HDR Testing Photomatix Pro

Like many photographers, I would look at my captured images and think to myself, "This doesn't look anything like what I see with my eyes". High dynamic range or HDR imagery is the attempt to make captured digital images have the higher visual range that we have with the naked eye. In most cases, the problem is dealing with the high contrast between sky and foreground (click the image).
Until recently I would combine images in Photoshop to achieve the high dynamic range images that are so popular with photographers today. Photoshop does have some built-in tools to assist you but I always found them lacking so the search was on for a software application that could give me a bit of help. I finally settled on Photomatix Pro from HDRsoft finding it easy to use and providing great presets with plenty of custom adjustments. I have found that it is saving me significant time when compared to my "trial and error" approach in Photoshop. A few tips from my experiences so far... bracket shots (at least 1.5 stops) on a tripod using manual focus (or switch to manual after auto-focusing).
The results are encouraging but the final image can sometimes look over-processed depending the settings you use. I found myself using some of the default settings and then adjusting to tone down extreme saturation or contrast. If you are gentle with the settings than the final image can appear quite nice.
Click an image to see the larger version.

Update to original article: In the past couple of years Photoshop has improved its HDR capabilities and I have found myself using those tools or blending the images manually. As always, I am learning new techniques and skills when combining images in Photoshop. Masking layers have become my main tool in creating HDR-like images without the overprocessed look of tools like Photomatix Pro. Photomatix is still useful in some cases and can be fun to experiment with but I have put it aside for now. - Curtis