Compared to many photographers my HDR workflow is pretty simple (I sometimes think it’s too simple in fact and not very professional) and doesn’t contain many steps.
Normally I follow below steps:
Apply some preliminary processing in Lightroom. Most of the time this is limited to setting white balance, applying lens correction and reducing chromatic aberrations. In case of photos taken with high ISO I can also apply noise reduction at this stage. I often apply some small sharpening here but this isn’t a recommended practice 🙂
Open images in Photomatix Pro using a Lightroom plugin. I start by choosing the most appropriate preset from my list of around 100 presets (believe me – having so many presets really helps as I rarely have to spend more than a minute adjusting settings). I have presets for sunsets, golden hour, winter, shooting sculptures, black & white, shooting inside the buildings, etc. Actually you can download my favourite ones. Then I adjust some sliders if I find this necessary (but often I don’t need to). Most of the time I adjust Strength, Saturation and Luminosity. You can find details on my HDR processing in my tutorial.
- I save the image as 16-bit TIFF. Saving to 8-bit TIFF or JPEG has the effect of reducing quality and the gradients aren’t that smooth anymore.
- After saving images they are automatically reimported to Lightroom. There I adjust settings like Vibrance (I often decide to reduce it to to the value between -5 to -20), Clarity (I often increase it to a value between 15 and 50), Contrast. If necessary I also correct colour balance at this step (especially greens as I have some problems capturing them properly). Similarly to Photomatix Pro, I often use presets at this step. At this stage I might consider that my photo is finished and export it to a JPEG file. However, if I decide on further editing it, I go to step 5.
- Export image in Photoshop… and now the real fun begins 🙂 Yeah, I’m a great fan of Photoshop. I prefer to edit my photos in it and not in Lightroom (which I recently started to use as an organizer and to apply some very basic editing). However, my editing in Photoshop is also quite simple… and yes I do use presets (Actions in this case) to make it even simpler 🙂 :
- I start with applying contrast. Most of the time I apply global contrast, only in case of difficult lightning conditions I can decide on doing it locally. Most of the time I use Curves for this purpose, sometimes Levels or Soft Light blending mode.
- I can sometimes change colors of the image to achieve stylized or very warm look. I do this by using photographic filters (especially warm ones), by editing curves, adjusting color balance (or hue/saturation) or by adding fill layers and blending them with the source image (using multiply or screen mode).
- I apply sharpening. Most of the time I do it using Smart Sharpen or Unsharp Mask. However, recently I started to sharpen with High-pass filter and I’m pretty satisfied with the results. As I often do have sky in my photos I often sharpen selectively. Sometimes I create Layer Mask and paint on it manually with a very soft brush. Often, however, I generate it automatically by finding edges in the image and applying sharpening only to them.
- Finally I save my image as a JPEG with a maximum quality.
This is my regular workflow of course. Sometimes I add several more steps (especially in step 5) but in most cases I don’t.