a30 May 2012

Tutorial: Batch processing with Photomatix Pro

Today I will write a few words about Batch Processing in Photomatix. This tutorial is also available as part of my HDR tutorial.

Everything is fine and I hope clear up to now but how do you process HDR photos when you end up with a few hundreds to a few thousands of photos after a photo shoot? Opening each of them in Photomatix, making adjustments and then saving sounds like a tedious and very long task. Also it is rather difficult do choose the best image. When you have single images (i.e. not bracketed) you can compare them and choose one or few which you're going to process. But how to compare images when each of them is in fact built from 3, 5 or 7 photos? Should you compare underexposed images, normal exposure or maybe all images? This would complicate process of surveying very much. Another thing is doing timelapse.
Luckily, the solution to above problems is simple - use batch processing feature instead. Batch processing allows you  to process similar images all at once using same settings for all of them. Photomatix Pro has this feature built-in and as you will see in a minute it's quite powerful.

Choosing and preparing photos

As mentioned above, all photos in the batch will be processed with the same settings, so you first need to select photos for processing. Generally I try to choose photos which are very similar to each other, have similar tones and light. Most of the time I create new folder in Lightroom (or Windows Explorer) and move all such photos to it. Then I take one bracketed sequence from this folder and open it in Photomatix Pro, choose preset and make adjustments to it, then I save it as a new preset which I will then use in batch processing. Why this is necessary? Batch processing doesn't allow you to preview your adjustments (this is same way as batch processing in Photoshop CS for instance).

I then close Preview mode with X button (there is no need to process a photo).

Batch GUI

Now open Automate -> Batch Processing (or use CTRL + B shortcut). Following window will appear. It might look quite complex at first but it isn't.

Elements of the GUI are described below:
  1. Top-left corner contains controls which allow you to choose method used for processing photos. You can select any method available in Photomatix Pro. There is even one more method - Fusion/Realistic. It's meant especially for real-estate photographers but it's significantly slower than any other method so it's not available in the interactive GUI mode. To process photos with a given method just check a box near the method name. If you choose more than one method (eg. both Details Enhancer and Tone Compressor) Photomatix will process each of your photos a few times saving you time to process photos several times separately. It's quite useful. Also note the "Settings..." button near each method name. Clicking it brings the dialog allowing you to select settings and preset. It looks very similarly to Settings Adjustments in the preview mode.
    Also note that in order to use Details Enhancer or Tone Compressor you need to check a box near "Merge into 32-bit HDR file". After clicking on the "Settings..." button next to this checkbox window similar to Preprocessing Options will appear allowing you to select eg. Ghost Removal settings, Chromatic aberration reduction, White balance settings etc.
  2. Below methods section there is a section allowing you to choose number of exposures. If you used sequences with 3 bracketed shots choose 3. If 5, select 5. But what if you used sequences with both 3, 5 and 7 images? It's still possible. Click on the Advanced button and choose "Automatically detect number of bracketed frames" option.
  3. Then there is a section with alignment settings. All settings are similar to settings from Preprocessing window so I will skip their description.
  4. Underneath there is a source files section. If you want to process whole folder choose "Selection by folder" and then click on the "Select folder" button and navigate to your folder. If you, however, prefer to process only a few files, select "Selection by individual files" and then click on the "Select files" button and in the opened window select files you want to process. There is also a list of files. Clicking on any file in it will show small preview of it to the right. There is also option to remove file and filter files by type.
    If you want to process photos in subfolders be sure to check "Process subfolders" checkbox as otherwise those photos won't be processed.
  5. In the top right part of the form there are 3 buttons:
    1. Run - starts the batch,
    2. Close - close the batch window,
    3. Stop - cancels the batch processing. Note that this button appears only after clicking on the Run button.
  6. Below there is large text section - it's a batch log. Generally speaking all messages will appear here. Most of them will be information but also errors will appear here. Errors might appear when Photomatix could not process images for some reason (eg. when it couldn't find bracketed sequences). In the screenshot above I cancelled the batch processing by clicking on the Stop button, hence the message.
  7. In the bottom right corner you have settings to specify your output settings. First you have to specify output directory and you have two options here:
    1. Created under Source Folder - this is default option. Photomatix Pro will create new folder in your source directory and save the output images there. The folder will have name in form PhotomatixResultsXX where XX is a number. For instance if there is already PhotomatixResults01, Photomatix will save result files under PhotomatixResults02.
    2. Customized location - choose this option when you want to save your images to destination of your choice.
  8. Then you can select format of the saved image (JPEG, 8- and 16-bit TIFF files) and in case of JPEGs specify quality (in the range 0 to 100).
  9. Then you can select format of 32-bit HDR image generating when "Merge into 32-bit HDR file" is checked. You can select radiance (HDR) and EXR formats. There is also a checkbox "Remove 32-bit HDR file after tone mapping". If you want to use HDR image for other purpose (eg. to tone map it again later without need of merging again), uncheck this option.
    There is also a Naming & Output Options button. Clicking it brings another window:
This form allows you to choose naming scheme, Append custom suffix to the output files (eg. I use "_HDR" suffix). Resizing section allows you to choose output size of the images. By checking "Resize output to" box and typing width and height you can shrink the output images. Finishing section in turn allows you to apply finishing touch to all output images. You can apply contrast and sharpening enhancements.

Running batch

This is very simple, just:
  1. Set settings as desired
  2. Click Run button
  3. Wait (or eat a dinner or in case you have thousands of shots to process - go for a walk). It's slow process 

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