HDR PhotoStudio is dead. Long live HDR Expose!

The fine folks at Unified Color have changed more than just the name.

It's a complete overhaul, in the user interface and in the internal logic. What remains the same is the philosophy: You can edit your HDR in full 32-bit up until the end - when you save the image. It's really up to you if you apply just a color correction, de-noising and cleanup work on an HDR destined for lighting a CG scene. Or to take it to another tonemapper, for that matter. But you can just as well keep tweaking the look in HDR Expose, reveal highlights detail and work out small local contrasts until it looks nice on your screen - then you have effectively tonemapped your image in HDR Expose.

So, what's new?

  • Lightroom and Aperture plugin included for seamless integration
  • Colormanaged Display
  • Editable History Stack (can be saved as Recipes)
  • Live Histogram
  • 64-bit, GPU and multicore acceleration

It's all about the creative workflow

Highslide JS

Working with HDR Expose takes on the form of creative jam sessions. There's no pre-determined set of tools to use, instead you decide for yourself what sliders you need and stack as many of them as you want. For example, if you want to extract local contrasts with the Highlight/Shadow tool twice, just add this effect again.
Think of these operators like Adjustment Layers in Photoshop. Every effect works on the result of the previous one, but you can always go back in your operator stack and tweak the settings without loosing anything. With a tiny plus icon above the stack you can save the entire list as a recipe, which will then be ready for batch processing or as starting point for the next image.

Non-technical thinking

Technical decisions, like bit depth and compression of saved files, are all kept out of the way in the preferences. You set your workflow settings once you installed HDR Expose, and won't be bothered with that stuff again. I recommend setting up in your calibrated monitor profile right away, and choose TIFF: 16 bit / LZW and EXR with PIZ compression.
The same applies to the Lightroom Export plugin: You do your settings once in the overall Export dialog, and from there on you just invoke the plugin silently with the context menu.

High-quality legacy

One specialty that HDR Expose inherited from HDR PhotoStudio is the excellent halo reduction. Whenever you touch local contrasts (possible in multiple tools), you can set the quality of the halo reduction in 4 levels: Preview, Moderate, High, Ultimate. Calculation times can increase tremendously when switching to Ultimate, but when you need that extra bit of quality, it's there.

I had the chance to play with an early beta version, and so the 4th image in the tonemapping comparison on the Real HDR page (labelled "Photoreal") was actually created with HDR Expose. According to the survey below the images, people really liked the results a lot.


I was about to complain about stability issues I experienced with the beta, but now I'm happy to report that the release version turned out rock-stable (even on 32 MegaPixel imagery). There is, however, still some untapped potential for speeding up the performance, especially in Batch mode. There is no option to take panoramic projections into account, so you'd better be careful when applying local contrast enhancements to spherical panoramas. Despite the built-in ghost reduction, the HDR Merge module is not the best-in-class either.

Bottom line:

HDR Expose is currently the only software providing an end-to-end HDR workflow. It's indispensable for VFX artists to fine tune HDR lighting maps and highly recommended for photographers to create a natural tonemapping. It offers an unrivaled amount of control over colors and details, so it's a perfect match for control freaks like me aiming for the perfect picture.

After all, HDR Expose is a free upgrade for HDR PhotoStudio users. For everyone else there is a promotional offer of $99,- until the end of the month, but if you own the HDRI-Handbook that offer is in fact permanent for you. You'd just have to pick up your coupon on the software page...

So what are you waiting for? Download the demo or watch the new tutorial videos! Oh, and don't forget that June 26 is the deadline for Unified Color's HDR Contest phase 2!

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