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Thread: HDR Is it for me?

  1. #1
    Peter Ryan's Avatar
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    HDR Is it for me?

    I have struggled to understand whether I really like HDR or not and also tried to understand its style.

    For me, there are four main visual elements: -

    Shape

    Shape is two dimensional. Think of a square building block where you take a photo of one end. What do you have? A photo of an object with a certain height and width and because you cannot see the sides, top or bottom it is just a shape with two dimensions. Lighting is normally direct and from behind the photographer. Similarly with backlit shots we have the classic silhouette that again is just shapes.

    Form

    Form is three dimensional. Think of our square building block again where you take a photo from slightly above and to the side of the block. What do you have? We can now see the front, the sides and top. We can gauge the depth of the block and while the photo frame has two dimensions we can start to impose the third dimension of depth on the subject. Lighting is normally from the side and shadow details help us identify with the depth and structure of an object.

    Texture

    Now, is our block smooth or does it have a rough surface. The angle of the light falling on the block will display ridges, bumps, swales, etc on the surface and give us more information about what our block might feel like if we touch it. Again lighting is normally from the side to reveal shadow detail.

    Colour

    Balancing the use of colour is important. Nature normally has a beautiful balance but when using manmade objects you need to make sure the colours work together – either harmoniously (colour opposite each other on the colour wheel) or in discord (those colours adjacent to each other on the colour wheel). The direction and intensity of the light will be evident in colour saturation.

    So what does HDR really do?

    I appreciate HDR is a technical process and I know many like a challenge. It does open up shadow detail to expand the dynamic range so we can see all hidden details in an image. By eliminating shadow details we effectively eliminate two of the 4 basic photographic elements; namely Form and Texture.

    We finish up with a flat, two dimensional images with amplified colour saturation to compensate for the lack of depth and feel to an image.

    So, for me, HDR does not deliver the essence of a scene nor draw you deep into an image or portray the feel of the subject. I can appreciate it is a form of expression many like to use but after some careful consideration I am afraid it is not for me.

    I am sure this will invoke some discussion from the proponents of the art, which I welcome.
    Last edited by Peter Ryan; 3rd June 2011 at 03:33 AM.

  2. #2
    Danielk62's Avatar
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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Hi Peter,

    Whether a technique is 'for you' or not, can only be decided by yourself.

    HDR is just another technique, like Black&White, to present an image. You like it or you don't like it. There always seem to be possibilities to use any technique, including HDR, so that it becomes an absolute nuisance. And than again, likes and dislikes are a personal thing. Personally I'm not into popart. I can appreciate the popart-idea as I had to learn the technique in Photoshop classes. But, will I use it for myself? Doubt it...

    You say that a HDR is a flat image. Although this is mostly true, consider that this image is just a starting point. Get it into Photoshop and try to give it something extra. Submit it to your style. In my own picture style I don't want people to identify my pictures as a result of some software manipulations. It would be nice if people would say "hey, these are Dan's pictures" instead of "hey, he used photomatix or topaz to get this result". Take a look at what Trey Radcliff is doing with HDR. He also uses the HDR result as a starting point to create more 'realistic' pictures. On the other hand, take a look at Captain Kimo's work and check how he creates painterly pictures using HDR. Lots of possibilities there, but than again, it is your choice to use HDR or not...

    Cheers,
    Dan

  3. #3
    Ady's Avatar
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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Hi Peter,

    I disagree, no wait a minute I mean I agree, erm... can I phone a friend or ask the audience?

    This is a tricky one, I have to agree that most HDR images don't really do it for me for much the same reasons as you cite. However I do think it's a very useful technique and one that I use myself. The attached image is an example of where I have used a multiple exposure/HDR approach.

    HDR  Is it for me?

    Much of the foreground and some of the structural detail was in deep shadow, while the walls and other elements of the structure were very bright and at risk of being completely blown. Multiple exposures was the only way to get a balanced image with all the detail I needed to capture.

    At the end of the day I would say that while I find the technique useful or even essential in certain circumstances I am definitely not a fan of the extreme HDR treatment that a lot of 'natural' images are subjected to. Obviously when moving into the area of interpretive art or highly constructed 'artificial' images we are into a different ball game where absolutely anything goes.

    Cheers,
    Adrian

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    jiro's Avatar
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    Willie or Jiro is fine by me.

    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    If you apply a certain technique or process to an image and made it very appealing but without leaving a trace on what was done with the image then you did a very good job with the edit. I follow this approach in post processing or editing whether you use HDR or not. Some of the best HDR edits I have seen was so believable that only when I read the explanation about the shot that I came to know that HDR processing was done to it. For me, that is the way to appreciate HDR processing. YMMV.

