Anything Photoshop or Photography

Digital Lady Syd Reviews Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

I am a big HDR fan. There is always a big discussion about which is the best application – the NAPP Photoshop Guys RC Concepcion loves Nik HDR EFex Pro, Matt Kloskowski swears by Photomatix Pro, and Scott Kelby love Photoshop’s HDR. As you can see everyone is all over the place on this issue. Several people have felt that Nik has a very steep learning curve and it is hard to get good results easily. Even with the first version of HDR Efex Pro, I have not had many problems getting good results. Therefore, I was pretty excited to hear a new version had come out. All the images in this blog have been processed using this new version.

The above image was taken at the Halifax River (Intracoastal Waterway) at Fortunato Park in Ormond Beach, Florida. The skies had been building all morning and we did have a big drenching in the afternoon. I had been wanting to try some HDR imaging with my wide angle AF-S Nikkor 10-24 mm 1:3.5-4.5 G Ed lens – for some reason I have not tried this. I love the results I got above using 5 images between -2 and +2 bracketed. For all the steps and settings used to create all the images, see information listed under “Steps and Settings for Each Image.”

What I Like!!!!

1.  Sliders corresponding to the new Adobe Camera Raw sliders have been added in the Tonality section which makes it very user friendly. Temperature and Tint sliders have also been added.

2. The new Graduated Neutral Density section is proving to be very handy to even out the tone in landscape images. I have used it several times now – it can have a very nice subtle effect.

3. HDR Method section gives you more flexibility than you had in version 1.0.  You can now adjust individually the Depth, Detail and Drama of an image.

4.  The Detail in the images is really good – seems better than other programs I have used.

What I Don’t Like!!!!

1.  (UPDATED) The Smart Object issue that included the problem of ending up with an 8-bit image and no changes appearing after applying the plug-in is no longer an issue! Nik has released a new update – Version 2.002. (If you had bought an earlier version, be sure you have this new one applied now.) This will create a 32-bit image with the Standard CS6 version (they suggest using Photoshop CS6 64-bit compatible version due to the high memory usage) and I am no longer having Smart Object issues. Thank you Nik! I feel much better about recommending this plug-in now.

2.  They have deleted several of the presets I liked – Clean City 1 and Clean City 2, for example. I cannot seem to figure out if there are equivalent ones in the new version, but so far I am struggling with this. When I compared Granny’s Attic preset from version 1 with version 2, I had trouble seeing how the settings have anything to do with each other. I wish they would put a list of equivalent presets together for those of us who were familiar with the old version.

3.  Personally I miss all the method drop down choices we had in version 1.0. Again not sure how to recapture some of those settings to apply to the upgraded version.

4. If you opened HDR Efex Pro 2 up from inside Lightroom, then when saving your tone-mapped image there is no choice where to save it – it goes back to the one with the original HDR images. Small nag here.

5.  I am slightly concerned about all noise I am encountering when using the program, especially in the sky area. Using the Noise Reduction Luminance slider in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw should help reduce noise issue.

Here is great link to Nik’s Support Page that discusses various questions about HDR Efex Pro 2 – scroll down for the page for more information on this plug-in.
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This image was taken under the Granada Bridge in Ormond Beach, Florida. This time the HDR settings were created using just the Default setting and going through all the sections. A preset was created at the end to retain the information. See Picture 2 for detailed steps and settings. This took a good amount of adjusting to get the look I really wanted but it did come around. I might mention that it is a good idea to go through the On Demand Video Lessons Nik has presented on how to use the program – they give you a good overall feel for the program.
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This is all that is remaining of the beautiful old Hotel Ormond that was torn down after a fire in 1992. Once again in this image Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 was accessed from Lightroom.  Since you can’t save the settings down as a Smart Object, there is no reason not to do this from Lightroom where you can continue processing the TIFF image with Lightroom sliders before going into Photoshop. See Picture 3 below for further processing information.
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This shot of the pennant on top of the cupola in image above gave me real problems. Five images were taken into Nik HDR Efex Pro from Lightroom and some really horrible white filled in edges around the pennant wrought iron pieces appeared. It looked awful and totally unsuitable to process. Therefore I decided to take the image into PhotoMatix Pro 4.1.1 (the major competitor) to see if those marks were also visible in that program – oddly enough, no problem! Also, in Nik HDR Pro Efex 1.0, there was no problem. This really disturbed me since I really like Nik products and this should not be happening. I took the image back into HDR Efex Pro and this time choose a different image to use for deghosting. This seemed to be the magic bullet – once this was done the image turned out much better. You can still see there is some white around the point in the HDR Efex Pro image. See the comparison of the tonemapped TIFF files below with Nik HDR Pro 2 on the right and PhotoMatix Pro 4 on the left.

