Category Archives: Review

Photo Book Review – The HDR Book by RC Concepcion


NOTE: Cross-posted at

Rafael Concepcion or (RC) as he’s known to his friends, is a natural born teacher and story teller. Don’t get me wrong. He’s also an accomplished photographer and visual artist. And there’s probably nothing he can’t do with any piece of Adobe software. But his true calling in my opinion is teaching.

In his new book – The HDR Book: Unlocking the Secrets of High Dynamic Range Photography, RC demonstrates – again – his passion for teaching.

While HDR is a controversial subject in the photography community, it’s not the least bit controversial with fans. Non-photographers love it. And smart photographers are using or learning it. No matter whether you’re using or learning, RC’s book is a must read.

I got the book on Thursday and was done with it on Friday. I didn’t get to actually try all the software tricks but I read the whole thing finding myself very intrigued with RC’s approach.

I have to admit that when he first told me he had an HDR book coming I was curious. There are already several HDR books out there including best-seller A World in HDR. Then, after reading the first chapter of RC’s book I figured it out. RC has brilliantly made the post-tone-mapping portion of HDR one of the centerpieces of his thesis. It’s really an HDR workshop in a book taught by a guy who you’d have to pay a good chunk of change to follow around at Photoshop World for the same thing.

RC offers lots of information here presented in several ways. There are interviews, 14 different HDR projects and lots of teaching on the concepts behind it all. He covers all three of the major HDR/Tone Mapping programs – Photoshop’s HDR Pro, Photomatix Pro, and HDR Efex Pro.

The HDR book covers everything you need to know from capture to post. It’s easy to read. It’s not a software manual for programs like Photomatix Pro. It’s not a super technical book. It’s approachable and helpful.

Perhaps the best endorsement for this book comes from none other than Trey Ratcliff. Since he’s the author of a competing product, his recommendation that you buy RC’s book is meaningful.

RC is a very nice guy. He’s a very giving guy. He’s a very sincere guy. Because of all those traits, I knew I’d like this book because I knew he’d pour his heart and soul into it. He did.

For less then $30, this is a no-brainer. If you have even mild interest in learning or improving your HDR skills buy this book.

Highly recommended.


Nik HDR Efex Pro – Review

I am a big Nik fan. Their plug-ins have consistently performed better than most of their competition for years in my opinion. I’ve been using their HDR Efex Pro
since it was in Beta. It’s been out of Beta for more than six months now and I’ve used it more and more each day. Here’s what I think of it after using it on a regular basis.

For a long time, the leader in the HDR space has been Photomatix Pro. Read my review of the latest Photomatix version here. It is powerful and relatively inexpensive. It also enjoys a large installed user base. Nik had a tough hill to climb in taking on Photomatix. How did they do? Read on.

Photoshop introduced HDR a few versions back. But without tone mapping, it was virtually useless and difficult to understand. This gave rise to third-party sources to provide software that does both the HDR merge and creates a tone map. When you see these interesting images that offer up a very wide dynamic range, it’s usually the tone map that gives the image its HDR “look.”

HDR is very popular, but it hasn’t been around that long in its current form. Many photographers I talk to avoid it because they are simply unsure they can master the skills necessary to use HDR effectively. Nik spent considerable time developing four tone maps that are easy to use in HDR Efex Pro. The software is simple to load and works in conjunction with Photoshop CS5, Bridge, Lightroom and Aperture.


I think that if you already use ANY Nik product, you’ll have a head start with HDR Efex Pro because the interface is similar to all of its other products. Also, in my opinion, it’s much nicer than Photomatix Pro’s interface.

Ease of Use
Hands down, this is HDR Efex Pro’s number one advantage over all the current HDR plug-ins. You don’t have to be a scientist to use this product. It’s presets are amazing. You can simply point to a preset (you see a thumbnail representation of your image there) and away you go. The presets can be tweaked. You can create your own presets and you can even download additional presets from the community of Nik users on the Nik website.

Nik developed the U-Point interface some time ago and I was thrilled to see it built in to HDR Efex Pro. This means that you can do more to finalize your HDR shot from the plug-in and save time jumping back into Photoshop to finish the image. You have what amounts to layer-style control over the effects. If you think the preset you selected is perfect EXCEPT for where it covers the sky for instance, you can simply use the U-Point technology to remove that effect from that part of the image. It’s easier to use than layers in Photoshop, but not quite as powerful. You can’t do actual masking, but you can do about everything else. I love it.

HDR Efex Pro is both 32-bit and 64-bit compatible for Lightroom and Aperture, Photoshop and Bridge. I think it integrates better with these programs than Photomatix does. Photomatix doesn’t allow its full feature set to work from within some programs. Nik’s plug-in is 100% operational in all four of the above-listed environments.

HDR Efex Pro offers very reliable and accurate previews. I believe it does a better job of showing you what your adjustments will look like than any other program in its class.

