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Aperture Workflow; Stacking for HDR Plug-ins

Thomas Boyd's picture
February 26, 2013 - 12:51am

I’ve been doing a good amount of interior architectural work lately and I’ve been using the Photomatix Pro 4 Aperture Plug-in.

It took some experimentation to establish a decent workflow so I thought I’d spare you and share what I’ve learned.

Let me start by explaining my goals. I want to create a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image that looks natural and yet retains detail in shadows and highlights. It’s also important for me to have the source files handy and organized. Aperture fits the bill nicely for this.

The idea is to shoot three to five images at different exposures and then merge them into one image. I’m adamant about having the images look natural. I’ve seen a lot of HDR images that have halos and where the colors are whacked and it basically just looks over-the-top to me. I don’t like that look. 

I’m assuming if you’ve found this article you already know about HDR and how to do it so I won’t make this an HDR tutorial. (If you want to learn HDR, be sure to visit Trey’s site). I have found Aperture to be a great way to organize the source images for HDR and I’ve found the Photomatix plug-in to work very well for the task. I tried several other apps and decided Photomatix served my tastes.

Here’s what I do.


After importing the images I go through the images in Split View and Shift-select all the source images I want to open in Photomatix. I then hit Stacks > Stack [Command-K] to stack the images. This is an important step—it’s a great way to group the sources images together for each HDR composite. It also has the added benefit of keeping the final HDR image together after it’s saved in Photomatix.

When you are done working on your images in Photomatix and you’ved save the image it will appear in the stack. Even though you may have already made adjustments to the source images before sending them to Photomatix you can still make adjustments to the saved HDR image. I often find myself adding definition or tightening the crop a bit.

It really is as easy as that, but HDR can get out of hand quickly when you are shooting so many frames for the purpose of making one image. Aperture’s under-appreciated stacking feature is key to keeping all your source files organized.

Keep in mind this workflow will work with other HDR plug-ins such as Nik Software’s HDR EFEX Pro 2.

Use Aperture to prepare and organize your source images for HDR work.


Update on February 27, 2013 - 3:43am by Thomas Boyd

PS—We don’t have discount codes for Photomatix I’m sorry to say, but remember if you buy anything from Nik Software, be sure to use the code “ApertureExpert” for 15% off.

Apple Aperture
Thomas Boyd

Auto Stack (⌥⌘A by default) works great for this unless you’re manually setting your exposure settings so that your images don’t fall into nice groups by time. If you’re using the multi-frame and exposure bracketing features of your camera, Auto Stack should work great.


Auto Stack would only work if what you do in the camera is flawless. For instance, I may shoot a few test frame before starting to bracket. Those would get sucked into the auto stack. I’ve also bumped the tripod and reshot a frame, that would get autostacked as well. At least for me, I have to do it manually.

Are you deleting the test frames and rejects or just leaving them out of the stack?


Do you prefer Photomatrix over Nik?

I prefer Photomatix. I can achieve a more natural look to my taste. Both are good though.

I usually just include the frames I want to send to PMX. Sometimes I shoot bracket more than I need to and don’t include those. I noticed if you bracket too much on the overexposure and get flare from a window it will show up, so I often leave those out and just live with an over-exposed window.

Great tip on stacking, Thomas. Thanks.

One thing I’ve found when I want to produce a “natural” HDR look is that I get better results if I bias toward underexposure. So as an example, rather than shooting five frames at -2 -1 0 +1 +2, I’d shoot -3 -2 -1 0 +1.

Have you found the same thing?


Good tip. Has anybody experience of using the full Photomatix versus the Aperture PlugIn? I have using the Plugin and just wonder if I am missing anything. When working through the tutorials online, I can’t find some of the adjustment sliders that are demonstrated. In addition, what Aperture corrections does anybody use normally after getting the frame back from Photomatix?


Will this work with the retinalMBP?


Paul: Will this work with the retinalMBP?

Macbook Pro with retina screen? Yes, in fact the HDR pictures will look even better!

I think the HDR plugins they’re referring to are Photomatix and Nik HDR Efex Pro; both should work fine with Aperture on one of the newer laptops.

One thing I noticed irritating about returning an HDR image from Nik HDR is that the image and the photos the image were created from end up at the top of the project they were derived. In another words, how one sorts their project images changes from Date(in my example) to Manual. Albeit not difficult to change the sorting back to Date; but it shouldn’t change unless that choice was available. And, yes, I have asked both Apple and Nik about this and again, they point fingers at each other like teenagers who got in trouble.

Yes, that’s an odd quirk to Nik HDR. I end up just dragging them where they belong.

Oddly, Photomatix will save the HDR image back to the stack where it came from except it puts it in the middle of the stack. I would think it come in at the end, but it really doesn’t matter.

My question above is referring to this plug in with the Retina mbp. This is because the Retina is not compatible with Nik plug in.

Thank you


I used Photomatix for years and then tried Nik HDR and it was like moving from a campsite to a 5 star hotel in terms of features. I can achieve a far more natural look if I need and have so much more control, both globally and locally than I could do with Photomatix. I haven’t looked back. Niks other filters are incredible. If you had to choose one set of filters, Nik would be the best choice by far. Very far.

Thanks for the article, I do a bit of that for friends who are selling their home, the 1st thing they say to me is where are your lights and extra flashes, So I do a very quick example and they are gobsmacked. I prefer Photomatix and use it the most but if I’m doing something different and have the time I’ll run it through NIK HDR Efex Pro 2 and PS CS6. It’s quite interesting to see the different results.. I find every single photo behaves so differently in each software it’s fascinating. Photomatix though is the cheapest or was and is still the best by a long shot. Being able to switch out a part of the image for another exposure so quickly is excellent. Also you don’t have to go searching for the photo as much, both NIK and Photomatix do it, but every time I use HDR Pro I still have to re-boot Aperture.

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