Why I Do HDR - A Fresh Take On A Tired Debate

Why I Do HDR – A Fresh Take On A Tired Debate

Similar title, quite opposite viewpoint of a recent DPS article on why not to do HDR. I completely understand everything said in that article. I also want to point out that I agree with some of what was said. I think that bad HDR is just that, bad. I also completely agree that any photographer should master the art of composition, lighting and exposure before they start messing around with any advanced technique like HDR. I respect the opinion of any photographer who dislikes HDR. There are a lot of styles of photography that I don’t particularly like as well. What’s interesting to me however, and why I wanted to write this article, is what makes the subject of HDR such a controversial topic? Why are so many articles written to denounce or defend it? Surely if I wrote an article on why I don’t like street photography, I wouldn’t get near the response that an article slamming HDR would. Or if I wrote an article on why fashion photography post processing is manipulating reality and affecting the way young girls view themselves, I doubt that would strike a nerve in the hearts of as many people as this topic. So why is HDR such a hot topic, even after all this time? And for the record, it’s certainly not new.

As some of you may know, I was a portrait photographer (and still am) before I was a travel and landscape photographer. I was a travel and landscape photographer before I ever discovered HDR. I adopted HDR as a technique in my arsenal because I fell in love with it. I didn’t like the “clown vomit” look from the get go, and while some of my early work certainly could fall into that category, it was because of my lack of knowledge with HDR at that time. As I developed my processing style and techniques, I learned ways to avoid that look, and eventually got to the point where I feel like I have complete and total control over my image.

I don’t understand how we can just write off a form of photography or art and simply say that it is universally bad, just because it doesn’t suite our individual taste. If it was bad or truly an abomination of reality, I hardly think it could have lasted this long and captured the attention of so many, and I certainly don’t think it would be such a hot and pressing topic. If you hate HDR, that is fine by me. No amount of arguing or persuasive writing is going to change your mind. It would be like writing an article to conservatives trying to tell them to be liberals. The truth is though, that if you take the stance that photography is supposed to be pure, then you must define what pure is. If you define pure photography as anything, then you have just stepped out onto a very slippery slope. Give me any image at all, and I can show you how reality was manipulated in that image, whether the photographer intended it or not. I think the thing we need to do here is define what HDR is. That is what all of these articles floating around the web seem to be missing.

So…what is an HDR photograph? When does a photograph become an HDR? What type of photograph is “pure.” At what point does an image become “manipulated?” What style of photograph is “natural?” These are all very interesting questions, with very vague and grey answers.

The best definition of HDR that I can find is this one from wikipedia: “HDR (high dynamic range) is a set of techniques that allow a greater dynamic range of luminance between the lightest and darkest areas of an image than current standard digital imaging techniques or photographic methods.”

So according to that definition, HDR is achieved when you attempt to (or succeed in) overcoming the dynamic range limitations of a camera. If you think about it, just take a look at what HDR stands for; a normal camera could be considered to have a “low” dynamic range, while an HDR image is simply one that has more dynamic range than what the camera could typically produce on its own. So, let’s take a look at a quick image I put together for this article.

This is an image of my dogs favorite toy lion. The lion is up on a perch inside and in front of my glass front door which looks out over my front porch. I wasn’t happy with this version because I really want to show the front porch in the blurred background, but my camera can’t capture that much dynamic range. So, what if I expose manually for the front porch in the background? Here’s what I would get…

Now I have the exact opposite problem. The background is exposed the way I want it, but I can’t see that dang lion! Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll expose for the background in manual mode, put a manual flash in the hot shoe and adjust the power output accordingly until the lion is properly exposed. In this case, the entire scene was exposed at f/3.2 at ISO 200 for 1/250th of a second. I put my flash in manual and adjusted the power down until 1/128th of the normal power gave me this…

Note: All of these images are straight out of the camera, with absolutely no post processing done whatsoever.

So…my question: Is this an HDR image? Remember, HDR isn’t defined as taking multiple exposures, processing them through Photomatix, pushing the saturation past it’s limits or adding ridiculous amounts of texture and detail. It defined as overcoming your cameras limits of dynamic range capture by whatever means necessary. Right? Right.

So what about the argument that ALWAYS comes up in these posts that photography is supposed to be pure, and that manipulating an image is just presenting a lie to your viewers. Well, let’s go over the different ways to manipulate an image to make it look different or similar to what the human eye sees.


Yes, aperture is one of the first options you have in-camera to distort reality and lie to your viewers. Using a shallow depth of field to blur a background is very different than what the human eye sees. I’ve never looked at a person 15 feet away from me and noticed the beautiful circles of confusion in the background. Really though, think about it: Is this image below realistic if you really begin to pick it apart? In reality, there was still plenty of daylight in this scene. I however wanted to darken the light outside to create more drama than there actually was and create blur in the background to separate the subject. So, I used my camera in manual to darken the background to where I wanted it, used a shallow depth of field and used fill flash to light my subject. Again, this is a client image straight out of the camera. No post.

Shutter Speed

Here is yet another in-camera function at our disposal to distort reality (or conform to it). You can use your shutter speed to manipulate time and movement and get as close to, or as far away from reality as you would like. Is this next image of the Dallas skyline realistic? No, I’ve never seen streaks of tail lights and head lights with my own eye . Does it work? Yes, I think so. Maybe not if you don’t like HDR.

Black and White

In case you’re wondering, aperture and shutter speed are not the only things in-camera that can be used to adjust the way an image looks. For the sake of time however, I will move on. Other options and accompanying images could have included: White balance, ISO (noise), spot metering, lens distortion, compression, etc.

Black and white certainly cannot be pure photography, right!? I mean, who see’s in black and white? The only leg that this argument has to stand on is that black and white is a pure form of photography because it was the first form of photography, but who wants to live in the past? I use monochrome as a means of processing images on a regular basis, but I am not bound to it, and I don’t consider a black and white photograph any more “pure” than a color one. In the image below, I used a red monochrome filter to turn a bright blue morning sky into a dark grey one. This is the same technique that Ansel Adams used to use to manipulate the look of his famous Yosemite images. I used HDR processing to capture all the dynamic range of light in the Gateway Arch because there was absolutely no way to do so otherwise. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky and the harsh morning light was reflecting off the arch and driving my camera crazy. It took 9 exposures in 1-stop increments to capture the entire range of light in the arch. That tiny little section at the top was my darkest exposure.


I think that all these articles slamming and defending HDR are missing the point. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen someone bash HDR that actually has taken the time to learn it or view the work of incredibly talented HDR photographers. In my humble opinion, I think that 99% of people who don’t like HDR are confusing bad HDR with all HDR. You can’t say that you hate “clown-puke HDR” and at the same time, because of that, determine that you hate all HDR. On the same token, you can’t look at my article of HDR Done Right, decide that you don’t like my idea of HDR Done Right, and then decide that you hate HDR.

If you still don’t like HDR in spite of all this, that is fine! You don’t have to like HDR, but why go around discrediting it? It doesn’t seem resourceful to me. It doesn’t solve a problem, it just stirs the pot. Why not just let the HDR photographers do HDR if that is what makes them and their clients happy. Let the bad HDR photographers suck at it, because it’s all part of the learning process. Let the fashion photographers concentrate on the world of fashion. Let the portrait photographer do their portraits and the landscape photographers do their landscapes. Photography is an incredible form of creativity and art, and there is plenty of room here for all of us. In the end, photography is simply about creating an image that YOU love and that you are proud of. That’s it! Share it with the world if you want to, but be ready to except criticism if you do. It helps you grow and keeps you on your feet.

In closing, what I took away from yesterday’s article was that we are all really tired of the overdone HDR. So am I. It was also made clear though that the author believes HDR is a fad and an “outgrown toy,” and that is where I respectfully disagree. For the record, I think Peter is an incredible photographer and writer, and I read and view his work any time I can. I’m certainly not going to write him off or dislike him just because we don’t agree on one topic. This article in no way was bashing him or his views, it was simply my rebuttal and opinion on the topic of HDR and I felt obligated to voice it to the community here.

So what do you think about this topic? Do you have anything to add? We want to hear from you, so be sure to let us know in the comments below. Like Peter said in his article, just keep it civil! Also, be sure to follow me on twitter (@jamesdbrandon) if you don’t already!

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James Brandon is a landscape photographer and educator residing in Dallas, Texas. Join 20,000+ photographers and get access to his free video tutorial library at his website. James also has an online store full of video courses, ebooks, presets and more. Use the coupon code "DPS25" for an exclusive discount!

