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April 12, 2009
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HDR Tonemapped images seem to divide opinion much more than anything else... colour vs black & white, digital vs film. It tends to be something you either love or hate.

I believe that it's not so much the technique that is liked or loathed, but rather how it is implemented. Just because someone buys a top of the range camera, doesn't automatically mean they can take better photos than a camera from the bargain basement in the right hands. No matter what the equipment, subject or techniques, there are good and bad examples of how they are used or misused.

Not a Magic Fix

HDR will not fix a bad composition, poorly focused, uninteresting subject. No amount of Photoshopping can make a fundamentally flawed photo look great. Carefully executed, HDR can make it look better, but no truly awesome photos start life as something mediocre.

Just like any other technique, such as sharpening or colour correction, HDR can be poorly implemented. But conversely, when executed properly, I believe it can produce truly stunning results, the kind of output that has never been possible, until recently.

Re-defines the Rules

The HDR technique breaks through the barriers of existing camera technology, by allowing the photographer to regain the detail lost in the shadows or highlights. E.g. when inside on a sunny day, look out the window. Now take a single photo. It will be just about impossible to get that photo to look like what you're seeing... unless you combine multiple exposures. HDR makes it incredibly easy to create a photo where the interior and exterior are both correctly exposed.

Moderation is the Answer

But it's cheating... say the purists. Some people prefer the traditional photo look, with dark shadows and blown highlights. These are fine, if that's your intention. But what if you want to create a photo which looks more like the scene as you remember it?

My rule of thumb is to try and re-create the scene how I remember it, which means bringing back detail to the underexposed and overexposed areas, while trying to remain true to the overall exposure and colours. Sometimes I will blend back in parts of certain exposures, where the HDR technique fails. This happens at times on skies. HDR purists may turn their noses up at the very thought of this, but I'm not consciously trying to create an "overcooked HDR look" here.

I use Photomatix to generate HDR. So far it has given me the best results of any software I have tried, combined with ease of use. The interface isn't great, and mishandled it can produce some truly horrific results, but with some practice, I have yet to find a better/easier program. Tip of the day - keep the Light Smoothing on "Very High" and the Saturation no higher than 60, Micro-smoothing around 12, and Microcontrast around 5.

It Doesn't Fix Everything

Just as important, is to adjust the curves to create accurate contrast and colour balance. Some technical aspects also need to be taken care of, such as minimising noise while retaining detail, and correcting flaws, such as chromatic abberations. I will also regain the detail in shadows and highlights, always aware of not overdoing it. Just because you can bring back all the detail in a shadow area doesn't necessarily mean it's the right thing to do. At times, I will let the shadows or highlights max out.

Finally, I use a "Lab Colour" trick to add some punch to the colours - while bearing in mind once again, less is more - it's easy and tempting to overdo it. I'm not afraid to de-saturate the colours at times. Last of all, I'll do some sharpening which often really brings the whole shot to life.

OK, so I've gone a bit further than the HDR good vs evil debate. Overall, HDR is not to be feared... once it is understood and used carefully. While I have developed my own workflow for HDR photos, it is evolving, as I experiment and look for new techniques to improve my work.
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:iconlandscapephotography:
LandscapePhotography Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2009
Looking at the following statement you made in this journal, can you explain how traditional landscape photography is associated with blown highlights? And if you claim to be recreating the scene as you saw it, why would your shadows not be dark?

Some people prefer the traditional photo look, with dark shadows and blown highlights.
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:icongerard1972:
Gerard1972 Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2009
Hi Steve,

I was speaking generally, in that most landscape photographs taken on a bright sunny day will have areas of underexposure and overexposure. These areas will usually account for a very small percentage of the picture, when the correct overall exposure is used. I wasn't suggesting that many traditional looking shots were badly exposed, or were deficient in some way.

The camera cannot cover the entire dynamic range from the darkest shadow to the brightest highlight. As a consequence you take a creative decision to compromise, which means there will be areas of overexposed highlights and underexposed shadows. (I know you can use graduated ND filters to help get around this). The human eye sees more detail in the shadows and highlights than it is possible to capture in a single shot.

The HDR technique is more forgiving in that I don't think someone needs to be as careful to get the correct exposure - simply because there are several more stops to play with. It allows you to claw back detail in the shadows and highlights which would otherwise be lost. However, HDR can be abused by going too far, and bringing back too much detail, lightening the shadows too much and darkening the highlights, therefore losing the contrast.

