To HDR or Not to HDR | They Hated Digital Too

I was wrong. Last Friday I tweeted that I first took the plunge into HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography in 2006. It was actually around August 2007. Still, the fact is I’ve been “doing” HDR for a while now. Why the tweet ? It was in response to the latest round of articles in the photographic community as to whether HDR is a legitimate tool or just a passing trend.

One of my first HDR images. Technique is ideal for gaining greater tonal range in old buildings and structures.

Hate HDR ? Just a “fad ?” For me it’s one of the many tools that I choose to use, or not use, to fit my artistic vision and how I want to capture a particular scene through emphasis of the unique light of that particular time and location. It’s also important to point-out that with my use of HDR in my photographs I am in now way digitally adding any elements that aren’t true to the actual scene. The technique and tool, when used properly, simply expands the capability of both photographer and camera to obtain a greater range of tones, from shadows to highlights, than what was previously possible in a single frame.

Yes, I use it for outdoor landscapes as well for cityscapes and interiors. I’ve had great success with Photomatix Pro and I’ve recently added Nik HDR Efex Pro as a plug-in with Aperture and Lightroom. In almost all of my workshops I do a brief overview of what can be accomplished with these programs, and almost always there’s a strong interest in learning the programs as well as the best in-camera techniques for optimal results.

Personally I think the reason so many “purists” who hate it is because they’ve seen so much that’s been way overdone when applying tonal adjustments in the post-processing. The photographer has control over how much and how often.

Another reason why certain photographers refuse to even consider the professional legitimacy of the technique/tool is because, well, it’s just “too easy.” Not enough suffering involved. No difficult and strenuous learning curve where an aspiring photographer has to prove him or herself worthy of acceptance amongst those “who’ve done their time.”

“Bah humbug ! If you can’t get it right with a single frame then you’re not a true photographer.”

HDR just a fad and not a legitimate tool for professional photography ? HDR image of Dayton skyline now the backdrop for a local TV news program.

Really ? Seriously ? That very attitude implies the existence of a point of arrival in the art of photography, and that assumption indicates failure in learning the most important lesson – that one never stops learning, growing and developing, as a photographer, as an artist and as a person.

I think the odds are pretty good that the negative responses have more to do with the complainer’s overwhelming need for acceptance versus particular technical tools in the field of photography.

Kind of like being the younger person – or person young at heart – who’s suddenly surrounded by neighbors who’ve “done their time” and don’t exactly go out their way to make you feel welcomed in the neighborhood. Not that I have any experience in a such a situation, but that’s what can feel like when you’re a photographer moving forward with a new tool or technique versus fighting the inevitable progress of technology, and well . . . life.

I still remember about what was said of digital photography when it first came on the scene with the first DSLR cameras.

HDR photography is like everything else – it’s really a matter of maintaining proper balance. Also, one can easily make the argument of what truly is “high dynamic range?” The same can be said with simple dodging and burning in a traditional darkroom, or combining two images as layers in PS and using mask and brush. How about targeted adjustments?

HDR "cartoonish" looking ? Really ? The photographer always has many options within the settings of the tonal adjustments. Tonal range gained within this sunflower image would not have been possible without HDR and yet for me it still looks natural.

The photographer always has the freedom to use the tools available – and how subtle or how strong – at his or her disposal.

It’s all a matter of personal taste and style. Just make sure it’s YOUR taste and style, even if it’s always changing and developing.
P.S. – Of all the articles and resources regarding HDR photography, one of the best was just published in the February 2011 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine. “Making the Best Use of HDR” by one of the top pros in nature and landscape photography, Tom Till. What’s even more interesting are the online comments in response not so much to Tom’s images included with his article.

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