Photomatix Pro is a software designed to create stunning HDR Photography by taking several photos captured at various exposures and combining them together into a single HDR image.
You can pick up this software for about $100 bucks.
Here it is on Amazon: Photomatix Pro 4
HDRSoft Photomatix Pro Review and Sample Photos
A shot or the Kiyomizu Dera Temple in Japan using Photomatix and Photoshop with 3 exposures -+2EV with the Sony A7r
This program took me awhile to really understand. Not that it was hard to use because it isn't, the hard part is that technical learning curve of wanting a photo to look a particular way and having no idea how to get there.
I started by ignoring the default presets and creating my own. Every time I got a photo the way I liked, I'd save it as a preset. Then over time it became much easier and quicker to go through my 20 or 30 presets to find a unique style or look for.
Photomatix Pro is pretty much a major part of my HDR photography workflow now.
I won't use any other HDR software now, this one really is the best.
The presets are great, and you should always create your own.
This will help you quickly find looks that may or may not work for the scene. Every scene is different so not having presets is very hard. I wish the program came with some better ones that created more natural looking scenes.
I like the natural looking HDR photography vs the crazy surreal looking images.
My Workflow Using Photomatix Pro
This is important and I went through a lot of trial and error getting it right and I see a lot of other HDR photographers struggle with this.
Remove Noise First
I've come to the conclusion that you absolutely need to remove the noise from your HDR photos before you send them into Photomatix. Otherwise the algorithms that the software uses to combine the images ends up enhancing the grain into super HDR grain. And it gets messy. The software I've found that works the best is Topaz Denoise, although Lightroom works fine as well.
Cycle Through The Presets
I'll usually cycle through a few presets until I find one close to what I'm going for. Then you almost always have to do a few little adjustments to get it right for your seen. Once you're done, save it and load it back into Lightroom.
Back In Lightroom
Once the photo is back in Lightroom I'll usually do a few more color tweaks and contrast before sending it to Photoshop
What I do In Photoshop
Once the photo is in Photoshop I'll often sharpen here. I like the Highpass filter. Some photographers think Smart Sharpen is the way to go. Sometimes I use both.
Photoshop is also important for touching up and cleaning up. Things like removing some extra grain from the sky. Sometimes you'll have to bring back one of the original photos.
I also have been using Nik's Collection to give me access to more filters and presets. You can see my Nik Color Efex Pro review here.
Photomatix's HDR Process
Photomatix has two different ways of creating HDR images. Tonemapping, and Exposure Fusion.
Tonemapping Review, which manipulates the various tones of the images. Meaning, you can shift the highlights and shadows around so everything looks properly exposed, or shift all the tones closer together so everything is a Midtone. Then the software will create halos around each tone causing a separation. This gives that surreal look that HDR is so famous for.
You don't always need multiple photos to create an HDR image. The Photo above was a single image tonemapped with Photomatix. Shot with the Sony A7r.
Exposure Fusion Review, works similar with Tonemapping in that it will shift the exposures around a bit. But this doesn't seem to try lift the shadows to a midtone or pull the highlights. It seems to use more of what's there, and it doesn't create the halo effect that gives you that famous HDR look. I use this method maybe on 25% of my HDR photos. It often times looks more natural but has less controls.
The photo above used the process called Exposure Fusion. A great way to create a different high dynamic range photo without it having that tonemapped look.
Negatives About Photomatix Pro
I've decided to add a few things I don't like to this Photomatix Review so you're expectations aren't too high and you know what you're getting into.
Weak Sharpening And Denoise Tools
I wish Photomatix had some better sharpening and denoise tools but it just doesn't and it forces you to use all these other applications around it.
Maybe it makes more sense for you to just do everything in Photoshop and stay in Photoshop. But personally I don't mind bouncing around from program to program. Once you have your intermediate tiff file you're fine to do as many tweaks as you wish.
The Loupe Is Not Accurate
The loupe isn't really accurate. It's almost completely worthless if you're using it to inspect detail.
Auto Ghosting Is Only 50% Awesome
For most of my HDR photos I let photomatix handle the ghosting issues. But it doesn't always work forcing me to reprocess the image and go in and mask by hand. Not a huge deal, but it could be better.