Good HDR - Bad HDR

When processing a set of bracketed images for high dynamic range photography, the most difficult choice is balancing realism with colorful surrealism. A lot of people despise the out-of-this-world colors of many HDR photographs. In fact, a lot of people do not like color at all. I am surprised by the number of drab, dull, listless paintings found in many art galleries these days - but someone must be purchasing these paintings!

A preset in Photomatix Pro called Painterly 4 is one I often use. Here is a sample. The image is the Silver Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan:

The Painterly 4 preset of Photomatix Pro.  

The Painterly 4 preset of Photomatix Pro.

 

Since so many people despise the overly colorful, unnatural look of HDR images such as this, let us process the photos in Photoshop's HDR Pro module, using the Scott5 preset:

 

The Scott5 preset of Photoshop's HDR Pro.  

The Scott5 preset of Photoshop's HDR Pro.

 

This result is definitely more realistic, but still beautiful, in my opinion. The creator of this preset is of course the amazing Scott Kelby, President of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. If we stack these two versions in a Photoshop file and use 50% of Painterly 4 and 50% of Scott5, we get this:

50% Painterly 4 and 50% Scott5.

50% Painterly 4 and 50% Scott5.

Which version is best? It is all a matter of taste, of course. My guess is that most people will like the Scott5 version, whereas some will like the combination, and very few will like the Painterly 4 rendition.