Book Review: HDR Efex Pro After the Shoot

David Salahi Books, HDR 0 Comments

HDR Efex Pro After the ShootHDR Efex Pro After the Shoot by Stan Sholik is the third book I’ve read about Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro and it’s the best of the bunch.It’s packed with great information on how to use this software. The in-depth coverage provided explains the various presets and controls better than anything else I’ve seen. Nik Software doesn’t really provide a user’s manual. They do have a brief getting started guide and a series of good videos. But you’d need to spend hours watching videos. You’d get a lot of repetition and I seriously doubt that you would find detailed coverage like that provided here. If you really want to get the most out of HDR Efex Pro you need a book like this. It’s also nice to have a book for reference since videos don’t work for that purpose.

The book begins with an explanation of dynamic range in photography and explains the limitations of our cameras in this respect. The first chapter also explains tone mapping and how this allows us to get around these limitations.

User Interface Tour

Table of Contents

  • Understanding HDR Imaging
  • Getting Started with HDR Efex Pro
  • Opening Images in HDR Efex Pro
  • Working with Presets
  • Adjusting Dynamic Range with Tone Compression
  • Selecting an HDR Method
  • Making Global Adjustments to the HDR Image
  • Working with Control Points
  • Applying Local Corrections with Control Points
  • Finalizing the Image
  • When Things Go Wrong
  • Appendix A: Keyboard Shortcuts
  • Appendix B: Presets

Chapter 2 provides a tour of HDR Efex Pro’s user interface and gives some tips on customizing it. Chapter 3 has information about shooting for HDR and importing your images into HDR Efex Pro. Author Stan Sholik provides details of the import process for each of the four possible import paths: Adobe Bridge, Lightroom, Photoshop and Apple’s Aperture. This is helpful because the process works differently in each and these details help the reader to optimize his or her workflow. In this chapter the author also describes HDR Efex Pro’s features for aligning the multiple exposures in a sequence, using ghost reduction, and opening images as a Photoshop SmartObject.

Presets

Chapter 4 discusses each of the 30-odd presets supplied with HDR Efex Pro and explains how the settings of each preset work to produce their effect. Sholik also explains what changes from one preset to the next in preset groups where this is relevant. This kind of information is helpful both in understanding not only when to choose a preset but how the various controls work and how to combine them to achieve a desired goal. This may be more information than needed by newcomers to HDR Efex Pro who will probably just be looking to find a preset that works with a given image. But advanced users will appreciate these details.

Methods and Sliders

Beginning with chapter 5 the author gets into the heart of HDR processing with an explanation of how tone compression works. This chapter also provides the beginning of a workflow that is built upon during the next five chapters. After explaining how to choose the appropriate level of tone compression the author continues in chapter 6 with an explanation of HDR Efex Pro’s 20 HDR methods. As he does with the presets he explains how each method works and provides sample images for each showing the effect at method strengths of 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%.

In chapter 7 we really get into the meat of adjusting an image. Here we find a detailed explanation of HDR Efex Pro’s seven adjustment sliders (exposure, contrast, saturation, structure, etc.). The author explains the important point that these sliders were designed to be used in order from top to bottom. Doing so ensures that you are starting with the grosser adjustments and proceeding step-by-step to fine-tune your image. By proceeding in this fashion you can minimize the need to readjust settings made previously.

Another example of the useful information you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere is the note that you can adjust the sliders by using the keyboard arrow keys. I’ve been wishing I could do this since I began working with HDR Efex Pro. In Camera RAW and elsewhere in Photoshop you can adjust sliders with the up-/down- arrow keys but not in HDR Efex Pro. I’ve lamented the inability to use the up-/down-arrow keys elsewhere on this blog but what I learned in this chapter is that you just have to use the left-/right-arrow keys instead. This kind of detail makes this book invaluable for the hard-core HDR Efex Pro user.

Selective Adjustments

Chapter 8 delves into a feature that is one of HDR Efex Pro’s great strengths: local control points. With these selective adjustments you can adjust small (or large) areas of an image independently of the global adjustments which affect the entire image. Using local control points effectively can make the difference between a good image and an outstanding one. In some cases, it would be possible to get a similar effect once HDR processing is complete by using adjustment layers in Photoshop instead. However, there are two advantages to doing it in HDR Efex Pro. First, you’re working with a 32-bit HDR image and you get much greater flexibility in making changes. It’s like the difference between adjustments in Camera RAW and adjustment layers in Photoshop. Second, anything that speeds up your workflow is a good thing and local control points speed up your workflow. Here, as elsewhere, author Sholik does a thorough job of explaining how to get the most from HDR Efex Pro.

By chapter 9 some of the information about the seven adjustment controls is beginning to get a bit repetitive. However, for the avid HDR aficionado it’s worth plowing through because there is new information here which explains some of the finer nuances of these controls. In the remaining chapters the book details the finishing adjustments provided by HDR Efex Pro and troubleshooting problems like alignment, ghosting and noise.

Kindle Version of the Book

I have the Kindle version of the book on my Xoom tablet and it’s great except for one thing: it’s a bit hard to compare the differences between two or more sample photos. In some of the chapters Sholik discusses his process for adjusting the controls for a sample photo and he shows his intermediate steps to illustrate the effect of each change. But with the Kindle version of the book on my 10-inch Xoom I find that I often have to go backward and forward two or three screens to compare the images. This makes it hard to see exactly what has changed. I suspect that, with the greater information density of print, the images would be on the same page or consecutive pages and would be easier to compare. (I suppose I could also get out of my easy chair and look at the photos using the Kindle app on my PC!)

Conclusion

This is a book which can be effectively used by both the HDR novice as well as the more experienced user. It has the kind of in-depth information which is hard to find elsewhere and which can give the photographer a deeper understanding of HDR Efex Pro. The software’s features are covered more thoroughly here than anywhere else I’ve seen. This is an outstanding book, one which I’m sure I’ll be referring back to repeatedly.

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