  5. #5
    ktuli's Avatar
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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    The other thing to remember is that HDR is just a tool just like any other tool in your camera bag. Just because you buy a polarizing filter doesn't mean you will use it on every single shot you take. But having it in your bag and knowing when and how to use it is the key. But at the same time, if you have no interest in say macro photography, it doesn't make sense to spend the money to have a dedicated macro lens in your bag.

    Peter - I thought it was strange how your four main points you brought up actually have nothing to do with HDR... though every one of them touched on what HDR is about. Light. That's it. HDR is just a way to increase the dynamic range in your images... dynamic range just speaks to the range from dark to light. However, because light does affect all of those pieces you mentioned, the question is whether you feel that HDR's affect on light in your image has a beneficial or adverse affect on those other pieces in your images.

    So if some of your shots would benefit from the higher dynamic range that HDR provides, and that is beneficial to those elements you find critical to your images, then yes - it is for you. If not, then no.

    It is all about expressing your vision...

    - Bill

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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Hello Peter,
    I share much of your view on HDR – nice process, shame about the outcome!
    I think the problems start with the name. From my perspective it's not High Dynamic Range – rather it's Compressed Dynamic Range. Now given the restricted dynamic range of most (all?) photographic capture and display devices / materials, a huge part of our photographic process is geared toward managing the compression of dynamic range. So HDR is just one of a number of tools and techniques we apply to our images in the quest to shape what a camera can capture to look like what our vision system shows us.
    I find that careful blending of multiple, bracketed exposures can often help tame extreme dynamic range. Unfortunately parts of the bracketed sequence can sometimes show some subject motion - rats, there is always something …... However, all is not lost. I find taking a single image and “developing” that raw file with different exposure settings – saved to multiple files – gives useful results when blended. With a bit of care and good luck, that use of a single image file can give a result with less noise and mush in the shadow detail – compared to conventional techniques
    So far so good. Then we get to Tone Mapping. I just cannot make this give a result that I find pleasing. I've spent hours messing about with images and reading books and articles Still I can't get any kind of result that looks “natural”. After much head scratching I think I've figured out what is going wrong for me. If you look here:-
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munsell_color_system
    you will see details of a model which seeks to describe the human vision systems perception of colour. The model is in the form of a globe. I think what's wrong with Tone Mapping is that the mapping effectively distorts the globe. hence making the resulting image look strange and unnatural – at least to me. The key is that originally Munsell used a cylinder to describe colour. That was technically OK but did not agree with human perception. By changing the model to a globe Munsell was able to better describe colour in relation to human perception. In essence the globe model reduces the range of Chroma as the luminosity goes toward the extremes of black or white.
    Now that all said – my not liking the HDR “look” is my problem and should not be taken as a condemnation of the technique

    Regards,

    Nick.

  7. #7

    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    I always have to break this down into two areas;

    High dynamic range processing applied as per Adrian's image - which is like any other process that enhances and recovers areas of the 'true' image in a realistic way.

    What I term stylised HDR imagery which tends to produce images that look very like HD computer graphics

    Both have a place of course and to a certain extent it is part of the bigger question - When does a photograph cease to become a photograph (or should I say a photographers photograph)? My own feeling, mainly because I like extreme processing (but not stylised HDR), is that as long as a camera is used in the image making process it is photography.

    I think HDR stylised images are popular because they give the instant high that in extreme manipulation we are being somehow creative - even when most HDR stylised shots are mundane and show little creativity beyond the ability to use the software. That is not to say that stylised HDR images cannot be creative but I do think that is so overused it has become a bit of a cheap trick. On the other hand we have a generation who probably see life through a Play Station so stylised HDR may become the reality they wish to see.

    In conclusion HDR processing is way too hyped up. Its stylised application is rigorously defended by its proponents. Dare i say it is a means to be 'different' and 'out there' without being different or leaving the comfort of your own software suite. Its the blunt edge of of edginess that always allows you to seamlessly rejoin the establishment...in short its a safe bet.

  8. #8
    dje's Avatar
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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Peter

    When I first saw your thread I thought I would like to reply as I have recently taken an interest in HDR. However in the meantime, there have been a number of posts which I think summarise the situation extremely well. So I'll be brief.

    I agree with Nick, I think HDR is a misleading term. It is actually a form of compression although it is tricky to think of a better name because it does effectively bring together a wider dynamic range of exposure elements in the image. I think it is the compression however that can give the "flat" look to an image, particularly in the absence of skillful tone mapping.

    I guess with HDR, like many things in life, moderation is the key.

    Cheers Dave

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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    A last thing to consider, though. The human eye can see about 11 f-stops. A DSLR can only 'see' about 4 f-stops. With PS and HDR techniques it is possible to stretch the 4 f-stops back to 11 f-stops. See for example how well Rick Sammon handles this...

