Extending Dynamic Range with Fuji XT-2
I use a Fuji XT-2 with 10-23mm zoom for real estate photography. There is always talk on the various RE photography fora about using HDR software and other techniques for extending dynamic range. The XT2, according to test results I’ve found on the web has a dynamic range of 12.7 EV at ISO 200 which is my default ISO setting. I bracket every shot from -3 to +3 EV which means I have images that cover an 18.7EV range. The task then is how to get all that dynamic range into a single image.
There are multiple approaches for extending dynamic range in Lightroom, Photoshop and HDR specific software such as Aurora HDR and Phtotomatrix Pro. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the HDR software. Primarily because it tended to deliver a look that, to me, was cartoonish.
Real estate agents and property owners want to have interior images that include the view through windows. For exterior images they want detail in shadows along with blue skies and clouds. Several years ago, the only option was HDR software or a technique that combined multiple images into a single extended dynamic range image via an enfuse technique. The 12.7 EV dynamic range of the XT2 and similar capabilities with other modern cameras raises a question about whether there are additional options available.
Here is a comparison of four techniques:
First, the simplest approach, using Lightroom develop sliders on the 0EV exposure in the bracket.
This image was processed in Lightroom by reducing the highlight slider 100, increasing the shadow slider 100, increasing the clarity slider 25, applying a medium tone curve, and adding a gradient from the bottom up to about the middle of the image with an exposure increase of .8 EV. Vibrance is increased 26 and saturation is increased 3. Auto white balance was applied. Blue saturation was pulled down 57 and orange was increased 25 to reduce the bluish cast in the windows and their reflection on the floor.
All these adjustments in Lightroom took about 15 or 20 seconds.
The second approach is to first combine the 7 frames into a single extended dynamic range image using the Lightroom HDR function. It creates a floating point 32 bit file and the Lightroom slider range is doubled.
I copied the develop setting from the 0EV image to the Lightroom EDR image and here is the result:
The only noticeable difference is the noise introduced to the back of the chair on the left by the deghosting function.
The third option was processed in Aurora HDR 2018. I have not used the software much and it probably shows in the result. One thing I noticed immediately on importing the result back into Lightroom was the significant color shift. I know that it could be corrected in Lightroom but I left it to illustrate how using different software can have consequences as an image is moved from one to another.
The other thing that is immediately noticeable to me is the additional detail in the ceiling and walls. I’m confident that more experience with the software would make it easy to get them back to a smoother look. As with Lightroom making adjustments to the develop sliders in Aurora is quick and straight forward, not requiring significant time to process the image.
And finally, the following image was processed from the 7 frame bracket by a studio that specializes in extended dynamic range editing for the real estate market. I have no idea what the processing was, or how long it took. I’ve included it as an external, quality reference.
There are subtle differences and some not so subtle. The late afternoon exterior light reduced the exterior dynamic range.
Now for a comparison of images with a sunny exterior.
These images follow the same processing options starting with the 0EV image processed in the Lightroom develop model using similar settings.
Then the same setting pasted to the Lightroom extended dynamic range image.
This is the 5 frame bracket processed in Aurora HDR 2018
And finally, the same set of 5 bracketed frames processed by the studio.
To conclude this article I thought I’d add one more approach to extending dynamic range. HDR software and enfuse techniques combine all of each image into a new image with extended dynamic range which can be processed using the HDR software or Lightroom. Another approach, more complicated but also potentially offering more control, is to layer multiple images into a single Photoshop image and blend elements of each layer to arrive at the extended range for the final image.
Here is an example. Processing this image started with importing about a dozen frames into photoshop as layers. Then using masking techniques to blend various elements into a final image. Some of the frames had supplemental lighting added with a strobe. Others were shot to optimize room lights and others were shot to optimize the light coming in through the windows. The images where shot with a Fuji GFX medium format camera. Its dynamic range is about .5EV greater than the XT2 at ISO 200. The lens was a Canon 24mm TSE mounted to the camera via a Kipon adapter that controls aperture settings. It was set to F11.
In the final analysis, there is not one way that works best for every situation.