Some Older Comments

  • Therese April 20, 2013 06:31 am

    Unquestionably believe that which you stated.
    Your favorite reason seemed to be on the net the easiest
    thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people consider worries that they just don't know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people could take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  • Jubi January 4, 2012 12:21 am

    I think that anyone who is not sure about using photoshop or other editing softwares will find this article invalueble, you make several very good points and have turned me to tweaking my images.

  • Wanda Krack November 18, 2011 01:35 pm

    I shoot both HDR and regular shots, that are just one. If you have not been exposed to HDR's that look normal, then you have something to look forward to. In my camera club, we have both types of shots presented on contest nights, and many times it's impossible to determine if an image is an hdr image or just one shot. The reason............many of them are not 'over-cooked'. And sometimes a one shot looks more like an hdr image than one that is three put together........especially if it is a landscape that has lots of drama in the clouds.

    I think the photography world has been bombarded with so much HDR that is too unrealistic, however, it is quite possible to put together three or more images that end up looking more like what the eye saw than what one image can obtain when the tonal range for the camera are at extremes.

  • JT November 18, 2011 12:35 pm

    I've been lucky enough to get a few photographs published and the first requirement of both magazines i have shot for is this" Absolutely No HDR; No Composites. Why? Because it distorts reality. I agree. Of all my flickr contacts, and I have a lot, only two come to mind who do really nice hdr work. but even with those, one quick glance and I know the shot isn't real. It's been doctored. It's beautifully done but it's doctored. It's messed with. Most of the HDR I see on flickr and 500 px blows. Big Time. It's flat. The color looks like the sunday comics. I know HDR is all the rage now but I'm not tempted in the slightest. Hey, I still carry and F100 in my bag and a roll or two of velvia. Imagine that.

  • Rajendra Pareek September 25, 2011 02:01 am

    Every photographer wants his photos to be the most beautiful photos. And in Digital era the digits are playing an enormous role in making something beautiful or worst. To my opinion, HDR is also a way to make your photo look beautiful, if it is not overdone. Let the reality speak out in the photo journalism only (and to the surprise of most of people, the reality is missing there also). The viewer of your photo is not a serious photographer, he sees only the beautiful pics. Had the pic illustrated above was taken by me with no know-how of photography, it was OK in every aspect, I, as a viewer, could have simply imagined that the light is not sufficient on the face of the lion and it is more than desired in the background, but then it would have been a simplistic photo. You, as a photographer, thought to present it in this way, and that is it. HDR, however, brings out the darkened areas to light and leaves the viewer with no choice to determine where the light is less or where it is more than the desired. No, I also love the original photographs. But it is a technique and in this era we should always welcome such things.
    - Thanks and regards,
    Rajendra Pareek

  • Joe P Dick February 25, 2011 12:04 pm

    James, just read this article and I totally agree with you. HDR when done to mimic reality and not surreality is really closer to what our eyes see than what the digital camera can capture. I shoot a lot of interiors for restaurants and apartments and through the use of HDR I don't have to lug a bunch of lights around. HDR makes my life so much easier! If anyone would like to see samples of my work and an description of my workflow and settings feel free to visit my blog at: http://myphotogops.blogspot.com/2011/01/pratical-hdr.html. As you can also see I'm also using it on an artistic series I'm working on.

  • Mark February 19, 2011 01:46 am

    Interesting article and it pretty much sums up my views.

    I think HDR is fine when used correctly. It's a useful technique and can produce some great results but I think subtlety is the key. I just get a little tired of the over done look (of which there seems to be no shortage).

    I've written a little bit more about my thoughts regarding HDR on my blog. :)



  • Corey Brownings February 16, 2011 06:42 pm

    I've found some amazing HDR pictures from France.
    Just take a look at them:

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixartia/5447963780/' title='France. Bretagne. Cancale.' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4153/5447963780_8f007dde97.jpg']
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixartia/5447356255/' title='France. Bretagne. Cancale' url='http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5253/5447356255_264b55d083.jpg']

  • Ray Carroll February 5, 2011 09:59 pm

    One of the first creeds in selling is "Do not bash the competition." The customer does not want to know why you hate the other product, they want to know why you like your's better. I find it best to encourage the customer to 'Google' the two products in question. I my case,which is windows and doors, type is "window M verses window P" and read what others are saying about them.

    Why take a chance? I already know that window M is going to do well and there are those that like window P, but the customer has to be convinced in their on minds which is best for them. The customer looks at a salesperson as "a fox in the chicken coop" and expects him or her to say that theirs is best.

    My contension is that one confirms for themself whether or not HDR is for them? We do this with all types of photography. I consider myself a rank amatuer, but I am learning what types of photos I like to take and what I prefer not to take. I am interested in HDR and am looking into it. I do not know if I am going to like it or not, but I will find out for myself.

    Go and do likewise!

    Thank you.

  • Jason February 3, 2011 08:39 pm

    Fantastic article ,Im new to HDR and with the help of the free tutorial @ the stuckincustoms web site have been getting some good and some bad ( aka clown puke ) results. Loving the learning curve tho.

  • John January 31, 2011 05:46 pm

    Congratulations, you have written a stunning article. In my opnion HDR is another important resouce, wich we should control. As everyone knows when we show our work, we have to show diferent tecniques if we don't want to show a plain work.

  • rockin robin January 30, 2011 05:16 am

    Good on ya boy, stick to your guns, a man after me own heart, its creativity stupid!!! Film, digital, picture styles, need i say any more, get up the yard you ''purists'' irish paddy

  • Don Sharp January 29, 2011 07:53 pm

    It was a good article and a nice read, but I regard my camera is a paintbrush and I, a painter.

  • Brian January 29, 2011 01:02 pm

    Awesome article James. I might be a bit late, but the main addition I'd like to make has only been alluded to in both the article and the comments I read, vaguely or otherwise. Apologies if this has already been clearly pointed out. HDR is not a 'genre' of photography. To me, genres denote subject, not method. It is a tool, just as flash photography is. Just like flash photography can be used to enhance any style of photography within the limits of flashes and lighting setups, it can be used to enhance any style of photography within the limits of multiple exposures. Most HDR you see is either landscape or architecture, but in certain situations you could have an HDR portrait (with enough light or a very patient subject).

    When used correctly it actually captures a scene much closer to what the eye actually sees, as DocSkalski accurately explained above. If you're a 'purist', keep in mind that it could easily be considered more 'pure' than flash photography since it uses available light. The 'clown puke' and 'overdone HDR' photos are merely utilizing and displaying the available light in a manner that isn't pleasing to you, whether it is the surreal effect, oversaturation, or just non-traditional portrayal of a subject. Hate the result, not the tool. Just because a versatile tool has the ability to create new and different types of ugly doesn't make it a bad tool. It also has the ability to create very balanced photos that would otherwise be impossible or require unrealistic lighting setups or conditions, as illustrated by the arch photo in the article.

    That brings up another subject - I don't think HDR tonemapping is any more 'post processing' than white balance. You aren't manipulating the image in any way, just choosing what to keep and what to leave out of the image in order for it to be shown on digital displays or printed, as both print media and digital displays can't display the ranges of light that HDR and RAW images capture.

    HDR is simply misunderstood. There are intangible elements to it that many people can't seem to grasp, due to misinformation or just lack of information. I think this article is a great start at explaining what HDR is all about.

  • Dennis Smith January 29, 2011 11:12 am

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I, too, fail to understand the logic of those who denounce HDR photographic technique claiming that it somehow violates the principals of “real” photography or that the resulting photographs are produced by artificial manipulation of an original image.

    So what? Isn’t that precisely what the whole of photography has always been about?

    Over the years we’ve developed a continually growing inventory of optical, mechanical, chemical and electronic tools to create more and more provocative photographs – extreme wide angle and telephoto lenses to alter perspective: contrast filters, dodging and burning techniques to intensify tonal graduations in the black & white darkroom; warming, cooling, UV, color correction and polarizing filters to alter color tone and saturation on film; aperture adjustments to throw backgrounds out of (or into) focus, shutter speed adjustments to stop or blur motion, electronic flash to light our subjects and now, computer software to process digitally captured image data. All are artificial manipulations used to achieve a desired photographic result. HDR technique is just another option in the photographer’s toolbox, so why all the fuss?

  • J G Harding January 28, 2011 10:30 pm

    All the yammering about purism is embarrassing! Camille Silvy use up to nine exposure for some images, with separate plates used for subject, sky an points of interest. He was one of the founding fathers of photographic technique and seems to have been a good businessman too :)

    The most important fact was that he used multiple exposure to suble and tasteful effect!

