A few years ago, I started to hear about this process for photo processing called HDR. It seemed to be a big thing, and as quickly as it started to pop up, so did the contesters. Many did not see this as an “appropriate” photography method. It was even called “falsifying” by some. It took hold in some communities in ways that caused an almost cult following, and yet in others, it was considered only slightly higher on the moral delinquency list than completely doctoring a news photo. Of course, my interests were peaked, and I wanted to know what the deal was. What I found quickly explained why there was such a split. What I saw, however, was nothing short of fine art. Some of these HDR photographs were gritty and surrealistic to say the least, while others were subtly produced photos that were beautiful renditions of a scene that seemed just….different.
So what is HDR? HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and it’s essentially the process of tone mapping an image. It’s the process of combining several images, of the same scene, shot at different exposure levels to give a final scene that has high amounts of detail in the shadows, mid tones, and highlight areas. Our eyes do this constantly. So much so that we don’t even think about it. Our eye is capable of delineating shadow detail and highlight details across a very wide f/stop range. Many more f/stops than any camera system is capable of seeing. So the process takes several shots to cover that wide range and combines them, giving a much more even image. So, why then does this look so different when produced in an image than from our eyes? Who knows…maybe it’s psychological, and we’re so accustomed to seeing the normal images in their narrow f/stop range, or maybe it’s something else, but whatever the reasoning, it produces amazing and attention getting shots. Now I won’t get into the whole process of how it works here, in fact, I’m far from qualified to speak intelligently on that matter. I’m only now learning the process myself. I do realize why some don’t like the process, saying that it’s producing fake images. Truth is, it’s something more on the line of an art form in my opinion, and it’s in that format that I use it. I also like to use it in very subtle ways to “fix up”, or “finish” a photo that may depend more on the pleasing look of the image vs. the “truth” behind the story. Don’t get me wrong, where news and facts are what the photo is all about, HDR is out in my book. When it’s total accuracy you’re looking for, just stick with the basics, but where you have the latitude to make art from your images, then certainly give it a try.
There are several HDR programs out there, and they are all great in my book. In a book written by Mr. RC Concepcion, he likens the different programs to guitars. They all produce music, but each has a different sound. The various HDR programs all give you tone mapped images, but each has it’s own look and it’s own set of strengths and weaknesses. That being said, it’s a general consensus that three of these programs top the charts. Photoshop CS5’s HDR Pro, NIK Software’s HDR Effects Pro, and Photomatix HDR Software. Of these three, I own Photoshop’s HDR Pro, and NIK’s HDR Effects Pro. My tool of choice, however, tends to be the NIK software. I just have an affinity for the look you get with it, and it’s easy to learn and use. I have several personal presets that I use often. It’s almost limitless the number of user presets you can build, but the software does come with a good amount of presets to help get you started. I have used Photomatix as well, and find that it produces the grainy, gritty, surrealistic look very well. If that’s the overall look you are going for, then that’s probably the tool of choice for you.
Whatever stance you take on the HDR subject, or whatever tool of choice you go with, the main thing is to produce images that are pleasing to you. Photography and all of its modes and methods usually tend to revolve around the shooter and the shooter’s visions anyway, so why not enjoy the catchy and eye popping images that this process can produce as well. Here are a few of my favorite HDR shots from my gallery. You can find the rest in the gallery under “HDRs”. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions, and as always…enjoy!
Thanks, and God Bless…
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