Back in April I did a post on a technique for making composite images with masking in Photoshop. The photo above is from that post and is the result of combining one exposure of the sky with another exposure of the house, foreground and trees. Of coarse the trick with this technique is creating a mask that just masks the sky and has a complicated edge with all the tree branches. Back in the original post I explain how I created the mask in this case.
Another way to solve this same problem is to use Photomatix by MultimediaPhoto. I've played with Photomatix in the past but never got excited about using it for my work. This has changed recently after taking some time to learn how to use the software and seeing some good looking work done by David Palermo and Uwe Steinmueller. Much of what I've seen done with Photomatix appears too wild and crazy for my taste and many Photomatixed photos have a "dirty" look in many of the shadow areas. David and Uwe's Photomatix work shows that quality images with out this "dirty shadows" look is possible with Photomatix.
I decided to go back and use the same images I used for the masking image and create a HDR version with Photomatix 2.3. I'll have to admit it took me a while to get past the frustration of all the sliders in Photomatix. My main frustration is that the preview image in Photomatix tone-mapping doesn't always show what the final image will look like. I created the version below with Photomatix.
The first thing I noticed about the Photomatix version is that the lighting is more realistic. This it the yellow upper story of the home doesn't look like it had the sun on the front. In the masked version I like the punch that the upper part of the house has but I must admit the clouds are a bit too ominous for a real estate image. I'm not practiced enough with Photomatix so I have all the control I want of what the final image looks like. But overall I think the Photomatix version is very usable. I end up fine tuning the output of Photomatix in Lightroom.
I will have to say it was much faster and easier creating the Photomatix image than creating the mask for the Photoshop image. Right now for me the trade off is between learning how to control the look of the image with the sliders in Photomatix and my skill at quickly creating a Photoshop mask. There is no question that for the price ($99) Photomatix can be a very useful tool.
I'm not sure I'm ready to start using Photomatix for interior shots yet. I still like the idea of being in control of the light inside.