HDR improving

I’ve got an updated version of the NIK HDR Efex Pro plug-in for Lightroom, which claims to have improved how HDR images are created from multiple shots.  Almost all of my HDR attempts are aimed at a natural look; I use HDR where a single image can’t capture details in the highlight and shadows.  From the initial work with this new version of software I feel it’s an improvement but still there are things that need to get better.  See what you think.

Here are the two extremes of a five-shot series made for HDR, one exposed for highlight details and one for shadows.

When the software rendered the HDR image it was pretty close to what I wanted but there were some adjustments I made to give it a more natural look.  Here’s my result for now.

I’m pulling back on the tone compression as much as possible and still hold details in the shadow and highlight areas – a photographer told me once he hates HDR because the range of tones is too close together, giving an artificial look to the image.  This newer version of the software does a better job of controlling tone compression so it’s moving in the right direction there.  Overall at a glance this is a pretty good image, very similar to what you would see if standing there.

What I’m still seeing, though, is the image is flat, lacking any dimensionality to it.  I’m not sure if this is the tonal compression still being too great or if it’s some other aspect I’m not controlling very well.  The details are there, and there are shadows and highlights, but I’m not getting a sense of a foreground and background, just everything flat on one plane.  Definitely not what you’d see if standing there.

What’s your opinion on this?  Any suggestions on what to change in order to bring back the dimensionality?

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