Enfuse and HDR photography

A few days ago, one of my best friends and fellow micro four thirds enthusiasts (check out his Flickr here) suggested I try out the Enfuse HDR Plugin for Lightroom. It can be found here, and for a monetary donation of your choice, you are granted access to the full version of the app. I wanted to share my first run of images processed using it. Ill admit now that the following photos are not the most interesting, but they do give an example of what Enfuse is capable of. I will start with showing how I came up with the introductory shot. The photos for this were taken by turning on the "exposure bracketing" mode on my EM5 to "5 photos at 1 exposure value difference". In addition I switched my shooting mode to "high speed burst pulse". I don't have a tripod offshore so I rested my camera on the hand rail shown and held down the shutter button. I was shooting in "manual" mode and the aperture on my 7.5mm fisheye was set to f/5.6. Therefore, the camera changed the exposure by altering the shutter speed. Below is a screen grab of the 4 resultant photos whose shutter speeds were (top left to bottom right) 1/500, 1/250, 1/60, 1/30:

To run Enfuse, I followed the directions published by "HDR Guide" that can be found here. The suggestion is to use at least 5 exposure levels and to do a "global edit" on the series of photos before you run the plug in. For the global edit, I used "Punch" under the "Lightroom General Presets" heading. I chose this preset because it only adds a bit of clarity and color saturation... nothing too drastic. After the global edits were made I ran the series through Enfuse which automagically imported this TIFF file back into Lightroom: 

As you can see, the photo above is more "balanced" compared to the four that were used to make it. Here, the foreground railing is not under exposed and the background sunrise does not exhibit blown out highlights. On a bit of a side note, I have come into the habit of correcting the photos I take with the 7.5mm third party fisheye for distortion. The following is a screen grab of what this looks like:

After cropping, I processed the photo to taste by adjusting the tone, increasing the clarity, muting the colors, and adding a gold overlay using "split toning". I chose increased contrast and a warm overlay because I wanted the the photo convey a sense of nostalgia. However, there is a wide range of options here. 

I think the plugin works great at giving you natural looking photos in cases when getting a proper exposure is difficult. The following are examples of such instances:

A) Subject is back-lit: Sure I could have composed this so that the sun was out of the picture, but I simply enjoyed the flare it provided. If I were to have only exposed for the sunlight then details in the lens would have been lost. If I had exposed to bring out the details in the lens, then the sky would have been blown out. Layering five photos using Enfuse provided a great solution.    

B) Subject is heavily shaded: Here, my focal point in this photo was in the shade and like the "backlit situation", simply exposing for the chain would have led to a blown out sky. Using Enfuse allowed me to retain details in both the foreground and background all while still producing a natural looking photo.

C) Subject itself is an intense light source: It would have been very difficult for me to photograph the sun here and retain both detail in the clouds and water without the use of Enfuse.

Even if the thought of over processed, insanely saturated, hard to look at HDR photos makes you run for the hills, you shouldn't discount the tasteful side of this type of photography. The concepts behind HDR deal with exposure and in part learning how to read a histogram. The following articles published by The Phoblographer were a great introduction for me:
If you get a chance, I highly recommend you check out Enfuse. Once you get a handle on how it operates it is extremely easy to use and a great introduction to (tasteful) HDR.

Sam D.