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What to Look for in HDR Photography Software

The most important element of high dynamic range photography is, not surprisingly, the HDR software application. This is what you use to turn your bracketed photos (and single Raw exposures for pseudo-HDR) into high dynamic range images, and tone map to create super-saturated, attention-grabbing images, as shown in this figure.

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Spend some time trying out several of the applications to decide which one you like best. Choose the one that best fits your artistic sensibility, workflow, and budget. Look for the following list of features and options to help guide you in your trial and purchase:

  • Input file types: Make sure that the HDR application accepts the file types you want to work with — Raw, JPEG, or 8- or 16-bit TIFF.

  • Output file types: The HDR application should save a final tone mapped file in the format of your choice. Common types are JPEG and 8-bit and 16-bit TIFFs.

  • Processes Raw photos: Some HDR applications have limited Raw support for newer or less popular cameras.

  • Settings management: Being able to save and load tone mapping settings makes duplicating your work far easier. You can create baseline settings for artistic styles, subjects and genres, or conditions, and work from your saved settings rather than having to re-create the same steps each time.

  • Edits HDR images: Some applications perform rudimentary HDR image editing, such as cropping, rotating, and reducing noise. Applications with more options give you greater flexibility over where in the process you decide to perform these tasks.

  • Generates HDR images and tone maps HDR images: Generating an HDR image and tone mapping are defining characteristics of an HDR application. (See this figure.) Some HDR applications also have tone mapping plug-ins that work in Photoshop.

    image1.jpg
  • Other functionality: Some HDR software doubles as an image editor (most notably, Photoshop).

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