Knowing My Limits – Why I Don't Do HDR

Knowing My Limits – Why I Don’t Do HDR

I’m going to go out on a limb and state, for the record, I don’t like the overuse of HDR that is touted as examples of good HDR these days. I am not some fundamentalist, purist curmudgeon who despises progress and still does his art with firewood charcoal on a cave wall. I love digital photography. And its limits. Yes, I love the limits.

The limits of digital photography, currently, keep the images captured within the realm of realistic, lifelike photos. Photography, from its roots, has always been an attempt at capturing reality as seen through the eyes of the person behind the camera. That has certainly changed over the years as people experiment with new techniques and ideas. Experimenting and expanding is good and this is where some of you may find space to call me a hypocrite.

But before you do, hear me out and then I’d actually enjoy hearing your sane, civil, reasoned rebuttal in the comments section below.

HDR, when overused, is a grotesque abomination of the reality of life. I’m thinking here of cityscapes looking directly into the sun. Those types of scenes when the human brain looks at the HDR image and screams, “Fake!”. I’m not using any examples in this post so as to not focus on any one particular images. Rather, for me, the annoyance comes from attempting to create something that doesn’t exist.

Is it art, if not an accurate representation of what is? I doubt it. Most of the HDR I have seen passed around the internet as “amazing” is not attempting art. It is taking a literal scene that you enjoy and attempting to skirt around the reality of it; that it’s too harshly lit, that it has huge shadows or that the contrast is making things not so pretty. It’s taking an attempt at reality and turning it into a lie.

Maybe I am an old curmudgeon after all. To me, HDR is trying to improve on the beauty of life as experienced through the human eye and brain. It’s saying, “Oh, you can’t see the highlight and the shadows at the same time? Here, let me change that.” I know, things like this have been happening for centuries. Things like polarized sunglasses which surely alter our perception of the world. Or even rose colored glasses. All of them do, so why shouldn’t HDR?

Because there is so much more to learn and improve in the realm of photography that HDR need not even apply. It bugs me that, when I look at the full gallery of someone with an HDR shot, on Flickr for instance, people getting into it still don’t have the fundamental basics down to the point where they can produce solid photos time and time again. I see it used more as a gimmick than an honest extension of one’s artistic vision. Yes, there are some photographers, much accomplished in the field, who experiment with HDR. But the majority of people trying out HDR, and taking it too far, are people who should be experimenting with shutter speed and depth of field first!

It’s not that HDR is totally evil (just mostly) and should be done away with. I know it’s a bit of a craze and newfangled thing right now. Just stop taking it too far and stop using it in place of proper exposure and accepting the limits of the scene in front of you. There is so much great stuff to learn about proper exposure that the HDR gadget can just sit at the back of the drawer like the outgrown toy it has become.

Care to differ? Please do! Just keep it civil.

Update: for another perspective on this debate – check out Why I DO HDR – A Fresh Take on a Tired Debate.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Talbert McMullin December 11, 2012 02:19 pm

    You make some valid points. I'm a purist at heart, though I do shoot some digital, I still shoot 4x5. I cannot help but suspect that HDR is an attempt to gain what we lost when Kodachrome 25 was discontinued. HDR has its place, but I see it so overused so often.

    I started with film. I will always use film.

  • kent durk December 4, 2012 02:13 am

    If your an artist and use acrylics, only paint realism.
    If your a photographer and have a camera. use it only for realism.
    If your a Lemming, do only what the haters tell you to do

    Since when is realism become such a treat!?

  • Gonzalo September 26, 2012 08:08 am

    Look at the work of some of the HDR masters - not sure if there is a concept of composition, contrast, light or anything. It is beautiful on a computer monitor but it seems to be a game of going to great places and shooting whatever in whatever way (no message conveyed in the photo) and then.....super-HDR the shots to an unrealistically beautiful picture that will be sold in "limited edition" for high no wanna

  • Doug September 24, 2012 02:46 pm

    I'm more or less in agreement,....mostly more. I just recently got back into photography and didn't even realize that HDR photographs had really taken off while I was away from it all. But back before I knew nothing of HDR or even the term "HDR", i would see these photos and couldn't quite put my finger on why they didn't look real but they just didn't. Very impressive photographs YES and I was quite often blown away by them but still I knew they were heavily doctored or something. This extreme craze over it all with photographers and viewers will probably die down quite a bit much like the overproccessed sound of the 80's music did. I'm going to learn how to do HDR to use as a tool when its really needed but then again by the time I get really good at it everyone will be totally bored with it and will be back to taking really cool normal photographs, might as well keep hammering away with capturing those boring rock stars doing their thing at concerts,....and my other love,.....boring macro photography ;)

  • Kris Kros May 29, 2012 08:37 am

    Here are two of my HDRs.

    [eimg url='' title='7285775164_068de8e0e4.jpg']

    [eimg url='' title='7283930606_dd51478259.jpg']

    HDR is an expression of art for me. I do real and unreal HDRs.

    Kris Kros

  • Kris Kros May 29, 2012 08:34 am

    I love HDRs. Here are two of my latest HDR offerings.

    [eimg link='' title='golden gate bridge turns 75' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='fighting side by side' url='']

  • Ed January 2, 2012 02:47 am

    I am new to Photography and this is my amateur thought on this: Photoshop and other post processing software are artistic tools. Much like musicians have electronic based tools that can distort the sounds of instrumentation and voice, allowing them to create unique effects, post processing Photo tools do the same for Photographers. Like music, these effects can go over the top and when they do the "Art" is not considered to be very good. I love listening to music in it's purist form, a symphony where the musicians produce music without the aide of electronics, the talent is easily observed. At the same time, I enjoy listening to music produced by musicians that use sounds produced from the instrumentation but altered with the help of electronics. I do not necessarily consider the later as less talented, although in some cases I think the use of these tools allows less talented musicians to succeed, but then that's more their artistic ability than musical ability that helps them be successful; I think the same applies to photographers. Art , as I see it, is an interpretation, whether the Artist wants to depict something as realistic as possible, or if the artist wants to depict something distorted from reality, it's still Art. I love to see the creative works of people, sometimes I don't like the interpretation, sometimes I do, but I'd hate to not see it at all.

  • Joy December 31, 2011 09:39 am

    GREAT thoughts! I actually hadn't ever thought of it this way even though I knew it was sort of a fad right now. Thanks for the insight.

  • Boyet December 30, 2011 07:17 pm

    Most photographers are flexible. HDR being just a tool to use when needed. It doesn't do any justice to phothographic technique when HDR is dismissed as grotesque; and a distortion of reality. Actually I could say the same for mono/b/w photography. Shooting in this format is unreal, because the reality is colour. I avoid B/W. It's unreal. Except for some die hard B/W shooters who might disagree.

  • Barry Jackson December 30, 2011 04:17 pm

    HDR is one of the tools I have in my toolbox. It is one of the colors I have in my palette. It is one of the notes I have in my scale. Etc. etc. ....

    I liked HDR from the first moment I saw it. Sure I have seen images that were overdone from my point of view as I am sure some may see a lot of mine as being overdone. That is our right as artists and viewers. I have always taught that with art we get to form our own opinion. Critics and educators can agree and disagree but it is all opinion.

    You can't measure art. You can talk about it and express your own or others' opinions but it is all subjective. You can measure the proficiency of craft but not the expression of art.

    What I like about HDR is it is strictly a photographic technique. When I first started playing with photoshop I enjoyed all the filter effects including the watercolor filter. I liked combining the watercolor filter and restoring areas with the history brush to a natural look. The only problem I had was I felt I was imitating another art form. Sure it was digital and a new "tool" but it did not seem quite "pure". I still use it if I want but not as much as I did at first.

    In thirty years of darkroom work I enjoyed trying out countless special effects. HDR reminds me of using those special effects.

    Then I saw HDR. It is not imitating anything. It is a new tool. You don't have to use it. You don't have to like it.

    It even made me buy my first digital camera because I thought I had to capture the different exposures to process the image. Now I know I can make an HDR from one negative scan by generating different curves to duplicate files.

    The only thing that bothers me when someone criticizes HDR is when they think that somehow makes them a better photographer or that they better understand photography or art because they feel that way.

    It doesn't make you better, just different.

  • Rich Herrmann December 30, 2011 11:53 am

    You make some excellent points on why HDR can be a bad thing to use. There really is a lot of terrible stuff out there when it comes to that. However, after reading Trey Ratcliff's tutorial and book on HDR, it totally changed my viewpoint and opened up new avenues of expression. HDR can be an effective tool for a photographer especially during those weird shots where the light isn't quite perfect or has too much contrast.

    My goal for using HDR is to represent the scene as closely as possible to what my eyes and brain remembered. In some cases it turns out great, and as you say, other times it's inconsistent. Regardless, if HDR is used as another tool in our camera bag, perhaps there will be those extra special shots that can be captured that otherwise would be snapshots if we would open our minds and accept HDR for what it is...another technique to photography.

  • Claudio Graziani - Brazil December 30, 2011 08:36 am

    WONDERFUL!! At a time when everyone just like crying our eyes, a view of courage in this article. I've seen beautiful uses of HDR, where the effect is not perceived "300 - the film" which uses the technique to increase the tonal range of the image. These pictures bring us lots of information, usually landscapes. But, of course are made by photographers who know very, very well what is depth of field and shutter speed!

  • Kenneth Breaux December 30, 2011 03:53 am

    I agree. Much of what I see in HDR is just too "amped up" to seem realistic. I have seen some images that are well done and not so extreme, but they are few. Recently we visited a New Orleans gallery and I believe that the photographers imaged captured the use of HDR in a reasonble manner. Wish I could remember the name...

  • Mike Sperlak December 30, 2011 03:12 am

    I say do whatever you want, you don't need someone telling what is and what isn't art. You want to experiment with HDR? Overcook your images to the point where they are unrecognizable, then you learn from it. Push and break limits.

  • Neville B December 29, 2011 12:13 pm

    HDR simply lowers contrast and that's it. it is better to take pictures at the right time and accept the contrast that comes with it. in any case there are ways to increase or decrease contrast without having to take two pictures and combine them to get HDR. too much trouble. be at the right place, at the right time. that's the answer. leave HDR alone. contrast makes pictures, so why destroy it. use your histogram to get it all right.

  • Leroy December 29, 2011 04:02 am

    So if the photographer knows the basics, overdone tonemapping is okay?

    "Thanks to a commenter a few above this for helping explain my core concept that got lost on a number of you thinking this was just another HDR rant (it’s not). “The analogy is faulty. Picasso was technically brilliant. Ansel Adams in his Darkroom work was technically brilliant. There may be technically brilliant HDR constructors out there.”"

    I think you need to pick a rant, Peter. Either you don't like the photographs of those photographers less proficient in technique or you don't like overdone tonemapping. Or are you really saying that overdone tonemapping is okay if the subject is artfully framed and the subject is interesting (especially if the photographer has proven to you by his/her art that he/she knows technique)?

    How about vignetting? If I use a strong vignette on my photographs, say 4 stops, do you not like that either? What if I'm technically challenged (my use of 'technical' here includes shutter/aperture/ISO/etc. as well as composition/subject/etc.)? What if I'm technically proficient?

    How about adding texture? If I routinely add a couple or three strong textures to my photos, do you like that? Does it make a difference whether or not I'm technically proficient?

    What if my technique is appalling but by luck or happenstance I managed to knock it out of the park with one of my images - the composition was just right, the subject was very interesting and the exposure and mood were just right. Do you not like the image because I don't know what I'm doing?

    Now same image, same photographer and add in the strong vignette, strong textures and/or strong tonemapping? If you don't like it now, why don't you? Is it the vignette or my lack of knowledge?

    I don't want to put words in you mouth but I think your complaint is that some photographers venture into these other techniques before having a solid foundation. Or is it only tonemapping they shouldn't venture into?

    Venturing into other areas as you learn seems like as good a learning method as any to me.

  • Mike Blanchette December 29, 2011 03:07 am

    Amen! Finally, somebody who has the guts to put down this nasty fad. The sad thing is that many contests are won by these exaggerated, clown-like photos of natural subjects. Yuk, that's all I have to say. HDR has made us lose our sense of reality. I know of several high-profile photographers who have been downgraded in the minds of many because they tinker with HDR to the point of generating trash. When I encounter a high-dynamic range scene, I exposure for foreground, middleground and background, and manually blend the frames for a natural look. Thanks for the "tough love" article.

  • Alastair Westgarth October 1, 2011 07:26 am

    Are you kidding me. It is a technique and sometimes it is awesome and sometimes the picture is bad for multiple reasons and perhaps too much HDR processing. The fact is our eyes see more dynamic range than the camera so using HDR to add that view is often (not always) very useful. Saying it is a new technique is also wrong. A Adams used his zone technique to increase the dynamic range of his prints but layering and dodged and burned during the developing process. Not everything is for everyone period and not one technique suits all situations, but photography beyond photo journalism is interpretation and so has no "right" approach and is clearly as much art as science if not more so.

    Also one of the things I love about RAW is you can go back and re-process for any reason - I want a none HDR, a B&W anything goes.

  • John T Sanderson September 19, 2011 12:34 am

    II feel a certian cartoonish look overtakes HDR Photography. It could be useful but most people cant resist going further than they should from reality to dreamscape. I dont do it, most likely will never do it.

