Fixing HDR Reverse Halos in Photomatix

Halos around objects in HDR photographs have been a problem seemingly since the start of HDR. We often see halos (bright areas) around trees and buildings especially against a blue sky or any smooth gradient. I’ve noticed with Photomatix 5, especially using the Contrast Optimizer tool, that there are reverse halos. Mainly dark areas in the sky where in the past there might have been a halo. This used to be present in previous versions but most images were more apt to show bright halos rather than dark halos or maybe a better term would be smudges.

Photomatix 5, Contrast Optimizer, Reverse HDR Halo, HDR dark smudge

Dark smudge from Contrast Optimizer in Photomatix 5.

You can see dark smudging in the teal part and also smudging in the blue sky. The Contrast Optimizer preset is awesome but can cause these artifacts due to the extreme settings.

To minimize this you can turn the Strength slider down to 70 and the Lighting Effect slider to 70 as well. You still get a vibrant scene but with less artifacts. You still have the option of adding more Clarity in Lightroom, tweaking in Color Efex Pro or choose your favorite program for more targeted local contrast enhancements.

Contrast Optimizer, Strength slider, Lighting slider, Photomatix settings, fix smudges in Photomatix

Changed the Contrast Optimizer settings of Strength and Lighting to 70.

Notice the smudges are mostly gone. Some people may not have a problem with these artifacts at small sizes. If you print at larger sizes or use as desktop wallpaper these artifacts can become really noticeable and distracting.

In the future I’ll show how you can use the radial filter in Lightroom to minimize halos and also a layer blending technique to remove it altogether.

Blood Moon Shoot

It was fun and challenging trying to get a good shot of the 1st lunar eclipse of 2014. If you missed it there will be another total eclipse in October viewable from North America.

Normally when shooting the moon in the middle of the night it is difficult to expose for the moon and the surroundings unless they are very bright. In the case of the eclipse, also know affectionately as the “blood moon” for it’s reddish appearance, the moon was very faint while the surroundings were bright at least in an urban environment.

I was using a 70-400mm lens and I can tell you the moon moves very fast through the frame at that focal length. Normally I like to shoot the moon at 1/100th of a second or faster. In the case of the eclipse I found myself at close to 1 second to 4 seconds at the height of the eclipse. In fact if you didn’t know there was an eclipse you might not realize the moon was even out it was so dim.

blood moon 2014, lunar eclipse april 2014, cathedral of saint paul eclipse, moon photography, minnesota lunar eclipse

Blood moon over the cross on the Cathedral of Saint Paul.

2.5 sec f/5.6 ISO 800 (above)

Later in the night I headed to Minneapolis to see what I could find. At a 90mm focal length vs. 400mm in the previous photo the moon isn’t moving quite so fast through the frame. I was surprised an 8 second exposure was as crisp as it was. Without the 8 seconds I wouldn’t have gotten the cloud movement with the neon sign.

Gold Medal Flour, MInneapolis blood moon, blood moon april 2014, lunar eclipse april 2014, lunar eclipse minneapolis, lunar eclipse minnesota, blood moon minnesota

Under a blood red sky.

8 sec f/11 ISO 800 (above)

In either case I made a lot of adjustments in Lightroom and some in Photoshop. Mainly selective exposure and sharpening adjustments. The clarity slider in Lightroom 5 is a wonderful thing especially when combined with a radial filter.

Only 6 months till the next blood moon! You can get more info about the April 2014 eclipse at

We have cows…and barns.

A quick post tonight on my exciting weekend. Well nothing crazy but I did roam the Wisconsin countryside checking out Rustic Roads and a few barns and a curious cow or two. A few weeks and the Rustic Roads will green up a bit. Check out the Rustic Road map if you’re in Wisconsin.

Here’s a shot from Saturday with some Nik Color Efex glamour glow, detail enhancer and warmth for good effect.

Wisconsin Barns, Cow Farm, Silo, Wisconsin countryside

Cows and Barns in Wisconsin

The End of HDR?

Have we finally reached the end of HDR photography? It seems like we just got started. I will say both yes we’re almost there and no we’ve just begun.

