First off, apologies for the small image… it is actually quite large in reality as you might expect from a panoramic view. It’s quite liberating for me to put it up here as it almost did not exist.
If I look back on Sunday, when I shot this difficult shot (there are actually close to 30 single shots in this final composite), it all started as a bit of a nightmare when I realized that 1) I did not take my tripod-camera adapter off my 5d to put it on the xti I used to shoot this (doh!) and 2) exposures as long as 2 seconds would be required to show details in the fireplace. So there I was, camera resting on the bubble level which was nested on the tripod head as secure as possible. I put some weight on the back of the camera and held my breath a lot while shooting.
Upon coming back home, I diligently followed the instructions for putting together a shot like this: correct the lens (a 10-22mm Canon EFS) distortion, put together the HDR composite in photoshop (saving the local adaptation curve to apply the same on all shots), then stitching the panorama in photoshop again and fixing the white balance to have the correct ones inside and outside.
Step one was easy enough, but I stalled, really stalled on step 2. Photoshop CS4 is just not a good performer when it comes to user friendly HDR processing. Alignment of the images is incredibly off, with one of the shots always miles away from where it should be, and then it takes a long time getting the curve right for a color mapping that looks somewhat real. Then you apply that same curve to the other shots and come up with unacceptable variations in brightness and color. Additionally, to say that everything ends up washed out focus-wise is an understatement. Of course the alignment issue doesn’t help. I mean Photoshop seems to be actually adding ghosts where there are none. To top it all off, artifacts and chromatic aberrations created by the HDR merge are such that you catch yourself planning days of manual retouching. I’m normally a fan of Photoshop but this under performance is ridiculous.
And then, oh joy, I tried to stitch together the panoramic view with my painfully created HDR (as if I could have used them anyways. ha!). Now, Photoshop has become quite good at panoramic stitching. I’ve done it several times and I’ve been gleefully surprised at how nice the results were every time. But on this occasion, perhaps my fuming frustration was invading my computers’ molecular stability, it completely malfunctioned. The software hung no less than 4 times, requiring a reboot to clear the memory, and every trial but one returned an orphan photo at the top that wasn’t recognized for the stitch. The one that worked was not done with the HDR composites but with the palest of the shots only. As soon as I tried the right exposure or the underexposed shots, I could not get the panoramic stitching to work. It never did work with the Photoshop generated HDR images.
So, after 6 hours of post processing hell, I was ready to wipe these insulting images from my hard drives, go do a reshoot, and questioned my interests in architectural photography.
But then, the next day, I was voicing my frustration to Julie on Facebook, and she advised simply to go get Enfuse for lightroom. Simply. Well, why not try?
Installation was a bit of bitch (get the software here and make a donation to get a working license, then get the enblend/enfuse program files here and unzip them in a specific folder which you have to direct the plu gin to through configuration in Lightroom), but then I put it to the test on the failed shots of the prior day.
Jaw-dropping elation followed. Not only did it take the plugin a mere fraction of the time Photoshop used to merge the HDRs, but – 1) the photos came up with a nice realistic color map without any adjustments on my end, 2) they were way, way, way sharper than any of the Photoshop images, 3) had no ugly artifacts or weird color aberration lines anywhere, plus ghosting was minimized to a few leaves in the trees and 4) all the merges had the same brightness/contrast levels and no variations in colors. WTF?? Wow. Take that, Adobe.
I sent the merges to photostich in Photoshop and the stitch worked out fine on the very first attempt with just a couple of minor retouching bits to do.
So Enfuse saved the day. Go get it. Now, before you forget.