HDRSoft Photomatix Pro Review and Sample Photos
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.
Amazon: Photomatix Pro 4
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. This is one of those things that just takes awhile and comes with repetition. To really know and understand how all the various sliders work with each other to produce the desired results.
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 the photo that was close to a look I felt would compliment a scene. That's pretty much my workflow now. And the software is great. I don't even bother with any other HDR software anymore and it's much better than Photoshops in my opinion.
The presets are great, always create your own, or find some free ones on the Internet or buy mine. Can't go wrong there. 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. 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 and tonemap them 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.
Once denoised and into Photomatix, I'll find a preset and tweak it to my liking before exporting back out to Lightroom. You'll notice creating HDR images tends to soften the image a little bit. This is partly from two things. Slight camera shake between the three shots so they don't line up perfect. So make sure your tripod is steady and sturdy, the other is from how the software blends the light as well as the micro smoothing effect. So go easy on that micro smoothing.
After the photo is back in Lightroom I always send it to Photoshop to do some sharpening and cleanup. I'll either use the Highpass Filter, or the Find Edges Sharpening Technique. You can watch my tutorials for those by clicking either of those links. They work absolutely great, especially the Find Edges Technique. I've seen other photographers using Topaz and other sharpening enhancing tools as well. I'm sure those work fine also.
In Photoshop I'll then do either a little more photo touching up, sky replacements from one of the raws if needed, or some extra denoising by hand before doing final color. And that's how I get crazy sharp HDR photos with Photomatix.
Photomatix's HDR Process
Photomatix has two different ways of creating HDR images.
Tonemapping, 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.
Exposure Fusion, 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 famouse HDR look. I use this method maybe on 25% of my HDR photos. It often times looks more natural but has less controls.
Negatives about Photomatix Pro
Stand alone the software is only 50% awesome. You need the rest of the tools and techniques I mentioned to really do great HDR work. In my opinion of course. And there are tons of other techniques, this is just what I've been able to figure out on my own. 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.