HDR and Panoramic Workflow

by Ben Long

There are a number of digital photography processes that involve shooting multiple frames of a subject. High Dynamic Range imaging allows you to combine and merge a series of images to create a final result that has extremely high dynamic range. Panoramic stitching lets you create wide panoramic vistas by merging multiple tiled images, with automatic perspective and exposure correction along the way. Using Helicon Focus, you can create images with extremely deep depth of field by combining multiple frames shot with different focus points.

If you do a lot of this type of work, then you'll frequently come back from a shoot with gobs of images that need to be sorted into groups for whatever type of multi-image processing you intended when shooting. For example, you'll need to determine which particular set of images gets stitched into a panorama, or merged into an HDR image.

Aperture can't do stitching or HDR merging on its own, so if you're using an Aperture-based workflow, you'll have some extra thinking to do to figure out exactly how you want to organize your images. You can, of course, skip Aperture altogether. Copy the images to your drive, use your favorite browser to organize them, then pass them on to the relevant processing software. Finally, when you're done you can import the finished result into Aperture and back up the source files as you choose. In other words, you can continue to work with these types of images just as you did before there was Aperture.

The thing is, Aperture's Stack feature lends itself so well to this type of work, that it's hard not to use it to organize these types of processes. So, here's the workflow that I've finally settled on:

1. Import your images into Aperture. It doesn't matter whether you import as embedded or referenced images.

2. Sort through the images and group them into stacks. So, all of the component frames in a panorama go into one stack. Or, all of the frames in an HDR merge go into a stack, and so on.

3. Evaluate your stacks to decide which images you want to process. You might find that some of your images are out of focus, or plainly out of registration, or simply not that interesting.

4. Select all of the images in the first stack that you want to process, then export those images. How to export depends on the needs of your external processing software. For example, most panoramic stitching programs can't accept raw files, so you'll need to export raw files as JPEGs or TIFFs, depending on your stitching software's needs. HDR programs like Photoshop and PhotoMatix can accept raw files, so you should choose to Export Masters. I export all files into a special work folder on my desktop.

5. Process the images that you exported, and then save the resulting file back into your work folder.

6. Import the resulting image into Aperture and add it to the stack that contains the original source images. Make the result the pick and now you have a stack with your final image on top, and all of the components below.

7. Delete the work files that you exported, and move on to the next stack.

Of course, if you import as references, you don't have to hassle with the Export step. However, after organizing your images in Aperture, you then have to figure out file names and try to find those files in the Finder. Depending on your folder structure, this can be more or less complicated. Ideally, it would be nice if Aperture had a way to conform Finder organization to stack organization, or even just to rename files. Since it doesn't, I find it's easiest to just go through an export step. Exporting files is speedy, and disk space is cheap, so this works well for me.

If anyone else has a different method for working with these types of processes, I'd love to hear it.


Graeme Smith
2007-04-08 03:45:02
This is basicly what I do for stitching panoramas. Anybody think the next version of Aperture might have non-destructive pano stitching built in? That would be really useful.