    Here's a picture he took using many exposures: http://www.npg.org.uk/assets/images/assets/exhibition-loans/silvy/Studies_on_light_%20twilight.jpg

    And here's an image I took inspired by him, using modern HDR: http://jgharding.com/post/2367547830/myatts-field-band-stand-by-j-g-harding-i-took

    Here's an image I took that was influenced by his work:

  • John Jessup January 28, 2011 08:27 pm


    The only time an incorrect portrayal of reality is incorrect is when it is being presented as reality.

    Planets around a distant star that have been artificially inserted to claim a dramatic new discovery etc etc.

    For the rest, any photographer that feels they somehow have a duty to portray only reality or face purgatory have my deepest sympathies.

  • Rod Topperwien January 28, 2011 07:53 pm

    I am wondering, do I need a special camera for HDR?

  • Lalit January 28, 2011 06:54 pm

    James my personal feeling on HDR is that to use it to make the shot look like what the eye saw, is OK and desirable but to make it look surrealistic is not to my taste, but on the other hand, lot of people like Salvador Dali's paintings his work is mostly surrealistic.
    The great Photographer Ansel Adam went to great lengthen to get the last details what the eye saw into his photographs I think it is known as the Zone System where he exposed 11 negatives at different exposers some say it was 33.

    Just food for thought.

  • Anoop January 28, 2011 06:53 pm

    Thanks for this article. You really opened my view on HDR. All the while i was seeing only highly manipulated images for HDR. Dynamic range is still very difficult with the normal photography methods.

  • Rick January 28, 2011 04:24 pm

    I'm getting around to rreading this late, but the subject caught my eye as similar to a feeling I had many years ago relating to music. I'm a jazz fan and have been for 50 years. One day I heard a sax piece that was so bad I had to call the station and let them know I didn't appreciate having that noise broadcast as music, let alone jazz. I'd never called in to a radio station before to complain.

    It's kind of the same eye (ear) of the beholder argument, but only up to a point. This piece was so bad that I'm confident I could produce similar sounds on a sax, and I have absolutely no musical talent. I can blow hard and all my fingers work, but does that give me the right to call the result art? If I play with someone else's software without knowing what it will do or what I want in an image beforehand, is that an artistic process?

    I think too often, HDR is practiced as a cop out - a way to claim art with no specific artistic intention or deliberate creative process of forethought. Someone twiddling the knobs of HDR adjustment just to see what happens is like me blowing on a sax. The result is not art, it's noise.

    Of course there are those that take the time to learn what they're doing before they inflict it on the public. Paul Desmond was one such person, and I suspect James is another.

  • Indianapolis Photographer January 28, 2011 04:22 pm

    Part of why I've avoided HDR is because of the overdone, amateurish images I've seen with HDR wedding photography. Some of them look downright garish. I'm sure the trend will settle down over time, like the trend of images turned 45 degrees, or selective coloring. There's a time and place for a given technique. With the St. Louis arch, I would have never guessed you used HDR. So, if a picture looks great, it really doesn't matter how it got there.

  • Juan Prekop January 28, 2011 02:21 pm

    Where would the human race be if there were no creativity and do everything "BY THE BOOK" this sort of things develop creativity and imagination that keeps our minds and lives developing towards new things.

  • Lonnie Copeland January 28, 2011 01:39 pm

    I found this to well thought out and well explained, I do not like all HDR, and I do not like all photography. I also find it amusing when a photographer brags that an image is straight from the camera when today's camera have so many ways to alter an image, and HDR is one growing option. thanks for writing this!!

  • Jean-Michel January 28, 2011 10:47 am

    Permit me to add a comment for French language speakers.
    J'ai lu avec intérêt ces deux articles sur le HDR. Qu'on aime ou que l'on n'aime pas cela, le HDR a finalement toujours existé. Je suis de ceux qui ont appris la photographie à l'École Nationale Supérieure Louis Lumière, à la lumière de celles des Studios Harcourt, étudiant patiemment les techniques d'Ansel Adams et les expérimentant. Nous avons tous fait du HDR, quand nous "poussions" ou "retenions" sous l'agrandisseur un ciel trop pâle ou un détail trop dense. Quand nous exposions plusieurs négatifs qui, une fois superposés et habilement fixés à la plaque du verre du passe-vue de l'agrandisseur, nous les tirions les uns après les autres à l'aide de caches, nous pratiquions d'une certaines manière une certaine forme d'HDR. À chaque exposition du papier sous l'agrandisseur, nous faisions varier la durée d'exposition, nous changions les filtres de contrastes, etc... C'était du grand Art. J'ai été le tireur, pour un temps, de Bogdan Borkowski, le photographe de Roman Polanski et du pape Jean-Paul II. J'ai passé des centaines d'heures en chambre noire à exprimer le point de vue du photographe en ne cessant de manipuler les négatifs. Finalement, il n'y avait que peu de rapport entre le négatif original et le résultat sur la magnifique cartoline barytée Ilford utilisée pour l'exposition.
    Aujourd'hui, ce n'est guère différent. Sauf que l'on peut agir sur les densités, les contrastes, de manière plus confortable, et en couleur en plus ! Comme hier, il y a de très mauvais résultats et de très bons, dépendant du point de vue de l'auteur (qu'il faut respecter) et de sa dextérité. Certains, déjà, allaient vers le vomis de clown, oui, quand ils faisaient des isohélies couleurs grossières... Mais n'est-ce pas ce que faisait Andie Warren ? On l'a pourtant adulé, mais, avec tout le respect que je lui dois, à mon avis, c'était du vomis de clown...
    Prenons le HDR pour ce qu'il est vraiment, une technique efficace pour régler certains problèmes. Tout est question de mesure, et de bon goût, et comme tous les goûts sont dans la nature, alors... acceptons-le comme tel.
    Mes félicitations et tous mes encouragements pour vos belles rubriques.

  • John Poon January 28, 2011 10:28 am

    Well written! I am going to bookmark this article to save myself some typing when the topic comes up again :)

    To me art is art no matter what medium, or how it is achieved. I am okay if some purists consider my post processed work not photography, I would rather be known as an artist than a photographer.

  • Robert January 28, 2011 09:12 am

    I was in Key West and found a gallery where all the photos were canvases done in HDR. Oversaturated pastels of blah blah boringness. I wondered how he would survive and who was buying this junk. I asked if he had a portfolio - perhaps other images I could see to measure his talent beyond this one trick - he did not.
    Recently, I viewed an exhibition at the Morean Center in St. Petersburg that had a well done display that included HDR where the form seemed to lend itself to the theme.
    It occured to me that HDR done right is a useful tool for an accomplished photographer who has mastered his camera and the art of composition and lighting in the way a surrealist or impressionist can convey their art once they have demonstrated their competence.
    I have great appreciation for the works of Picasso but Pollock's (Jack the Dripper) acclaim is lost on me much the same way that a novice photographer / owner of an art gallery featuring only HDR is a rube.

  • Martin Soler HDR Photography January 28, 2011 09:02 am

    As you said and in summary, it's not the technique that matters, it's the result. Either a photo communicates really well or it doesn't. It could be fuzzy, it could be blurry it could be dark or not. At the end of the day - what matters is does the receiving audience get an emotional impact and if so then anything is fine with me.
    Voila there's my 5 cents (euro cents). ;-)

  • Paula January 28, 2011 08:59 am


    Thank you for a well written article and going into detail on what HDR is. I have to admit that I am more on the side of limited editing and manipulation (but only because that is what I find attractive in my photos as a personal taste).

    The Lion was a great example to show that HDR serves a very good and sometimes necessary purpose that allows the photograph to almost reflect more of what the eye sees. it is nice to see that there are great examples without photos having to be over saturated, over processed and having a surreal quality about them.

    I like to think of this argument as the same one that was had when they invented that pesky and risk taking "color film" back in the day. I think some people are not accepting of any change because they do not want to learn new techniques.

  • Qais January 28, 2011 07:54 am

    James, Another Great topic!
    You are absolutely right, noone should critisize another for taking HDR images, photography is like freedom of speech, you should always be free to express yourself thru photography and as far as clients go, whatever that makes them happy.


  • Pat January 28, 2011 07:49 am

    Excellent article! I will be referring people to this in the future. I kind of blew my beets at the first article slamming HDR. Love the "clown vomit" line and like you, I made a few "clown vomit mistakes" in the beginning so maybe the previous author is a little afraid to venture into the HDR arena so as to not tarnish his reputation as a photographer.

