Processing the Shot: Corel PaintShop Pro X4 & Photomatix

By Guest Contributor on August 3rd, 2012   |    Posted in:  Processing   |    9 Comments

Today’s article was contributed by Steve Burns as part of our Processing the Shot series.

My photo of the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel has received several favorable comments, so here is a look at how it was produced.

My usual method of getting the brackets I use for my shots is fairly simple and straightforward: just point the camera and shoot. Unless it is after dark, I don’t usually bother setting up a tripod, because Photomatix almost always does a good job of aligning the brackets for me. I do know that the quality may be slightly higher if the brackets are already aligned, but by not spending too much time on setup, I can get in more shots in the same amount of time.

The three brackets of the Dolphin were taken from across Crescent Lake, in between the Swan and the Boardwalk. This was my first trip for using a fisheye lens, which I greatly enjoyed, because it gave a different look to some of the “same-old” photos that I have taken on every previous trip. A few years ago, I probably would not have attempted this shot, because I was looking directly into the sun. But thanks to HDR, I now feel pretty confident about these sorts of shots. And that is a good thing, because the wide field of view of the fisheye lens often makes it difficult to avoid getting the sun in your shots. I typically shoot my brackets at -2, 0, +2, and that is what I did here as well.

Here are the brackets I captured:

Bracket 1

Bracket 2

Bracket 3

Even seeing them together, they all look pretty ho-hum at best, besides those wonderful clouds. But that’s okay. Time for Photomatix!

I have greatly enjoyed the results from Photomatix for most all of the photos I have worked on with it. Of course, you can overdo it a bit with Photomatix, which I have been guilty of in the past as well. These days, I try for a slightly more subdued look, although I still let Photomatix produce some rather vibrant colors. This output file, like most of what I use, was produced using Tone Mapping with the Details Enhancer setting. Occasionally, I will use Exposure Fusion, but often the results from that are too bland for my tastes. In Tone Mapping, I have Strength, Color Saturation, Luminosity, and Detail Contrast all turned up quite a bit. Here is the tonemapped result:

Original Tonemap

This looks pretty good, but I feel that it can be even better.

For my post-processing, I have been using Corel PaintShop Pro X4. It may not have quite as many fancy features as some of the other software out there, but it fits well in my budget considering that I am strictly an amateur, and it gets the job done. Plus, I mainly use PaintShop for the Nik Color Efex filters that came included with it, which made PaintShop turn out to be a great deal. PaintShop Pro has three modes: Manage, Adjust, and Edit. I most often use the Edit mode, because that is where the Nik filters are found.

Click the photo for a larger version

Loading the tonemapped image into PaintShop Pro, I run it through the first Nik filter, which is Pro Contrast. With this filter, you can adjust the contrast and the color a bit. I usually leave the color like it is, but I like the contrast adjustments that this filter gives. Here is the result:

Next up is another Nik filter, Pro Contrast. This filter, like tonemapping in Photomatix, can really be taken over the top, so I usually dial everything back to around 12 to 13 percent, while leaving the saturation adjustment at 20 percent. This adjusts the contrast a bit more, brings out the colors, and also adds just a bit of a texture, giving this image:

From there, I run one more Nik filter, Brilliance/Warmth. The Brilliance slider adjusts the brightness and saturation, and I usually turn that one up a bit. The Warmth slider adjusts the overall color temperature. I usually like nice, warm colors, so I always turn that one up some, too. This gives the following result:

After that, I am usually satisfied with the overall image. I will occasionally run PaintShop Pro’s Digital Noise Reduction to clear things up a bit and increase the sharpness some. I ran that for this photo to remove some of the noise from the sky. That gives the final photo:

And that’s all there is to it. I have used this method on most all of my recent photos. Of course, things evolve over time, and I occasionally try a different filter here or there, but otherwise everything remains much the same.

For me, Photomatix and PaintShop Pro work together to create some really nice images.


  1. Chris   |   Aug 3, 2012

    I am loving this series so far and really glad to see some other point of views. I hope others in the community decide to contribute also. I am just beginning or else I would add myself to the list :)

  2. Kristi   |   Aug 3, 2012

    Excellent article by Steve–glad to see this from him. I follow his work & always enjoy his view from his lens.

  3. Cory Disbrow   |   Aug 3, 2012

    Thanks fore the article Steve!!

    • Steve Burns   |   Aug 3, 2012

      You’re welcome! I always enjoy seeing how others process their photos, so hopefully this will be helpful to someone, too.

  4. Kristin   |   Aug 3, 2012

    Nice contribution Steve! I agree that it’s always interesting to see how others process their shots. You make a very valid point that people tend to forget. You need to tailor your post-processing (and even your camera and lenses) to what you can afford and what you feel is a good product for the level photographer you are. It always seems like there’s a competition to own the best of everything, but that might not be what is or works best for you!

    • Steve Burns   |   Aug 6, 2012

      Thanks, Kristin. Yes, nothing against those who are able to spend more money on equipment and software, but for what I do I can’t always justify spending lots and lots for things. So I have to make do with what I have sometimes. But that isn’t a bad thing if you are familiar with your equipment and software to know what all you are able to do.

  5. Kelly   |   Aug 3, 2012

    So glad to see someone else PSP X4 for their photo processing needs. I have used PSP since version #3 and swear by it. It can do everything Elements does you just have to know the different names used.

    My HDR steps go from LR to Photomatix to PSP X4 to either Nik Filters or Topaz Labs. I am anxious to use your recipe and see how it works out.

    • Steve Burns   |   Aug 6, 2012

      Thanks, Kelly. Yes, I have been quite pleased with PSP. It meets my needs well.



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