Tonemapping in Central Park


The best thing (for me) that came out of the hdr experiments, was the tonemapping tool in Photomatix.  I have created a monochrome preset that seems to work very well for converting raw images to b&w.  The shot above is an old one – done with the Rebel something or other in 2004.  If I were making corrections in Lightroom, there would be a bunch of gradients, and other techniques for dodge / burning areas.

This comes straight out of the tonemapping program.  Yes, you could then use it as a starting point and fine-tune this and that in Lightroom or Photoshop.  But essentially, the tonemapping (and I did two prints for customers today using it) gives this excellent control over both overall contrast and tonality, as well as “micro” areas of the image.

You can setup presets to give different effects depending on the source image and what you want to do with it.

* * *


Original “flat” version “zeroed out”


Default Settings in Tonemap (Photomatix)

Let me try this again because I wasn’t clear about the whole workflow to do this shot.

1. In Lightroom, I have a preset.  It sets the curve to linear.  It zeros out all the attributes.  And it uses the calibration that I like, which is faithful.  This produces a very flat image.  Next to no contrast.  Nothing dropping off the edges of the histogram.

2. Then I created a preset for this type of input image in Tonemapping.  It brings up different areas at different contrast levels etc.  I call it Monochrome 1.  I have two other presets, one for images that are coming in too contrasty, and one for images that are just too flat.  But I am not fusing three images together, though the preset will work as well with them.  And I am not creating two virtual images.  It is one image.

The problem that I have with multiple images is that if anything is moving – tree branches, ducks, etc. the result is not pleasing to me, i.e. not the normal blur you get from using one image.  On the other hand – if the initial scene really is contrasty, and nothing much is moving, or your shutter speed is fast enough, then fine – combine them and then tonemap them.

Here are the tonemapping settings for this monochrome image.


I’m not saying that this will work for all images, or that I will always use it as is, but it is a good start for both my 5d raw images that I want to go to monochrome with, and my 40D and whatever the early Rebel was called.  The idea is to try and give the tonemapping program all the data you can.  You may be able to make all the changes you need with tonemapping, or it may be an intermediate step and you’ll import it back into Lightroom or Photoshop.  But the point is, it surprised me how well the program works for dealing with both flat, and high contrast images.  And of course – it’s another reason why you always want to shoot raw if you care about what you’re shooting.  It’s just that you never know what piece of software is in the pipeline, or how a new converter may be able to pull more detail from the highlights than your current one.

Anyway, I don’t mean to do a commercial for Photomatix.  I haven’t compared it with other programs as it works.  And you can download it and like most software try it for free.  Tonemapping is just one part of the program.  Obviously the main parts are for creating HDR images.


Published by


My name is Dave Beckerman. I am a fine art photographer working in New York City.

10 thoughts on “Tonemapping in Central Park”

  1. Dave – making rent for an apartment in Manhattan in two days is pretty darn good in my book. It looks like you are finding a sweet spot in pricing.

  2. No it’s just one raw shot with an early digital Rebel. In other words, the concept of tonemapping can be used one just one shot.

  3. Dave:

    I have had it with the law business.
    I will work for food, beer, etc.


  4. When you say that you used one shot, I assume you mean that you took the RAW file, exported one at -1 EV, once at 0 EV, and then once at +1 EV, and then used the tone mapping part to merge them, right?

  5. Dave, I fully agree with the advice to always shoot raw files. Future software will most likely improve on existing processing and raw files obviously are the best way to capture the most data for future use.

    Late last year I picked an old Kodak DCS Pro14n – a full frame 14Mp Nikon mount SLR. At base ISO files processed in Lightroom look fantastic, definitely superior to my D200. Back when first released though these cameras were plagued with shadow noise and poor performance at higher ISOs which most raw converters except Kodak’s battled with. Anybody who shot raw could now recover older files with ease.

    Photomatix sounds interesting though for monochrome and I’ve watched your results with interest. I’ll have to try it out soon on some older IR stuff that I could never quite get right. Perfect work for a rainy long weekend.

    Cheers, Dennis.

  6. Exactly. I wouldn’t mention it but people still tell me that its a pita and that they are happy with the jpgs they’re getting.

  7. Dave thanks for showing how you are post processing. I find these to be useful and when people ask how you do what you do you can direct them to a blog post!

Comments are closed.