    Hey, true story...I know someone who to this day has not eaten a piece of apple pie and they are in their mid-40's! As a result they are known for that fact and don't want to eat a piece just in case people associate him with being normal. Photographers are a finicky bunch who like/want/need to be known for their photography or not eating apple pie! "Clown Vomit"....classic, just classic...

  • Kevin January 28, 2011 07:44 am

    nice article. I agree totally and whole heartedley. I view photography as art and a media of expression. HDR is a great tool, but just like slideshow transistions...cool things can be over done! I loved the political analogy...nail head, meet Mr. Hammer! LOL

  • Wanda Krack January 28, 2011 07:44 am

    Well-written article!!

  • Bibzie January 28, 2011 07:23 am

    That was a great explanation and I've only just begun to play with HDR and already found that although some phtotos come out great with minimal manipulation, it doesn't follow suit with everything. I've adopted a kind of like a "use it sparingly" attitude.

  • Lenny January 28, 2011 06:08 am

    I couldn't have said it any better. I agree 100 %. There are 2 schools of HDR - the realistic and the hyper - realistic. If you create HDR photos and don't like like the over saturated colors the solution is simple. Turn down the saturation. You will still have details in the shadows and highlights. I never understood the old saying "The camera never lies". I think the camera always lied - right from the beginning of photography.

  • Richard Smith January 28, 2011 06:08 am

    I have been a photographer for almost 50 years both military and civilian. I think James Brandon makes excellent points in his article. When I was a B&W photographer I used dodging techniques, silk screening, high contrast, posterizing, soft focus etc to achieve pleasing results for myself or my client. Brush and paint artists can create wonderful landscapes with colors that are more vivid or less vivid than nature and therefore not "pure". To me HDR offers just one more tool in the photographic toolbox, which allows another avenue of creativity. I think that condemning HDR as a photographic style is much the same as my opinion of cubist art - I don't like it - but that is my problem - I do not expect the world of art to throw out the whole Cubist school because of my position. One must have a very high opinion of oneself to condemn a style of photographic art simply because one regards it as manipulation.
    Dick Smith

  • nathanbweb January 28, 2011 06:07 am

    HDR-haters ignore the facts that:

    1) all photography is an contrived, artificial, but artistic representation of reality;
    2) all information/layers of an HDR were actually captured by the camera from the actual scene, not fabricated.

  • Mike January 28, 2011 06:00 am

    A much more reasoned posting. Agree totally with what you have to say. A very reasoned argument about the technique of using HDR. It doesn't distort reality any more or less than other techniques both in and out of the camera.

    And yes it is art. Is HDR done well or overdone good or bad art? Depends on the eye of the beholder. And who really cares anyway.

    Now can we get back to the cool tips that are the reason why I have read the blog for years? :=)

  • Mike January 28, 2011 05:59 am

    A much more reasoned posting. Agree tottally with what you have to say. A very reasoned arguement about the technique of using HDR. It doesn't distort reality any more or less than other techniques both in and out of the camera.

    And yes it is art. Is HDR done well or overdone good or bad art? Depends on the eye of the beholder. And who really cares anyway.

    Now can we get back to the cool tips that are the reason why I have read the blog for years? :=)

  • John Richardson January 28, 2011 05:37 am

    Excellent! We are on the same page. But that Dallas shot, I see those blurry lights all the time ... will I live in Ukraine and 80% of the time we are drinking (seriously), which why my night shots NEVER come out.

    But I use HDR "programs" in some instances just to pull out what the camera can't see like we do, but that is not just a function of an HDR specific photo. As you demonstrated with the lion in the window, it would appear any attempt to alter a photo either with external lighting, in-camera settings, darkroom chemicals or any software program (including so-named HDR software) is nothing more than .... HDR. If that is indeed the case then I have been doing that since 1970.

    Great article!

  • Toni Aull January 28, 2011 05:36 am

    Everything is Open to Photography and Photographers...It was Created, So let it Be..
    HDR has it's own DNA! And the Photographers Found It!!
    You Manipulate images you Manipulate Membraine to Accept....(that's just the way it is)

  • Dean H January 28, 2011 05:25 am

    Finally! An article that makes sense and does not go over the top with phrases like "HDR is evil". The previous article gets no respect from me because of the outlandish opinions stated there. I looked over the authors photographs. Some very good, some.............
    To maintain a level of professionalism we should show our best images and perhaps as we grow delete some of those HDR creations when we first started using HDR. I have.

  • Deborah Flowers January 28, 2011 05:12 am

    I am an HDR addict! Though I'm new at it and still practicing, I really gleaned some useful info from your article... ummm... rebuttal.
    I don't use it on every shot, but I definitely use it with discernment.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • todd atteberry January 28, 2011 05:07 am

    The whole distorting reality argument I feel is bogus, as a camera never captures reality anyway. It captures images, which no matter what technique you use, is never the same as reality. To get technical, people's perception differs according to any number of factors, ranging from the quality of their vision to their mood at the time. People will always have this debate, whether it's over HDR or impressionism versus a more classical form of painting. We all see things different ways, and want different things from the images we see. Most HDR leaves me cold personally, but I have the option of clicking to the next image, so I'm fine with that.

  • bibin paul January 28, 2011 04:39 am

    awesome discussion..100% right.

  • Mark January 28, 2011 04:25 am

    This is an absolutely correct view as far as it goes. I always said that you would not know a great picture was HDR if it was done right. However that is only one viewpoint and is subjective.

    Extreme tone mapping is an art form just as impressionism or pointillism in painting. Some like it some hate it, but it is still ART and you cannot call it "an abomination" to write it off. You can only say that it does not conform to your PERSONAL taste and that YOU don't like it. REMEMBER, NO ONE ELECTED YOU AS THE FINAL ARBITER OF TASTE IN ART!!!!!!!!!!!! Call it surrealistic or call it "clown puke", either way it is only an opinion and we all have one!!!! No one says that mine must be the same as yours!!!

  • alexpuch January 28, 2011 04:07 am

    I think that HDR is just another tool we can use, as filters, strobes, etc.
    In my opinion all these tools are used to create an image, it doesnt matter how it was procesed or rtouched, I preffer to evaluate picture by picture

  • Randy Wehner January 28, 2011 03:55 am

    I have really been impressed by the amount of detail that can be seen in HDR images. I am also a fan of saturation, but only to the degree where the color still looks believable. Over my time of experimenting with this medium I have brought down the saturation on some of my initial photographs. I love being able to experiment and paint with light on some of my work until I get a result I am pleased with. Please check out some of my work at randywehnerphotography.com.

  • Draku Zeos January 28, 2011 03:46 am

    For the record, I have no personal opinion about HDR other than to say "sometimes yes, sometimes no". That being said, I thought this article was well balanced and I agree that a technique, in and of itself, is rarely the problem with a poorly done shot. The way we use a technique and perhaps the reasons we use a technique can call into question our photographic judgment. But to slam a technique all together, I really don't see the point.

    Over on another site I read, there's a huge posting war going on between those who love/hate Apple / Microsoft / Google, as relates to their various tablet and smart phone technologies. One sees a lot of mindless slamming going on there, and it's completely useless in terms of coming to understand the technologies in question. Personal preferences are just that ... personal preferences. As such, they are fine. But let's remember that that's all they are. Like what you like, discard what you don't, but leave out the need to reject the notion that others might enjoy what you don't.

    Variety is indeed the spice of life, and even when we don't like something, if we forget to allow others to like what we don't, we're only asking for trouble. What happens when we like something they don't. And on and on it goes.

    This article stated nicely the pro's and con's of HDR and left it to us to decide for ourselves whether it's something we'll use or not, and if so, when. That's a great approach for me.

  • Steve Muchowski January 28, 2011 03:43 am

    Back in the old days of film Ansel Adams used to expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights.
    You can't do this in digital, so HDR merely allows you to do the same thing as I used to do with film.

  • Aleeya January 28, 2011 03:35 am

    I think the debate, like some opinions of HDR, is over done. In my opinion, the issue with the previous HDR article is the absolutes. HDR is bad, HDR is evil, blah blah blah. Frankly, we all come here to learn not to read articles that are all opinion based and honestly I don't want someone else forming an opinion for me. Unless they are tactful enough to write a good article, as you have here, where you actually teach us something while inserting an opinion here and there. I think it's called tact! I really don't care who likes HDR, who hates it, who thinks Pearl Jam is the best band ever...don't care. I think everyone is just so over the HDR good or bad debate that any time it's mentioned people get mad. I come here to learn. Teach me something.

