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Nik HDR Efex Pro Software Review - Preset Heaven

Harbour Walk (Grannys Attic Preset)

Nik Software are well known for their excellent black and white conversion software, Silver Efex Pro, and now they're stepping into the world of High Dynamic Range Photography, with HDR Efex Pro.

HDR Efex Pro is a plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. It isn't a stand-alone piece of software, so you'll need one of the afore-mentioned programmes to use it, but trust me, it's worth it!

Nik's HDR Efex Pro offers an ease of use that hasn't been seen in HDR Tone-Mapping software before. It's range of presets and finishing options means that it is very simple to create dramatic looking photographs without all the slider fiddling of other software. Lets take a look.

Portsmouth Harbour (Realistic Strong Preset)

 All the photo's on this page have been captured with my Canon EOS 350d / Rebel XT. The HDR's have been rendered from 3 exposures, + and - 2 EV, hand-held in aperture priority mode. They were shot as .jpg's, copied to my computer using Adobe Bridge, then imported in Photoshop with the "Merge to HDR Efex Pro" option. After doing so, you'll see the dialogue screen below.

 A preview of the tone-mapped image is in the centre, with the fine slider-based controls on the right, and the fantastic pre-sets on the left. As a beginner it's very easy just to click through the presets seeing which one is right for your photograph.

If you've used other HDR software you'll know had frustrating (and time consuming) it is to play around with the sliders and controls to get the look you want. With HDR Efex Pro you'll get 99% of the way there with a pre-set, then you can fine-tune with the sliders if you so wish. 

Buildings, Petersfield (Bleach Bypass Preset)

More great features of HDR Efex Pro are its finishing options. Normally you'd have to do this kind of thing back in Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture, but HDR Efex Pro includes a curves dialogue to adjust contrast, and a dark / light vignetting option for that final polish.

 It's difficult to show here, but Nik have also included their U-Point Selection Technology. U-Point allows you to select part of an image based on its tone, without having to use masks or layers. You can then alter contrast, saturation, detail, strength, etc, for that particular part with the changes bleeding into other parts of the photograph. Very powerful, and very useful.

Old Building, Peterfield (Grannys Attic Preset)

As you can see by these photographs HDR Efex Pro deals well with hand-held HDR's. I didn't push the software too hard by offering it images with moving people or swaying grass, but the anti-ghosting and alignment algorithms have coped with my shakey hands very well.

Church, Peterfield (Soft Monotone Preset)

 I've already found the bundles presets more than adequate, and Nik has made more available online, for free download.  Hopefully Nik will continue to add to the library and let ordinary users upload their favorite settings too, opening a whole new world of different looking HDR photographs and photography.

Stokes Bay Sunset (Vibrant Scenery Preset)

 A common complaint with the HDR process and technique is that it just doesn't work well with subjects that have movement in them - people, animals, vehicles, etc. I'm pleased to say that HDR Efex Pro works extremely well with single exposures too. Just convert them to 32 bit mode, then the HDR Efex Pro plugin will render them just like a multiple-exposure sequence.

Obviously you won't have the same dynamic range, but you can create a distinctive look and make some very striking photographs. The image below was a quick snap-shot given the "Vintage Colors" preset treatment. 

Shooting With The Colorpack II (Vintage Colours Preset)

The proof is in the trying, so I recommend that you download the free, fully functional, 15 day trial of HDR Efex Pro before you buy. Give it a go with a few photographs, embrace the wonderfully different aesthetic that is a well-done Tone-Mapped HDR, amaze yourself and have some fun.

Thanks for reading, Rob.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Is HDR the new frontier of photography or an over-done fad that'll disappear when everyone comes to their senses? Does the HDR process take all the truthfulness out of an image, or is it in fact a way to create photographs that are closer to the way we really see? What's your HDR software of choice, and what hints and tips could you share to help us all create better photographs? Please add your comments below.


Reader Comments (12)

If you want to make HDR's which doesn't look like HDR, does Nik's software manage to do that? What i mean is like a photo with high dynamic range, but casual observer thinks it is more realistic looking than normal ldr image.

