Friday, November 18, 2011

Why I like HDR

For all that’s been written about High Dynamic Range (HDR), it still carries a stigma among some photography “purists” who believe it to be an unnatural manipulation.  I won’t try to convince you otherwise, but what I will do is tell you that it’s a tool that I’m glad to have discovered, and in certain situations it’s about the only way to capture what’s in my mind’s eye.

Take for example this sculpture that I was admiring in the Allan Houser Sculpture Garden outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I was there last month and enjoyed touring the gardens and was in awe of the talents of this amazing artist.  This particular sculpture spoke to me yet it was obvious that the lighting conditions were not favorable for capturing what I was feeling in a single exposure.

The clouds were amazing, and the deep blue sky provided the perfect backdrop for the sculpture and a beautiful color pairing for the red desert rock.  The problem was that the sky and clouds were very bright compared to the relatively dark bronze of the Indian sculpture.  The details and subtle colors of the sculpture could only be captured by opening up the lens, but that action would further blow out the sky (not to mention shallow my depth of field, which I didn't want).  It was quite clear to me that this was a capture that would depend on using HDR techniques to convey everything I was after.

I use Photomatix for my HDR processing.  I prefer it to Photoshop, just a personal preference.  I also prefer to have my HDR images appear within the range of realism.  Some people enjoy creating wild, exaggerated, surrealistic imagery—I haven’t developed an appreciation for that sort of artistic expression.  If someone looks at one of my pictures and asks if it’s an HDR, then I feel like I’ve failed.  If instead, they look at my pictures and “ooh” and “ahh”, then I feel like I’ve succeeded in not over-processing. 

Here I was able to capture the full dynamic range of the subject matter in my composition, and convey the complete idea that was in my mind’s eye. This is the reason that I like HDR, and it's why I feel that it's a tool worth having in your repertoire.

Feel free to contact me at or check out my website gallery at

(metadata for the contributing images 1/250 sec at f/8 (the overexposed). 1/500 at f/11 (the underexposed), 1/350 at f/9.5 (normal—what the meter wanted), and ISO 200, focal length 18mm)

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