  • Ray January 28, 2011 03:24 am

    Excellent article. The entire HDR debate is ridiculous and reminds me of the silly debate that has raged for years about whether photography even qualifies as art. Unfortunately, some people are just narrow-minded.

  • Steve McKenna January 28, 2011 03:05 am

    I can't begin to tell you how refreshing it is to see an opinion expressed with such eloquence. Terrific explanation and well supported. Now blend those pics of the lion and let's see some post HDR in action! Well done.

  • S.Roma January 25, 2011 04:04 pm

    Dear All,

    From my opinion, i like HDR. Its not that we cant gain anything from it, right?

    There is some knowledge that we can use for other photos... just think positive, ok?

    Like it :

    "Photography is an incredible form of creativity and art, and there is plenty of room here for all of us. In the end, photography is simply about creating an image that YOU love and that you are proud of. That’s it! Share it with the world if you want to, but be ready to except criticism if you do. It helps you grow and keeps you on your feet"

  • Miguel Reznicek January 25, 2011 06:59 am

    I really don't think you need to justify HDR to anyone. It is part of the future, and if used well, will help millions of photographers make better photos. The fact that some don't see it that way is because it is new, but give it a little time and it will become as ubiquitous as the "scene" controls on today's cameras. Plus, my wife (a pro) didn't care much for HDR and now she wants to learn it, so to me it is a certain sign that times are changing. -Migs

  • Brian January 24, 2011 02:05 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Photography, like any other art form is a matter of personal preference. Not everyone is going to like everything and a single method is not applicable in all situations. I happen to like the "clown vomit" look on occasion. Probably why I also liked using Fugi film back in the day. I seem to recall having a similar debate 20 years ago about overly vibrant photos vs more natural ones. I chose the film I used back then depending on the photo to be taken much like I choose the processing now based on the desired outcome. Shoot what you like. I guarantee some people will like it and some won't. Just as long as you do.

  • Wendy January 24, 2011 01:25 pm

    Well said. I really like your comparison with the fashion world. I am a portrait photographer as well and I do a lot of retouching because I like it that way. I like HDR for some things and I agree that it can be over done but why not have the amount of control over light and shadow with digital as with film? Realism in photography is just one ideology and you can never make the world real on a two-dimensional surface. Considering the unlimited amount of creativity that is available in the darkroom with tone and contrast, not to mention the millions of ways the film can be processed, why do people hate HDR so much? I like it and will continue to use it on occasion....just 'cause it looks cool.

  • Cornell January 23, 2011 09:49 am

    I should have said photograph, rather than photograph. The night scape reminds me of some HDR that I've seen when not done in a manner that I consider to be excessive.

    A resulting image is about what the artists vision indicates that it should be. It might not reflect what we see; but, that might be because of our own limitations. By limitations, I'm not referring to our minds only; but also, to the rate at which we visualize what's going on. I just don't like HDR which appears to be excessive, but that's how I feel. Evidently, there are many who have a different vision.

  • Cornell January 23, 2011 09:33 am

    Your look like photographs, unlike the vast majority of what I see.

    The vast majority of what I see appear to be HDR for the sake of HDR, with the person's ego getting in the way.

  • Bryce Wilson January 23, 2011 04:05 am

    Well thought out and written thanks for posting.

  • Cyle Tipton January 23, 2011 03:23 am

    I have been reading the articles on HDR. And I would like to go on the record as saying I agree with both articles. I have always thought you should take pictures that represent the scene in front of your camera as closely as possible to the real thing. With that said I would like to know how many people remember reading the discussions on digital photography when digital photography first started to become available.
    Articles I read at the time said that photograph’s taking with a digital camera would never be accepted by any publications. And I also recall that the film industry and film purest petitioned the US Congress to require all digital camera manufacturers to have their cameras watermark pictures so that they could be identified as being a digital photograph, the argument being the same as that now about HDRS’.
    Does anyone remember?

  • Rob January 23, 2011 02:08 am

    Good article, James.

    I like how you're parsing out the definitions, because one can't discuss (argue?) an issue effectively until we agree on the terms used to communicate our thoughts. Your article is a sane step in that direction, as it highlights the myriad ways that images can, and have been, manipulated, moving well beyond the simplistic "I hate..." diatribe.

    You wrote: "... what I took away from yesterday’s article was that we are all really tired of the overdone HDR."

    That much is largely true, although I know of one exception. For me, I've grown weary of the "tired" debate.

    This morning, I made a comment on Peter's article which, in the extremely unlikely event that it's actually approved by the moderators, doesn't call into question the notion of 'loving' or 'hating' HDR, but challenges the argument itself.

    Sadly, I wasn't nearly so calm and measured in my other comment as I am here, but frankly, I'm getting really tired of all the articles, posts, responses, and Tweets that only serve to first bifurcate peoples' opinions to one side or the other, while we all then sit back and watch with amusement as the two camps hurl gob balls at each other. I understand how it works: These articles drive traffic, and for some, that's important. It's largely why (from what I hear) "Jersey Shore" is so popular and the cast makes millions; you put disparate or conflicting opinions into cramped quarters, sparks fly, and we consider it 'entertainment.' I think that's a sad state of affairs, and I take no joy from watching something like that.

    Together, these two articles on DPS have informed me the direction I want to take with my own contributions.

    Rather than divide, I'd prefer to unite. Rather than highlighting the differences of opinion, I'd like to find out what all these opinions have in common. (E.g., We all love cameras, yes?) While we would likely all agree that everyone has an opinion, I wonder if we could agree that no single opinion is 100% true or correct, as a singular opinion is a subjective evaluation, and doesn't integrate the other opinions that are out there in the world.

    Simply stated: Rather than highlighting what is different between us, I'd rather find out what we share. I think it's time we "get over it" and move in that direction.

    But that's just my opinion. ;^)

    The very nature of our reality is dualistic. We are conditioned to divide one thing from another -- it's the only way that we perceive anything at all! Were it not for the dark letters on this white background, we wouldn't be able to share our thoughts here. But, rather than focusing too narrowly on one person's opinion over another, I'd rather step back, give some space, and say, "Together, we've made a nice book."

    There's already too much conflict in the world. We can begin to fix that if only we could get a crowbar in between us and our closely-held opinions, opening up a space for other perspectives where we can actually share in a love for photography.

  • Markus January 23, 2011 01:10 am

    Thanks for the balanced discussion of HDR as an art form. I agree with your points about each photographic art form has a group of likers and dislikers. I happen to really like BIF (birds in flight), landscape and animal photography and not like portrait photography. But that does not mean that I cannot appreciate a good portrait photo. It just means I choose not to make it my focus.

    HDR has a place in the photographic art forms - both the "overdone" and "natural" forms. I prefer the "natural" approach as defined by your Wikipedia quote. Done right, it makes the highlights of dark areas standout. It helps the camera see what the eye sees. This is the type of HDR I do.... but it does not mean I can not appreciate the other approach as an art form. I just choose not to make it the focus of my photographic hobby.

  • Tom Gunn January 23, 2011 12:34 am

    HDR is another tool for a photographer to add to their toolbox and nothing more. If people want to use it, that's up to them. However, as with all new tools, they tend to be overused at first before gradually dropping back to their rightful place as a tool that might sometimes prove useful. 3D in cinema looks likely to be overused in the near future.
    I have a concern with HDR and it is that too many tools in the toolbox can take away the satisfaction of working to make a good photograph. The basic skills of waiting until the light is right, choosing the precise position of the camera and so on are merely some of the factors that make photography such a joy, the pleasure of using camera and tripod to achieve a good photograph. Spending much more time on a computer than using the camera does not appeal to me. If others are fine with this, Kool and the Gang, but I became a photographer because I want to use a camera, not to use computer software.

  • fortunato_uno January 22, 2011 11:41 pm

    Geat article James. I can't say you rebuked Pete as much as confirmed his point of the done rights. All art is truly subjective. I have even seen many shots (in genres' I like) that people say they are great shots, yet I think they stink. I have some shot's that I have manipulated, yet it's something I don't often do (I'm sure I'm not alone). So I guess you could say all photography is art, and with that everyones vision of it will differ.
    One last thought, there are many people who see in B&W. They're called color blind (I've known two of them).
    Thanks for the GREAT article.Jamie

  • Akshay Verma January 22, 2011 11:30 pm

    I completely agree with what you have written. I would like to mention that not everyone uses HDR techniques to make pictures what have unrealistic lighting and texture. I have seen HDR images that are actually closer to what the eye sees. So I don't understand why "purists" don't use these techniques.

