In defence of HDR photography

Let me, from the start; make it clear that I’m a huge fan of HDR photography. I love it, I love the effect it has and I very much enjoy creating HDR images. What I’m less keen on is the way HDR is heavily frowned up by some more experienced photographers.

For those of you who don’t know, HDR photography is High Dynamic Range photography. Put simply, you will take at least 3 images, one properly exposed, one over exposed and one under exposed. Then using software such as the newer versions of Photoshop or Photomatix Pro you combine all 3 exposures to create an image that contains so much lighting information that you could ever achieve with a single shot.

Not quite an accurate technical description but enough to give people who don’t know HDR a fair idea of what it is.

From the first time I ever seen an HDR image I loved the technique. It can make, in some cases, a very average photograph something special. It can rescue a shot taken in dull light and give it life and vibrance. And it’s this, which some people object to.

Me however, I cannot see anything wrong with taking an average photograph and making it a stunning photograph via a fairly simple digital technique. There are times when HDR just works and others that you should use a more traditional technique.

I’ve spent the last 5 months learning all about proper filters having invested in a p-series filter system and it’s been a huge but enjoyable learning curve. It’s also been, at times, frustrating as I tried to get to grips with this new technique. This is how the HDR doubters will take their shots and while I can see some advantages is it right to restrict yourself to only using the filter techniques when you have the creative advantages of HDR at your disposal as well?

Let me give you an example. This was a shot taken in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. It was taken with a circular polarising filter and a ND0.6 soft graduated filter, and to me this shot was near perfect.

Princes Street Gardens

However, the day before I was at the same location and in more difficult lighting conditions I took another shot, which I eventually turned into an HDR.

Princes Street Gardens - Explored

Now, I much prefer the first shot of the 2. BUT, I was recently approached by a greetings card company looking to licence some of my images, I gave them both of these for approval and which one did they want? The HDR one.

Let’s take another example. The famous Calton Hill in Edinburgh shot at sunset, firstly, taken with a circular polarising filter and a 0.9ND soft grad.

Calton Hill Sunset 11 October 2010 - Explored

And now for an HDR version of the same shot:

Calton Hill Sunset 31 August 2010 - Explored

Guess which one the greetings card company wanted from these 2? Yes, the HDR one.

Now, I’m not saying that EVERY shot you take you should take with HDR in mind but why can it not be part of your photographic armoury just the same as taking a stack of filters out with you? What’s SO wrong about enhancing an average image with HDR, don’t we enhance every image we take in photo editing software somehow?

If HDR isn’t your thing, then fine, that’s your right but please, don’t dismiss the technique as a lower art form.

I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite HDR images of Edinburgh and I’d love to see what everybody else thinks about HDR in the comments?

Dean Village in summer - Explored
Dean Village, Edinburgh, Spring 2010

Forth Bridge Spans
Forth Bridge, South Queensferry, Edinburgh

Cramond sunset
Boats moored at the mouth of the River Almond, Cramond, Edinburgh

Calton Canon Sunset - Explored
Calton Hill Cannon at sunset, Edinburgh

Forth Road Bridge sunset - Explored
Forth Road Bridge, South Queensferry, Edinburgh

Union Canal boathouse - Explored
Ashley Boathouse, Union Canal, Harrison Park, Edinburgh

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8 responses

  1. I’ve never been a fan of HDR but your analysis was certainly convincing. The best HDR photos, to me; are the ones that don’t necessarily look like an HDR, that is where the art is.

    February 6, 2011 at 10:14 pm

  2. I have nothing against HDR if done well. Your shots are very nice. They’re great shots in the first place. There are a lot of badly processed HDR shots out there though, so I can see where it would get a bad rap. I can take it or leave it. For instance, I like the HDR garden picture but I prefer the straight shot of Calton Hill.

    February 6, 2011 at 10:24 pm

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention In defence of HDR photography « Photosofedinburgh's Blog -- Topsy.com

  4. Amazing pictures! I love HDR images!

    February 7, 2011 at 2:54 am

  5. i like it! makes them look like paintings almost. faery like. dreamy. most beauteous!
    k☼

    February 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm

  6. I am on the other side here, and join Lain in his comment above.

    HDR for the sake of HDR is in my view pointless. For example, the Forth Bridge and the Dean Village shots looks too fake to be true and are way over-done.

    By contrast, the River Almond and Forth Bridge Road shots are better executed. It gives a truer sense of place.

    The Ashley Boathouse is also interesting. The subject does not call for modern interpretation and the HDR there gives a matching sense of time.

    February 8, 2011 at 3:25 am

    • Hi Alex, thanks for the comments. As regards the Dean Village shot, my first thought on that was similar, it’s too overdone, or at least, the colours are too saturated. BUT, on the other side of the arguement, of all the prints I’ve ever sold, that one is far and away the best seller. To the photographer, it’s maybe overdone, to the non-photographer it’s striking and attention grabbing. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we ultimately want from our photography?

      February 8, 2011 at 7:58 am

  7. This is where there are 2 ways to see things: photography to please the viewer or photography to express the photographer’s reaction to a scene. Both are neither incompatible nor can be clearly defined in my opinion.

    I believe, as HDR makes its way in more visual spaces, the non-photographer may want to go back to a more natural way of capturing a space or subject essence. We not be there yet, but I still believe HDR’s first enemy is itself.

    March 6, 2011 at 2:33 am

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