Nik Software HDR Efex Pro 2 is now part of the Google Nik Collection, but the software itself is unchanged – it remains one of the most approachable and most effective HDR tools you can get. But while the bundled HDR Efex Pro 2 presets are many and varied, you can also create and save your own. It’s really easy to share them with other people, too, as this walkthrough will demonstrate.

What’s more, you don’t have to shoot a whole series of exposures, since HDR Efex Pro 2 can work from a single image, provided it has a full range of tones and no clipped highlights (shadows don’t matter so much).

This is a lot easier with RAW files and RAW converters which can recover extra dynamic range from these RAW files. I’m starting in Aperture, where the Recovery slider is really good at getting back clipped highlights without compressing the tones in the rest of the image. HDR Efex Pro 2 is available as an Aperture plug-in, so I can open it directly when I’ve made my adjustments, and when the finished image is saved, it’s re-imported back into Aperture automatically.

HDR Efex Pro 2 presets

This is my start shot. It was taken in Oxford on a dull, overcast day, so the sky lacks detail and the shadows under the bridge are very dark. But the RAW file does retain full shadow and highlight detail, so it’s a good candidate for the HDR treatment.

01 Highlight recovery

HDR Efex Pro 2 presets

My first step is in Aperture, where I’m using the Recovery slider to make sure the image retains all the bright tones in the sky. If I push it right up to maximum, the right end of the histogram (the highlights) is pulled back so that it fits within the scale and none of the highlights are clipped.

02 Pick a preset

HDR Efex Pro 2 presets

I’ve had a quick scan through the HDR Efex Pro 2 presets, and I think the ’24 – Outdoor 2′ preset is closest to what I have in mind. It doesn’t have to be exact – I’m going to modify the settings anyway.