software family, which is available for purchase or as a 15 day trial offer at the Nik Software HDR Efex Pro page.

Reader Comments (5)

I've been using HDR Pro with infrared exposures from a converted Nikon D200. I later convert to B&W using NIK's Silver Efex Pro with great results.

May 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Clark

Allen
Very nice overview in how HDR Efex Pro works. I love the software too.

Matt

May 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Graham

Thanks for this writeup, I was curious how the HDR stuff would work in B&W images. You did a very good job of explaining the processes involved.

May 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrich cower

Thanks for the feedback. The more I use it, the more impressed I am with it.

October 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterAllen Birnbach

Thanks for the comment. I'm able to offer discounts on Nik. Check out the website for info in case you are looking to buy another one of their packages.

October 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterAllen Birnbach

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