    Cheers, Dan

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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Quote Originally Posted by Danielk62 View Post
    A last thing to consider, though. The human eye can see about 11 f-stops. A DSLR can only 'see' about 4 f-stops. With PS and HDR techniques it is possible to stretch the 4 f-stops back to 11 f-stops.
    Umm, no. Most modern DSLRs have a dynamic range of around 11 to 12 stops at base ISO.

    The big issue is displaying the captured range - most monitors display only around 6 stops, and most prints 4 stops.

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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Quote Originally Posted by nickjohnson View Post
    I think the problems start with the name. From my perspective it's not High Dynamic Range – rather it's Compressed Dynamic Range. Now given the restricted dynamic range of most (all?) photographic capture and display devices / materials, a huge part of our photographic process is geared toward managing the compression of dynamic range. So HDR is just one of a number of tools and techniques we apply to our images in the quest to shape what a camera can capture to look like what our vision system shows us.
    This man gets it

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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Quote Originally Posted by dje View Post
    I agree with Nick, I think HDR is a misleading term. It is actually a form of compression although it is tricky to think of a better name because it does effectively bring together a wider dynamic range of exposure elements in the image. I think it is the compression however that can give the "flat" look to an image, particularly in the absence of skillful tone mapping.
    Not really misleading - sure, tone mapping / tonal range compression is key, but that range has to be captured in the first place, which is of course where the HDR bit comes in.

  13. #13
    New Member pr126's Avatar
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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Here are two HDR images from Leeds Castle.These are interior shots of mine. 3 -/+ 1 EV RAW exposures in Photomatix Pro.
    HDR doesn't have to look unnatural. It depends what you want to achieve.

    HDR  Is it for me?

    HDR  Is it for me?
    Last edited by pr126; 4th June 2011 at 11:52 AM.

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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Quote Originally Posted by pr126 View Post
    Here are two HDR images from Leeds Castle.These are interior shots of mine. 3 -/+ 1 EV RAW exposures in Photomatix Pro.
    HDR doesn't have to look unnatural. It depends what you want to achieve.

    HDR  Is it for me?

    HDR  Is it for me?
    Hi Peter,

    +/- 1 EV is only extending your capture from typically around 12 stops to 14 - so not really doing a lot. Most of what I'm seeing here is just pretty typical Photomatix tonemapping to be honest - Nice enough images, but I wouldn't call them "natural looking" I'm afraid.

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    arith's Avatar
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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Here I has the dilemma; the only light source is the window:

    HDR  Is it for me?

    It doesn't look very real, but reality here is boring.I do not know how to get any detail here without HDR.

    Here I does not have a dilemma:

    HDR  Is it for me?

    Just a normal photo.

    I choose HDR if it can be done in 3 frames on a monopod; where nothing else but specialist equipment eg speedlights your not allowed to use, are required.

    I do not like doing HDR because it is hard and you never know for sure if you captured the scene until it is processed.

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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    But steve, the first one is so -so-so much better than the last one....I love that seeming ethereal quality to it, but have to admit, I can almost get the same quality using a midnight or orton effect. Getting the detail requires a better exposure and the three shot setup does nicely for that...a dilemma, for sure.

  17. #17
    arith's Avatar
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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Cheers Chris; a lot of people have said they like the first which is sort of Ortonised 3 frame HDR.

    Sequence: {_MG_1383.TIF: TV=0.003125, AV=5.6, Bias=0.0} {_MG_1384.TIF: TV=0.012500, AV=5.6, Bias=0.0} {_MG_1385.TIF: TV=0.050000, AV=5.6, Bias=0.0}
    Output 20 255
    Levels 3 1.0 255
    Cooling Filter 82 36%
    Normal 11%
    Hard Light 38%
    Multiply Gauss 62p

    Screen
    Screen
    Screen
    Screen

    Base

    all 100% alpha unless specified . If you stack the levels which are all but the adjustment layer duplicates of the base, you get the above.

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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    but that range has to be captured in the first place, which is of course where the HDR bit comes in.
    Yes but your taking information that is mushed up against and past both ends of that histogram and compressing it within a new histogram.

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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Quote Originally Posted by chauncey View Post
    Yes but your taking information that is mushed up against and past both ends of that histogram
    Not really - if it had a histogram there's no reason it couldn't be expanded to whatever dynamic range was captured

    and compressing it within a new histogram.
    Sorta, I tend to think of it as remapping as it's not a linear compression or even a non-linear one (although that's the final part of the conversion)

  20. #20
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    Re: HDR Is it for me?

    Wouldn't a good HDR processor not be grabbing data from the edges of the histogram but rather the middle stuff that is properly exposed in that shot of the series? I mean, isn't that the whole point? You take the best exposed stuff from a series of shots and put that all together... allowing you to throw away the "junk" that is crammed up at the edges of the histogram?

    - Bill

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