Different HDR software for different results
HDR Expose

What works for me

One of the most often questions I get is, “What is the best HDR software to use?”.  Simply put, each has their own use.  I prefer Photomatix above them all due to its flexibility and controls which allow me to use its powerful sliders for majority of my brackets.

However, I use HDR Expose for most real estate HDR photography due to its extremely natural results when in a controlled environment like the interior of a house.  I have yet to use HDR Efex Pro for a professional job.  The reason for that is I have yet to get a truly clean and natural tone-mapped image.  Majority of the brackets I send to HDR Efex Pro come out a bit over-saturated and with too much contrast.  For me, the sliders are too sensitive for my use professionally.

However, for having fun with HDR, it works extremely well.  As many people have pointed out around the web, HDR Efex Pro seems to had some noise to the tone-mapped image as well.  Have no fear, noise reduction software is here.  Imagenomic has not updated Noiseware to 64bit yet so I have been using Topaz Labs DeNoise 5 for my noise reduction.

The Video

So what I have done is created a video montage for you to see. The video starts out by showing the Lightroom Export panel into the three most popular HDR applications out there. Just like my de-ghosting comparison of these applications, I did not include Photoshop’s HDR Pro because it is the weakest of them all.

After the Lightroom Export panel part of the video I go into processing the same set of brackets in each application. I made the speed faster to not take up too much time so just click pause and control the timing manually if you want to slow it down. The video is best viewed full screen in HD.

At the end of the video you will see the final product, which is also in this post. For the final image I brought the Photomatix tone-mapped image into Photoshop where I used Topaz Labs DeNoise 5 to reduce the noise in the sky. Then, using OnOne Software‘s PhotoTools I tweaked the image to my liking. Finally, I brought the HDR into Lightroom where I made some final adjustments.

The brackets were shot using my Nikon D700, 24mm f/3.5 PC-E Tilt Shift lens. This set of brackets were done handheld as well.

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Tone-Mapped images.

No other post production. Click on each thumbnail to view the photo larger.

HDR Expose
HDR Expose

From Lightroom to HDR Expose you have the option to merge the original photos or the ones with Lightroom adjustments. There are some simple white balance options and ghosting options. Included is the option to align the source images or not

HDR Efex ProHDR Efex Pro’s Lightroom module is slightly different from HDR Expose. Their module asks which format you want the photos exported as. This can come in handy for screencasts, but for a professional HDR job you would never want JPG. The only options are TIF and JPG. They also ask which color space you want to use. I stick with ProPhoto RGB for my HDR photos. Compression and Bit Depth are the last two options. Of course, for the best quality you want no compression and 16 bits.


Photomatix takes the Lightroom module to a whole new level. They offer exporting as JPG, PSD, TIF and DNG. When switching to DNG, no compression settings are required. Otherwise, you have the same options as the HDR Efex Pro module. However, Photomatix also gives the option for resizing the HDR which can come in handy for screencasts. Lastly, they include metadata options that can be embedded into your HDR tone-mapped image.

Final HDR Photo
Final HDR Photo

As I stated above, and also in the video, for my final image I used Photomatix. After tone-mapping I brought the image into Photoshop. I used DeNoise and PhotoTools to create a HDR I enjoy. I then made some final tweaks in Lightroom.

Thanks for reading and happy shooting,

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Hey Scott, Very true , thought I prefer Photomatix, may a times I do switch on to Artizen (good alignment options, even the ones that Photomatix cant handle) and Adobe PS HDR options.

    1. I’ve never experienced a set of brackets Photomatix couldn’t handle. Even the horrible handheld ones

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