This was originally going to be a rant post about tone mapping - fake HDR, but it's just going to be a quickie about avoiding the pitfalls of software. This is all personal opinion of course. My reason for posting this is that I've seen an over abundance of tone mapped work coming from people taking photos in Wyoming, and maybe, just maybe, this post will change a few opinions...doubtful though. If you don't like it, get out. This seems to be the rather unfortunate mindset I've encountered here from time to time. Makes no sense, but ok.
Photomatix is a decent program, if you use it moderately. It still doesn't compare to luminosity masking and other manual blend methods in Photoshop, but it might have some use for those with less experience in more technical PS methods....although luminosity masking is pretty damn easy. Unfortunately, the majority of work I've seen come out of tone mapping software is way overdone, taking things into the unreal...then people calling it art/istic. I'm sorry but it's not art, nor are you being creative. It's a few pushes of a button in automated software. If a good enough photo is taken, it doesn't need to be be hyper contrasted and over-saturated. This requires a bit of effort, sometimes a lot of effort. That's ok though, taking good/decent photos is worth it.
The following images are quick examples I threw together in a matter of minutes. I don't want to spend a lot of time with Photomatix, it's just not for me. But this is the sort of stuff I see come out of that program. Too bad, as it looks like more in depth work could produce moderately ok results.
why did I watermark these?!
And here are the images edited normally.
Now in Natual O Vision!
Nature is cool enough without making it look like a set piece from a Disney fantasy cartoon...or a sin city nightmare. Current generation cameras are capable of a fairly high dynamic range. Most of the photos I take anymore are single exposures. Unless dealing with extreme depths of field, extreme light and shadow ranges, or stitched images. The first couple of years I thought quite differently, and followed those that really pushed their imagery into the fantastical. Both with programs like photomatix and photoshop. But really, nature is flipping awesome, I don't see a reason to make things look any more cool than they already are. With so many wonderful tools at our disposal, finding a balance can be difficult. It's all a matter of personal taste though, and what sells, right? ;]
If you are interested in learning more about luminosity masking and other methods of slightly enhancing photos without going overboard, check out the links below. Both sites really helped me move my work in what I feel is the right direction.
http://goodlight.us/writing/tutorials.html - One of the best sandstone photographers in the world. Some of his work goes beyond the real, but his tutorials on luminosity masking are awesome.
http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/ - The best technical sites on photography in my opinion. Totally changed my mindset and understanding of cameras a few years back. Still check it out from time to time.