  • Gonzalo June 4, 2011 11:59 am

    I enjoy pseudo-HDR also: to shoot in RAW with low ISO (to minimize noise) and then use the program (e.g. Photomatix) to increase the dynamic range. I do this when brackets are not possible....mainly with moving subjects. Doing this I can bring about the things I was seeing that the camera would not ever produce in the final image. In other words, the camera DID see those things but.....the camera interprets (handles) the whole frame in one piece and gives us this image where things are missing or clipped or degraded in a high contrast scene. Our final camera (the eye) doesn't do that. You can see the light bulbs and at the same time see the color of the blades of that ceiling fan.....One more time: no camera (and therefore no photographer) will bring about both (or several) highly contrasting elements of a composition to a good picture. Very often you DO NOT want to do that, you want to keep the limitations of the camera's range in light and contrast to create the final artistic touch (particularly true for B&W) BUT AT OTHER TIMES you especifically will want a broader dynamic range and that is when HDR comes into play.
    HDR by the way is not a "new" technique. Actually it is very, very old, they just could not do it with film as easy as you can now with digital !!

  • Gary May 21, 2011 03:37 am

    I have seen little comment about the interpretive qualities of the Brain in seeing. It might be doing a little HDR just to make things out, making HDR a more natural process than "Photography" in any form. I hear a lot of discussion about the Phisiology of the Eye and the natural properties of Photography. Photography has its limits to and so do any media you use, film, digital or paper.
    I view the process as art, as a lot of interpretation and judgement goes into it. Just like a good drawing or painting, which are considered forms of Art.

  • Gary Duerr May 21, 2011 03:15 am

    What people don't realize is that the brain does various adjustments during "seeing" an image, & that it might be doing some "HDR" on its own. Everyone is talking about the physiology of the eye when I haven't seen any mention of the interpretive effect of the Brain.
    It is just a matter of interpretation & as I mentioned before, I consider it an art derived from Photography as some manual interpretation is involved, not a form of Photography itself.

  • Gary Duerr May 21, 2011 03:14 am

    What people don't realize is that the brain does various adjustments during "seeing" an image, & that it might be doing some "HDR" on its own. Everyone is talking about the physiology of the eye when I haven't seen any mention of the interpretive effect of the Brain.
    It is just a matter of interpretation & as I mentioned before, I consider it an art derived from Photography as some manual interpretation is involved, not a form of Photography itself.

  • Gonzalo May 20, 2011 12:19 pm

    Well, I think the concept and intention behind HDR imaging was to mimick as much as possible the physiology of the human eye and brain than anything else. No camera and no photographer will capture what the eye did at the scene. However, it has fallen in the hands of everybody and then you could even compare it to drinking alcohol. Do too much of it and you are prone for disaster.
    The reply to this may be the same as the argument: the objective of a photographer is to express his art / vision/ style through the use of different lenses, appertures, speeds, filters, etc, etc and thus HDR should not exist at all but that would be a denial and blocking progress in photography.
    If what I have said is understood and accepted then it follows that HDR is not any different. It is as much art as a filter. The camera will capture a wider degree of the range (HDR) through the bracketted pictures and then the program (Photomatix vs other) in conjunction with the operator (the photographer or somone else) will create the final artistic image (photograph).....or the final disaster.
    Some will use it with the intention of bringing back the reality that the camera could not capture with one shot (no camera can) and some will create the absurd extreme tone-mapping that leads to the expression "fake" as explained by Peter West Carey.
    I therefore agree with Peter: HDR brings a new advancement tool in photography but just beware: this tool can also be used to create surrealistic disasters that some people find "amazing". However, I still think it is OK to pitch a little art with some exageration of tone and contrast here and there with much is too much?? It's up to you, it is in your hands to bring about an outstanding picture or.......else.

  • Katherine May 20, 2011 07:53 am

    Well, guess you pushed the right/wrong button in many people! I am a newbie so I usually sit in the corner and keep my mouth shut but let me give you a short story. When I first began I used digital. It was cheap and easy. Actually, a couple of times by sheer luck I took a kinda cool picture. If I showed it at camera club or whatever, often the distainful remarks were' "you use digital"? Well, it isn't real photography unless it is film. Really....just not fine art. sniff sniff.' I think there will always be groups who like their own way better but I am not sure we can call it "not art". Just not "our art". Obviously many wonderful photographers have taken their way with their art. Good for them. They just push us to spend time defining ours. Was a great debate, that's for sure.

  • Kiwi April 29, 2011 08:06 am

    I agree but disagree. HDR can be used, in my opinion, but it shouldn't be over exaggerated. I hate those photographs when everything is so bright and impossibly unrealistic that you go into this fake sense of awe. But HDR, in my opinion, is fine if used as an editing device or effect.

  • stephen March 2, 2011 09:50 am

    i say the value of any tool or technique is in the eye of the beholder. If they like the look of your HDR; awesome... same as if you took a BW or Color (raw or JPG) or wide angle or telephoto... and what about when you removed that dust particle or that cigarette butt from your image. it's all good. next topic please :)

  • Grizzly March 2, 2011 12:48 am

    What is a "purist"? Is it the past Kodachrome? or Kodacolor, or Fuji Velvia pure? Is pure a "Glossy" photograph or a photograph printed on matte paper? Is it the image processed by a digital camera using the camera's processing engine throwing out pixels (JPEG) or is it a "RAW" image? Is a pure image printed with "ink" or chemically processed paper? How do we define a "pure" image? How do we define art? What is the "eye of the beholder"? We have read countless opinions, some caustic, some thoughtful, but nothing objective. Is "photoshopping" legitimate? If we remove power lines from a landscape does that make it "un pure"? Do we "take" a photograph or do we "make" a photograph? How about "wide-angle" to compressing space using a "telephoto"? What is a "normal" lens in this digital age?

    IMO HDR is simply another "tool" in the photographers gadget bag, like a polarizer or filter. Perhaps this could be carried to an extreme and go down to the multi-coating on your lens as it too, can change the color.

    When you praise and/or criticize a process, please put it in context.

  • pax March 1, 2011 10:30 pm

    well Loren i bet you got a great amount of pleasure out of that picture. I enjoy it and go back time and again .
    Now thats a Great Photographer

  • Trep Ford March 1, 2011 08:12 am

    Peter makes it clear in this article that he's not crazy about HDR and why. I'm cool with that, so long as Peter doesn't start breaking into people's portfolios and trashing their HDR stuff. :) I know Peter wouldn't do that. When it comes to photography, Peter is something of a purist (to what degree, I'm not sure).

    What is a purist? What is the purpose of being a purist? To me, purists seem to be folks who think that there are right ways and wrong ways to do things, even when we're talking about are subjective things like creativity.

    I'm not a purist. Like Lauren above, I'm much more interested in the end result and how satisfying it is for the creator and for the intended audience. But it doesn't seem to matter whether the topic is charcoals, oil painting, photography or making borscht (which my Russian wife tells me is an "incorrect" spelling mandated by a biased dictionary :) ... the word has no "t" sound in Russian), if there's more than one way to do something, there will be those who believe that among those ways are "correct" ways and "incorrect" ways. Well, if it makes you happy to think like that, I'm certainly not going to stop you. But don't be too surprised when the rest of the world doesn't stop what they're doing to climb on the band wagon.

    I do understand the feelings of skilled artisans who see someone who has little skill pretending to be something they're not by burying unpracticed work under a lot of special effects. I get that that's annoying. Any kind of pretense tends to be. I also understand that what is deeply moving art to one can be hamster cage lining to another and that there is no objective means by which one can assign any given work to one pile or the other. Beauty, power, and all the rest ... they exist only in the eye of the beholder. It's subjective, no matter how loudly we may promote our personal point of view.

    This is muddy water we walk through, and it gets muddier when we pretend that there's only one way to do, look at or feel about any form of creative work. Rather than trying to define the "right" way to do photography or anything else, I think there are a few guiding principles here that might help settle the dust some:

    1) If you're really skilled at something, your work will show it.
    2) If you're not really skilled at something, that's OK, but don't pretend that you ARE skilled if you're not. You're not fooling anyone who really knows what they're doing.
    3) When balancing technical skill and self expression, there are trade offs. Expressing oneself through art does not require that you be highly skilled in technique. Skill can help with self expression (or hurt), but self expression can clearly also be done effectively through very primitive means. The trick isn't so much to be skilled or unskilled as to be honest about your level of skill. We love kid's art, not because it's so technically skillful, but because it's so emotionally pure, and kids don't pretend to be masters when they're not. Personally, I find more skill gives me more creative options ... but, from a purely self expressive point of view, technical skill also tends to limit us by burdening our freedom with technical "rules". Like I said, it's a balancing act.
    4) Similarly, great skill with technique does not translate directly to deeply moving work. I've seen plenty of technically amazing work that didn't move me a jot. If you're a technical wizard but your stuff doesn't tend to grab people, it's not a lack of technical skill that holds you back, it's the lack of personal connection between your inner self and the images you're creating.
    5) YOU, the artist, get to choose what mix of technical skill, optimal process and personal self expression you wish to use in creating each of your works. That's ALWAYS up to you. No one can tell you you're wrong. But ...
    6) Your audience always gets to decide whether or not they love your stuff. That's ALWAYS up to them.

  • DougG February 27, 2011 05:57 am

    I tend to agree though I think it's a cool technique. I don't think you go far enough though. I picked up what I thought was a recent photography magazine, when low and behold it must have been a computer mag with the wrong cover stapled on it. There was more about the new version of Lightroom and PhotoShop then there was about cameras. You know those things you actually take pictures with. It's like going to watch the fights and a hockey game breaks out.
    I know photography instructors who will not allow their students to work with digital. Kind of like learning to drive in a standard shift car. Digital art is a valid medium, but then please don't call it photography.

  • Anthony February 25, 2011 03:52 pm

    HDR is a median between cameras we know today, and cameras we know tomorrow. Many of todays cameras aren't capable of capturing the details in highlight and shadow like the eye does. That five...maybe ten years when cameras can capture this detail...good pictures will still come down to the two most important aspects: light and composition. HDR may be the median for now, but it should not be used to make bad photography look a little cooler. Kudos to those who use it well, pity for those who are lost in the fish tank of bad photography cover up. Remember folks....learn to take great pictures before you use tools like these...after can polish a turd....but it remains just that...a turd.

  • john lewis February 23, 2011 10:43 pm

    "HDR" is just a point on a very long continuum. To condemn it in isolation comes off as tomfoolery.

    What disturbs the haters is not that HDR does not look real but rather does not look like a traditional photo.

    How one can proclaim reality as the only valid form while producing black-and-white photos with blurred motion and shallow depth of field is beyond me.

  • Martin February 22, 2011 04:27 pm

    HDR.... not stand the test of time??? Give me a breather. HDR is almost as old as imaging itself. Just as in standard photography, some can do it; most cannot.

  • hoser February 22, 2011 04:15 pm

    I think that HDR is a useful tool, but it shouldn't define one's style. I do think that it can be art when one is experienced with HDR, its strengths and weaknesses and can look at scenes with the HDR feature in mind and make the most of it. In addition, the purpose of HDR is to improve the dynamic range of the inherently limited digital sensors to the level of the human eye so we can capture what we actually see.

  • Gaz Merseyside February 22, 2011 12:03 pm

    See link for my argument

    case close dwith any luck!

  • Loren February 20, 2011 10:51 am

    [eimg url='' title='ensoul-josephloren-4-21.jpg']

    When will people stop talking about processes and start talking about objective visual criteria? I couldn't care less how an image is made as long as it communicates the intended information to the intended audience.

  • pbelarge February 20, 2011 04:11 am

    I have not read all of the responses, I just want to participate by adding my own thoughts.

    Photography has changed so much since the "old days" (which could be yesterday for some), that saying anything derogatory towards another person's photography is just not correct in today's world. If one does not like how a person interpruts his/her image, then just move on and let it be, life is just to short. Everyone sees something different.
    I love a lot of different types of photography, but not all. I was taught by my parents, "if you have nothing good to say, don't say anything."

  • stephen February 18, 2011 01:56 pm

    so much angst about HDR... why no angst about Photoshop/lightroom in general.

    "Do what you like and quit if you don’t like what you do. If you don’t like what others do, quit looking. If you are really smart, you will look at everything and do what you like!"

    said well.. now let's move on .....

  • Keith Anderson February 18, 2011 01:51 pm

    First the fad was HDR. Now the fad is bitching that HDR doesn't look real. Who knows what the next fad will be... Get over it.

    Do what you like and quit if you don't like what you do. If you don't like what others do, quit looking. If you are really smart, you will look at everything and do what you like!


  • Myles Erwin February 18, 2011 10:07 am

    Another interesting topic. I actually just took an HDR workshop this past weekend. However, what has become known as the HDR look has given the actual process of HDR a bad name. In fact it is the shortcomings of software that has created the "HDR look". In this workshop we used a new software package called HDR Express and HDR Expose by Unified Color. It does a fantastic job of keeping the image very realistic. So much so that you can actually appreciate the true use of High Dynamic Range photography. Where it really sings is at night. I took a shot of a brightly lit storefront. Through the HDR technique I blended exposures that allowed for detail from the front door all the way to the back of the inside of the store. You couldn't do that before HDR. No matter how skilled you are.

  • Georg Pauwen February 18, 2011 07:28 am

    I am taking 360 degree panoramas of just normal street scenery, like this one:

    Without any processing, they look really boring, and nobody would bother looking. With HDR, they turn into something surreal, and people are watching. I can turn any street corner, any gas station, into something magical. To me, the only thing that counts is: does it grab the attention of the audience ? If it does, I have accomplished something.

  • Michael February 18, 2011 06:53 am

    If they do stand the test of time it will be for some outstanding quality in addition to HDR. By the way I think the term HDR has been hijacked. High dynamic range is a good thing. It allows you to do what photographers used to do with zone system exposure and processing. When you push the detail slider into surreal range there should be a different name for it.

