The HDR Debate

Going through that RSS feeds this morning and I see another post about HDR effects on Scott Kelby’s blog today. Just wanted to share my response to that along with the original post from Scott.

HDR “Quote of the Week” hdr2

A week or so ago, by buddy Dave Cross had a great post called “The Debate about HDR”, which talked about the strong feelings photographers have about HDR, both pro and con (here’s the link). But what really caught my attention was a comment posted by one of his readers, because I’ve heard other photographers say the same thing, but none as succinctly as this reader’s comment:

“I too use to love it…now, not so much…and for some reason, once I quickly identify the HDR effect, my opinion of the picture drops a notch.”

This reminds me of something my teenage son does. If it hears a song on the radio from one of his favorite new bands, and I tell him, “Oh, that’s a remake of an old song from the 70s or 80s—no matter how much he liked that song—it now drops a notch in his book.

So, what is it about HDR that, once identified, that kind of taints the overall photo for these photographers?

Is it that they feel like it’s “Cheating” to use HDR, because it transforms the photo so magically? I have to admit that I’ve taken an HDR shot or two that, when I looked at the original base exposure, the shot was totally unimpressive, but once I applied lots of HDR Tone Mapping, and then take it back through Camera Raw for the final tweaking, it looks much more interesting. (the HDR photo above is courtesy of istock cinoby).

Personally, to me, HDR is an effect like any other effect. It’s a strong effect, but it’s still just an effect, and I totally understand that when it comes to visual effects, you either like them or you don’t (especially if they’re overdone). But I think there’s something more going on here, because creating a duotone is an effect but nobody seems to complain about duotones.

One of my photographer friends once said, “The photographers who don’t like HDR are the ones who don’t know how to do HDR—just like people who complain about the use of Photoshop in photography—those are people who aren’t very good at Photoshop. You don’t hear HDR experts complaining about HDR, just like you don’t hear Photoshop experts saying “There’s too much Photoshop!”

I’m not at all saying that’s the case, but I’ve heard and read that argument a dozen times or more. So what is it? What is it that makes people so emotional about HDR? When you learn that an image has been “HDR’d” does it taint your opinion of the shot? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

My response:

I feel that when an HDR is done right, and done right I mean by taken the extra exposures in the camera and not making them out of a single RAW file, then I don’t have quite the quarrels with it. There are many “artists” on flickr and other places on the web and see an HDR and want to achieve the same effect, but don’t want to put the work in. They want that simple one-button solution and instant results.

I have a friend of mine that really only publishes HDR images. It’s what he does, and he’s become pretty damn good at it. Check out some of his work here: Craig Johnson Photography

Personally I like looking at well done HDR images like Craigs’. I think that it’s over doing it if every picture that one produces is an HDR image, but I do hold a respect to the ones that have mastered it and chosen it as their medium. Like Scott said, it is an effect, just like many other effects that photographers add to their images. But it’s got to be done with just the right amount of taste.

Also, there is a time and place for HDR. Sometimes that image gains some power when HDR(ed). Such in the case of photo-journalism. Awhile ago there was a photographer that was fired and sued because of “photoshopping” out telephone poles and tweaking his images just right and then submitting to his editor. NOT COOL in photojournalism. But now if I were to see a properly done HDR image submitted, I think that I would remain a bit more reserved, due to its gained intensity.

In the end, it is an effect done to a photo. Photography is subjective, so there what one person likes, another will hate. It’s the way of the trade.

Your thoughts?

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