  • ScottC January 22, 2011 08:15 pm

    PS: Some would, at first glance, consider this to photo to be "HDR" (merged photos), but its one photo post processed in LR3. The "computer renderings" part of the definition?


  • ScottC January 22, 2011 08:10 pm

    I'm not going to debate HDR, that's up to the individual photographer and viewer, but I disagree with your interpretation of the definition provided.

    A key part of the definition: "than current standard digital imaging techniques or photographic methods.” I'd love to see someone try to explain what this means, that would start a debate!

    Wiki goes on to state "The two main sources of HDR imagery are computer renderings and merging of multiple photographs".

    I don't think flash photography, nor aperture and shutter speed control, were intended to be included in wiki's definition of HDR photography.

  • Glenn72 January 22, 2011 07:15 pm

    I agree with the author saying that you should do photos that YOU like,
    I don´t claim to be an expert, and my photos may fall into that "clown puke" range because they are sureal, but in the end I like them.

    Here is my favorite one.

  • DocSkalski January 22, 2011 05:42 pm

    One thing that I think is missing from the debate is an assessment of the human eye and the visual cortex. As a doctor, my interest in photography is trying to reproduce my personal cortical experience in a photograph so that others may experience the world the way I see it. With this in mind, they human brain integrates information over time to create an image, which means that through pupil dilation, selective attention and interaction with an ever changing environment we are able to experience full detail in all exposure ranges before our brain creates an image that we interpret as the environment we are currently experiencing. This means that image-compiling HDR techniques, when properly processed, produce a much more "real" image than even the best photographers can hope to capture with a single exposure. Our cameras unattached from the processing capacity of our computers and the software they run are pathetically incompetent at reproducing what we see every second of every day. Bad HDR is about as poor of a representation of real life as even the best unedited single exposure images when taken in this context. "Purist" photographers are only pure in their ability to be ignorant in their understanding of advances that allow for a more cortically true image.

    Also, to rebuttal a common argument being reiterated above, the ratio of terrible single exposure images to good ones is much worse than terrible HDR's to good ones. If you disagree with that statement, go look at your friends facebook photos. See any HDR's? No, but you probably see around 1,000 terrible photos of whatever they decided was worth taking a snapshot of. Considering this, why can't people look past bad HDR's? There are proportionally many more bad "pure" photos than HDR's, but you don't hear anyone making this slippery slope argument against "un-enhanced" images.

  • Kevin Halliburton January 22, 2011 05:27 pm

    "Clown puke" - That one made me laugh... and it also made me think. Puke gets a strong reaction every time. Comedy uses it as a go-to gag (ba-da-bump) and drama uses it to push every emotional button from sympathy to disgust. The reason HDR, even bad HDR, is so popular is because it creates a strong reaction. There are worse things to accuse an image of that's for sure... boring me for instance.

  • chew January 22, 2011 04:09 pm

    Very nicely explained man. But as canonmaiden mentioned, most of the pictures in the HDR done right link, for me, kind of fall into Peter's post yesterday. Well, its just me. Some of them are really good though. Thanks for this very well thought one. Good explanation. Couldn't agree more.

  • Chris January 22, 2011 03:28 pm

    Fabulous article.

  • Richard Hall January 22, 2011 03:05 pm

    When you look at some of the great masters of painted art such as Constable, Monet, Da Vinci, Renbrandt and Picasso, they are all different in ther own way. It is all art with paint, but different. Just like photography. There is landscape, portrait, macro and many more different styles we dont have to do them all, we dont have to like them all, but each has its place. HDR is just one of the many different styles, love it or loathe it, it wont make any difference, it isnt going to go away in a hurry.

  • Keidub January 22, 2011 01:02 pm

    Like all new things it takes time for people to digest and accept. People who resent the new don't realise the current is just a part of an evolution.

  • Roger Barnes January 22, 2011 12:41 pm

    The debate suffers heavily from semantics. Put simply, HDR and tonemapping are just techniques, and perfectly valid in some situations. I use it frequently when the situation calls for it, but not in the deliberate, fake looking extreme contrast/saturation "twiddle the dials" sense.

    The real problem is the fad where some people with clearly little taste abuse it. They've simply graduated from other valid plugins and techniques that are ripe for abuse.

    In short, HDR is a _technique_, it should not be confused with one particular _style_ of extreme tonemapping that gives it a bad name.

  • Darren Hester January 22, 2011 12:23 pm

    I agree with this statement:
    I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen someone bash HDR that actually has taken the time to learn it or view the work of incredibly talented HDR photographers. In my humble opinion, I think that 99% of people who don’t like HDR are confusing bad HDR with all HDR."

    I really enjoy Trey Ratcliff's HDR work: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/

    In my opinion, his photos are good examples of HDR done right. It's all in the eye of the beholder I suppose.

  • v January 22, 2011 08:58 am

    just did an HDR this morning


    while people are sitting around arguing over what someone else does, i'm selling my photos to a person who doesn't give a crap, they just like my work. :)

    live and let live.

  • Framtonm January 22, 2011 08:39 am

    As I said in the "Why I Don't Like HDR" article:

    Surely, any photographic technique can be viewed as a natural evolution of art from the earliest cave paintings through watercolours, oils, pastels, even crayons. It doesn’t really matter what is used – what is important is that the medium continues to evolve.

  • SO4PY January 22, 2011 08:13 am

    I am new to photography and after reading the other article yesterday I thought I should probably not get involved in HDR. After reading your article it has changed the way I look at all different types of photography techniques. I would love to give it a go in the future.. Will try anything once. Need to get to grips with the aspects before attempting it though. Great aticle.

  • Caroline January 22, 2011 05:50 am

    Also, I wonder if we interpret HDR as looking "fake" or "cartoonish" because we are more accustomed to seeing it in painting, drawing, and illustration (since a painter is usually more inclined to depict a scene the way a human sees it, not the way a camera would). If photography had come before painting, would we be as dismissive of HDR?

  • John A. January 22, 2011 05:46 am

    I think B is spot on.

    Flash fill is not HDR. It's pretty much the opposite approach to the problem of a scene with too much range for the camera. With HDR you effectively extend the range of the camera. With flash fill you alter the scene to fit within the camera's range. It's two different things.

    And I also agree that the area of controversy should be tone mapping, not HDR as a whole, To object to HDR based on bad tone mapping is like saying using a flash is bad because too many people take harshly-lit party snaps.

  • Caroline January 22, 2011 05:39 am

    I was recently thinking along the same lines as your lion example when I was processing some images of the Southern California landscape. I'd underexposed the valleys and foreground elements in order to capture the mountains and stunning clouds behind them, so I lightened them up later using the local adjustment brush in Lightroom. Not surprisingly, the results looked an awful lot like HDR, since the intent is similar. But I do think it produced a stronger image that more closely resembled what I saw in person.

  • Zibri January 22, 2011 05:35 am

    Too bad you should have posted my photo (in the previous article many commented about it as a good HDR example)...

  • Gabriel January 22, 2011 05:20 am

    Great article and very good arguments. I always thought the same! All pictures are in someway fake, and also great photographers use some kind of tricks in their pictures. And who says that photography has the role of representing faithfully reality ??? I think, photography is the expression of our imagination.

  • Lynda January 22, 2011 05:20 am

    HDR's not my favorite thing to look at, but I love the points you make about how we distort reality every time we push the shutter button! Generally, people have a hard time not pushing their own preferences onto others. Because they don't like HDR, they need to convince everyone else not to like it too. It happens this way in politics, religion, love... any aspect of our lives. Of course it will happen in photography too.

  • Andrea KP January 22, 2011 04:25 am

    Thanks for this balanced response to the HDR debate. It was high time that someone pointed out that as soon as you press the shutter on your camera you are creating a distorted image of reality. Photography is all about deciding how to use the various forms of distortion to achieve the greatest impact. Not all methods will succeed all of the time, but each photographer has a unique perspective and so each picture taken will present the world in a different way. We can judge the effectiveness and the impact of each photograph but I don't think we can dismiss any methods as being impure or outright wrong. I taught literature for a number of years and when analyzing a story students would become angry at their low grades. They would make an attempt to apply some literary theory to a piece and do so in a completely ineffective manner that proved they didn't understand the concepts. It wasn't that the theoretical viewpoint was wrong, or that it was wrong to try to apply that particular theory to the story at hand it was just that they did so in a way that didn't work and their argument didn't hold water. Photography is similar--HDR is a method, a theory of photography. It's one way among many to interpret visual information that we attempt to capture through our camera lenses. It's never "wrong" to use it, but it can be used in ways that don't make sense or don't function aesthetically.

