Unfortunately in the world of HDR software we have yet to find a magic bullet. There is still no one program that can do everything you need to create the highest quality possible HDR photographs, so often times HDR plugins are necessary.. Photomatix 4 is getting closer, but it still lacks the layer masking abilities of Photoshop.
When people talk about the idea of HDR plugins they are usually referring to an add-on plugin for Photoshop. These HDR plugins can be either tools that actual help you process images, or rather to further enhance photos that have already been created in a different program.
Here we will look at some of the best plugins available on the market today, and show you how you can use them to create spectacular HDR photographs.
HDR Processing Plugins
In addition to being a standalone program, you can also get the Photomatix Photoshop plugin. This allows you to take all of the same functionality of the regular program, but use it to integrate with Photoshop a little bit more closely. Personally I’m still a fan of the standalone program, because I feel that it’s more user friendly and easier to navigate, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a heavy Photoshop user. There is also a plugin for Apple Aperture available as well for those of you who prefer that.
Unlike Photomatix, HDR Efex Pro includes the Photoshop plugin with the purchase of the software. The guys over a Nik Software do much better job with the integration, and when I’m using HDR Efex Pro, I always use it from within Photoshop. There are people who have chosen this over Photomatix solely because of it’s superior Photoshop functionality.
HDR Enhancement Plugins
The biggest area that we have found lacking in current HDR software lies in the noise reduction capabilities. The bottom line is that most programs just aren’t very good. Luckily, this is where the Photoshop plugin Noiseware Professional from Imagenomic really shines. I’ve found this to be the best noise reduction plugin out there, and I use it on almost all of my photos.
Because this is such a pain point for many HDR photographers, we figured we would throw in another good choice for noise reduction for those of you that aren’t crazy about Noiseware. Noise Ninja is one of the industry leaders when it comes to noise reduction, so it’s really a matter of personal preference between this and Noiseware. Check out the demos and decide for yourself.
Generally we are not fans of faux-hdr toning here, but we know some of you are. While the HDR toning has been stepped up a bit in Photoshop CS5, it won’t be enough for many of you. If you’re looking for something a little bit more, consider Redynamix. The results certainly aren’t as good as real HDR, but if you don’t want to spend the time to do it right, this is a passable option.
Sometimes no matter what we do to our images and no matter how get the processing is, there is something missing. Often times I’ve found that something is depth of field. If everything in the image in focus it, it can often look boring and dull. Depth of Field Pro allows you to take images and artificially add depth of field to enhance the look of your images.
What did we miss? What plugins do you use to create stunning photos?