This may look pretty bad, but it actually was fairly easy to clean up. Since the detail and color is so much better in Nik’s HDR, I decided to stick with it even though the other program did create a little better tonemapped image in this case. Also, there is more noise in the Nik image and I am not sure why that happened. Imagenomics Noiseware was used to clean this up some. The PhotoMatix image also had quite a bit of noise in it. For more info on processing, see Picture 4 below.

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Bottom Line

Since it is a Nik product you know it is good. Not sure I see that much difference with the first version, but I imagine as I work with it more, I will find more things I like about it. Nik has great webinars on their site and they will be doing several on this new software, so I should be able to get more information on how to use it effectively and will pass it on. I use Nik a lot for my HDR processing, but sometimes I will use one of the other HDR software programs to get the look I want. At this point that is all I can say. It is reasonably priced with its major competitors, it was and still is a fine program! I can’t say enough good things about how quickly Nik responded to the major issues this plug-in had – that in itself makes using their plug-ins great!……Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
HDR Using Photoshop Merge to HDR and Nik”s HDR EFex Pro and Silver Efex Pro? Wow!

This and That – Just Having Some Fun!
Nik HDR Efex Pro Example
Keeping Focus Where You Want It Using Focal Point 2 and Color Fill Adjustment Layer

Steps and Settings for Each Image

Picture 1: I accessed the program from inside Photoshop for this image. The settings for Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 are listed here:  Settings for Nik HDR Efex Pro 2: Started by applying Granny’s Attic preset. Tone Compression:  Tone Compression slider  65%, Method Strength  35%: HDR Method: Depth  3rd dot, Detail  2nd dot, and Drama  4th dot; Tonality: Exposure  6%, Shadow  100%, Highlights  73%, Contrast  65%, Blacks  95%, White  0, and Structure  28%; Color: Saturation -54, Temperature 0, and Tint 0; Selective Adjustments: 3 control points spread across lower water with same settings, Exposure  34%, Contrast  -1, Saturation  0, Structure  -100, Black  0, and Whites  57; Vignette: Lens 2, Place center in lower middle, Amount  -2, Circle – under little c, and Size  67%; Graduated Neutral Density: Upper Tonality  -0.51 stops, Lower Tonality  0.44 stops, Blend  61%, Vertical Shift  -30,and Rotation  0, and Levels and Curves: Film (EV+0). Created preset SJ ICW Ormond Beach. As you can see, there are a lot of things that need to be adjusted. In this case I wanted to take the plug-in through its paces so everything was tried out. To get this image to look like it does there were several other steps that had to be taken: Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 was used to add stacking the Cross Processing filter set to Method 802 at Strength 29% and overall opacity slider set to 80%, and Polarization with Rotate set to 106 degrees, Strength of 200%, Highlights 50% and overall opacity slider set to 68%. A layer mask was created to paint out some of the sky that got over-processed.  A Curves Adjustment layer was created to add some additional contrast to the image. Imagenomics Noiseware was added set to the Landscape preset, and Nik Viveza 2 was used to add some sharpening to the far shoreline and smoothing out of the foreground water. A new layer was created to sharpen the shoreline more using the Sharpen Tool. Finally a layer style from Wow-Frame 09 was used to finish up the image. This was not a really quick image to process but the final results look like the extra time was taken to get a beautiful result and the Nik HDR Efex Pro2 worked like a charm.

