The HDR Conundrum
For the past couple of weeks, there’s been this brew of comments popping up on the Interwebs concerning the topic of HDR. For quite some time now, we’ve been seeing HDR crop up in popularity, and with any rise in a technique, there is almost always an equally rising backlash for it. This year’s HDR was last years “Dave Hill” technique/ Lucis Art phase. Last year’s “Dave Hill” tech / Lucis Art phase was the year before THAT’s “Infrared Photography” craze. The fever has long since died on THAT! (And, for the record.. I happen to -like- Dave Hill’s work.. I make it a mention as how persnickety we can be as a group, and not a critique of his technique).
So, let’s talk the basics for those of you who dont know. HDR is short for High Dynamic Range photography, or High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI). The premise is simple – the human eye can see more of a tonal range than a camera can see. Let’s say for example, you can stand in a room with a window on a somewhat sunny day. If you have a normal eye, you should technically be able to see stuff outside the window, and see dark and light areas in the apartment – the couch thats partially in shadow, and the shoe you left under the couch not being hit by any of the light outside at all (well.. not really). A regular camera would have a problem – expose for the sky outside, and you’re losing the entire room. Expose for the room, and all you will see is white where there should be windows. What do we do when the range that our eye sees cannot be captured through a camera?
One solution would be to take a series of exposures of a scene and blend them together, creating an image with a higher dynamic range than the previous image. Sounds like a great idea, right? Well.. kind of.. and that’s usually where the arguments start..
Tonemapping = Weirdo Art
You see.. most of the processing of these images are done with a process called Tone Mapping and in the process of creating your HDR work of art you usually walk into the land of “wow.. this looks really artsy/surreal/harry potter/lord of the rings” with your image. Gone is the idea that you wanted to create a greater range of tone for a user. Gone is the desire to bring out the subtle nuances that your camera couldn’t seem to pull out. Now, all you want to do is make weirdo art.. and you’re just fine with that.
While you’ve settled into your weirdo art status, out come the droves of people: “HEY HDR is about expanding the tonal range! You’re supposed to be doing it to faithfully preserve the range! This is supposed to help you retain those shadow areas! It’s about reality! It’s not about garbage! True to the last couple of conversations.. both are correct.
Here’s my take on it: The human eye is capable of producing a tonal range impossible for a mere camera to produce. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the LCD screen in front of you cant do the same either.. nor can the printer, no matter how much HDR ink we throw at it (can you get close.. sure! I mean, look at Epson.. amazing stuff coming from printers there). Point of the matter is, All of the technology that we have at our disposal makes for an approximation of what that scene looks like- so why focus on it’s authenticity so much. Like all of the other phases, people become of the process, and forget about the intention.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the special effect portion of HDR work. Prob the best quote i’ve heard about this topic was from Matt not too long ago “The only people tired about HDR are Photographers.. the general public LOVES it” This suits me just fine from a selling point of view. If I can take a picture, and sell it with a technique that has mass appeal.. guess what, I can buy another SB900.. I’m not so in love with my passion that I wouldnt forsake a print for a speedlight.. School will be open on my birthday.
What Not To Forget
You went into that image -wanting- to create a great image. Why are you now getting lost in the debate of the process. Focus on what you wanted that image to do, and use whaetever process you think brings that out. If that means it’s a Harry Potter produced image, then that’s what -you- wanted. If it’s a closer representation of the natural scene.. great.
When you focus on the Process rather than the Intent, you start deluding yourself to think that if you master the workflow – ‘When done Properly… no Defense” type mentality. That’s when you hurt yourself. Out goes your knowledge of composition. Out goes your knowledge or light and exposure. You even forget camera technique, or tripod stuff because hey.. you have a Process.. the process wont fail you.. will it?
Pretty soon, HDR becomes your “Hail Mary” pass when you take a horrible photo, rather than just deleting it, and working the image again.. Don’t be that person. Look at the technology as a way to realize your Vision (whoa.. isn’t that a Within The Frame moment right there.. that book’s rubbing off on me) rather than the workflow that’s going to replace it. A cool HDR of a junky picture is still a junky picture..
Now, below are 3 people that stand out for me in the land of HDR (and yes.. there are TONS more.. equally as important.. these are just the three that I find very meaningful to me, and that you will get the most from)
1. Ben Wilmore: Right now, probably considered the godfather of the HDR movement.. at least in my eyes.. you can learn an AMAZING amount from him.. so wherever he is.. follow him. I want go check out his HDR Mastery DVD. When I do, i’ll let you know!
2. Terry Reinert – Terry’s a buddy, and has a blog over at TKRPhoto. He did an amazing piece on HDR photography, explaining the process in a lot more detail that I did, and giving you a WEALTH of information on getting started with all of this. He’s also someone I would put in the “This is what you could do, if you got the technology and camera craft part right” Definitely a must read. Click this link to get to the post.
3. Matt Kloskowski and I are doing a Photoshop World Pre-con called “Real World HDR” where we go on a shoot, and talk about the HDR process from start to finish. I’m really excited t o get out there with you guys and do some shooting. All day… photography and photoshop.. who could ask for anything more You can also get up to speed with Matt’s Real World HDR class online at Kelby Training
Congratulations to Sherry James for winning this week’s blog contest as well as to Michael Wise II for winning the Layers TV contest. Monday is Memorial day, so we will continue the giveaways on Tuesday next week, while I take some R&R…
Enjoy the Memorial Day everyone.. and take a moment of silence for those we’ve lost in our Armed Forces.. we owe so much to them..