(H)igh (D)ynamic (R)ange, Let’s talk about it…
High Dynamic Range, or HDR, is a way of shooting and editing photos to produce a surreal, almost animated picture where almost everything in the shot is perfectly exposed. The most simple explanation of HDR is the process of taking multiple shots of the same image but varying the exposure which, when edited together, produces a final photograph that shows you all of the shadow areas, highlight areas and everything in between. Hmmmm, was that simple….? or just confusing?
Ok, how about this… Picture you are in a horror movie. You are stuck in a creepy, old warehouse with looooong hallways. It’s dark. There are no windows and no lights. The only source of light is a torch you are holding. I’m talking old school, Indian Jones-style torch which is basically just a stick that has an open flame on the end. Starting to get a feel for your surroundings?
If you have ever driven a car at night, you know when someone is driving towards you with their obnoxious high beams on, your ability to see anything is compromised. Not only can you not see what is close because the light is so bright, you cannot see far away because the lights have destroyed your night vision. This same principle is present while you walk around these dark hallways of this imaginary warehouse. You can’t see far away and you can’t really see too much very close to the torch you’re holding. You can see your shoes and the ground about 8 feet around you. Not a great way to stumble around a scary warehouse in a horror movie, right??
Well, the life of a photographer is not usually as scary, but when you are trying to capture a shot and the lighting is so drastic (lots of dark areas and bright areas), making a decent image can be very frustrating. Enter ——> HDR! Without posting a lengthy tutorial, I would like to give a brief glimpse into the world of HDR. If you would like a more detailed write up, please check out the photographer who got me hooked on HDR, Trey Ratcliff. He is a true artist in the HDR world. Trey breaks down the HDR process and describes it a little more in depth on his page and you can also see a bunch of his work as well. It is all breathtaking.
I love the history of HDR. Most people think HDR is only a recent discovery in the photo world. This is only partially correct. The idea of combining multiple images with varying exposures has been around for a LONG time. According to what’s posted on Wikipedia, the beginning of HDR starts all the way back in 1850!! Granted, this was a very rough version of HDR, but still the same concept. The real application of HDR was introduced in the 1930’s. Back then, combining images took days. It was a tedious art. These days, thanks to computers and advances in digital photography, producing amazing HDR photos are streamlined and rather easy. It is definitely still an art though.
I personally LOVE HDR. It is definitely not something I consider “traditional” photography, but it is still a very popular and refreshing way of showing an image. Some traditionalist photographers are unable to accept HDR into the realm of true photography because of its “heavily processed” nature. There is so much post-processing and computer enhancing, some people write HDR off as cheating or unnatural photography. Much like how some “traditional” musicians write off techno or electronic music. The Art World encompasses a LOT of variations and deviations from “traditional” art, probably more than it should. Personally, shooting and creating HDR images, I can tell you it is an art. This being said, like any art form, there are people who abuse and do not respect what true artists strive so hard to produce. HDR has practical applications. It does not have to be an image that looks like it was animated or “over processed”. But what’s the fun in that??
HDR can be done wrong. I have done HDR wrong, and I probably still do it wrong here and there when compared to professional HDR-ers. I think if something looks good and people like it, then it’s not “wrong” (at least technically speaking). The purpose of photography for me is to convey a feeling or to try to put the viewer into the setting where the photo was taken. I can argue both sides of the “right-ness” and “wrong-ness” of art debate, but who cares? What it comes down to is this, people are going to like what they like, and not like what they do not like. If you don’t like something or something does not appeal to you, don’t look at it. Simple as that. Art is meant to be enjoyed, not picked apart for its flaws. I have a lot of respect for photographers who do not shoot HDR. They are masters of their craft. HDR is not for every situation, it’s just a change from a “normal” photo.