Let me explain what HDR is and what it really is. HDR is high dynamic range imagery which most people know by now. Most people think of HDR as taking several shots (bracketing) at different exposures and combining in software like Photomatix or HDR Efex Pro. This extends the dynamic range of the scene that might otherwise not be possible.

What HDR is today really has more to do with a creative effect that adds local contrast/tone mapping. Often times people take what really is a medium or even low dynamic range scene and process through HDR software to achieve an eye-popping (good or bad) scene. It’s not so much about the dynamic ranges as it is about creating something extraordinary out of the ordinary.

What about those high dynamic range scenes? Funny enough those scenes still are difficult for HDR software to render realistically. Exposure fusion does a good job but tone mapping operations create a number of issues that often give HDR  a bad reputation. What will really make HDR go away is the sensor technology that continues to improve.

Sony just announced the A7s (sensitivity) as another model to go with the A7 (an all around performer) and A7r (resolution) for those that require high megapixel counts. See the A7s features here. The A7s sensitivity ranges from ISO 50 to ISO 409,600! No doubt the usable ISO will be lower but even if it is ISO 50,200 or ISO 102,400 that is still quite a step forward. Time will tell but no doubt the sensitivity is increasing along with the dynamic range of the sensors.  I currently use the Sony A99 and only the most demanding scenes require HDR bracketing.

This sunrise is a single image processed in Lightroom and Nik’s Color Efex Pro. There was enough dynamic range caught by the Sony A99 to work with graduated filters in Lightroom and use Color Efex Pros detail enhancer, glamour glow and tonal contrasts to achieve a HDR look.

single image HDR, end of hdr, sunrise hdr, high dynamic range scene

HDR without HDR bracketing

What people really see as HDR today is the local contrast enhancements that can be made by Color Efex Pro, Topaz Clarity or even the clarity slider in Lightroom. Heck even smartphones have HDR processing and apps like Snapseed do an admirable to really good job with cell phone images.

HDR in terms of dynamic range is really becoming a thing of the past. HDR is now more a creative effect. Some may have already realized this but I continue to see people say “it’s not HDR it’s a single image”. If you’re adding clarity, local contrast, tone mapping or whatever you want to call it you are doing HDR as we know it today.

HDR is over but here to stay :)




Superior Dawn

Lake Superior, sunrise photography, Minnesota photography, ice, gooseberry falls state park

Superior Dawn

I’d never been to the shoreline at Gooseberry Falls State Park on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. The last time I was there I was being eaten alive by giant flies by the waterfall. I’m not sure if the flies are attracted to waterfalls or tourists but they seem to hang out by them. Given that I was happy with the subzero temperature. I had multiple warm layers so once it got above zero I was starting to sweat.

It was definitely worth a little sweat though as the sunrise was amazing. To see more go to Goosebery Falls State Park gallery.

Crystal Moonlight

Moonlight ice, lake superior, winter, icescape, long exposure

Moonlit Ice

I took this photo in Two Harbors, MN on the shore of Lake Superior. The moon was just above the frame and helped highlight those clouds on the horizon. I like to overexpose these shots a bit so you can see the landscape a bit.

To see more go here to Two Harbors gallery.

Downtown from Uptown

I took this photo of downtown Minneapolis from a parking ramp in the uptown area. I think parking ramps should actually be called photo taking platforms. They usually provide great elevated views of the city like in this case which is why I always park at the top.

Winter Warmth – Glamour Glow Tip

The sun is getting warmer around here but it was still very cold a day after a major snowstorm. That sun has a lot of work to do given how much snow we’ve received in Minnesota and how little has melted this year.

I processed this with Photomatix 5 using 3 bracketed shot and chose the Vibrant preset for the Contrast Optimizer. After that I used Nik Color Efex Pro and added some glamour glow to the sunny areas and the shadow areas. I find the shadows often benefit from the glamour glow effect. It acts as a local noise reduction technique (not so much here) and also increases the contrast between the shadows and light areas.


Shimmering City

The Minneapolis skyline catching the morning light. You can see a partially demolished Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in front of the skyline. As soon as August the new stadium will start to take shape as well as an altered skyline.

Checkout more photos of Minneapolis here.


Stadium Ruins

Had to stop by the site of the Metrodome to check out how the demolition was proceeding. Looks like they have been making progress although work was stopped after a mishap. No one was hurt but apparently a large portion broke off


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