Picture 2:  First the five images were opened in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 from Adobe Lightroom and these settings were used.  Tone Compression: Tone Compression  68%, and Method Strength  63%; HDR Method:  Depth 3rd dot, Detail 2nd dot, and Drama 3rd dot;  Tonality:  Exposure  -11, Shadows  41%, Highlights  -100%, Contrast  -19%, Blacks  100%, Whites  53%, and Structure 51%; Color Saturation  11%, Temperature  0%, and Tint  0%; Selective Adjustments – no control points placed;  and Finishing:  None used. After saying OK, the tone-compressed image is brought back into Lightroom as a 16-bit TIFF file. This is really great since you can now adjust your images more with Lightroom’s sliders – in this case Contrast (-20), Highlights (+29), Shadows (-20), Blacks (+43), Clarity (_45) and Vibrance (+35). This is also when the colors were adjusted individually to bring in the correct color: Luminance:  Red (-9), Orange (+46), Green (+20), Aqua (+100), and Blue (+19) and Saturation: (Red (+11), Orange +35), Yellow (+33), and Blue (-13).  The Lens Correction section was used to select the lens and check Remove Chromatic Aberration. Finally the image was taken into Photoshop CS6. The image just looked bland to me so this time Topaz’s new photoFXlab was used to bring out the contrast – layer duplicated in plug-in and with the InstaTone tab and 500 px selected, Memory Drift by Richard Baxter was applied to the image inverted in the Masks tab and just clouds painted in. Then another duplicated layer was created this time InstaTone 500pxx Swinging by Miles Story was applied – the clouds were painted out in the Masks tab. Now the layers were stamped (+From Stack) and in Adjustments tab these settings were applied:  Exposure  .27, Contrast 1, Dynamics 17, Sharp 0, Highlights  -50, Shadows 16, Whites 0, and Blacks -8. Stamp again and paint in detail in distant shoreline and houses with Detail Brush Strength set to 0.29, stamp again and smooth clouds using Brush Strength of -.59 on clouds, stamp again and desaturate using Brush Strength of -0.51 on clouds and set layer opacity to 88%, and stamp again and pain in a little saturation into the sky and burn the center and horizontal lines of bridge. Noiseware was applied and it was done.

Picture 3:  In Lightroom image was opened up in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 using these settings: Started with the Structured 1 preset; Tone Compression:    Tone Compression 64%, and Method Strength  81%; HDR Method:  Depth  4th dot, Detail  4th dot, and Drama  5th dot; Tonality:  Exposure  41,  Shadow  -31, Highlights  20, Contrast  27, Blacks  100, Whites  97 , and Structure  80; Color:  Saturation  34,  Temperature  -6, and  Tint  2; Selective Adjustments: Two Control Points in clouds set the same, Method to -59, White  59, and Structure  -100; Finishing: Vignette – Black Frame 2, Amount  -41, Circle under a, and Size  72; Graduated Neutral Density – Upper Tonality  0.02 Stops,  Lower Tonality  0.54 Stops, Blend  91, Vertical Shift  -100, and Rotation  0; and Levels and Curves  – N/A. After processing in HDR Efex Pro 2, these Lightroom sliders were used:  HSL: Luminance – Red  -13, Orange  -59, Yellow  -96, Green  -33, Aqua  -24, and Blue  -11; and Saturation – Red  -2, Orange  43, Yellow  19, Green  6, and Blue  -26. The Profile was set and Remove Chromatic Aberration was checked in Lens Correction section. Nik Viveza 2 was used to sharpen the flag and body of the cupola. Imagenomics Noiseware using Full (weaker noise)  preset. My layer style for the frame was used and colors sampled from the image (see DLS Free Layer Style Frames blog).

