I’ve been playing around with making HDR photos from only hand-held shots. Mainly because I’m too lazy to always go and get my tripod, set it up, attach the camera, etc etc. It’s a lot easier to just stand there & take a few shots at different exposures while holding the camera as steady as possible.
In the past, all the HDR processing tools required that your images were taken on a tripod and perfectly aligned, or if they weren’t aligned, it could do some simple corrections, but anything too complex would mess it up.
I’ve tried several applications, including Photomatix Pro, PTGui Pro, and Autopano Pro. I know what you’re thinking, two of those three applications are mainly for automatically stitching panoramas…but it turns out automatically aligning images for panoramas is also very useful for creating HDR images.
My very quick comparison of these HDR / panoramic image apps: Photomatix Pro appears to give the most control over the HDR generation process, and with tweaking, gives the nicest output…HOWEVER it’s not very good at handling images which are not perfectly aligned. Autopano Pro is the best at correctly aligning the images, and for creating panoramas in general, but it sucks at HDR tone mapping, having two sliders with obscure labels, that don’t really make it look very nice.
Finally, there’s PTGui Pro — it’s not the best at aligning, and it’s not the best at the HDR generation, but it’s pretty good at both, so in most cases it gives the best overall results.
Below, you can see an example of a shot I took, that would be impossible without some sort of HDR effect:
This one is way too dark to see the indoors at all, but you can see out the window pretty clearly.
This one’s a bit brighter, you can make out some of the indoor stuff, but the outdoor shot is already getting a bit too bright
In this one, you can make out the indoor scene pretty clearly, but the light from outside completely blows out that section of the image.
These three images were combined using PTGui Pro, with the ‘Exposure Fusion’ HDR processing option, and I tweaked the sliders around until it looked nice. Here is the resulting image:
(click to enlarge)
As you can see, both the indoor and outdoor scene are visible, and the image as a whole has a subtle effect applied to it that you don’t normally see in digital photography (outside of these HDR type of shots).