HDR – is it dead yet?

Posted on November 28, 2011


One of the flashiest things to appear in photography lately is HDR or high definition range imaging. One of the biggest problems with photography is that we see so much more in the range we see with our eyes than what a negative or digital sensor will capture. HDR was a solution to this problem by combining multiple exposures at different levels (usually four or five) to create the real scene that we see. There is also a pseudo HDR that can be done that uses the same image, but uses different settings when exporting from camera RAW. When HDR was first introduced, only a few people knew how to do it and everyone was clamoring on how they can do it. Now, it is included within Adobe Photoshop and even some cameras include the software to do this on their own. Everyone has the ability to do this, and we are really seeing a lot of photographers who are using HDR to just do HDR or as a way to cover up bad images. This begs the question: is HDR dead yet?

I am writing this because of a walk on one of our art communities open house days, and seeing images in a gallery to just fill a gallery that were “art” because they were HDR images. One was of a leaf, taken from above, and something I could see a typical fifth or sixth grader creating. The pseudo “HDR” method of post processing was used to make the image interesting – to me, it only made more blacks and yellows appear in the image, blurred it quite a bit more, and really didn’t do anything for the image. The artist enlarged the image to an 11×14, framed and matted it, and then had it for sale for $900. That is great if the image sells but in reality, I would think it wouldn’t. On the other hand, if the leaf’s image was taken from more of an angle, maybe converted to black and white, and part of a series of images, the image would be more salable and what I call art instead of converting the image to an HDR image and calling it art. I am giving this example to explain what _NOT_ to do with HDR.

On the other hand, if you take landscapes where your skys are washed out in order to get the foreground, HDR provides a viable alternative. For instance, I saw an image taken of Central Park in New York City during the day or another of a cityscape in the middle of the night that brought so much to the image by converting them to an HDR image – both beautiful works of art. There are photographers (or artists) who are still capturing HDR images for the correct reasons.

My $0.02 on this is that the fad stage of HDR is over. What used to be considered “art” with HDR will be refined, and new standards created that bring these images in line with other photographic images level of quality work. Tolerance for using HDR to cover up bad images or to just create images will go away. This also means that the number of HDR images out there will also go down and I hope we are left with quality and artful images.

Edit: A friend saw the post and sent me this link on how not to do HDR.