    Thanks again for a good rebuttal.

  • John Newton January 22, 2011 04:22 am

    I like seeing meaningful discussions on the subject of photography. HDR definitely seems to generate a rather significant volume of discussion. People seem to be either hate it or love it, and in most cases I think that it is simply mis-understood. Your discussion shows it much the way I use it. There are times that I push it to the clown puke level, but that is done intentionally. Most of the time, I use it to try and produce a better image. Here is a link to some of my more normal images: http://www.fotographixs.com/galleries/pisgah-fall-2010/ At present I don't have any of my exaggerate images on my web site, but I believe that I have several on my Flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/john_newton/)


  • CanonMaiden January 22, 2011 03:59 am

    A Wonderfully written, very persuasive article. You had me until I clicked on your "HDR Done Right" link..... I still say yuck. Yes, yes, HDR is obviously here to stay and no, no I'm not bashing ALL HDR however, as long as I look at a photo and say "HDR" I will say yuck. Yuck, yuck, YUCK!

  • Standa January 22, 2011 03:58 am

    Hi James, just to say big THANKS for your article. This is an excellent response to Peter West Carey's recent article on HDR, which I found ridiculous.

  • Wabra January 22, 2011 03:50 am

    Excellent article, we try to, at least I make pictures by hand, head and heart. And just as postprocessing. And when the hands, head and heart says do HDR it will be good. I will do it.
    Sorry I can not English. This is Google Translate.

  • Rexel January 22, 2011 03:48 am

    Hi James,
    I'm new to photography and just enjoying it as a current hobby. I come across several HDRs at flickr and honestly i don't like it. But then also i found some photos which were HDR-done and were absolutely fantastic. I can't believe at first that it was an output of the HDR process. I agree with you in saying some of these HDRs have become overdone. Some of these photos appear to be an oil on canvas. Then some really sucked.

    After this reading, I come to realize that I should take a look on this and eventually be good at it.

    More power to you!

  • Sue Daigle January 22, 2011 03:43 am

    TJ, yes, I have a degree in art, especially history. I liked your remark about artists understanding different visions of reality (visions, not versions, because that's another topic entirely...!!) I think of a camera as a different kind of "brush".

  • robert January 22, 2011 03:39 am

    Sorry, but I cant agree with your definition that you pulled for HDR. Yes, you can get a well lit photo using strobes but I wouldnt categorize that as HDR photography. What the previous article was harping on was the use of image stacking. This is the current definition of HDR, like it or not and it looks horendous in most instances.

  • Ryan January 22, 2011 03:38 am

    I just sat through the judging process at a photography competition last night, and the judge said something that I thought was interesting.

    "I am judging these images based off of how I feel today. I had eggs this morning. If I would have had pancakes, I might have chosen a different winning image."

    Photography is SO objective. If you dont like something today, you may tomorrow. Certainly dont bash a style of photography.

  • Duluk January 22, 2011 03:33 am

    Thank you for writing that. Well said.

  • Fernando January 22, 2011 03:32 am

    Thanks for this.. and I totaly agree. What could be considered a "Pure" photo? One that comes out of a camera without any post processing? If so, I believe there are even some cameras now that will do some psudo HDR effects in camera by taking 3 brackets and merging them. It's done in the camera.... so is it now acceptable?
    Be it HDR or anything really, pretty much every photo taken now a days gets some sort of post processing. Anything taken in RAW has to be converted to the photographer's liking.
    Yes, Absolutely, people need to learn how to properly expose and compose a shot before hand, but even then HDR or not there is always a bit of post processing usualy required to clean up a shot when working digital.
    I too do not like the fake looking HDRs, but sometimes they can work if you look at it in an artistic sense.
    Some of the best shots out there were total accidents, but they work because of their artistic flavour... Art is a part of photography, and photography is not a perfect and exact record of a time in space, the photographer who shot it also applies his own style to each shot he takes.

  • TJ McDowell January 22, 2011 03:30 am

    Yea, it seems that people would rather argue the how of photography than the what of photography. Jpeg vs raw, canon vs nikon, pc vs mac, hdr vs non-hdr. For some reason, artists understand the different artistic vision in types of photography and style of photography, but when it comes to technology, all bets are off, and there's only one way to do it - the right way. Cracks me up.

  • Sue Daigle January 22, 2011 03:29 am

    What do you get when you put Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Rembrandt, Degas, Van Gogh, Miro and Picasso in the same room? A wonderful variety of artists who use the same medium but with different results. Photography should be seen in the same way: it's what you do with it that counts.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer January 22, 2011 03:28 am

    Outstanding post James, very well stated and articulate with excellent examples. Citing the use of strobist (flash) photography as being a kind of HDR, the way you set it up, was very clever. I also liked how you clearly said HDR does not mean bracketed shooting manipulated to the max in Photomatix, as is most likely the common thought of what HDR is. In my own HDR work I try to keep things dynamic, but still close to realistic:


    When I teach photography lessons to people I also dispel the myth of "straight out of the camera" as before you even shoot you are often doing things that manipulate how a certain scene looks, which is for the better. If a photo just shows me what I can see by standing there at eye-level, that will not be very interesting as a photograph. I too cite Ansel and his techniques since he is the most famous photographer to the general population and thought to be a purist, not that he isn't.

    You have gained a Twitter follower.

  • B January 22, 2011 03:26 am

    Sigh. of course using a flash is not an application of HDR. Providing light to get the scene within the camera's natural dynamic range is very, very clearly not HDR.

    I think you're getting close with this article. What we really need to do is differentiate between the blanket term HDR and more specifically tonemapping. It's really tonemapping and high local contrast that people are generally reacting to when they identify an HDR image. Hell, I merge photos all the time to balance skies and foregrounds, which is technically an application of HDR -- but without HDR software and tonemapping.

    But, in the end, the real problem is that we're having this discussion on this level at all. Okay, so you use HDR, and someone says they don't like HDR. So what. Imagine if you took all of the time and effort spent in defending it and actually went out to shoot something. If the artistic greats had spent this much energy defending their work to critics, they never would have made their art in the first place.

  • Clayton January 22, 2011 03:16 am

    LOVE this article. Why can't we accept HDR as a creative method of portraying real experiences? Think of it as impressionist, even the overdone HDR that has come to epitomize the technique now. I don't think anyone that has tried HDR will tell you that it's an accurate representation of what their eyes saw.

    I look at images of the sunset over the ocean and the ridiculous colors. I know those were pulled out in post production too. Why aren't those ridiculed instead of bought by the millions to hang in bathrooms across the globe? Let's can this HDR argument and accept it as a creative technique. END OF STORY

  • Dana January 22, 2011 03:15 am

    Spot on James! Spot on!.
    It's funny how many photographers here at DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY SCHOOL talk about still using film cameras as a "pure form" of photography. Seems to me they should be over at FILM PHOTOGRAPHY SCHOOL and leave everyone here alone. The Amish still don't drive cars either but I think its cool every time I see one of their horse and buggies. Doesn't mean that's the only way to get around.

  • TDSutter January 22, 2011 03:12 am

    My first camera was an Argus C3 -- the original Sherman Tank of 35mm cameras. I had my first darkroom when I was a freshman in high school (1964). Back then, as I read the pages of Popular Photography, it wasn't long before I learned tricks like burning and dodging -- both are post production processes to improve the dynamic range. Even more interesting was the fact that I was working solely with Black and White.

    Since those days, I have moved on to digital and now, instead of a darkroom, I use Lightroom. And I and millions others continue to manipulate from the RAW to the finished output for the express purpose of improving the dynamic range.

    Three years ago, my wife and I visited UK. I took a series of photographs of Stonehenge just as the sun was setting. I had positioned myself to where Stonehenge was between me and the sunset. The western sky was perfect with very high clouds. When I exposed for the sunset, the stones were too dark to see any detail. When I exposed for the stones, the sky was totally blown out. However, merging and tone mapping in Photomatix revealed a photograph most near what I saw that day.

    Even if somebody overuses HDR for artistic purposes... sooooo what? As I wrote yesterday, you like abstract art; I don't. I like dry wine and extra sharp cheese and you don't. What right do I have to criticize your taste in wine and cheese. Again, you say toe-may-toe. I say toe-mot-oh. SO WHAT!?

  • margaret January 22, 2011 03:08 am

    In the definition of HDR above, wouldn't any dodging and burning done in the past (especially by Ansel Adams) be manipulating the photo to get a greater dynamic range? Just different tools used for the same result.