  • jon February 18, 2011 06:32 am

    HDR will eventually fall into the realms of solarization, cross process etc.
    I don`t think any HDR pictures will stand the test of time, if they do it will be so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable. This full on HDR is a fad.

  • Leeroy Colon February 17, 2011 10:41 am

    Im also not a big fan of HDR, but to state its not art is a bold statement. When it comes to art, it comes in different forms, and in the end its up to perception.

  • pax February 16, 2011 02:48 am

    HDR is the nuclease of photography / one uses flash' bounce lite ' filters(to slow something down) Etc....... this in its self is HDR
    the sensor see a max 250 shades .The eye ?................Why not drop the unimportant shades and fill it with what lends its self. to the ambiance. Pulling that dark mouse out of a dark hole' at the same time enhancing the flair coming from the candle lite. I don't think many people understand HDR People who want to use the camera programs that were made for them and take the credit'
    should just as well get the praise for other peoples pictures

  • valerie February 16, 2011 01:50 am

    First off, I haven't read the comments as there are just too many of them, just want to share my thoughts.

    HDR is a good tool for me. I do a lot of interior photography and I can make a photo this way that looks natural, because when we view the scene ourselves, we don't see a blown out window and dark clipped shadows. Our brain just compensates that. Nowadays it can be a crucial tool, as you cannot add artificial lighting in all these kind of jobs. That would make it that much more expensive.

    However, I am only using it to show what you would have experienced it like had you been there yourself. People never even realize I use it and I don't put that fact it out there because in a certain way I agree with you. Most HDR photography is so obviously faked, it's become a gimmick. I keep seeing the same kind of nonsense over and over again. There is no art in that. It's not the vision of the person making it. It's fiddling with the sliders but not really knowing what they are for. Copying a look does not make it your style. So I usually don't mention I've used hdr on a certain photograph. And why should I.

    Manipulation is done on almost every photo and with good reason. The trick is to use it in a way that it enables you to share your vision, create the image you saw in your head before you pushed the button. People who say no to any kind of editing and who post images stating they are 'sooc' proudly are missing the point. Making a photo should be done at the moment you are capturing it- with the right settings, light and at the right moment. However, you can't always capture it exactly the way you saw it. That doesn't mean you did something wrong. I prefer black and white and squares for a lot of my work but well, I don't always carry my TLR with a black and white film. That doesn't mean I can't see an image that way and edit it afterwards to get the result I wanted all along.
    And make no mistake, editing photos did not start with the digital age. If you hadn't figured that out, well, read up on it.
    Shooting in raw makes 'no editing' completely impossible as well.

    I would call myself a purist and old-fashioned in some ways. I am a photographer, not a photoshopper. I despise post-processing. It's part of my work but not the part I enjoy- it's just the part that has to be done. If I have made a photo that isn't good enough, I don't try to pimp it until I think it is- unless I have to, but I won't be pleased with that. And I shoot both analog and digital. But- I know my tools, and how and when to use them.

    So just to conclude- don't just dismiss these things. It's not all black and white, good or bad, you know.

  • simon bowen February 16, 2011 01:10 am

    Those that 'can't' find solace in the computer ....

  • Michael February 14, 2011 08:20 am

    As with anything new there seems to be an explosion of examples. Kind of like the latest catch phrase that you hear until you want to scream. Oh my god, to die for.
    As for manipulating an image, it depends on the purpose of the image. Thing that are done for advertising may not work for fine art. The heavy handed editing for fashion or glamour may not be appropriate for a family use portrait where you want a little of the personality left in the image.
    Anything you've had enough of can be annoying. I still like the occasional surreal HDR image but it doesn't always fit the subject.

  • Koji February 12, 2011 08:55 am

    I totally agree with you, HDR is not bad in itself but as you say, for me too a HRD photo is not pleasant to look at, maybe, in some extremes lighting conditions we have to use a bit but just to the extent that we still can recognaze it as a possible natural range of tones in that particular photo.

  • eddie February 11, 2011 03:30 pm

    Well said Ruth, three times in fact! :)

  • Ruth February 11, 2011 11:39 am

    I recently looked up about HDR, was fascinated when I first saw it. Tried it myself, my photograph was no longer real, it looked more like a cartoon picture. It is an amazing affect and can look really good when done properly, but it is ashame that a lot of photographs these days are so photoshopped and played around with, that it is no longer real. I like to see natural photographs the work and effort that people put in to capturing a great shot with the right lighting and at the right time. Instead of trying to cover up a not so good shot. It is very disappointing for an amateur photographer, as you look at professional photographs and admire the work they have done, but only to be disappointed by the amount of manipulation in photoshop or HDR. I just want to see more photographs with no manipulation done to them. call me old fashion. Don't get me wrong I still like looking at all types of photography.

  • Ruth February 11, 2011 11:38 am

    I recently looked up about HDR, was fascinated when I first saw it. Tried it myself, my photograph was no longer real, it looked more like a cartoon picture. It is an amazing affect and can look really good when done properly, but it is ashame that a lot of photographs these days are so photoshopped and played around with, that it is no longer real. I like to see natural photographs the work and effort that people put in to capturing a great shot with the right lighting and at the right time. Instead of trying to cover up a not so good shot. It is very disappointing for an amateur photographer, as you look at professional photographs and admire the work they have done, but only to be disappointed by the amount of manipulation in photoshop or HDR. I just want to see more photographs with no manipulation done to them. call me old fashion. Don't get me wrong I still like looking at all types of photography.

  • Ruth February 11, 2011 11:38 am

    I recently looked up about HDR, was fascinated when I first saw it. Tried it myself, my photograph was no longer real, it looked more like a cartoon picture. It is an amazing affect and can look really good when done properly, but it is ashame that a lot of photographs these days are so photoshopped and played around with, that it is no longer real. I like to see natural photographs the work and effort that people put in to capturing a great shot with the right lighting and at the right time. Instead of trying to cover up a not so good shot. It is very disappointing for an amateur photographer, as you look at professional photographs and admire the work they have done, but only to be disappointed by the amount of manipulation in photoshop or HDR. I just want to see more photographs with no manipulation done to them. call me old fashion. Don't get me wrong I still like looking at all types of photography.

  • Bitzy February 11, 2011 08:43 am

    Good "controversial" article.

    I remember the first time I saw a photo processed through HDR.
    My immediate reaction was.. "What ta HE _ _ is that?
    I've seen only a handful of HDR processed images that were what I could consider "acceptable".

    Bottom line, it depends what you're after..!

    IMO, I'll never find the exaggerated "cartoon-like" images with surreal and glaring insidious tones pleasing in the least bit. However, I do not have any objections for use of HDR to correct bad lighting, poor exposure you sometimes cannot avoid in constantly changing light. HDR is acceptable if done correctly and sparingly and not "detectable". Bracketing has been around for a long time.

  • Jackie February 11, 2011 08:27 am

    I just want to clarify, after reading so many responses above, AFTER submitting my own. I am not against HDR, in fact I have a "photo friend" who "gets it" and applies it to photographs that truly benefit from it, having stunningly beautiful results.

    I am just against the many who get on the "gimmick bandwagon" and both overuse the technique and worst yet, apply it to compositions that just aren't suitable to HDR.

    So, I believe it has a place if properly used - note on that as well. Someone can properly APPLY a technique such as HDR but still have disastrous results because they don't get the artistic sense of the composition and subject and therefore understand the technical aspects thoroughly but just "don't get it" when it comes to selection of the right photographs to use the HDR process.

    In summary, not against it when used properly and applied to appropriate photos. Personally, I am more interested in perfecting my IN CAMERA work before getting up to speed in processing after a shoot. When I achieve a really good shot, with the correct color, composition and exposures, I have no desire to junk it up.

    To each his own. If there were only "chocolate and vanilla ice cream," life just wouldn't be the same! ;-)

  • Curtis Wallis Photography February 10, 2011 02:40 pm

    I guess its a style just like any other tool.

  • Jon February 9, 2011 04:33 am

    You, sir, are indeed an old curmudgeon. I think you are missing the point about HDR. It is not necessarily about "realistic, lifelike photos" as you say. It is about creating something beautiful with a camera. It is as much art as classical photography is an art, but is a very, very different art. Yes, there many bad HDR artists, just as there are many bad photographers. In the "traditional" art of photography, there are just as many (if not MORE) folks who think that buying the most expensive camera and lens makes them a good photographer. In both cases, just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean that you are good at it.

    On a related note, I think it is worth mentioning that nearly EVERY photo from the Hubble Space Telescope uses HDR. These photographs use a blend of science and photography to yield some absolutely stunning images of our universe. But most of these photos are combine visible light with false color infrared and ultraviolet light. Beautiful and almost magical images, but if you could go there, it's not what you would see.

  • Ken B February 8, 2011 06:23 pm

    The original "HDR" photographer was none other than Ansel Adams. Think about that for a moment. With the toold availed to him he coaxed out dynamic ranges in black and white prints that are not "realistic" but are still considers some of the best photographs ever made.

    Don't close off one area simply because you yourself dont like it. If you dont like it dont view it. That simple.

  • Denver Photography February 8, 2011 04:44 pm

    I have to agree with you.... i feel like HDR is such a sick perversion of the great art of photography.

  • Michael February 8, 2011 10:25 am

    My favorite use of HDR is when you can't tell. Our cameras cannot usually capture all of the contrast in a scene resulting in a loss highs and lows. Reminds me of a song. Subtly applied HDR helps fill that in. I do like some of the more striking effects applied with taste, but I see too much of it and feel it's time to move on.

  • stephen February 8, 2011 09:22 am

    I think with any technique, things can be overdone. Too much oxygen and your gonna die. HDR used as a corrective tool can be invaluable. The eye can see the foreground, the main subject and the cloudy blue sky - yet the camera can only display one of these correctly.

    when you use the Grunge look -- then I can agree, you are entering more the realm of art than digital imagery. There is a place for this - at times.

    I agree however that I do not like to use photoshop to alter the image - such as adding elements that arent in the photo or changing anything to a major degree. some minor editing i think is acceptable. ie - a photo of an classic car and in the background is someone' hand. just a slight clean up. BUT don't change the color of the car.

    make sense?

  • Paul Ligas February 8, 2011 12:15 am

    I certainly share the author's frustration with the apparent lack of understanding of the basics of photography so often seen in HDR or tonemapped LDR images (and yes, I find myself frustrated when tonemapped LDR images are referred to as HDR... ). I've written a couple of short blog entries of my own along just that line.

    However, to imply (as the author did in the fourth paragraph) that non-HDR, non-tonemapped images are somehow more true to reality isn't thought through. No photography can claim to be true to reality - a still, 2D image with all the limitations of film or digital, lenses and post-production, cannot be said to be true to reality, either LDR or HDR.

    I can see a place for HDR, and I do use the technique myself. I've compared it to the glut of truly awful websites that appeared soon after people could design their own. I'm sure many of them were proud of their achievements, but very few indeed were based on solid design principles.

  • CJ Lan February 6, 2011 10:35 am

    My humble opinion is simple: as long as it brings you enjoyment, do it. HDR is artificial but fun. In some sense, it represents an endeavor for a image created by camera to mimic what human eyes see. The dynamic range of human eyes is definitely wider than camera sensors existed today. The attempt made by the camera industry to improve the dynamic range and low-light performance seems a major trend of competition in the market. The ultimate goal is to reproduce images seen by naked eyes. By then, HDR is one of the means to achieve that.

  • greg February 6, 2011 01:50 am

    As soon as you loan me your Canon 5D Mark II I'll put away my software, but until then.. :)

    I hate the overprocessed stuff that's out there.. but if you use it to just bring out the shadows, it's no different to me than using photoshop....

    I'm assuming you are watching an HDTV at home and not a Black and White TV, right? Stuff changes...

  • Phil B February 5, 2011 09:04 am

    To say, "the limits of digital photography, currently, keep the images captured within the realm of realistic, lifelike photos" is grossly misleading. Most digital manipulation software, i.e., Photoshop, Corel, etc., can manipulate an image into something as unrealistic as HDR. Some techniques like Focus Stacking is more subtle and may look lifelike but impossible to do without software manipulation.

    Many photographers use digital manipulation to gain notoriety as we all want our images to be unique and HDR is just another means of expressing uniqueness.

    The fact is, and here is where I agree with you in part, the best images will rise to the surface and the best images are those created by those who know their cameras, understand light and composition. Without knowledge of these elements no amount of manipulation will create an exceptional image.

  • Gene February 5, 2011 02:01 am

    Is abstract art not art because it doesn't depict what the eye sees but rather what the mind sees

  • Zackry Cephas February 5, 2011 12:04 am

    Photography is all about light. PERIOD! As a Photographer, if you don't know (or trying to learn) how to control/manipulate light, then you shouldn't be touching a camera. I don't think there is anything wrong with HDR, but when your entire catalog is HDR there is an issue going on that you don't want to deal with. What do your pictures look like in the camera? Can you click and print? If HDR is the only way you can impress people, you got a lot to learn. There will be a time when that style gets "played out." What will you do with your camera when that happens?

  • Angus February 4, 2011 05:58 pm

    I like that a number of people are commenting that our eyes can see significantly better than a camera can. I am interested in HDR from the artistic side, and that it can provide a view of the world closer to our eyes. That said, I do miss the simplicity and purity of old images that were not over-processed. If I didn't capture the moment perfectly, I try to take it again, not spend hours manipulating it later with software. It is a different skill set, and while I don't like photoshopped and "unreal" images getting more of the attention, it also enables the photographer to think beyond the bounds of what was originally possible with a camera. So another tool in a photographer's kit, but not evil. Just not something i would use everyday...

