Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thoughts on Refining HDR Photography

 DC Waterfront Sunrise-2

Over the past year, I have shared my thoughts, experiences and evolving refinement of the HDR process.  I think this is an important conversation to have and something to which more and more people are being exposed.  HDR is no longer confined to the professional or enthusiast photographer.  HDR is now a feature of some point and shoot cameras (processing of the HDR is handled in the camera) and is even now a standard part of the iPhone 4 camera software.

DC Waterfront Sunrise-5

I’m sure there is a broad range of opinions defining what makes a good HDR image.  At it’s roots, HDR is a great tool for adding dynamic range to your photography.  In other words, HDR helps get more information into the photograph than is otherwise possible with a single exposure.  This capability opens a number of creative doors.  Unfortunately, there are a number of pitfalls with HDR photography.  In my opinion, the goal should be to make an HDR photograph that does not look like an “HDR Photograph.”  By this, I mean avoiding the oversaturated, bubble-gum and cotton candy look common to some HDR photography.  Here are the common pitfalls of HDR photography and some examples:

  1. Oversaturation or emphasis of “bubble gum” like colors
  2. Unnatural lighting
  3. The photograph looks more like a cartoon or a surreal dream scene than reality
  4. Uneven colors
  5. The appearance of reflection on non-reflective surfaces
  6. Halos around edges
  7. Noise – particularly in darker parts of the image

The following two images are examples of these pitfalls.

NA-7A Corsair II PNAM

Funny Farm-4 

If you compare the last two photographs with the first two, you will get an idea of my target for HDR photography – more reality, and less cartoons.  You may have been wondering why I presented two very similar photographs of the Washington DC waterfront with the Washington Monument in the background.  The first shot was taken just as the sun was peaking over the horizon resulting in the pink colors in the sky.  This shot is intended to show that unique and attractive colors can come from HDR photography without being overstated.

The second photograph of the DC waterfront was taken about 45 minutes later after the sky had matured to a deep blue.  I posted this photograph as a point of comparison for the first.  In combination, these two photographs of the DC waterfront demonstrate that HDR photography can be a wonderful tool for enhancing your photograph without going over the edge to the surreal.

As a final word, I will mention that at times the pitfalls of HDR photography I listed can be an asset.  I concede that for artistic purposes there are times when these “pitfalls” are the intent and the final product is remarkably beautiful.  The key word is intent. 

Have fun and go make some great photography.


No comments:

Post a Comment