I've been playing around with HDR for the last few days, I found some shots in my collection that i'd taken at +-1/3EV for the purpose of choosing the best exposed one. But now I thought I'd just HDR the brackets anyway.
I'm a Linux user, so all my software is 100% free, some of it you may be able to get for win/mac.
- Hugin Panorama Creator, it can auto-align but I prefer manually, it can output both HDR stacks and panoramae, in TIFF and EXR. This program has a lot of quirks sometimes (like the tendency to vignette all photos to a tiny spot and blow-out the barrel-distortion to a balloon), i've found out how to get around them all quickly, hit me up if anyone needs tips.
- Luminance HDR. This program can create HDRs from tripod-mounted bracketed scenes, but can't do panoramae, even differences in framing handheld it struggles with sometimes, so I tend to stitch everything into EXR using Hugin.
But it tonemaps nicely, the beauty is that you can choose the size to do, so I create a lot of 500x300 sized previews until I get the colours right, then do a full 18MP version once. It's also got a huge selection of different algorithms to use, some look a lot better than others in different situations.
(My biggest gripe with this program is that it uses only 1-core cpu power at once, so my hex-core PhenomII is being wasted a bit, tone-mapping a full-res scene can take 10-15 minutes or more, which would be 2-3 minutes if it used all 6 cores). It's recently started doing a weird thing, sometimes it tone-maps to an entirely black-scene, not sure if that's a problem with the scene or the input file though.
Anyway, here's one of my efforts from last night. Luminance (or Hugin) also doesn't handle blowouts well, the top-left corner turned into weird colours, I'm trying to fix it by masking out the blowouts in the +EV shots going into the Hugin-stitched file, but i'll share it anyway...
Also, two 50% crops from another shot, both tone-mapped from the same EXR file. The single difference between the two shots is the "detail" setting on the first is 30, whereas on the second it's set to 1. This is the difference between what I'd call "fake looking" or "bad HDR" and something that I'd print big. I'm still not 100% happy with any of the different version I've made so far, but my favourite is the detail=1 version (until I make new versions).
<edit, I'm also adding in the houseboat again, this time the darkest shot from the 3 input bracketed shots, to show what it looks like in a "normal" photo.>