If you are like me, I think you will feel that the first version is a clearly more satisfying picture than the 2nd. Without becoming too modest, I am very happy with the result today, mainly because it shows that I am improving, nearly 4 years after I produced my first HDR image (I'm even embarrassed by some of the elements in the 2nd picture). I don't mind admitting my influences, a lot of my improvement recently has come from video tutorials purchased from Glyn Dewis and Jimmy McIntyre, who have really shown me new techniques to use in Photoshop, and helped me realise where I have been going wrong previously. In Photomatix for instance, I never really had an idea what the purpose of the sliders were, and what the objective of Photomatix should be. I just knew which sliders I liked using. Now I clearly know what I'm trying to achieve in Photomatix (a balanced look without pushing any sliders too hard), and how to get there.
As I stated on Thursday, I was looking to do a blog recently on LR/Enthuse, and how to get a good dynamic range without using HDR. However, every time I feel like I'm moving away from HDR, I am always hooked back. I think it will always be this way. I am convinced now more than ever that understanding HDR techniques can truly make the best possible picture, despite the pro's who still argue against it. Whilst I will of course continue to explore many different techniques and ways to get quality pictures, my long journey with HDR has just taken a new turn.