****HDR Warning for those not a fan of High Dynamic Range Imagery****
HDR is a highly controversial post processing technique that can and often does, drive a photo purist up the wall. Even some non-photographers have a severe distaste for the effect. It’s an acquired taste for sure. I liken the effect of HDR on the eye like Wasabi to your taste buds. Both HDR and Wasabi will do one thing equally, get a reaction; from both those that like the treatment and those that don’t.
As I have said in previous posts where I show an HDR image, the post processing seems to rub a photographer purist the wrong way. Some say it’s cheating by using Photoshop trickery to sway the viewer into liking an otherwise pale or mediocre image.
Simply put, High Dynamic Range imaging (HDRI or HDR) is a set of techniques used in post-processing that allows a greater dynamic range between the lightest and darkest areas of an image including color saturation, luminosity, vibrancy and contrast. HDR images can actually more accurately represent a range of intensity levels found in real scenes as seen by the human eye. If you use post-processing software with your images and use preset actions purchased as add-ons or have the knowledge to create your own, you are, for all intensive purposes playing within the realm of HDR.
But what defines HDR from “normal workflows” widely accepted and taught within the photography community that makes HDR so controversial?
Some of the HDR techniques used present a grungy or dirty effect while others create a totally unrealistic effect by burning or blowing out the vibrancy and contrast. For me, it depends on the shot or subject and whether or not I can enhance the image or composition using a HDR technique. Sometimes I intentionally shoot the image knowing ahead of time I am going to use HDR as a post- processing treatment. Only on a rare occasion I’ll rummage through my shots and think… “Yuck!!! What a shitty bland shot of an otherwise good subject…. How can I make this one pop?”
Truth is, High Dynamic Range is nothing new and has been used since the mid 19th century. In 1850 Gustave Le Gray pioneered the concept of using several exposures to “fix” an extreme range of luminance while capturing seascapes. He’d take one negative for the sky and another longer exposure for the sea, then blending them both into a positive.
Huh, sounds like multi exposure bracketing to me.
Ansel Adams, a famous landscape photographer from the mid 1950’s made dodging and burning an art form. Many highly successful pro photographers today use dodging and burning in their work flows and submit them to their editors for print and a few will rarely, if ever admit it.
Some Editors and High end magazines will never allow obvious HDR images to be used in their publications but of course if you know that before hand and are foolish enough to try and sneak one by them and never get a call again then you’re a fool.
I use HDR for personal enjoyment on specific images; not applying it to anything and everything and NEVER, EVER on images where people are the subject. My taste for HDR is using the obvious settings in a composed photo to create visual drama. As a result I the viewer will have a reaction to the artistic technique. Yes, HDR is artistic and beautiful when done properly. I have played with several looks that result in the obvious grungy texture with exaggerated vibrancy and contrast but it’s so easy to go over the edge and burn it by playing with the settings too much. In my examples below, you may find that I have crossed that line and burnt the image whereas others may be just right. I don’t use the same preset for all images. Each of the images begged for their own dose of HDR “seasoning” depending on the SOOC (straight out of camera) composition, exposure, color saturation and vibrancy presented when the files where downloaded.
Robert Butterfield, Butterfield Photography – Sierra Vista, Arizona