  • Andrew February 3, 2011 11:39 pm

    Don't forget though that your eye sees far more stops of light than your camera is ever going to pickup. If you look out a window now, you are not seeing the world as in a regular photo. You don't have to expose for the bright sky, and then expose again for the dull ground. Your eyes see it all in most cases, and this is the premise of good tone mapping. It's an illusion that an 'out of the camera' exposure is realistic.

  • mirkb February 3, 2011 12:30 am

    If you don't use HDR, because it's overused, don't use Sepia tone too for the same reason! Instead, I've never heard anything about not using sepia tone.

    In my opinion, HDR is just an effect like sepia tone, grain, antique look, color picture converted to black / white.

  • Justin Donie February 2, 2011 07:30 pm

    To eddie: My use of HDR to create a natural looking shot under challenging conditions is just one possible application. As you read from others posting here, some folks intentionally push the edges of the believable by combining shots that the eye feels don't naturally belong together. I guess it all depends on what we're going for, doesn't it. All the best on your HD work!

  • eddie February 2, 2011 03:47 pm

    Thanks Justin Donie, your second paragraph has answered my post of 28th Jan.

  • Justin Donie February 2, 2011 02:45 am

    I have used HDR only on a limited basis, and began doing it before HDR came to Photoshop as a specific tool. I was shooting outdoor festivals where the inside of the crafter booths was typically unlit and dark while the outdoor light level was very high (midday sun). To create shots that were appealing (without burned out exteriors or dismal/dark interiors) I began combining multiple exposures "manually". My goal was to create a shot that looked more like what the human eye saw than the imbalanced and narrower perception of my camera when set to properly expose either the interior or exterior. When you looked at the scene, I wanted it to feel natural.

    The results were great, in that they attracted no special attention at all. When people looked at them, they seemed natural, not fake. And that was my goal. I was so tickled by the fact that people didn't notice anything "different" or "unusual" about the shots, that I occasionally combined images where one person appeared in two different places in the same final shot, just to see if anyone would notice. They never did.

    I don't mind people using techniques to create wild effects if that's their heart's desire. I am sometimes annoyed when techniques are used to mask a lack of talent or understanding. But I just wanted to point out that HDR can be used to create shots that feel very natural, if you use a delicate touch and keep asking yourself "does this look and feel natural". If you're not sure, have some people who don't know what you're up to look at your image and describe their thoughts and feelings. Subtlety is the sign of the master's touch.

  • Scott February 1, 2011 10:37 am

    I have not paid much attention to HDR, to the extent that I had to google some images to see what this article and discussion was all about. I agree that most of what I see doesn't even look like photography at all to me. Jen at Cabin Fever - I visited your gallery, and although it is obvious you have a talent for creating beautiful images, most of your work doesn't look like photography to me either. There are a few, like the shot of the maple leaf in the stream, that don't seem overly surrealistic to me. The rest look more like paintings or computer generated art. Beautiful as those images may be - they just don't look like photographs.

  • Ian Salsman February 1, 2011 03:40 am

    It seems that many who do HDR, are just having fun with the technology "because it is there." It is easy to get caught up in the WOW factor that doing the HDR becomes the focus instead of the technology being just another tool it make an artistic or visual impact. When one maintains the vision of the visual impact and decides that HDR techniques are the best way to get there, we have the real winners.

  • A. L. Sundt January 31, 2011 07:00 am

    I agree with you on the overuse of HDR that's been a trend recently, and how the great majority of HDR photos look fake, almost plastic-y in my opinion. I read somewhere that "the best HDR images are the ones you can't tell are HDR," and I think this is a good summation of my point, and possibly a bit at what you were getting at as well.
    I do think they have their place though. There are a few scenes, usually cloudy ones, where an HDR image really brings out the detail I was going for, but it can still be controlled so the contrast isn't completely blown out. This goes for the psuedo-HDR images made from a single RAW file as well.
    Also, and maybe I'm going off on a tangent here, I don't necessarily agree with the goal of photography being to capture a scene exactly as the human eye sees it. It's good to learn that way, and it is usually the goal, but there are a lot of situations where the goal is to create something that would be impossible for the human eye to see. Techniques like multiple or long exposures, with effects that nowadays many people think are impossible without the use of digital manipulation.

  • Chuck Kelly January 29, 2011 03:33 am

    Totally agree that HDR is not real and that those who are using HDR should be developing more skills in shooting quality work thru the use of "working the scene" ie different times of day, sunny, cloudy, rain, snow. Then its real and it is photography.

  • Gordon Ramel January 28, 2011 09:37 pm

    Hi Peter,
    I have read both letters for and against HDR now, and some (but not all) of the comments. I have no real concerns about HDR, if you don't like it then don't do it and don't look at it. However I do see a prob;em in your idea of art.

    "Is it art, if not an accurate representation of what is? I doubt it."

    I think this needs some thinking about. In 2006 when I was at the Birdfair in Rutland I was rebuked for calling Richard Lewington a great artist because he represented living creatures in perfect detail, creating images that were as realistic as any reality. I was told that he was an illustrator only, not an artist. That to merely represent reality was not art at all. I was told that vaguely shaped sculptures and blurry indistinct paintings were art because they went beyond reality.

    I disagreed to the extent that I maintained that the ability to accurately represent reality was one facet of the gem of art, but I accept that my view is my opinion, not a statement of law. Furthermore, as someone who is a poet first, and a dabbler in photography afterward, I can't help wondering if a poem could ever be art by your definition, most sonnets for instance have only about 100 words - perhaps enough for one tenth of a picture by the old adage.

    To sum up, whether HDR is like or not liked, I do not think you can bar it entry to the world of art just because it distorts, in some way, the reality seen by the human eye (given how small a portion of reality that eye sees) - at least not without infuriating Dali's spirit and all those who have loved his paintings.

  • Eddie January 28, 2011 06:35 pm

    Because my knowledge of HDR is nearly zero,I can't argue one way or another. I have experimented with PSPX3's HD facility but I don't know what I'm supposed to be looking for in the resulting image.

    I would be delighted if someone could help me understand what a good HDR image looks like compared to the same regular digital image. Perhaps someone could point me to some good "before and afters".

  • Frode Inge Helland January 28, 2011 05:56 pm

    It is the excessively use of HDR that makes people react.
    As a tool to overcome the faults of exposure in tricky conditions and to restore the subject as the eyes saw it, it surely is of great value.

  • Greg January 28, 2011 05:31 pm

    I couldn't agree more. Look at those terrible photos that Ansel Adams took. He manipulated the photos while processing. Those were not what the eye saw at the scene. Think of all the fake photos out there. Adding a filter to your camera or using a wide angle or telephoto lens all manipulate the photo so it is not natural, as the camera sees it. Just like painting. How can you call an abstract painting, art. It is not what the eye sees so according to the author, it is fake.
    Trying not to be sarcastic, everyone who has taken a picture has manipulated the photo in some way. Zooming in or out, changing the depth of field, using a long shutter speed to change the look of water or to show people moving, adding a polarizing filter to alter light, adding light that isn't there by using a flash. All of these examples are a manipulation of what the camera actually sees.
    Photography is a form of art. Appreciate it for what it is. HDR is here to stay and is another way of expressing ones view of life.

  • Indianapolis Photographer January 28, 2011 04:34 pm

    I personally don't mind HDR as long as I can't tell that it was used on an image. Even if I can tell, it has to be an afterthought rather than the first thing I notice. Like images turned 45 degrees, over-saturation, the 70's color, selective coloration, etc., a technique should be applied like a perfume - not to cover up, but to enhance what is already captivating the senses.

  • John Fischer January 28, 2011 03:57 pm

    My biggest issue with this post is that the title says "Why I Don't Do HDR" then the article itself just talks about how the author doesn't like other people's HDR work.

    Also, as someone who is trying to perfect HDR, I take serious offense to the comments that say that HDR is not photography...I am pretty sure that when I pack my equipment, drive somewhere, lug my stuff and set up tripod in the middle of the woods at sunrise, and take some brackets, I am in the process of photography.

    Furthermore, on Flickr, many people, such as myself, are using it to gather constructive criticism from instead of bashing HDR, you could give people pointers on making it better.

  • polo January 28, 2011 12:43 pm

    "Is it art, if not an accurate representation of what is? I doubt it"

    This pretty much discredits all art before renaissance and after impresionism, including B&W photos like someone mentioned above. HDR is a tool more than a technique. And I find no difference between the zillions of people doing HDR and the zillions of people who can afford a camera and then call themselves photographers. It can be overdone, yes. Every single tool can be abused, and every single work can become a stereotype no matter its media.

    What makes something art is the theme and the overall result of the final work, not what tools you used to get there. I'm sorry but your article makes no sene to me, is as absurd like saying that baroque painting is not worth it because everybody was abusing shadowy, specially Caravaggio that little tenebrist!

  • Rohinton Mehta January 28, 2011 12:21 pm

    I agree except on one point. And that point is when you say "Rather, for me, the annoyance comes from attempting to create something that doesn’t exist"

    Are you saying that if you try to create something from something else, it is wrong? An artist takes a block of stone and after chiseling away what is not needed, creates a work of art. The art did not exist in the original block of stone, so was he wrong to create 'something that did not exist?'

    A surgeon re-molds the face (plastic surgery) to create a work of art. Is he doing something wrong, after all he is creating something that didn't exist in the first place.

    It would be fine if you were to say (as you have indicated elsewhere in your very nice article) that 'Rather for me, the annoyance comes from attempting to overdo something and make it look unnatural'.

  • Andrew Klaver January 28, 2011 11:21 am

    I could not agree more. I guess even velvet painting have their place in the universe, I am sure that both HDR and Velvets are hung with honor in some places. It's what makes this world such an interesting place. everyone has an opinion about art.
    rock on

  • JT January 28, 2011 09:55 am

    I've been on flickr for three years and of the zillions of people doing HDR, I have seen exactly two whose work i respect. The others look like the Sunday Comics with flat, overly saturated color and fuzzy images. But even with the HDR done well, It fails the reality test.. It doesn't look real to me and thus, I think of it more as interpretive Art than Photography.

  • william munoz January 28, 2011 09:41 am


  • Rick January 28, 2011 07:29 am

    I don't mind HDR when it's done to enhance an image while retaining the natural and authentic look. When the image starts to look like a drawing I think it sucks and completely ruins the image. With that said, even though it's not my thing, it's another form of artistic expression.

  • Cheezman January 28, 2011 05:22 am

    @tiberman sajiwan ramyead: If you ever get a chance, don't miss an exhibition by the American installation artist Bruce Nauman. It may include his famous video piece, "Clown Torture". It could be very cathartic. : )

  • John Richardson January 28, 2011 05:19 am

    HDR is just another tool, it has it places and it's uses. But when it comes out looking like clown vomit, well, it becomes another boring fast food sandwich.

    I use it, not always, but on some landscapes that help me see what I actually saw, thanks to my human eyes, but not to make it unrealistic.

    Clowns scare me as do some OVERDONE HDR's that try to compensate for a lousy photo, this = Clown Vomit.

  • Doug Herrick January 28, 2011 05:01 am

    Did you know that with the advent of the photographic process the Impressionist movement came about?. The theory is that photography could record the reality of a moment, which, by it's very nature (in the 1850's , or there about) relived the paint artist to move on to more creative endeavors. Prior to camera technology good art was based on how real it looked. (as a side note; the use of ink in a tube coincided with the popularization of the photographic process, which meant paint artists could travel to a location to paint, hence plein air). As an avid HDR Photographer I shun that responsibility. I'll leave that job to the iPhone crowd.

  • Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead January 28, 2011 04:34 am

    I have read most of the HDR comments with some attention for a simple reason: I am a DSLR beginner and am very shortly upgrading from Nikon D3000 to D7000. I reckon I shall then join the band wagon and HDR away merrily. Example: I have a number of very early B&W photographs and lithographs of monuments and landscapes (in Mauritius); I am presently shooting the same subjects so as to include the 'before and today' in a book I am writing. Conclusion: For a number of such shots I experience the desiderata of HDR on my D3000.
    Well, as somebody said: Moderation, moderation! That's the secret.

  • Rod January 28, 2011 03:17 am

    Mrs Murphy said, when she kissed the cow, "It`s a matter of taste".

  • Hlias January 27, 2011 03:01 am

    I think that the human eye has a lot better dynamic range in comparison to any modern lens. HDR is amethod to TRY to simulate the human eye. With PROPER use it can make photos much more realistic.

    When you watch a sunset you see the beautiful res sky painting the land with warm colors. If you take a picture of that landscape you have to choose between the sky and the land. If you choose the sky the land will be silhouetted. That is not realistic.

    As for the overuse I totally agree with you. I really hate to view images with no shadows at all.

  • Annie Gingrich January 26, 2011 03:06 pm

    I have to agree with you Peter. I see many photos that look more like a painting than a reality shot. My photos are the real thing with a bit of touch up, but mostly just putting my name on it.

  • Chet Dailey January 26, 2011 04:56 am

    I have to disagree while sharing your feelings for what is currently being done with HDR. But "art" is a product of the times it was created. Art during any given period of history is because really talented people created a new approach or mastered someone elses and took it to the next level. Is Impressionism or Cubism a "a grotesque abomination of the reality of life"? Yes, but it has it's merits. The beauty of photography today is it allows so many people who would otherwise never get to experience artisitic creativity to do so without a lot of expense and with a ton of feedback. Who knows what future generations will pull from our time and say, "That is art".

  • Nurul Hudana January 26, 2011 03:45 am

    I agree with you, Peter...

