Rescuing Overdone HDR Images for Glamour Backgrounds

I photograph all different sorts of backgrounds for use in glamour composites, and nearly always shoot a bracketed series for HDR. These are then processed (usually in Photomatix) and imported into Lightroom.

Weeks, months or years later, when I revisit these HDR images, I often ask myself "What was I thinking?" What I see are images with over-saturated colors and too much contrast. On The Grid podcast, Scott Kelby explained how this happens. Our eyes get acclimated to intense color and contrast when we process a series of HDR images, so we tend to overdo the processing.

This renders such images useless as backgrounds for glamour composites: the vibrant colors and contrast draw too much of the viewer's attention and detract from the model.

There is an easy way around this problem, short of reprocessing the bracketed images. I will demonstrate using this studio image of Laurel:

Beginning image of Laurel against a white seamless background.

Beginning image of Laurel against a white seamless background.

Here is an HDR background taken at Singapore's Clarke Quay, and processed a few years ago. I like this background, but it is indeed overdone:

AN overdone, overcooked, over-processed HDR background image.

AN overdone, overcooked, over-processed HDR background image.

Simply add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, and desaturate (I used -84) and darken (I used -20):

A less saturated, darker version of the HDR image.

A less saturated, darker version of the HDR image.

After adding Laurel we can see that she does not match the background very well:

Without any adjustments, Laurel appears to warm for the cool background.

Without any adjustments, Laurel appears to warm for the cool background.

Run the image through Nik Color Efex Pro 4 to blend her into the scene better. I used Darken/Lighten Center to begin the vignetting process, Brilliance/Warmth to cool everything down a bit and better match the model and background colors, then a small amount of Pro Contrast:

Laurel blends better with the scene, but the edges of the background are too bright.

Laurel blends better with the scene, but the edges of the background are too bright.

Finally, I added a Curves adjustment layer set to the Multiply blend mode, then painted over Laurel with a large soft black brush on the mask to further darken those bright edges, thus vignetting, and emphasizing Laurel even more:

Final.

Final.

This is such an easy, straightforward technique, and really draws our eyes to the model, which is our goal.