Jul 11

A Look at Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

The Nik Software plugins for Lightroom, Aperture  and Photoshop are among the best tools for giving an image that final touch up for the look I’m after.  They range from subtle to very in-your-face, and in my opinion Silver Efex Pro 2 is the best thing you can possibly use for black and white conversions.  Nik’s HDR software, HDR Efex Pro, has been my HDR tool of choice for a while now, and Nik has just released Version 2 of the software.  While I haven’t had a chance to really delve into all of the improvements, there are a few things that really stick out to me as well worth the upgrade.

Ghost Removal

I do a lot of hand held HDR shots in good light.  I set auto bracketing on my camera, high speed frame advance, and rattle off 5 to 7 bracketed shots in the span of a second.  This generally can yield usable images for HDR merging, though a tripod is always better.  One limitation to many HDR merging programs, including the original HDR Efex Pro, is that if the source images weren’t perfectly aligned, you’d get ‘ghosts’ from some of the exposures.  To get rid of the ghosts meant a time consuming and tedious process of cloning out the doubled edges.  HDR Efex Pro 2 includes automatic ghost removal, and it does so by allowing you to select a master image (usually the base exposure), and then it will use that reference to eliminate ghosts from misalignment.  This is an extremely useful tool not only for hand held HDRs, but for HDRs of landscapes where there are things blowing in the wind, such as grass or tree leaves.  In the past, these movements between shots could make the HDR unsightly.  In my testing so far the ghost removal tool is fantastic.  Usually only 20-40% strength is needed, but on my example shot you’ll see in a moment, I had to use 100%, but it got the ghosts!

Much improved tone mapping engine

One of the biggest complaints about HDR photography is that most of them look fake.  Sometimes that’s the look you’re after, but if you aren’t after that look, you need really careful processing and sometimes even that isn’t enough.  The new tone mapping engine in HDR Efex Pro yields a much more natural looking HDR image with minimal effort.  You can still go crazy with wild HDRs if you want, but the realistic HDR settings are much improved, and the results look more realistic and natural and are more pleasing to my eye…and they take less time to do!

Graduated Density

HDR Efex Pro 2 includes a graduated density control that will allow you basically easily replicate a Grad ND effect with your HDR, utilizing the full 32 bit range of the HDR image.  With images with well defined horizons, it allows for much greater control over the foreground and sky exposure, which also adds to the improvement in realism.

I also have found the overall user interface to be a big step up.  It’s more intuitive, faster and allows for much greater control.

An example:

Pier – Morro Bay, CA – Panasonic GH2 with 7-14mm, Processed in Nik HDR Efex Pro

The image above is an HDR of three exposures that I took last November in Morro Bay, California.  I tried to get a realistic HDR at first, and didn’t like the results at all, so I went for a more surreal sort of look.  HDR Efex Pro (version 1) did a nice job getting me that look, though I had a LOT of cleanup work to do, as the source images were a little off, even after alignment.  I had to do a ton of cloning around the dock area and the light poles, as well as on the horizon line to eliminate ghosts.  I also had to do some work on the water, which had odd interference artifacts from the changing waves.  While I like the image this way, a part of me always disliked how it sort of looked ‘digital’.

When I got HDR Efex Pro 2 (which you can download and try for free for 15 days), this was one of the first images I tried to process again.  This time, I tried for the more realistic look, and I’m very happy with the results.  I had to use 100% Ghost Reduction, but it eliminated ALL of the ghosting issues and water artifacts.  No cloning needed, which saved me 45 minutes on the final image.  I tweaked one of the more realistic presets (Deep 2), adding a bit of contrast and structure, and used a few small U-Point adjustments on the clouds near the horizon.  I also utilized the Graduated Neutral Density to brighten the top a bit and darken the foreground, as the default had them too even for my taste.  The result is the image below, which I find MUCH better.  All in all, I think it’s a very worthy upgrade for users of HDR Efex Pro, and a must-have tool for those without an HDR program who are interested in giving HDR photography a whirl.

Pier, Morro Bay, CA – Panasonic GH2 with 7-14mm, Processed in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad


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  1. Dave Tetrault

    Hi Mr. Steele! I’ve enjoyed reading your articles for some time now; this is the first time ever commenting.
    I rather like the HDR effects (unlike alot of people it seems), and I could really appreciate the before/after renditions in your article…the HDR effect was there, but not so blatant-more subtle if you could say that.
    I’m pretty new to digital photography, after a couple decade hiatus (school, children, life…). I’d used an old Pentax
    through high school, and later a Contax G2 which I still have and enjoy. But nothing that needed “post
    processing”, until my recently purchased OM-D. I’m still learning this system and will be for awhile. As far as
    the programs you’ve described in your article – when I purchased my 25mm Panasonic lens, I got a $50 off
    coupon for Lightroom. It’s version 4.0; now I haven’t experimented, but I read somewhere that the Olympus
    needs LR4.1. Have you heard if this is so? And you spoke of this Nik software as being a “plugin”, what does
    that mean? Sorry to question you like this, but you obviously know what you’re about with this stuff, and maybe you wouldn’t mind a word of advice here and there!
    Thanks for any kind words you may throw my way! Have a Great day. Dave Tetrault (Tucson, Az)

    1. Jordan Steele

      Yes, you will need to update to Lightroom 4.1 to get OM-D support. It’s a free update, so just go to the updates thing in Lightroom and you’ll get the new version.

      The Nik software is software that works within Lightroom or Photoshop. In Lightroom, you essentially convert your files into TIFs that are then opened by the Nik plugin (this is all automated), and then you make whatever changes to the file you want and hit OK, and it will bring the edited file back into Lightroom. In Photoshop, it basically makes a new layer with the Nik edits.

      Basically, the NIk plugins are very powerful photo editing tools that expand the capability of Lightroom and Photoshop. You can download free trials of all their stuff to try it out.

  2. Drew Reese

    Hi: Off the subject question… what do you use for your blog… I use google e-blogger but would like to set mine up like yours with the posts running down the left. Do you use tumblr or wordpress? Sorry, boring question.

    1. Jordan Steele

      This is done in WordPress with a customized version of the Graphene theme for aesthetics.

  3. Paul Franklin

    I have never seen a sky that colour. Way over saturated in the first photo and too much cyan in the second.

  4. Claude

    Hrd mmmm i think it takes away from the natural photography we should be doing … It’s not what we see through your eyes … Too fake …thank you …

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