Create Memorable HDR Images

Living under the File > Automate menu in Photoshop, Nik Software's HDR Efex Pro remains one of the best HDR (high-dynamic-range) systems available. In version 2, there's new tone mapping, improved ghost reduction, and alignment algorithms/controls. As regards the former, I couldn't really tell the difference from version 1. But I did notice a difference with the latter: Photos that I couldn't even get in sync with the previous version's manual tools now line up automatically.

The two controls are part of a new merge screen, where you can also decide which photo to use as a master for the HDR engine. Selecting a different master when there are partial objects in the scene may fix things instantly. Version 2's working window is clutter-free, and panels are grouped and collapsible. The interface corresponds almost one-on-one with Viveza 2, Color Efex Pro 3, and Silver Efex Pro 2.

The addition of a new Tint slider to the Color section allows corrections for white balance, and the Loupe tool now allows you to view hot and cold areas.

Of all the new features, I like the Graduated Neutral Density (ND) control the best. It allows you to apply an ND filter inside HDR Efex Pro 2. This is especially appealing when you're creating an image in which you want only the part above or below the horizon to have the HDR effect. Depth control is useful to add a bit of local contrast to the HDR image, but its main use is for subtle improvements.

Company:  Nik Software, Inc.
Price: $99.95 (Upgrade: $49.95)
Rating: 5
Hot:  More natural-looking effects; better controls; more user-friendly