Sunday, November 17, 2013

Would I Steer You Wrong?

This is not a story about a Texas Longhorn Steer… It could be, but it’s not.  If it was though, the story would be fairly short… Upon arriving in Texas for my week-long stay, I passed a field on my way from the airport to my destination.  In that field was a longhorn steer, right up against the fence.  The temptation was to pull over and take a picture, but I had just arrived and knew there would be hundreds more opportunities just like this.  After all, hey, this is Texas, right?  Well, you know the plot already… I spent the next week on my journeys looking for that steer to include as an image in my collection.  The more I wanted it, the more they made themselves scarce!  So on the last day…that’s how things seem to go…there, finally a steer-- a couple actually.  And so my collection was complete.

But that’s not what I want to share with you right now.  What I want to do is renew my advocation for a technique in photography referred to as HDR.  I’m just not seeing enough of my photo friends using this technique, and I think they should.  HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and describes the characteristic of a scene that include a wide range of lighting conditions from the darkest shadows, to the brightest whites.  We humans can appreciate challenging scenes like this because of our incredible ability to filter and adjust our concentration along with our eye’s ability to work with the brain to process what we’re looking at.  The camera on the other hand is not so adept at this.  The sensors in our cameras have a certain limited range of sensitivity and can only see a scene all at the same time, and all at once.  It has a difficult time deciding how to allow enough light for the details in the shadows and at the same time not allow too much light that the details of the highlights are blown out.  So the camera compromises by trying to average things out.  Sure there are tweaks you can make to favor the darks at the expense of the lights, or favor the lights at the expense of the darks, but you can’t have both at the same time.

Hence, HDR.  This is a camera technique where multiple photos are taken, each exposed differently in order to capture the details in the darkest areas (accomplished by over-exposing) as well as the details in the brightest areas (accomplished by under-exposing).  So once you have these multiple images (each by themselves are poor images), how do you work the magic to combine them and use the best parts of each?

That’s where one of my favorite HDR-dedicated programs comes in, Photomatix.  Yes, there are other software programs that do this too, either as a dedicated function like Photomatix, or as just  another feature along with other capabilities and features.  The key though is to have in your toolbox at least ONE of these programs to help you create the final HDR image.
Oh, but there’s controversy with HDR.  Yep…voice-raising, heart-pumping, dispute-clashing controversy.  Which program to use?  Nope, that’s not it…people have their favorites, but that discussion seldom turns hot.  The controversy centers on the final look of the HDR image.  Like any art form, the creation process of an HDR image contains a vast array of alternatives and variations that one must choose and decide upon.  You can create an image that looks so “normal” that the viewer can’t tell it’s an HDR image.  You can also create an image that looks so wild that the entire world can tell it’s an HDR image.  Is one good and one bad?  Ahhh, that’s where the controversy comes into play.  There are “purists” who think photography should still be on film and not digital.  There are those that may have adopted digital but think images should look “normal”, straight out of the camera, and not be over-processed (often times referred to derisively as “photoshopped”).   Photography at the end of the day is an artform, much like other visual and aureal creative mediums are considered artforms.  So there isn’t really a right or wrong… There is however either a success or unsuccessful effort by the artist to convey the meaning and emotion of their works.  If you like watercolors but not oils or chalk, that’s ok.  If you like wild HDR, that’s ok too.  Beauty as they say, is in the eye of the beholder.
So if you haven’t tried HDR, try it…experiment…create and be expressive…see what you like, see what you learn.  Try HDR…I think you’ll find it an incredibly important part of your photographic experience (and portfolio)-- I wouldn’t steer you wrong.

Need more help or advice?  If so, I'd like to hear from you...

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