  • GariRae January 22, 2011 03:03 am

    What a superb article with wonderful examples of "pure" HDR. Several of my photo friends are just starting their "clown puke" HDR phase. Thanks for providing such an appropriate descriptor.

  • Dave January 22, 2011 02:49 am

    Excellent rebuttal to yesterdays article. This was very well thought out and put forth in a mature fashion. I like to do HDR myself, but there is a time and a place for it. Just like there is a time and a place for slow shutter speed or any number of techniques and styles. Looking back, there was a time when I made some horrendous HDR pics, but this is all part of the learning process. I challenge any photographer to look back at their first shots without cringing.

    I'd like to share a quote from Ansel Adams that I hope will be a nice reminder for some of you: "You don't take a photograph, you make it."

  • Gregg Diamant January 22, 2011 02:44 am

    I can see both of your guys viewpoints on the subject. I have seen way too many examples of good HDR to say that I don't like it it is more of I don't enjoy seeing the 70's style technicolor rainbow that some people feel is artistic expression. If I want to see neon I would go to a nightclub. That being said there are many examples of HDR that I do like. Photography is really about expression and doing what is needed to express someone's opinion. What makes conveying a place to a viewer so difficult is that they are only able to see a two-demensional box of what was captured while the photographer was able to take in the sounds and the scents of the place. It is difficult to get an accurate representation of the magic of a place by simply pressing a button and snapping a photo. Sometimes it requires some post processing in order to convey what the photographer was sensing at the time. All in all, I enjoy HDR because it provides a way to express something that cant always be expressed in one exposure. Once people accept the fact that it all of photography is an art and it is more about expression than directly showing what comes off of the camera they will start to get an appreciation for the form of photography and may start to accept it.

  • German January 22, 2011 02:41 am

    Great article!!! I can´t believe that someone could put something so clear in such a way that no "crazy hdr hater" can disagree. Thank you...

  • Neil January 22, 2011 02:31 am

    I agree , its all about taste. In my opinion HDR is just as "fake" as any other Photoshop tool that everyone uses.

    these are two of my favorite HDR pics, one from Costa Rica and one from Rome



    if this turns into a double post I apologize, I’m having some trouble with my computer

  • Kendall January 22, 2011 02:23 am

    I too believe that HDR photography is an emerging art form. Just like how Rock and Roll was first coming out, not everyone liked it, but a few did. I believe that HDR photography (with the invention of digital cameras) makes doing such art possible. So give it time and there will be more acceptance.

    And just like bad examples of HDR, there are also bad examples of Rock and Roll, but that is my personal taste talking there. Who knows maybe there will be a Heavy Metal HDR genre of photographs.

  • tmt January 22, 2011 02:22 am

    What do you call "high"? If you state low dynamic range to 8bits per channel (as default jpeg, bmp, and so on), then 12-14bit per channel RAW files in every dslr cameras are high dynamic range. At least higher. The main problem is, that a device displaying the image (monitor, printer, etc.), has lower dynamic output range than what you can store in an image file. This is true for any 16bit per channel or 32bit per channel images.

    So, you have to map the available (input) dynamic range to the dynamic range of the output. And this is called tonemapping. So HDR is only addresses the amount of stored dynamic range, not the displayed, or displayable range. Via tonemapping you get only a LDR image, with a perceptionally higher dynamic range. If someone will create a display device with a lot more dynamic range output, you'll don't have to tonemap your images. :)

  • Paul Howard January 22, 2011 02:14 am

    Excellent, excellent article! Absolutely true - "to each his own". I've done them, I like them, and some I don't. But I'm sure someone does. Heck, I find that true of my non-HDR photos!!

  • Chris January 22, 2011 02:13 am

    And just because the technical definition of HDR doesn't exlude flash photography that doesn't mean that flash photography falls into the same realm of the image-merging that EVERYBODY calls HDR photography.

  • William January 22, 2011 02:12 am

    I believe there has always been some type of photo manipulation. I've seen photos taken on film where there were 10-12 exposures on the same sheet of film. "Light Painting" was done with real lights and the 'photo' could take several hours to complete. The end result was some thing that wouldn't normally be seen in a single shot photo. I view HDR as a tool. 10-12 exposures on film or separate files ends up as someone's vision. It can be good or bad and that judgment is subject to each individual's taste.
    My philosophy about photography is; "The worst photo ever is the one that wasn't taken."
    So I'm of the opinion is it to me a good picture, yes or no? It doesn't matter to me if it is an HDR photo or not.

  • Chris January 22, 2011 02:11 am

    Oh now that I actually read a little more it looks like you did.

  • Chris January 22, 2011 02:10 am

    Regarding the toy and the girl: you could pull off the same shots (with better, more pleasing shadows even) with a single off-camera strobe.

  • summerbl4ck January 22, 2011 02:09 am

    What you said was spot-on that you need to master the technique to do it well. Unfortunately I think too many examples of bad HDR are spoiling it for the rest. I'm sure there are those who have "mastered" painting on velvet, but too many sad clowns and Elvises (Elvi?) have spoiled it for all.

  • jin January 22, 2011 01:58 am

    You cannot say you hate photography because there are so many bad photographs, you cannot say you hate all HDR because there are bad ones. Also, there are many, many more "bad" photographers who just fell in love with camera and just began to learn lighting and exposure than "good" photographers who mastered their skills, and you cannot say they should stop taking photos because they take bad ones. Anyone who likes HDR should keep taking HDR and perhaps show them to others and continue improving how they do it.

    Very well written article, thank you.

  • Leah January 22, 2011 01:55 am

    I liked your article, both today as well as yesterday. In fact, the HDR debate has been going on between me and a friend of mine for quite some time, so I had to share it with her. We both laughed over the comments (as we've said many of them ourselves). I love when people debate styles of photography. Anything that gets people interested and excited about photography is wonderful in my book. I even commented yesterday, which I hardly ever do. Now, could you do me a favor? Help me settle a debate with my friend once again. Could you write an article about how making pouty faces and giving the peace sign does NOT make a great self portrait? I'm pretty sure I'll win that one hands down, haha!

  • Paul January 22, 2011 01:45 am

    I've always been on the fence when it comes to HDR imagery, tipping slowly away from it - easy to see why as there's so many examples of it done badly. I really enjoyed your no-nonsense approach, bringing the subject back to basics. Your Gateway Arch is a fantastic example of how HDR should be viewed as a scientific approach to overcoming hardware shortcomings, rather than just a genre of art as many others do. I've not seen any mono HDR examples before. It's stunningly refreshing.

  • Katie January 22, 2011 01:41 am

    Very well said!

  • vanessa January 22, 2011 01:37 am

    I dont feel confident enough as a photographer to actually try HDR, but whenever I really, really love something it turns out to be an HDR image. But I enjoy surrealism, and many HDR images have a surrealistic quality that makes them very appealing to me...I think it is just a matter of personal taste. Photography is after all an art form, and art doesn't strive to give a realistic view of life, it is a personal interpretation....

  • Valerie Jardin January 22, 2011 01:30 am

    Great article James, you're very brave! As Scott Bourne recently said if you want hate mail just mention the words iPad or HDR!
    People also often confuse HDR with exposure fusion which I use often in my interior photography work. What a time saver and you get great results. I also experiment with HDR on my days off and there are places for it, same as using a special effect lens, it's something you do as a project or for specific subjects. I love HDR when photographing old rusty trucks for example or cool brick buildings. It's great in B&W too (btw I really like the arch photo).

  • Orrin Bebbington January 22, 2011 01:17 am

    Great article! In my opinion, HDR is useful in certain styles, it can be used anywhere but, it will produce poor results. I've seen treatments which I've instantly fallen in love with, and treatments which I've instantly hated. I'm on the fence with it really, also, it's something I've never delved too far into. I'm sure I will at some point.

  • Angel January 22, 2011 01:14 am

    Thank you for your article. It has be come very clear to me that when I say I dont like HDR, I should be clarifying my definations...I dont like bad HDR...lol
    You have made some valuable points to think about.
    Thank you for writing this.

  • Allison Hewlett January 22, 2011 01:10 am

    Thanks, James, for this article. We all have to stand behind what we do, and do it because it is something we love, in spite of the "nay-sayers", in every aspect of our lives.

  • Mei Teng January 22, 2011 12:55 am

    In my humble opinion, photography is really subjective. What works for one person, may not necessarily work for someone else. HDR or not, it's really up to personal taste.

  • Speedy January 22, 2011 12:34 am

    Hey James, nice article, now please go make an HDR picture of Peter West Carey and make it look like a clown puked on him. hihihi