Tone Mapping the easy way

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Tone mapping is often known as “that HDR look”. Bringing dark and light areas of an image closer together, but without reducing the local contrast for each area. Years ago this was a black science, usually depending on masking, but today’s editors can make it very easy. This photo essay is a look at easy results with 3 current editors, Affinity, Darktable, and Luminar.

Each editor has a “mild” treatment for tone mapping, with pretty similar results. These are super easy to use. For reference, here is the original JPG version, straight out of the camera, no tone mapping –
original JPGAnd here are the three editors, showing the steps to get to those mild treatments.  Also a small peek at what each user interface (desktop) looks like.  ** To expand one of these images to full size – 1) Right mouse button click for menu.  – 2) Select “View Image” and click on it. **

Affinity does not make its tone mapping one more tool. Instead it makes tone mapping a whole module of its own. This is also where HDR is done.

- 1) To get to the tone mapping module click on the weird icon that looks a little like a Tie-Fighter, located on the menu bar at the upper left.

- 2) Previews for presets are on the left side. It's an eye test on smaller monitors, but click on the pull-down arrow for the preset collections and select the Default collection.

- 3) The mild tone map I used here happens to be the top one, titled "Natural", click on that. All done except for exporting to JPG!

Darktable looks a bit odd, but its organization and operation are fairly standard.
- 1) To get from the file manager to the editor click on "darkroom" in the upper right corner.
- 2) The tools in Darkroom are arranged in groups, select the little grey tone button in the middle of the tool bar. This is the "Tone group".
- 3) Find the "tone mapping" tool in the list and click on it to expand it to show the sliders. The default settings for those sliders are set up to give a little preview of what the tool can do. Here I simply accepted those settings. To make this effect stronger or weaker have a play with the two sliders. Darktable actually has several different tools that can be applied to tone mapping. This is just the simplest of the bunch.

- 1) To get from Luminar's file manager (Library) to its editor click on the Edit tab at the right end of the top tool bar. By default a thumbnail strip from the Library is show down the left side, but that can be turned off.

- 2) Like Darktable, Luminar arranges its editing tools in groups. In this case I selected the Essentials group. But this particular tool can also be found in other groups.

- 3) For this mild effect I am using the tool "Accent AI FilterTM 2.0". This is the general "sweetner" tool for Luminar. But if you simply shove the slider full right, you get a mild tone mapping effect. There are other, more elaborate tone mapping tools in Luminar, for a stronger effect.

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The sample images I have come up with for each editor are shown separately.



Affinity has such a wide variety of presets for tone mapping that I did not bother digging into any of their tools.



Darktable does have presets, but they are kind of buried, inside individual tools.  Thus we will start with each tool, which may or may not provide a preset.



Instead of “preset”, Luminar uses the term “look”, same thing.  For the most part these looks are on the mild side, compared to Affinity.  So I also threw in a couple of the tone tools, for more variety.  Kind of a compromise approach between Affinity and Darktable.