Review: HDR Expose 3 — Easy Solution for Challenging Light

© Paul Mozell 2013

As digital photography continues to evolve, High Dynamic Range or HDR technique keeps pace with the cascade of changes. Until we reach a point where image capture and output devices can reproduce what the human eye can and transmit to our brains, HDR will retain its place in photography. Keeping us on track, Unified Color Technologies has simplified the process of combining a series of bracketed exposures into one harmonious image with ample shadow and highlight detail, minimal noise and subtle color rendition.

Eastern Red Cedar 1 of 3
Eastern Red Cedar 2 of 3
Eastern Red Cedar 3 of 3
Final HDR image shows good shadow detail in the bark
Gibbs Brook Falls 1 of 3
Gibbs Brook Falls 2 of 3
Gibbs Brook Falls 3 of 3
Final HDR Image has detail in the water and the shadows on the left
Living Room 1 of 3
Living Room 2 of 3
Living Room 3 of 3
Final HDR image — good balance between exterior and interior lighting

In this first example I made a series of bracketed exposures of a large, twisted red cedar tree. With an eye for light and shadow trained in the days I film, I knew that just one exposure would not suffice. In Adobe Lightroom I selected three of the five frames I exposed, each 1 stop apart, varied by shutter speed— rather than f-stop. The Export menu gave me the option to Merge and Edit in HDR Expose and a few seconds later, the application’s dialog appeared.

A tone-mapped, merged image in nearly full-screen portrait orientation was displayed. I was pleased that the panel for presets showed on screen-left, rather than taking real estate from the image. A Brightness Histogram showed me  the image had an Exposure Value (EV) of 8.9 stops. I picked Tone Map Linear from the short of list of presets, added some saturation to the entire image, and finished up by employing the Color Tuning tool to reduce the exposure of  blue-sky values.


The import screen comes first and asks if you are merging static images or those with movement.

I anticipated that the waterfall image would be challenging because of the movement of leaves in the wind and the cascade itself. My goal was to make subtle changes; pulling more detail out of the shadows  and rocks on the left, and detail in the white-blue of the falls. HDR Expose 3 excels at minimizing the ghosting or blurring that plagues many HDR conversions. Sliders in the Veiling Glare box offers some control over the amount of correction — but I couldn’t see much change made with the sliders. For images where there is no movement it is best to disable the correction in this, and other HDR aps.

screen-capture-2 copy

The main working screen features color controls and a scrolling bar of presets.

Architectural interiors are the ideal proving ground for the kind of HDR work I do. In the film years we had to make multiple exposures with varying filter packs to account for daylight, tungsten, and other artificial light sources. This was  followed by multiple scans of film and complex masking techniques. In this living room photograph the interior is lit with small, intense halogens and the window light it very bright. HDR Expose handled the contrast beautifully, preserved the pretty starburst on the halogens. I did a quick adjustment of overall color temperature, and finally boosted the saturation a bit. Nice result, don’t you think?

HDR Expose 3 ($119.00 )also installs a standalone version when you install either the Lightroom or the Aperture plugin. A separate product, 32 Float v3 ($89.00 )adds the controls of HDR Expose to Photoshop so you can maximize adjustments to 32 bit files. HDR Expose 3 is a middle ground product in the field of HDR aps. It is not heavy on the technique jargon and controls, nor does it attempt to oversimplify the HDR process with a large array of overlapping presets. It does the job well from the first mouse click.

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