Picture 4:  The pennant image was taken into HDR Efex Pro 2 from Lightroom. These settings were applied: Started by applying Bright 1 preset. Tone Compression:  Tone Compression slider  56%, and Method Strength  27%: HDR Method: Depth  3rd dot, Detail  2nd dot, and Drama  2nd dot; Tonality: Exposure  11%, Shadow  -17%, Highlights  49%, Contrast  44%, Blacks  71%, White  53, and Structure  16%; Color: Saturation 0, Temperature -2, and Tint 0; Selective Adjustments: 5 control points with 3 spread across sky and all set to Saturation +37, 1 placed on the cupola set to Saturation -27, and one placed on the pennant with settings of Exposure  6%, Contrast  0, Saturation  59, Structure  49, Black  0, and Whites  -42; Vignette: set to Off; Graduated Neutral Density: Upper Tonality  0.33 stops, Lower Tonality  -0.23 stops, Blend  40%, Vertical Shift  -20,and Rotation  -24; and Levels and Curves:Neutral with points set at 15 over and 15 up, 9 over and 14 up, and 13 over and 0 up. In Lightroom the image was cropped, the Lens Profile set, Removed Chromatic Aberration was checked, Exposure set to +0.39 and Contrast to +63. In Photoshop the Nik Color Efex Pro 4 plug-in was opened using these filters stacked: BW Conversion using BW Conversion set to Filter Color 53 degrees, Strength 73%, Brightness -16%, Contrast 49%, Shadows 31%, Highlights 32%, and overall Opacity 58% – two control points placed on pennant and red cupola area so color really showed through; Pro Contrast: Correct Color Cast 15%, Correct Contrast 47%, and Dynamic Contrast 96%; Vignette: Color black, Shape 2, Adapt Edges 52%, Transition 77%, Size 20%, and Opacity 26% with center placed on pennant; and Image Borders: Type 1 at Size -54%. A Curves Adjustment layer was applied to increase contrast in image. Imagenomics Noiseware was set to Stronger luma noise preset. Unsharp Mask applied to just the lettering and pennant with Amount 64, Radius 11.7 and Threshold 3.

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7 responses

  1. Dave Kosiur

    Sorry, but you’re wrong about using HDR Efex Pro 2 to create a smart object in PShop CS6. All you have to do is check the box “create Smart Object” in the HDR Efex dialog box when selecting the files after they’ve been loaded in PShop. I’ve been doing this consistently with Photoshop CS6 and I do not have the extended version.

    08/04/2012 at 11:30 am

    • Dave, thanks for your comment. When I use the plug-in from within Photoshop, it will save the image down as a Smart Object but it does not apply any of the my plug-in settings – it just looks like the tone-mapped version. Also, it comes in as an 8-bit image. When I double click on the HDR Efex Pro 2 to edit the image, it takes me back into the plug-in – if I say OK, it will apply the adjustments but the image is still just an 8-bit file. When I try the same thing in Photoshop CS5 Extended, all the settings appear on the Smart Object image and it is in 32-bit format, which is what it is supposed to be. I have written Nik about this and hope to hear back soon on this issue. I hope you are getting better results than I have been…..Digital Lady Syd

      08/07/2012 at 9:51 am

      • Rob

        Hi I have read your review with great interest and thankyou! I am having a major issue here as I need to replicate work and styles I created using default “granny’s attic” in NIK HDR1 which I love and have put a lot of work into creating a range. However after a computer crash I had to re install my bought copies and that’s when it all went down hill. Google who now own Nik can not give activation codes for my original bought V1 Nik Suite. So I got V2 where Granny’s attic is completely different as are many other styles. I can not seem to get any help on this and has given me a huge head ache as I can not recreate and sell my work. Has anyone got any idea’s on what to do …very un happy about the support after buying a complete suite. Big thanks in advance!

        08/14/2014 at 5:58 am

      • Rob, Hope this helps. Note that Nik used a Filter title of Nik Software as opposed to Googles Nik Collection. I can give you the settings that were in the HDR Efex Pro Granny’s Attic – I kept the older plug-in on my CS5 version so I still have access. Here they are: Tone Compression -68%; Global Adjustment Exposure -0.2 EV, Contrast 0%, Saturation -24%, Structure 33%, Blacks -60%, Whites -14% and Warmth 0%; HDR Method Natural and Method Strength 93%; Levels and Curves was set to Vintage 1 (if you need the curve settings, let me know.). That was it. I compared the two presets and you are right – HDR Efex 2’s Granny’s Attic looks awful. It was also one of my favorite presets so I know why you are unhappy. I still can’t figure out what is equivalent to the Natural HDR Method in the HDRE1. After playing around with this a bit, I found that by adjusting the Temperature just a little to the Yellows (like +6) and the Tint toward Greens (like -2) inside the plug-in, and then back in Photoshop setting the blend mode to Color, it comes out pretty close to the original Granny’s Attic. I have noticed color shifts with this plug-in and the Color blend mode definitely helps with this. Might give this a try at least. Digital Lady Syd

        08/15/2014 at 1:54 pm

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