  • MikeG January 25, 2011 10:49 pm

    Hmm ... if it is simply the matter of artificially bright shadows then you have been guilty of real-world HDR-like manipulation every time you use a flash. The simple act of adding artificial light sources to any scene is changing the dynamic range in order to fit it within the camera's ability to capture.

    HDR is no more evil or wonderful than a set of speedlights or studio strobes. Some people have the skills to light scenes in a natural way and others use them either badly or in obviously artificial ways.

    The hideous, clown-puke HDR should indeed be castigated ; exposure fusion style processing has a very valid place in the arsenal of today's photographers - especially architecture. The days of lugging lighting rigs around are, largely, gone and my back is all the better for it.

  • Addie January 25, 2011 08:00 pm

    "Is it art, if not an accurate representation of what is? I doubt it."

    Foolish words, friend. There is a specific art movement that contradicts that statement directly... It's called surrealism... look it up.

    There will always be, in any art-form, people that don't really know what they are doing, that have taken steps to become something without learning the basics first. And some of these people, these no-nothing twits become famous, or get acclaim for something that they honestly know nothing about (an example that comes to mind is Justin Beiber). That is how the world works. But just because they didn't work or study as hard to get to where they are, doesn't make the art that they produce any less artistic.

    I get annoyed when pretentious art-school students (and the like) try and define art within very strict confines and then poo-poo anything that doesn't meet their criteria. Art is creative expression and people should be free to express themselves no matter HOW good they are at what they do.

    What I am trying to say here is that HDR isn't less justified photographically just because it's easy to produce. You could spend hours in a dark room and come up with something just as shitty and less technically sound as a bad HDR photo. It doesn't matter how you got the photo, all that matters is that you had the eye and the ideas to make the photo happen.

    However, I do agree... it's good to know the basics in any field of work, and any photographer worth their salt would do well to recognise that.

  • David Brewster January 25, 2011 09:36 am

    Haven't been able to read all these comments - what a response. I'm not that interested in HDR simply because of the extra fiddling around and haven't time to become proficient. I also enjoy the wide dynamic range I can get out of my digital images by just using RAW. But I don't agree with the 'photography is about creating a representative image' line of argument, which I've also seen used against the use of the curves adjustment.

    Putting aside the philosophical discussion about whether or not a 'true representation' can ever be captured, photography is all about the application of the photographers vision onto the scene. If we didn't believe in this, we would just use the program setting on the camera and do no post-processing. Heck, the whole idea of black and white photography would have to be discarded, let alone the use of polarising filters or large aperture lenses for short depth-of-field.

    So I say each to their own. If HDR appeals to a photographer's vision he or she should be free to use it at will. And as with any 'adjustment', the better they are at using it, the better the results will be.

  • Kris T. January 25, 2011 07:54 am

    Couldn't agree more! When I take pictures I try very hard to capture the truest image I can, without too much editing. I'm still perfecting. In fact I think I always will be! :-) Glad I'm not the only one into the fancy new way of doing things.

  • Peter West Carey January 25, 2011 07:15 am

    Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments. No, I didn't not write this with a "get hits" mentality. If i had removed my name from the post I'm sure that would cause an uproar as well.

    Thanks to a commenter a few above this for helping explain my core concept that got lost on a number of you thinking this was just another HDR rant (it's not). "The analogy is faulty. Picasso was technically brilliant. Ansel Adams in his Darkroom work was technically brilliant. There may be technically brilliant HDR constructors out there."

    There are some great example of people proficient with HDR, and with photography principles, in this big long thread. They show some people do indeed learn to walk before they try to fly.

  • Leo Mangubat January 25, 2011 05:07 am

    I agree with everybody! I respect everybodys preferrence. HDR is really something nice and good no doubt about it. But it really is not my style. It's not for me. I'll have to leave HDR to others.

  • Bryan January 24, 2011 07:54 pm

    I am disappointed that DPS has posted this article. Up until now I have found the site to be very informative and constructive. It allows amateurs like me to learn and improve my photography. But now I am being preached at in terms of what I should like and what I shouldn't. The author asks us to be "civil" in our comments and yet has written such an emotive and biased article as is possible and I wonder if this approach has been taken merely to generate a response rather than have a constructive debate.

    To me, the amazing thing about digital photography is that it allows a basic amateur like me to create photos that I would never have been able to do with film. Applications like Photoshop can help me to enhance a poor photo and make it look OK. And then I learn from it and try to do better next time when taking the original shot. HDR is just one example of a photo processing application that allows people to create something that wasn't exactly in the original image.

    Does the author believe that Photoshop is also bad? Or perhaps there are features that are acceptable, but others that he would like to censor. I am one of the people that the author looks down on because I don't always take a "solid" photo, whatever that is. Should I not be allowed to use Photoshop, or Aperture etc. to correct my mistakes, or perhaps change the contrast or colour to something that doesn't exactly reflect what I saw when I took the photo?

    DPS, please keep up the great work in publishing the many articles that I learn from on a regular basis. But don't let your site be used for an article that is nothing more than a rant abut someone's personal prejudices. Articles like this simply devalue the otherwise excellent content on this site.

  • db January 24, 2011 03:44 am

    Apparently my comment was it was not improper but did mention that this is merely a "get hits" tactic which everyone is falling for these days. I will not be giving my genuine input on this site again.

    Best regards from a being who appreciates passionate expression of any medium.

  • Michael R January 24, 2011 03:03 am

    HDR is simply another artistic tool in the photographers bag of tricks. Poor art will always be seen as poor art. Great art no matter what tool you use will stand on it's own and be appreciated for what it is. Exploration and experimentation has always been part of creating good art. Enjoy the process and if it doesn't work then leave it alone. After all we did move from charcoal to ink at one point in history.

  • Cheezman January 23, 2011 08:50 am

    The analogy is faulty. Picasso was technically brilliant. Ansel Adams in his Darkroom work was technically brilliant. There may be technically brilliant HDR constructors out there. Perhaps. The problem is most people click a few settings, run the photo through a program, all in about 90 seconds and then defend the result, that does truly look different than the original and, if the original shot wasn't so aesthetically great to begin with (as it likely wasn't), then the processed result REALLY looks better and the creator mistakes him or herself for a good artist. MOST HDR sucks and it washes away the HDR that could be considered technically and aesthetically really good in a wave of Clown Puke.

    Just take a look at the Processed section of "Critique my Shot" in the forums of this web site. Half the posts will ask, "Is this HDR overdone? It's my first HDR." Dude, if you hafta ask . . .

  • gene lowinger January 23, 2011 08:35 am

    Oh good! So I guess Picasso's cubist work wasn't art because his models didn't "really" look like that?
    You say "HDR is trying to improve on the beauty of life as experienced through the human eye and brain", but wait a second here, when my eye moves across a scene my iris changes the size of my pupil so that I can see detail in the highlights and shadows as my eye moves, and then the information is assembled in my brain as a coherent image. Does your eye and brain operate differently? That's mostly what a good HDR image aims to do. I remember when Photoshop first hit the scene back in the early '90's. A lot of us film photographers were bitching and moaning about how it wasn't really photography because it replaced working in the darkroom. There's still photogs who shoot film and do amazing darkroom work. There are lots of photogs who shoot conventionally and adjust their images in Photoshop. Some who shoot that way actually bracket their exposures and composite their images from the best of all the brackets. I don't see how that is intrinsically different processing than HDR. Darkroom work can be overdone, compositing can be overdone, and HDR can be overdone. What's overdone? It's up to each of us do decide what we want to look at. If there is an audience for a particular approach I can guarantee that there will be a photographer out there who, in her quest for the greenbacks, will produce images using that approach and scream to call it art.

  • Paul January 23, 2011 06:28 am

    In your article, you say "HDR is trying to improve on the beauty of life as experienced through the human eye and brain." Perhaps you are referring only to the relatively new HDR software tools available and their misinformed abuse. Otherwise, to the contrary, HDR was used by photographers like Ansel Adams, well before such software or even digital photography was envisioned. Through development techniques, his goal was to expand the range he would otherwise be restricted to in order to display his scenes as closely as possible to the way in which he saw them. Then, he would use a filter or two to help to convey the mood he experienced when actually viewing the scene.

  • Stephen Elliot January 23, 2011 05:48 am

    Instead of spending time editing HDR photos and reading debates about it, why not spend that time learning how to use light?

  • Colortrails January 23, 2011 05:45 am

    To my thinking, the original purpose behind HDR photography is not to create some heavily styled photo-illustrative look, but to better mimic (not exceed) how the human eye perceives the world. Most of us are fortunate enough to see the world through the most advanced "camera" there is, being able to take in details, texture and color in scenes that no camera could ever hope to capture in a single exposure. Mostly sunny day with snow on the ground and a dog playing in the shadow of a tree? Our eyes adjust on the fly and see it all at once, without a hitch, and our brains take it from there telling us what we're seeing so we can act on it. Middle of the night under a scratched up streetlamp with a car's taillights creating reflections off the wet pavement? No problem! Our eye sees again everything "perfectly", all at once.

    Our cameras don't, and that's the crux of the matter.

    We need a multi-exposure HDR image to properly capture those scenes for viewing on our computers or in print, assuming we're going for "recreation of the scene" and not "stylistic dark shadows, etc". I think when people get away from that purpose (recreating the scene as much as possible given the limits of technology), they get themselves into trouble a little bit. HDR is not a magic bullet anymore than Photoshop in general is. You have to know your camera and how to set up your exposures given the scene in front of you, and you have to be your own worst critic when putting the final image together and ask "are the colors, details and contrast in this scene even plausible in the real world?" If the answer is "no", you've crossed the line from photography into photo-illustration. Which is fine... just know that this is what you're doing and promote it that way. :)

  • AndyBoothPhoto January 23, 2011 05:10 am

    Every technique photography is s potential tool that can be used to portray your vision.
    If you have the chance to learn and turn it down it's your loss.
    Ive seen plenty of Mono conversions I don't like, I've seen the use of Photoshop to alter images tones and colours that I didnt care for. Does that mean all these techniques should be consigned to the dust bin also?
    In my opinon your article is really a rant about the HDR images you don't like. There will be HDR images out there you will like...Infact you have probably already seen them and didnt even realise you were looking at a HDR image.

  • John Paul Caponigro January 23, 2011 02:55 am

    Extending the dynamic range of photographs has been a fundamental challenge since photography's invention. HDR software is one more link in a chain of technological evolution.

    The debate over how it's applied (creating a conventional or contemporary look) is an aesthetic debate and the debate has encouraged our community to be more clear and make finer distinctions, ultimately helping every one involved.

    Not knowing these techniques limits possibilities. (There are at least two kinds of understanding, intellectual and practical.) In addition to making photographs in situations with extreme contrast, it's also very useful for enhancing images made in situations with extremely low contrast.

    HDR software also opens up many possibilities for rendering detail, another fundamental aspect of photography.

    The challenge for each of us to thoroughly understand it and then, on an ongoing basis, decide when and how to apply it in our individual work.

    HDR has been with us all along and it will always be with us.

    What we do with it as it continues to evolve will be fascinating to see - no matter how pleasing or challenging.

    I've said a lot more in my series of articles here.

  • Markus January 23, 2011 12:57 am

    I agree with HDR being overdone. However, there is a place for it. It can help get all the highlights to pop in dark parts of scene that the eye sees and the camera does not. Net, HDR done "naturally" is a real plus. But the stuff that screams "fake", I agree should not become the norm. I think Trey Radcliff is a very good HDR photographer and tends to err more on the natural side except for some of his cityscape scenes.

  • William Toti January 23, 2011 12:55 am

    For hundreds of years painters did their best to represent the "real world" to the limits of their technology. Da Vinci and Rembrandt were perhaps the plateau of the realism movement.

    Then these French guys came along and simply glommed paint onto the canvas in crude, what we would call "pixellated" globs. In so doing, they created a new sense of reality, limited only by their vision and imagination. Yet, other artists and critics around the world complained that impressionism wasn't "real" art.

    And even though there are and have been thousands of really bad impressionistic painters throughout history, that's doesn't mean impressionism isn't real art. Even if you're the photographic equivalent of Rembrandt, that's no reason for you to claim that what Monet did isn't real art.

    In the past, photography merely tried to replicate the real world because that was the limits of the technology. Some limits have now been lifted. More will be lifted in the future. Let's see where visionaries can take us with this new freedom.

    It will only serve to elevate us all.

  • michael 14620 January 22, 2011 09:34 pm

    i only have to write in my poor english( poor french boy that i am ) that maybe the secret is as my old granny was saying : " use but don't overuse" ! that is a good philosophy isn't it?
    best regards.

  • ScottC January 22, 2011 08:45 pm

    The responses to this article really show the reason why HDR is debated so hotly.

    From the responses above: "Bad HDR", "overdone HDR, "HDR is overused", "HDR done right", "overcooked HDR".

    What is "bad", "overdone", "done right", etc.? Two people can say "overcooked HDR" but their personal interpretation means it in 2 completely different ways. Put any HDR photo in front of 10 veiwers and you'll get 10 different opinions, ranging between "not enough" and "too much".

    I'm not commenting on HDR photography here, I really don't know anything thing about it, but the debate has been an interesting read.

  • Rabia Hamdan January 22, 2011 08:27 pm

    we can consider HDR as a kind of art ,painting with color, so sometimes comes Fake

  • Ralph Cruickshank January 22, 2011 06:08 pm

    My wife and I have, for some time now, been looking at HDR images, and invariably, every image we see has been, as you say, overcooked to the point that the image simply screams "fake".
    We too, are not disposed to call it great art, or indeed, even acknowledge it as legitimate photography. Why not simply try to capture the image and then, with as little post production as possible leave it alone? After all, a crappy image, no matter how much it is worked on, is still a crappy image, regardless that the photographer may have taken three shots to overlay, if it looks fake, then it surely is fake.
    Some HDR images may look okay, but these are invariably those that havent been over worked.

