Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro 2 is one of the top applications for creating high-dynamic-range images, and the new version upgrades the original in many ways. The most important change is an improved tone-mapping engine—which means the software does a better job rendering color and tonality, making more natural-looking HDR images possible.
You can use HDR Efex Pro 2 to merge multiple bracketed exposures into one composite image, or you can use it to enhance a single exposure. When merging multiple images, improved "ghost reduction" automatically removes artifacts created by objects that were moving during your exposures.
Another key new feature is Depth Control. HDR images typically have a "flat," low-contrast look, a result of lightening shadows and darkening highlights to preserve detail. Depth Control makes it easy to restore contrast for a more dramatic rendering.
HDR Efex Pro 2 is compatible with recent versions of Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture. Host software version requirements do vary slightly between Windows and Mac platforms, so check the system requirements on the Nik website to be sure you have a compatible host. List Price: $99 (full); $49 (upgrade). Contact: Nik Software, www.niksoftware.com.
Another new feature in Version 2 is the History Browser, which lets you step back through each individual adjustment you’ve made.
To make it fast and easy to get started, the Preset Library has 28 different looks that you can apply in a single click. From there, you can make finer adjustments using the controls in the panel on the right of the interface. You also can create your own custom presets, and even export and import presets to share with other HDR Efex Pro 2 users.
These buttons let you see before-and-after previews of the effects, split down the middle either horizontally or vertically. Or you can preview the effects on the entire image and hold down the Compare button to see your original. There’s also a Zoom control to magnify your image up to 400% to inspect small details, plus a button that lets you choose either white, gray or black for the interface background color.
These controls let you adjust the method of tone compression used, affecting the overall look and strength of your HDR effect.
Here, you can make essential adjustments to exposure and contrast, and recover details in the highlights and shadows of the image.
Applying HDR effects not only impacts image exposure, but also can cause shifts in color temperature and saturation. These controls let you fine-tune color, from completely natural to totally wild.
Like all Nik plug-ins, HDR Efex Pro 2 has U Point technology Control Points that make it easy to confine an effect to a specific area of the shot. Drop a Control Point onto the image, and you can adjust exposure, contrast, saturation and structure selectively without complicated masking.
The Finishing Panel has tools to create a vignette, adjust levels and curves, or simulate the effect of a graduated neutral-density filter—subtle refinements to put the finishing touch on your image.
LOUPE & HISTOGRAM
This panel, when expanded, lets you switch between a magnification loupe and a histogram of your image.