1. Im shooting with a D80, a mid class DSLR, but relatively new with some fairly decent options & a tokina 12mm a solid and sharp lens, so ofcourse this plays a part in the final product.
2. Using the right filter in this case a graduated neutral density 4 to avoid the sky being blown out and allow easier post process. doing all you can prior to post process can make all the difference.
3. Perth City, Western Australia. The time was 2pm, it was sunny but the sky was covered by a thin layer of clouds & almost no humidty. (conditions play a major roll in the camera settings).
4. Particular cam settings / ISO 125 / Optimize Mode = Vivid / White Balance = Auto / RAW mode / Focus mode = Dynamic.
5. For this shot a tripod was inconvenient and i wanted max clarity, there is a common misconception where people think higher aperture means greater depth of field & max detail, this is'nt totaly correct. Manual Priority mode, i used an aperture of 4! and shutter speed of 1/640, this means i could use a nice quick shutter to allow the least amount of movement, and as you can see the depth of field right to the clouds is excellent.
6. Now to turn this image into a Pseudo DRi, which is a "false" form of HDR, it has its pros & cons. Since i only shot 1 image i need to now create multiple exposures from this 1 image, you can use a few different programs to do this all of which have different compression results & you can see some here [link] , i use Capture NX to take the single RAW image and make 4 exposures -2 -1 0 +1, and save each as a 16Bit Tiff.
7. The next step is taking the four 16Bit Tiffs & compiling them into a HDR image with photomatix, i tonemap the image until im satisfied always being mindful of the lightsmoothing, microcontrast & microsmoothing, as i like to ratain as much clarity as possible.
8. Now i export the image into CS3 for final processing, i masked the sky and colour balanced it, adjusted some saturations & sharpend the whole image. Lightend the curves & levels a tiny bit.
9. I save the PSD file so i have the hardcopy, then something i do which most dont is resize it in photoshop to the size i want it on DA, by this i mean when you click full view of my image, it is that exact size when viewed in CS3 @ 100%. i then save it as sRGB - PNG & upload it to DA to be viewed 'original size', this way DA dont restrain the size & deviants view the image at its highest quality.
You can get out just as much as you put in, taking the best possible shot prior to processing helps, though not Super Critical its still important to try retain as much clarity as you can through programs as depending on your image it may be the difference between a +fav or not.
Dont drag your RAW straight into Photomatix, create multiple exposures first & use 16bit Tiffs.
Massive Aperture doesnt ALWAYS mean more detail my shots are proof & this isnt the method i use for all shots, different shots require different attention and different software.
Dont give up keep working at it & dont be afraid to ask me any questions ill be glad to help