  • Mostafa Akbari Motlaq January 22, 2011 04:25 pm

    well I think it's fruitful sometimes, we all have a kind of resistance against new things, experiencing HDR with photoshop is a brilliant job (with respects to the photography philosophy).

  • Mike January 22, 2011 04:07 pm

    Reminds me of an old Gallager (the comedian) routine.... "MY teacher gave me a C on an art project because I colored a tree purple." Art is about expression, individual expression. Leve it at that. If you had said my personal opinion of overdone HDR is that it's not to my taste. I'd be on your side. But you just ranted and put yourself above everyone who doesn't share your vision.

    I went to your blog, (and maybe that was the reason why you wrote this rant,) and i saw images I liked, and images i had no real opinion on and images that I thought were garbage. Does it make any of them less artistic? No, it just means my tastes don't necessarily align with your vision for the scene. I could say that after looking at some of the images on your site that maybe your rant about HDR taking away from reality of how the scene is visualized is just a cover up for "Damn, I couldn't get a decent image of that scene so I'll just say that is reality, (as a digital camera sees it and that's what i was going for."

    I chose to say that while i didn't like the image, and it done nothing to stir me, it's still your vision and that's all that matters.

    BY the way when you ranted about reality are you saying reality as the DSLR sees it or as the human eye sees it? because I saw images on your site that aren't even close to how my eye would have seen it if I was in the same position as your lens.

  • Ernie Hatt January 22, 2011 11:51 am

    Hey, like human nature, we are all different, so are our idea's on Photography, what a boring old world it would be if everything was image perfect. I have never tried HDR and have no wish to try it, but good luck to those who do, no matter how bad others may think it is. Perhaps you just like to be heard.
    Ffor each his own and good luck to him. Photographs have been doctored since day one, it's just been made easier. Ernie

  • Julia January 22, 2011 08:59 am

    I agree. I dislike nearly every HDR picture I've seen because it looks so "cartoony." I'm securely in the category of people who should be learning about shutter speed and depth of field, so I don't know how much weight anything I say would carry in the photography world. However, if the average person can't look at an image and say, "There's just 'something' about this picture that makes it good," is really that good anyway?

  • Judy Wickum January 22, 2011 08:34 am

    I am in agreement with you. I think HDR may have a place if not overdone. For the most part I think it does not look realistic, the colors are too intense and not how the human eye sees the scene in reality. I would rather capture the scene as it is and have it be real.

  • Alexis January 22, 2011 08:04 am

    I agree with your points. It looks like there are quite a few opinions posted. However, I would like to make one clarification. Photography is a craft, it is not an art. Why in the world everyone wants to call themselves an "artist" is beyond my comprehension. Insecurity I suppose.

    In any case, when HDR first became popular it only reminded me of cheaply produced travel postcards. Interesting? Yes. But the pinnacle of the craft of good photography? Hmmm.

  • Shelley January 22, 2011 07:28 am

    I agree on one point & that is that HDR is overused. Having said that, though I disagree on many other points. Photography is not now, nor has it always been solely about accurate representation of reality. Many of the greats of the past used the medium of photography to present highly surreal & abstract images that only represented reality in terms of an artist statement about the world as they saw it. Any technique can be overused, poorly used & lacking in merit when placed in the wrong hands. I don't think HDR (or any photographic technique, for that matter) needs to disappear. Each image should be evaluated on its own merits. I pass by a huge chunk of 'accurate' nature photographs, for instance, as lacking depth or interest, but I don't hate them, I just ignore them.

  • idb January 22, 2011 07:28 am

    HDR is as much a part of digital photography as darkroom techniques (dodging, burning, air brushing, posterization, etc.) are a part of film photography. I don't like some HDR results but that doesn't make the photographers efforts bad (and certainly not "evil") depending on what they were trying to accomplish, for example if they were trying to produce a surreal image.
    I don't use much post processing but mostly because I prefer to work with my cameras, not my computer. When I did exclusively 35 mm, I never worked in a darkroom but I never felt that people who did were not true photographers.

  • kate si January 22, 2011 07:16 am

    So I guess no one should paint unless it's realism because painting is a way people represent the world around them?

  • Jake January 22, 2011 06:35 am

    I think like anything else there is a big difference between doing something and doing it right. The garish super saturated over-processed garbage that is commonly referred to as HDR to me is a poor excuse for a lack of genuine photography skills. On the other hand I have seen it used as a tool to expand the dynamic range which as mentioned in this article is a known limitation of digital capture which many camera manufacturers are beginning to address in camera. So when Canon comes out with 'Highlight-Tone Priority' or Nikon with 'Active D-Lighting' as a feature built into their cameras does that completely redefine what is and isn't considered "in-camera"? Isn't this the same thing but on a smaller level? What is the difference between having the camera make the adjustments within a single frame vs 2 or 3?

    When I took my first photography class I tried to capture an awesome full moon-rise over the Sonoran Desert and after multiple failed attempts asked my instructor what I was doing wrong. He just smiled and laughed and then explain that the large majority of those shots were either composites or multiple exposures. One done in the dark room, the other "in-camera" so to speak but both were completely legitimate and acceptable ways of capturing the image with a film camera. Neither used a digital camera or computer software to be processed and no arguments on whether they were faithfully reproducing what the eye was seeing.

    I think HDR is a tool that can be wielded correctly or not so correctly and is not so different than the tools available to film shooters via the darkroom.

  • Grizzly January 22, 2011 06:28 am

    Let's look at this from a simplistic view. The human eye can see a wide gamut of light. That is why you can see detail in shadows and details in bright scenes at the same time. Analog film (B & W and Kodacolor et al) can see about half or less that what your human eye sees. Digital is limited to about the equivalent of four (4) f/ stops or about a quarter to a third of what the eye sees. HDR corrects for that and allows your camera "eye" to see closer to what you eye sees in high contrast scenes. This has no bearing on post processing of over saturated photographs or otherwise manipulated photos some of which are not pleasing to the eye. A properly prepared HDR photograph should enhance your "digital" image and increase the essence of reality - not decrease it. Artistic Hi Key photos and/or other "Andy Warhol" or other "artistic" approaches are all exceptions. A photographer should create his/her image to exemplify what their view of the image should be to convey their feelings. If you like the results you are getting now - enjoy them. If you don't like HDR because of ???, that does not mean the photographer who created the image should comply with "feelings". Perhaps the photographer/artist feels this best exemplifies their view of the subject.

    Do not limit yourself by what others do. Experiment with the single image of a high contrast subject then try the HDR approach and use 3 to 5 images using quality HDR software. After a qualitative, quantified testing, then make you judgement. You might even reverse your opinion - or the others who agree with you.

  • Sidney Morgan January 22, 2011 06:21 am

    I completely agree 100%. I feel that my job as a photographer is to capture REALITY. Yes, it is okay to artistically interpret reality and be creative. But with HDR, you are changing reality. HDR isn't real.

  • andy January 22, 2011 06:05 am

    I believe that a lot of what you are getting at here is dead on. All too often people with little or no idea of how to even take a photograph that is good in and of itself jump into things like HDR to make their inherently bad photographs "good." And like you said, these are the people that are often most likely to go way overboard with the processing and turn the photo into a surrealistic light show rather than use HDR for what it was actually intended for, which is capturing the wide dynamic range that our eyes see naturally but cameras are physically incapable of showing with a single exposure.

    However, I think HDR, when applied well, in the correct situation, and with photos that would be good (or at least decent) even with just one normal exposure, can really bring a lot to the image and can look so natural that if you weren't told that it was HDR you would never be able to tell.

    Also, when you said "Is it art, if not an accurate representation of what is? I doubt it." does that only apply to photography? Because to me it sounds like you are saying that van Gogh's "Starry Night" or Picasso's "Three Musicians" are not art because neither portrays what the artist was actually seeing. I'm sure I'm taking it further than you were thinking, but it struck me as odd.

  • Eric Blair January 22, 2011 05:55 am

    This post makes me want to unsubscribe from this blog.

    Somebody takes their personal bias and rants and pleads to end it because he finds it to be an "abomination"? This isn't informative at all, nor is it justified enough to be on what I find to be a generally reputable site. I don't care one way or the other about HDR – it's not always appropriate, but it's not always wrong, either – but I do care about somebody speaking in absolutes about art. That's like saying that somebody should never draw in a certain way, or hold their paintbrush a certain way. Just as you said, art's about experimentation, and to rule out a technique or style because it overcomes the physical limitations of reality is absurd.

  • Dana January 22, 2011 05:46 am

    Like most everyone else, my first response to this article was based on emotion and personal opinion. After a couple hours of thought this is now my rational response.

    Darren please pull this article from DPS. Why? It serves no purpose other than to create controversy. DPS while allowing personal comments, is about teaching and learning digital photography. This article does not teach a thing. It states a personal opinion. It only has a personal agenda. If penning this article was meant to create the maximum number of responses (of which I am 2) so as to be on the most popular list, congratulations mission accomplished. You will probably succeed. What did it teach? What was the subject matter? Did I gain any insight into how to improve my personal digital photography? NO! These type of opinion based articles are meant for things like forums and has no place here at DPS.

    Darren I must say I am disappointed with you for letting this type of article infiltrate your site. If need be I suggest you filter your articles first. I know you do this with new contributors, maybe you should do some spot checking with contributors you give free reign to.

    Teach me something, help me improve my pre or post processes, help me do things better. Bashing a personal creative choice is just wrong. If you want to help me learn your personal artistic style great. Let me make up my own mind if I can us it in my day to day photography.

    This is not an article worthy of a so called professional. You ask us to be civil and yet you bring up a very old personal opinion based controversy and then don't want the fight. Teach to help inspire and improve or don't pen the article.

  • Carlton Ward January 22, 2011 05:02 am

    Ansel Adams used to shoot at f/94 and he still did a lot of darkroom work before he was happy with an image. Ansel's prowess in the darkroom is a fact that often gets over-looked :)
    I am guilty of "over-using" HDR myself. When I try a new software, I often push it to extremes and back off until I find my own "Happy Place". HDR is not just a digital technique as it was done with film as well. I shoot more landscape/nature shots and the camera film/sensor can only allow in a limited amount of exposure/detail because it doesn't have the capabilities our more advanced eyes do. We can see detail in dark & light areas at the same time but 1 exposure cant. I also use circular polarizers and tripod religiously and I will use whatever I have available to make the best images I can.

  • Chris Kenison January 22, 2011 04:21 am

    Yesterday, I photographed The Old Gov. Mansion here in Helena, MT. One of the rules was that I couldn't use flash... in fact, that seems to be the case in most historic places... no flash photography. HDR is perfect for this, because it does bring together those highlights and those shadows without the use of a flash. I wouldn't have gotten one good image yesterday without the use of HDR.

  • Aleeya January 22, 2011 04:09 am

    Sorry, computer locked up and my comment showed up 3 times. Maybe computers are evil.

  • Aleeya January 22, 2011 04:07 am

    I personally like HDR. I really like how it does distort reality and I think it should be considered as another way an artist can make a statement. Just because it's not a direct representation of what was actually in front of the photographer; the shadows, the lights, etc. doesn't make it evil. And I realize I"m not exactly comparing oranges to oranges but does anyone really see the world like a Monet painting? Other than when you remove your glasses I mean. Does that make him less of an artist? Personally, I don't do HDR because I can't make it look overexaggerated the way I like to see it. And just because I don't like how comic book characters are drawn does not mean I'm going to stop using a pencil either.

  • Aleeya January 22, 2011 04:06 am

    I personally like HDR. I really like how it does distort reality and I think it should be considered as another way an artist can make a statement. Just because it's not a direct representation of what was actually in front of the photographer; the shadows, the lights, etc. doesn't make it evil. And I realize I"m not exactly comparing oranges to oranges but does anyone really see the world like a Monet painting? Other than when you remove your glasses I mean. Does that make him less of an artist? Personally, I don't do HDR because I can't make it look overexaggerated the way I like to see it. And just because I don't like how comic book characters are drawn does not mean I'm going to stop using a pencil either.

  • Aleeya January 22, 2011 04:06 am

    I personally like HDR. I really like how it does distort reality and I think it should be considered as another way an artist can make a statement. Just because it's not a direct representation of what was actually in front of the photographer; the shadows, the lights, etc. doesn't make it evil. And I realize I"m not exactly comparing oranges to oranges but does anyone really see the world like a Monet painting? Other than when you remove your glasses I mean. Does that make him less of an artist? Personally, I don't do HDR because I can't make it look overexaggerated the way I like to see it. And just because I don't like how comic book characters are drawn does not mean I'm going to stop using a pencil either.

  • Stephen January 22, 2011 03:57 am

  • Bob B January 22, 2011 03:43 am

    I think the comments against are fine if you can honestly say you have never done anything to a pic after it taken. If you crop, increase saturation, remove a wrinkle, brighten teeth or eyes etc you are already modifying reality and tossing the limits of digital photography. I can look at an image and say I wouldn't have done that, but it's not my image. It would be like me saying rap music should be banned because it's not real music, ok I might have said that once. ;-)

  • Dana January 22, 2011 03:36 am

    Sounds to me like any old political debate. I like something and you don't, but I'm some how more knowledgeable than you or think I know what is best so I try (or insist) you adopt my opinion because I I think I'm smarter than you and know what is best for all. This debate has gone on for years in many other forms, GUNS, WAR, FOOD SAFETY, AUTOMOBILE SAFETY (remember when cars didn't have seat belts), the list goes on and on and on and on.........
    This whole debate is about FREEDOM of expression. That's the beauty of any art form including photography. It allows self expression, creativity and FREEDOM. If you don't like it don't look at it. Period.........
    But the debate like always will rage on.