November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSami

Hi Sami,

Nik's HDR Efex Pro has several presets that will give you very natural looking photographs.

Thanks, Rob.

November 14, 2010 | Registered CommenterRob_Nunn

Personally I think it looks awful because it bears no relationship to how we see the world.

December 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Scott

Thanks for the post...

HDR, like any technique, is a tool, which can be done very well or overdone very easily. So it becomes very subjective and people become very anti-HDR because they have only recognised the extreme processing style. A well executed "normal" HDR can be hard to pick from a standard image except for the depth of the image.

I personally prefer the normal look but will occassionally do more extreme processing when I think it is appropriate for the art of the image. A couple of examples linked below

December 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKeith

I think once the HDR programs become better and look more realistic it may become mainstream for art photos. I see that starting to happen now. I don't see it for used for news or sports. I defiantly think it will catch on for real estate and photo work like this because of the way buildings interiors can be portrayed. I would not be surprised if camera manufacturers add a HDR mode to their cameras in the future.

December 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteranother rob

I am not that enthusiastic about HDR and they way people tend to use the tools for it. – But I will admit that I have seen a few photos that were very well made and looked very good....they were the exception...
A couple opf photos above, the sunset and the "marine cityscape" just look underexposed...
The sunset is a type of shot that needs no "processing" – it should just be taken right. – And the cityscape looks natural as well, just underexposed.
I used to do "HDR" in camera on film...and when it worked, it looked fantastic...but it wasn't really the same general, there is something "wrong" with hdr and the effects tend to be "trite"...and "poorly fraudulent"...

December 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergunnar in la

I love it for the effects Im looking for in a pin up photo, cant wait to try it on my own stuff. Wouldn't want to use these presets all the time, only in certain situations.

December 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatti

I see the posts are all over the place when it comes to HDR but as a photographer for over 30 years, HDR is the answer to some very hard-to-get photos with high dynamic range problems. I've used HDR for three years now and expect the next generation cameras to have an HDR option you choose that will allow you to take one photo and the camera will save 3 to 5 images at whatever exposure compensations you preset. This will eliminate the hand-held issues, time issues and moving object issues. It's just a tool to use when needed or wanted. Ansel Adams used all the tools available to him as well. I've no doubt he would have used HDR. PS is a tool. LR is a tool. Aperture, etc.

December 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTerry Honyoust

I just love the Anti-HDR comments. Clearly, some photographers "don't get it". HDR, by definition, is only an expansion of the EV range. Depending upon the amount of EV variation, one can create a file which is very close to the range of human vision -- So much for "It doesn't look right".

No, the objectors are really talking about the tonemapping process. In other words, "How do you get a 32bit HDR down in range to something that will print or display on a monitor. This has NOTHING to do with HDR!. In the old days, we talked about the range of a projected slide, and the disappointment of prints -- same issue. (But we didn't say the slides looked like crap)

There are multiple algorithms for tonemapping -- several within the NIK product. One is not better than the other -- the proper one needs to be chosen for the particular photo and the effect desired. So complaints must be targeted to the photographer's post-processing choices. Some photographers feel if they shoot a photo in HDR, they must make it look "different" -- some not. Many landscape photographers use it to keep the sky from getting blown out. With "normal" tonemapping, the viewer would not know it's an HDR.

I lost the link, but there was a wonderful web example posted by a European landscape photographer who dared you to pick which photos in a series were HDR processed and which that were not. No one who commented could guess correctly!

Finally, remember Scott Kelby's famous remark "While many photographers don't like the HDR 'look', non-photographers love them"

-- PhotoRob

December 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPhotoRob

I've been shooting architecture for a construction company for several years now. My primary interest is in landscape & macro photography so I generally just use flash for subtle fill. I'm not very versed in interior lighting so HDR is what I've found to be beneficial in my architectural photos. It allows me to capture the details of construction (granite counter tops, the grain in the wood floors, beams, etc) while keeping the photo 'pleasing' and more natural looking. It's all in how you want to process the image.

December 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Thanks for the comments everybody!

December 5, 2010 | Registered CommenterRob_Nunn

All I can say about HDR is: "Nunn better!"

December 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

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