I’ve been asked a few times over the years about my HDR tonemapping workflow. A few years ago I met with a couple of fellow photographers who bought me dinner in exchange for showing them (at said dinner) how I would work a set of exposures with Photomatix. One of them brought a laptop and I processed a couple of his images at the table while he watched, and I tried to explain what I was doing.
I’m not sure they got much useful, concrete procedure out of that meeting because I feel like there is only a skeleton of a process plus a whole lot of noodling and looking at the result. What I mean is, especially in those days with the awkward Photomatix UI, I’d spend a lot of time just flipping sliders to their extremes. After each flip, I’d observe how the image was affected. Mainly I am looking for was how the light is affected by this setting or that. Are the shadows losing their drama, or are they clogging up? I’d gradually home in on the settings that looked good, if any did. Sometimes there was just no way to get a pleasing result from tonemapping, often one of the individual exposures was preferable.
I did after a time become familiar with what to expect from various sliders. But I’d always do some amount of flipping because every image is different. That may sound trite, but it’s true, I am somewhat uncomfortable with presets for this reason. That said, I have created a umber of presets in both Photomatix and HDR Efex Pro. But I treat them as basic starting points, it is VERY rare that a template I developed on one image works on another without adjustment.
I’m not really that familiar with how other aficionados of HDR work. Perhaps my haphazard workflow is actually more common than I think.