  • Greg Russell January 22, 2011 03:00 am

    Like many things, the use of HDR demand subtlety.

  • Stephen January 22, 2011 02:16 am

    I agree with you that a photographer should learn the basics first. I personally like HDR as a form. I can see your point as well. I shoot HDR and try for more realism in my pictures. Not to say I do not try to perfect my photography; I do work on it and when I get a great shot, I try it in HDR. If I like it, I keep both shots.

  • Conor January 22, 2011 02:04 am

    I find HDR to be AWFUL most times I see it. From time to time, I see an HDR image that is truly beautiful, and blows my mind (that's because it is subtle).

    ...I still despise most HDR, though.

  • Nadag January 22, 2011 02:01 am

    You're mixing too many different issues here.
    1. The definition of art : "Is it art, if not an accurate representation of what is?" - hey is a portrait by Picasso an accurate representation of reality? Certainly not. Yet it this isn't art, what is? So you've got the wrong definition of art. Art is NOT a HI FI representation of reality, it's actually quite the opposite. Art is the expression of an artist's vision - and quite often it will be a far fetch from reality. Great!

    2. Why think that HDR is evil because it is occasionally (or often) used by people who can't even master shutter speed and exposure? Yes ANY technique can and will be tried out by people who don't know what they're doing, just like many damned good cameras are used by people who can't frame a shot properly - what does that say about art, cameras or any technique ? Nothing. It just means that with so many cameras and special effects being available to anyone, you are bound to see some pretty bad photography around, with or without HDR.

    SO yep, you are an old curmudgeon. HDR is a fad - why not let everyone have fun with it?
    Good photography always gets recognised in the end.

  • Woods January 22, 2011 01:34 am

    So many comments, haha ! Great post.
    -- Woods

  • Gary Dodson January 22, 2011 01:20 am

    Pardon to those of you from a painting /drawing background who are already familiar - To those who are not, I give you Ivan Albright - First HDR artist I can think of off hand -

  • jean January 22, 2011 01:15 am

    What is your take on Lightpainting ? no post processing at all should count towards it being photography, yet the images produced are often completely surreal ...

    I'd like to see an editorial on this :)

  • John Hill January 22, 2011 12:58 am

    I beg to differ with Peter West Carey. Overuse of the facilities within HDR software is undoubtedly jarring and can reach the unpleasant but what it can do is to reach an image of the scene that is actually nearer that viewed by the eye. A modern SLR, digital or film, cannot reproduce the level of the eye's perception of detail in shade and highlights which is why the camera manufacturers are constantly striving to improve these aspects of the dynamic range. I do mostly landscape work and I defy anyone to produce an image with a mix of detailed clouds in a bright sky and a well detailed foreground combining bright and shaded areas all of which the human eye can and does perceive. Even the best cameras today do not have the technical ability to do this in a single image but multi image HDR, correctly utilised, can get very close to the eye's perception and more accurately record what was there when you pressed the shutter than a single image.

  • Philip Holt January 22, 2011 12:51 am

    And I thought I was the only one. Photography is my favorite hobby and I am an amateur, constantly learning and trying to get better. I have been put off by the "look" of HDR because it grates on my eyes. You have articulated it nicely when you say, "HDR is trying to improve on the beauty of life as experienced through the human eye and brain."

  • Gary Duerr January 22, 2011 12:32 am

    I couldn't agree more. Many people use HDR as a substitute for knowing how light works and making choices.
    It is easier to not make choices & call it "Art" than to accept the limitations of any medium. In the old days, dodging & burning did this too, but at least you had the information in the negative. Dodging & burning addressed a problem in a process & was not a process in and of itself.
    You can do good work in HDR but it pays to understand how light and Photography works first before taking this step. It is true of any good fiction, whether it be a story or a picture. You have to know what is possible before you violate it. If you don't know the rules, you can't defend bending them.

  • Gary Duerr January 22, 2011 12:31 am

    I couldn't agree more. Many people use HDR as a substitute for knowing how light works and making choices.
    It is easier to not make choices & call it "Art" than to accept the limitations of any medium. In the old days, dodging & burning did this too, but at least you had the information in the negative. Dodging & burning addressed a problem in a process & was not a process in and of itself.
    You can do good work in HDR but it pays to understand how light and Photography works first before taking this step. It is true of any good fiction, whether it be a story or a picture. You have to know what is possible before you violate it. If you don't know the rules, you can't defend bending them.

  • Esteban January 22, 2011 12:22 am

    Personally, I am not attracted to HDR images. Still I am in favor of what I call "EDR" :-p Extended Dynamic Range. I like to do landscape pictures a lot and some times I have been in situations where the contrast in the scene go beyond the range of my sensor or film. Yet I realized, that my human eye (:-p) was more capable of coping with this situation than my camera could. So I took 2 pictures (or 3?) and later join them by hand to make an image closer to reality than what a single image was. I am not talking of going to the maximum a camera can give you, not all the way to "High", just use the technique to Extend the range just enough to capture the charm of the scene. Some times THE right exposure is not enough.

  • Andrew January 21, 2011 11:57 pm

    I didn't think that this sight let the writers use the space to editoriolize. I personal think you really just have not spent enough time shooting HDR. Unless I'm shooting people it's all I do. HDR incredibly flexible when it comes to photos. You can produce the shots you hate (surreal) or you can make the photos so true that you have no clue they are an HDR other then the fact they look better thenthe next guys. I would suggest you spend time shooting it and knowing more about it before you hate on it so much. As far as the evil comment (that's all this article was, a comment) cool, but people said the same thing about color tv when the Black and white was leaving. Get more educated on HDR then write this again. I look forward to reading it.

  • Andrew January 21, 2011 11:56 pm

    I didn't think that this sight let the writers use the space to editoriolize. I personal think you really just have not spent enough time shooting HDR. Unless I'm shooting people it's all I do. HDR incredibly flexible when it comes to photos. You can produce the shots you hate (surreal) or you can make the photos so true that you have no clue they are an HDR other then the fact they look better thenthe next guys. I would suggest you spend time shooting it and knowing more about it before you hate on it so much. As far as the evil comment (that's all this article was, a comment) cool, but people said the same thing about color tv when the Black and white was leaving. Get more educated on HDR then write this again. I look forward to reading it.

  • JL January 21, 2011 11:37 pm

    so... is Andy Warhol - a "grotesque abomination of the reality of life"????

  • Bob Stares January 21, 2011 11:29 pm

    Here we go again. When are people like you going to get off your high horses and just go with this thing. Photographs are lies to begin with. Photographers do everything in their power to inject their own version of reality into their work. They spend lifetimes learning to manipulate light and bend and shape it to fit their wills using the rules but knowing when to break them creatively. When are HDR haters going to realize that we the unwashed (and apparently unfit) have been handed a new tool and are exercising our artistic license to be outrageous or not to our hearts content. What's with the "art police" attitude. Sure it's a wild west show now but I could cite countless examples of where those who lived by conventional wisdom were sometimes strangled by it. Every new innovation in the world whether art, technology or popular culture has gone through this elitist blowback and some of these changes have fallen by the wayside because they were not strong enough to stand on their own merits. If HDR falls into that category then it will go away through the Darwinian notion of natural selection. Until then, lighten up and just go for the ride...Somebody out there may discover a societal breakthrough using this technology that would have been otherwise left ignored if they listened to naysayers like you...Remember when people said, "Digital cameras" ...Ha, only a passing fad! Ya Right!

  • Peant January 21, 2011 11:24 pm

    nice post. BUT: In reality the viewers eye of a scene is able to focus the object he is looking at. Our eyes are viewing a scene, saving pieces of it, and our brain put the puzzle together, saving it as memory. So we remember a blue sky and the details of the foreground object in shadow in ONE picture. A camera can not handle with this, it will focus either the sky underexposing the foreground object OR the foreground in shadow overexposuring the sky in the background. So why not putting together all the information in ONE static picture using HDR? Even if this looks artificicial there is a good reason to use it.

  • Julia Kovac January 21, 2011 11:19 pm

    I haven't read all the responses to this post so I'm not sure if anyone else has mentioned but regarding the comment -
    "Rather, for me, the annoyance comes from attempting to create something that doesn’t exist".

    Last time I looked I haven't noticed everything in the world being black and white. If anything, black and white photography is definitely a depiction of something that doesn't exist (unless, of course, if you're color blind). It is an artistic alteration of reality. There are good black and white photos and bad ones just like there is good hdr photos and bad ones - all subject to one's opinion. Who is to say what is "correct" photography and what is not?

  • Doug Luke January 21, 2011 11:16 pm

    Having read through all the replies I noticed the argument shifted from the authors point that HDR is only a processing technique that tends to give such a wow effect that the essentials of all good pictures which is ultimately good composition is forgotten and the photographer never improves or mistakenly believes that the reason any particular photo isn't quite working is that they haven't got the latest camera,the greatest equipment, the expensive software or the latest plug-in.
    For me the ultimate test of any picture is after the initial glance could I enjoy having that picture on the wall. Is it an image I want to look at for a long time.
    B&W works well with strong lines or where jumbled strong colours distract from the main image.
    Saturated images work well for flowers, autumnal trees, blue skies above a grassy field.
    Overdone HDR works best for manmade objects creating a graphic art/surreal look.

    I use HDR software when filters wont work, I use HDR software when the contrasts in the scene are too extreme for my camera to capture it satisfactorily. My aim is to avoid it being noticeable that I have used any form of processing. (I have seen pictures where a bland sky has been replaced by another, by a so called professional it was a very good job but...It took me a while to realise that the lighting was wrong for those clouds, I dont think I would have noticed had I not spent so much time outside in all weathers)

    Personally I dont like Photomatix and prefer the results generated by Easy HDR or by Media chance Dynamic-Photo HDR but that is because I want a natural looking image I usually slightly reduce the saturation when I use HDR.

    HDR like every technique can be done to death. My pet hate is all those long exposures to get silky smooth water, very few of those really enhance the photo but maybe that is because it is so cheap to diplay pictures that most of what is on show are the learning shots.( Could you imagine a museum showing the six yearold pictures of all the famous artists hung alongside those of 2000 other six yearolds I doubt there would be much difference )

  • Jense January 21, 2011 10:59 pm

    Here's my perspective as someone new to photography. HDR is available as a tool to 'fix' my photos when I couldn't get the image quality I wanted. Sometimes fixing can't fix and I turn to 'playing.' I've learned quite a bit from this fixing and playing. But I do not consider these photos my 'real' work. Of course they are indeed real, but they are not what I ultimately want to accomplish.

    As I progress I read more and practice more ... and look at the photographs of you photographers out there who know how to use your camera when it's in your hands. I toss more and more photos - and fix and play less and less. Why? Because I want to be a serious photographer. That is my goal. I want to know my stuff about how to take a photograph ... and I want the thrill of success in getting the photo I am hunting for through my lens.

    If my goal were to be an HDR artist, I would study how to use HDR correctly. If that were my direction, I'd want to be a serious HDR artist.

    HDR evil? Nah, just a different can of worms. I think it's important to know what you want and put your attention and focus there. Not into HDR? That's fine ... just politely ask for the can of worms that fits your tastes. There's way too much energy put into debate ... right and wrong ... should and shouldn't.

    Not into HDR? Good, because you are the folks I want to learn from. I'll be keeping my eye on you. Click!

  • Kyle Andree January 21, 2011 10:25 pm

    I totally agree. It has only been in the last 4-5 years that I have began to teach myself digital photography. For me I am more concerned with trying to learn how to use my camera to photograph exactly what I see. I don't own any fancy software program and try to only use the basic's of editing with the software I have. Thats just how I am personally, I prefer for the picture to be as close to the original (if not the same) as possible.

  • Cheezman January 21, 2011 10:20 pm

    Here is a photo I just looked at that is, in my view, assuming there is such a thing, HDR "done right." I'm not sure why he used it here. It didn't even occur to me it was HDR until I noticed the tag.

  • bogdan January 21, 2011 10:08 pm

    why so much hate against hdr? if HDR is a lie, then you might just as well consider polarising filters a lie. or gradual density gray filters a lie. or you could say Ansel Adams is a lier (do your research and you will see he was the first to actually do HDR, by using his hand to cover some areas of the image while exposing it in his darkroom). HDR has always been with us, wheter you like it or not. HDR is like painting. A painter can choose his tones and create the image in exatcly the same manner HDR works. so you're saying all painters al liers??
    i think you should reconsider your attitude. HDR is art. More art than simple fotography. HDR requires extra skills to do right. And art is not about reproducing reality as close as possible. That would be dull. I agree with you on that there are alot of bad examples of HDR, which look ugly and overdone, but just because there are bad HDR photographers doesn't mean all HDR is wrong. HDR is beautiful, it allows you to show the world in a new light, like it's never seen before, like you see it with your mind. that is the expression of art. HDR is not a way to fix a bad photo. There is also bad examples of HDR, but when used right, HDR can be magnificent.

  • bogdan January 21, 2011 10:07 pm

    why so much hate against hdr? if HDR is a lie, then you might just as well consider polarising filters a lie. or gradual density gray filters a lie. or you could say Ansel Adams is a lier (do your research and you will see he was the first to actually do HDR, by using his hand to cover some areas of the image while exposing it in his darkroom). HDR has always been with us, wheter you like it or not. HDR is like painting. A painter can choose his tones and create the image in exatcly the same manner HDR works. so you're saying all painters al liers??
    i think you should reconsider your attitude. HDR is art. More art than simple fotography. HDR requires extra skills to do right. And art is not about reproducing reality as close as possible. That would be dull. I agree with you on that there are alot of bad examples of HDR, which look ugly and overdone, but just because there are bad HDR photographers doesn't mean all HDR is wrong. HDR is beautiful, it allows you to show the world in a new light, like it's never seen before, like you see it with your mind. that is the expression of art. HDR is not a way to fix a bad photo. There is also bad examples of HDR, but when used right, HDR can be magnificent.