I’ve used HDR Efex Pro extensively from both Aperture and Photoshop and generally have very good results with few crashes during round trips from one program to another. I’d rate this very, very solid but not absolutely perfect.

You can customize the interface, the way the image looks while you’re working on it and your own presets. Well done.


Nik HDR Efex Pro can be more expensive than Photomatix Pro. It retails for $159. 95 as compared with Photomatix Pro’s retail price of $99.95. It’s free however as part of the Nik Complete Collection and despite its retail price, Nik HDR Efex Pro is available at Amazon for much less.

It used to take Nik HDR Efex Pro much longer to merge and tone map than it did Photomatix Pro. But due to improvements in the Nik product since it originally shipped, I’d say they are on even ground here.


I think Photomatix Pro does a slightly better job at ghosting control. This is not a deal killer for me, but it will bother some people. I assume that as the product matures, this will become less and less of a problem.

Missing Features
There is no white balance tool in Nik HDR Efex Pro. You also can’t control chromatic aberration. There is no batch processing capability. There is no built-in noise reduction. None of these are deal killers for me. These features do live in Photomatix Pro, but some of them work better there than others and you can work around these deficiencies in Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture etc.

Is it right for you? There’s only one way to find out. You can download a free, fully-functional copy of Nik HDR Efex Pro from Nik Software. My advice is to try it out before you buy it. Most people love it right away. But it’s nice to have a chance to find out before you press the buy button. Personally, this software has grown on me to the point that I use it almost exclusively for my HDR processing even though I own Photomatix Pro. I do use the two together sometimes and often even throw Topaz Adjust into the mix for good measure. In a perfect world, you could afford to buy both Photomatix Pro and Nik HDR Efex Pro. I have found that between the two programs, there’s nothing I cannot do.

As long as you are NOT an HDR power user, and most of you aren’t, and especially if you are new to HDR, Nik HDR Efex Pro is the single best piece of software you can select to make great HDR images.

Highly recommended.

This post sponsored by Adorama – More than a camera store

A New Tripod Head for Panoramic Photography and DSLR Video

3 Exposure – NAB 2011 Manfrotto Booth from Richard Harrington on Vimeo.

Scott and Rich visit the Manfrotto booth at NAB. They discover a great tripod system for both Panoramic and DSLR video shooters. Check out this video review of the Manfrotto M8-Q5 Tripod Head.

front tilt -90° / +90°
head bowl 60mm
lateral tilt +90° / -20° tilt range
load capacity 15.43 lbs
panoramic rotation 360 degrees
weight 45.06 oz

This post sponsored by Adorama – More than a camera store

Photo Book Review – A World in HDR

Author: Trey Ratcliff

Publisher: New Riders Press

Guest Post & Review by  Conrad J. Obregon

There are good words in the English language that have bad connotations. One of them is flippant. That’s a shame, because it would certainly be nice to describe Trey Ratcliff’s language in A World in HDR as flippant, without disparaging the book.

This book has two different themes. The first is as a collection of travel photographs from around the world. Opposite each photograph is a commentary in which Ratcliff provides his thoughts about the image. For example, in showing a photograph of a monkey in Malaysia, the author discusses thinking about how things are named, and the place of monkeys in the context of the larger world around them, and even of how a photograph can be used to start a discussion.

The book is also about High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging, a process of extending the range of light in photographs by combining differently exposed images of a subject. All of the pictures are made using HDR techniques. There is also a short tutorial on HDR processing with an emphasis on the techniques Ratcliff favors.

When reading this book, it’s useful to keep in mind the dual nature of HDR imaging. On the one hand HDR can be used to capture a range of tones equal to the human eye, rather than the more limited range of a camera, and thereby create what is actually a more realistic photograph. At the other end of the scale, HDR can create surreal pictures with vivid colors and abnormal lighting effects that are more like illustrations. Both effects can be used to convey the vision of the particular artist. Ratcliff appears to prefer the surreal extreme. (Indeed, he doesn’t even discuss the exposure fusion function of the Photomatix Pro software, which can be used to merely extend the range of light.) Readers should remember that surrealism is not the only option.

Readers unfamiliar with Photomatix Pro, which is rapidly becoming the standard software for HDR processing, may prefer a little more detail. One book that I found useful for early encounters with Photomatix is “Practical HDR: A complete guide to creating High Dynamic Range images with your Digital SLR” by David Nightingale. On the other hand, more experienced users may find some of Ratcliff’s suggestions useful. For example, even though it’s a standard Photoshop technique for local adjustments, I’d never encountered or applied the advice to blend the HDR image with the original images to tone down surrealistic effects or deal with image motion.

Strangely enough the author’s breezy language is one of the reasons I recommend this book. It helps to convey the idea that creating images can be fun.

This post sponsored by Adorama – More than a camera store


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