I totally agree with you, that the shadows should be dark (but only the very darkest shadows will be pure black). Hopefully this is generally the case in my photographs. The HDR effect should be subtle in regaining a small amount of lost detail. However some people will go too far and eliminate the contrast from the shot for the sake of including the detail. As I said in my new journal entry (I'm not sure if you've seen it), that I do rate contrast highly. Contrast and HDR are mutual enemies, but contrast - which means dark shadows and bright highlights - is crucial.
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:iconlandscapephotography:
LandscapePhotography Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2009
Well actually, the reason I bothered to write at all is because of the HDR workflow you posted, and this journal entry. I would take issue with several points you made in them, but most of all with the underlying suggestion running through it - that HDR results are somehow an improvement on past processing techniques, or that they allow for something which was not possible before. Photographers have been blending exposures for a long time.

The simple fact is that almost every image which has been tonemapped is easily detectable to a trained eye. Despite what you say about your subtle use, most of the images in your gallery scream HDR. Now I am not saying that they are bad, because your compositions are interesting, but a more natural look and waiting for 'special light' would improve your photography dramatically. With time you will start to realise this, but I found it frustrating that at one point you even suggested that on windy days people should shoot static subjects.

It has been my experience that people go through an HDR phase, because they have not yet learnt how to take advantage of the light properly, and don't know how to process images effectively. I have done it myself, and I know plenty of others who have done it. Therefore I think that rather than write journals talking about the merits of HDR (and it does have some, in limited circumstances), your time would be better spent exploring ways to shoot the light in such a way as to prevent the need to spend hours in Photomatix and Photoshop.

Whilst this whole message my seem rather aggressive and unnecessary, it is sent with the best of intentions. I don't expect you to agree with it, but given time you will realise the downfalls of your current technique.
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:icongerard1972:
Gerard1972 Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2009
Steve, thanks for your comments, I appreciate them. Your own gallery is first class and you clearly know what you're talking about. As I'm sure you could guess, I'm no authority on HDR or photography in general. I'm just a guy who has spent a fair number of years experimenting, reading and practising.

It is true to say that I stumbled on the HDR style a few years ago, and it seemed to give me what I regarded as better results than I could get from a single shot. No doubt a lot of this may be down to my lack of real knowledge regarding correct exposures.

Perhaps some of my views are incorrect, maybe they will change in time. I have read before about various techniques used by photographers in the pre-Photoshop days. I don't doubt someone can achieve more pleasing results using traditional techniques.

I would imagine most photographers, even the ones who scan film, would still spend time in Photoshop touching up the shot. Ideally, it would be better to take the perfect shot in the camera, but I'm really unqualified to guess how much post-processing the average professional shot goes through.

While it does rather affect the end result, HDR creation is only a small step in what I do, and to be honest, a lot of time is spent covering over the flaws in the technique. E.g. my point about shooting static on windy days. HDR does not cope well with movement. I am not trying to say never shoot moving objects - clearly some of the best photos depict movement. Just that it would be unwise to use HDR on such shots.

I stated, although didn't go into details, that I think the most important step is in taking a good photograph in the first place. Those moments of thought before taking the shot, trying to get the correct composition, exposure, depth of field etc. I am certainly no expert, but it is an area I am aware needs a lot of work, and something I am trying to improve. No amount of fancy processes or writing these journals is going to help me there.

I wrote this journal because I am interested in sharing my limited knowledge of what I do, and at the same time, trying to learn more from the feedback I get. I realise it is a divisive topic, and perhaps, in years to come, I will move beyond HDR. Certainly, I will give some thought to what you say, because, as I said, from the high standard of your photographs, you clearly speak from experience. I do really appreciate the feedback.

Gerard
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:iconrempstaar:
Rempstaar Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2009  Hobbyist Photographer
HDR have really got bad reputation. But when done with good taste and subtle one can't say that it is done with multible exposures. I have many photos in my gallery that I have given a HDR-treatment, in some you can see it but in the most of them you can't!
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:icongerard1972:
Gerard1972 Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2009
Your gallery looks very impressive Marko. I can see a few HDRs in there (I was only sure because you stated they were!) and they are very subtle and well done. I agree HDRs have a bad name, largely because a many people, when starting out at least, take the effect to extremes.
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:iconrempstaar:
Rempstaar Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2009  Hobbyist Photographer
Thank You for appreciation :)

Extreme treatments are good but they aren't good for just any photo, one must know when you can use extreme processing.
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:iconstephfuller:
stephfuller Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2009   Photographer
There are a lot of HDR shots that I love,
but I HATE the ones that resemble abuse of the shadow/highlights window in photoshop!
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:icongerard1972:
Gerard1972 Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2009
Thanks Steph. I think the trick with good HDR shots is to try and keep some contrast, rather than let HDR smooth it all out. You're right about shadow/highlights - I think it's a similar process in some ways to tonemapping - trying to recover the shadows and highlights, but if someone takes it too far, the results are horrible.

By the way, I really like your gallery!
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:iconstephfuller:
stephfuller Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2009   Photographer
I wish I could make decent HDR composites, I've tried it a couple of times but the results were gross :(
ohwell guess I'll keep trying!

Thanks for looking through my gallery :D
:thanks: :aww:
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