HDR, or High Dynamic Range, imagery refers to the process of representing a wider range of colors and light in a photo than what can be traditionally captured in a single image with a camera. There are several ways to produce this HDR-effect. The most common way to produce HDR imagery is to take several exposures, by both under and over-exposing the same scene by several stops, and then combining them in post-production. This process brings out details that would traditionally be lost in both highlights and shadows from normal photography. There are two schools of thought here really on HDR:
1. The first school of thought is that we should adhere to the accuracy of what it is the sensor is capturing. By allowing for interpretation and manipulation of the pixels, photography is no longer the means of reporting things – life, as we know it!
2. The other school of thought is that pixels and cameras are simply a means of capturing a limited portion of the world around them, and that even the human eye is capturing more in a single instant than any single still image could ever hope to capture. With that in mind, it is the job of the photographer to bring to life what it is they see, and use the tools available to them to bring that image to life, whether it means performing HDR, sharpening, white balance corrections, or anything!
Now, keep in mind that there are always exceptions to the above two schools of thought. Journalism for instance, requires accuracy and not making adjustments as it really is meant as a reporting mechanism not an interpretation or individual perception of what is scene. While I am not sure where my own line of thinking really ends up on this very polarizing issue, it does seem that perhaps there is a time and place for it. Again, with all subjective work, there is a certain degree of personal preference and bias – and this also speaks to the second point, because some HDR can be really really good, while others can be really really bad. Nevertheless, for my two cents, it does seem that occasionally, there is both a time and a place for HDR. During such times, I’ve tried a variety of approaches to utilize HDR while also keeping some measure of reality in my photos. Take for example, the three images below taken at different shutter speeds, while keeping ISO and aperture constant – thus creating several different exposures of the same scene:
By combining and basically “stacking” each of these images inside our post production work flow, we can bring out the details in the shadows from the first image (down in the golf course area), bring out the details from the highlights (the clouds), while maintaining the clarity of the neutrally lit areas in the middle of the photos (the rocks and pool). While there are several ways to do this, including Photomatix, HDR Pro (the one native to CS5) and several other Photoshop and Lightroom plugins like what Topaz Labs, Lucis, and OnOne’s plugin Suite), here I am using the HDR Pro function inside of Photoshop CS5.
I did choose the option inside the HDR Pro menu to select a more saturated image than what was originally created in camera, and it is more reminiscient of what I actually saw. So, am I cheating at what I created? Is this a “real” photo? What if I were to take another approach, and simply make some adjustments on a single image? Back to the digital work flow I go…and here is a single shot edited in Lightroom:
Now, while there are clearly some slight differences in tonal range, saturation, and such, there are two things to keep in mind: 1 – I was making these edits pretty quick, and 2 – this is the Internet, which makes color accuracy a difficult thing to achieve. It does serve to illustrate that you don’t necessarily have to stack images in Photoshop to achieve the HDR look. Simple slider adjustments in Lightroom can approximate the same thing. As mentioned above, there are also a number of third-party plugins and add-ons that can bring this effect to life. Regardless of what the consensus is, HDR is likely a technique that is here to stay, and it’s simply a matter of experimenting and finding a technique that works for you, and that your clients, or colleagues, or friends and family, will find appealing.
This is, of course, just my personal take on HDR. What about the rest of the readership? Any thoughts on the legitimacy or validity of HDR? Does it work? Can it work? Or should we stick to trying to capture it all in-camera – on a single frame? Sound off in the comments or via email! Thanks for sharing your own thoughts, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow!
ETA: Don’t forget – a couple contests are going on through November and the rest of the year:
1. Monthly LDP Giveaway – Share your own “POP” themed photos for a chance to win a pack of pearl metallic paper from the folks at Red River – this paper is awesome for HDR-styles of work!
2. The Nations Photo Lab Family Photo Day – Upload your images to their Flickr Page for a chance to win a pretty impressive set of prizes including autographed books, free printing certificates, and much more!