  • Mike Dorey January 21, 2011 09:00 pm

    I believe any photographer should always aspire to capturing an image in its purist state, that is - the way it is seen through the lens! It is inevitable that once you start adding filters, specialist lenses (e.g fish-eye) or post production manipulation, you move over into the creative side.

    HDR photography is always going to generate a debate between the purists and the creative artists, but surely we must never lose sight of the fact that photography as an art, past-time or profession is about the expression of the individual. This debate started by suggesting that HDR somehow diminishes the quality of an image - well that is an opinion and I respect that but to suggest it has no place in photography is wrong. I used to pride myself on the ability to make a good capture without adding anything to it, but started to appreciate that if a picture is enhanced in a sympathetic and careful way, it can improve the end result and give greater satisfaction to my acheivements.

    It is the same as most things in life - do it in moderation and the outcome will be fine. Creativity is the product of open-midedness, so open minded I shall remain.

  • Ren January 21, 2011 08:40 pm

    Your premise seems to be that we all experience the world in the same way. However, HDR often goes the furthest towards replicating what I see with my eyes, rather than what the camera sees.

    Photography is art. Everyone who feels compelled to pick up a camera has the right to produce the images they want to produce.

    Purists, be damned.

  • Richard January 21, 2011 08:18 pm

    I disagree to a large extent.

    I see HDR falling (generally) into two distinct categories. There are those who prefer to make their images look like paintings. If so, so what? Of course it is art. Just like a real painting is an interpretation of a scene by an artist so is this type of HDR image. The other type of HDR image is created where the photographer attempts to simply bet the best out of the differences in contrast while trying to stick as much as possible to the original scene. Is it art? Yes.

    The human eye is able to differentiate between light and dark areas of a scene far quicker and better than any camera. What this type of HDR image is trying to reproduce is essentially what the eye can see but the camera cannot.

    Unless you produce your images without any digital manipulation or tweaking whatsoever I think you are being hypocritical and snobbish. I note however that you have a tab on this web page named Post Production.

  • Cheezman January 21, 2011 08:13 pm

    What a third rail HDR is! Any post of an HDR article generates scads of polarized comments. Hate it or love it. Very few seem to be in between. That's fine, but the ranting and the raving is easily on a par and may even exceed the Left vs. the Right political ranting you see in the States.

    Allow me for the moment the hubris to claim that I think I am pretty typical, an average bloke. The first time I saw HDR, I was wowed. These, I thought, are the kind of photographs I want to make. I bought a book, I downloaded Photomatix and I started snapping off three bracketed shots of anything I saw. I was convinced that HDR would make even mundane photos worthwhile. For my very first ever, I set up a tripod in a narrow medieval street in Croatia and snapped off 3 at an ordinary corner. When it was processed, I really, mistakenly, thought it was fab. I did even better I thought with the subsequent HDRs I created from that trip. (see that first one here, and some more in the set:

    For awhile I created like crazy these HDR photos and enjoyed looking at others. Now, believe me, I allow for the fact that I'm just a two bit not very good photographer, but my interest in HDR started to wane. And it waned and waned. Something was missing in them. For want of a better term, they seemed, for some reason, to lack a soul. Or heat. Or maybe it was touch. HDR does not touch.

    Now, to me, it is just a trick and, sometimes a tool I will occasionally use to capture a challenging tonal range. But I never like the result as much as a well-crafted single image photo. HDR, 95% of the time screams "look at me, I'm HDR", while the composition and story of the photo is either neglected by the creator or overwhelmed by the HDR. The few good HDR photos I see are those where you're not quite sure if it's HDR or not, and I need to check the tags to see if the photographer has owned up. Otherwise, give me a well composed, well crafted single image construct anytime. I think Peter Carey is an amazing and thoughtful photographer and that he's dead on here. Thanks Peter.

    I'm curious though, has anyone else had this experience of loving HDR at first and then moving away from it? If so, it would partially explain the vitriol in the posts. Many of those passionately defending are in the early stages of loving it. Will their passion ebb like mine? Did yours?

  • Matt January 21, 2011 08:09 pm

    I certainly understand how purists can be irritated by the overuse of HDR, but I don't see it as an abomination. I have seen some stunning HDR photos and I have some some horrendous HDR photos. But at the same time, I have seen some stunning non-HDR photos and some horrendous non-HDR photos. The problem when you start talking about "Is it art?," is that art can only be determined by the individual looking at it. If it is beautiful to me and ugly to you, does that make it not art? At the same time, if you use Photoshop to alter your work (hue, adjustment, saturation, etc.), are you also not altering reality? HDR is just a new way to try and express what you see in your mind of the scene you've attempted to capture. Some are good at making that translation, others are not.

  • Garry Fenton January 21, 2011 07:14 pm

    A lot of people on this forum are harping on about the reality of an image and I'm purist blah blah blah! But photography is a medium that has been twisted and tested to its limits ever since the beginning. One word PHOTOSHOP. And before that I would spend hours in the dark room manipulating images to the way I wanted to others view them.

    Lenses change the way we see the world also, stick on an ultra wide angle lens and we see the world in a totally new way.

    So you tell me what the difference is PLEASE!!!

  • John Jessup January 21, 2011 07:06 pm

    Artists are not subjected to crating reality. There are certain types of art that do this, even surrealism which was popular at one stage. I've never seen Monet or Cezanne being called cheats or frauds in the modern world. Maybe they were in their time.

    So why in heaven's name must photographers conform to representing reality? I refuse to be shackled by traditional pros who seem threatened by the capability and popularity that digital gives to so many more people.

    Yes, as with any other art form, there is good and there is bad.

    Fair enough if you don't like a particular genre. I'm not particularly crazy about badly done HDR or badly done anything. I've also seen and done some HDR that is really tasteful.

    But please stop calling people frauds and cheats just because their photographic style chooses to improve upon reality.

  • dogwatcher January 21, 2011 06:50 pm

    >>If you use photoshop or any other program to work on a photo,then its not a real photo either.

    Sorry, but that is ..... okay, I won't get rude.

    If someone worked in his ("real" analog) darkroom getting the "perfect print" it's no photo either?

    Regarding HDR: I don't do them, but let's put a long story short: There good ones, there are bad ones. It's jut a technique, it (was) a trend, but your article is 1-2 years late. At least where I live here HDR has faded away from the frontpages of the photographic magazines. It's now just another technique which you can use or not.

    What I DO is these kind of "primitive" DRIs... (dynamic range increase). It's more natural looking. Basically just several layers with different exposures. (.. maybe even the same photo but with different development settings in the RAW-developer). An easy and convenient way to balance out shadows and highlights, especially if the dynamic range of your cam is rather small. I see no "manipulating" in this technique... at least not too an inacceptable degree.

    Just an example here:

  • Jonathan January 21, 2011 06:47 pm

    What is HDR?

  • Miljenko Barbir January 21, 2011 05:43 pm

    I agree that there is a lot of "overcooked" HDR images but I also agree with dave. HDR is a way of processing images and if you have a problem with the mass of overcooked, possibly (or probably) done by amateurs that should learn the basics, you might as well be unimpressed with the other processing methods...

    There are also a lot of lomo, black and white, tilt-shift, vintage, etc. effects that have some wonderful results, but also a ton of those that are badly done...

    If you see a list saying "Examples of wonderful HDR photographs", and the first 2-3 are garbage-candidates then you shouldn't take the list (or a site) seriously, and move on...

  • Mark C. Oldham January 21, 2011 05:37 pm

    I think that HDR, like any other image-processing technique, requires a sense of taste and a light touch. A little goes a long way...

  • John Hamrick January 21, 2011 04:47 pm

    If you use photoshop or any other program to work on a photo,then its not a real photo either.

  • Mahesh Krishnan January 21, 2011 04:43 pm

    Amen!! While the shots look stunning they do not look real. I realize I am still an amateur and get very disappointed when s shot did not turn out how I envisioned it I take solace in the fact that I truly created the end product without any computer manipulation.

  • Loco January 21, 2011 04:38 pm

    That's a really good article and a bit inspiring too (when it suggests us to experiment). I remember when i first saw an HDR photo, I was like what the heck is it? I later googled HDR and saw a few 'good' HDR work, but none of them impressed me. And it still never does. I agree with you that HDR is like lying. Its like cheating with art. Its more of a deceit than an art.

    But then one question that bothers me a lot is is editing pictures not lying/cheating? Where do we draw the line? Some of my non-photographer friends call my work as a more as a photoshopped work than an art. It pisses me off sometimes, but then I realise i haven't done anything to distort the reality. I just experiment with the colors of the whole picture n i dont use Photoshop for that. i use Lightroom. But how do we convience them that it is not just changing the colors that makes the picture so attractive, but its the underlying subject or theme that i am trying to show.

  • Ken Kaminesky January 21, 2011 04:18 pm

    I fail to see why so many people bash a photographic technique like HDR. In the end it is just another tool in our arsenal as digital photographers. The year is 2011 and there are new ways to do things in photography. Does that mean that they are all good, or all bad? Of course not. Photography has never seen such an evolution as in the last 7 years or so. The photographic process had remained unchanged for decades, then with the introduction of scanners, photoshop and then digital cameras, the whole ballgame changed.

    So why bash HDR? It is just a method to be able to get a better dynamic range in your images. What's so bad about that? I seem to recall a fellow by the name of Ansel Adams, who was doing something similar a few years back. He called it the Zone System and we all studied it in school until recently. No one bashes him or his process, and yet there were a lot of people who created rather marginal photography utilizing the Zone System.

    I agree that there is a lot of overdone, really bad looking HDR photography out there. Some of my first attempts were quite horrific too. So were some of my first b&w prints, but I got better. I learned how to make rather good museum quality fiber based prints and eventually did this for a living for a while. Now I do the same with my photography and part of that is HDR.

    So lumping together people who use a tool well (hdr), along with amateurs who are just trying to have some fun by toying with this tool, is kind of insulting. In my opinion all photography is "trying to improve on the beauty of life as experienced through the human eye and brain" and if it isn't, you're not doing it well. Calling HDR "evil" devalues your whole post, to the point where I think that it was written to illicit these massive replies. In that, you've done a good job.

    If you get a bad meal, do you blame the frying pan, or the cook? The same should apply to HDR and photographers.

  • Kathy January 21, 2011 04:11 pm

    I agree with you TOTALLY and UNEQUIVOCALLY!! So refreshing to hear it expressed. When I look at a photo, I want to see what the eye actually sees. The REAL world if you will.

  • erickajen January 21, 2011 03:58 pm

    i agree; ive seen so much of it, and its overwhelming. what happened to normal photography? why isnt it as "relevant"? who can compete with HDR (in its best form)? no one. so.... make it that "one shot". but then, i want to see some normalcy. i want to see things i can at least attempt to reconstruct at this point in my learning. HDR isnt even close to what i can accomplish now. :P

  • Brett Holt January 21, 2011 03:57 pm

    Yes! I agree.

  • Dave January 21, 2011 03:49 pm

    Seriously, why do people worry about what other people do? If someone likes HDR, let them do HDR. If you don't like it, don't do it. But why spend so much time whining about it?

  • Marcus January 21, 2011 03:33 pm

    Actually i think some folks are just being too defensive :

    1. photography = art ? yes in some extent
    2. HDR = art ? also true in some extent
    3. big question is : photography = HDR overcooked (fantasy) = art ?

    If i print out a copy of mona lisa, would that be art ? That is what HDR is doing, making a photo which is a capture of what is real into a fake looking CGI wonderland. And the biggest sign is, the EYE and mind knows its a fake. As mentioned, nobody says the B&W are fakes because the EYE and the mind knows its real just b/w in color. The same can be said of LOMO , its still look real and the EYE + mind knows its real.

    4. HDR used correctly is GOOD! nobody here says it isnt, neither did the article. But guess what? check out those so called "HDR done right" examples in one of the post months back in this site, all those are the ones that are OVERCOOKED, FAKE. So if the so called Expert poses HDR done right are all overcooked and fake looking/fantasy, then where does that leaves the rest of the HDR community?

  • Sandro Cuccia January 21, 2011 03:26 pm

    To many, Photography is a personal form of expression. How they capture or how they process an image is done so for their own pleasure and edification. For the most part they don't photograph to please others. If they like it and are pleased with the results, that's all that really matters.

  • Ryan January 21, 2011 03:01 pm

    And the point of this article is...?? To foster an argument that goes around in circles?
    If you like it, then you like it. If you don't then you don't. Personally I don't like the tonemapped stuff and don't produce images processed that way. But If the public are paying money for the HDR tonemapped, stuff then photographers will continue to produce tonemapped images.
    Get over it.

  • winston January 21, 2011 02:55 pm

    While I will say that the addition of HDR to things like cell phone cameras is probably about as revolutionary as a snuggie was to home living, the ability to capture information digitally shouldn't be overlooked. A lot of pocket cameras have absolutely abysmal dynamic range, and HDR might be able to pull something interesting out of garbage. On the other hand, to do HDR right, you need a human eye guiding everything. i.e. Photoshop or Photomatix. You need controls, which you can't get in a pocket camera or cell phone.

    I think HDR is a bit of an art, that's been abused. Everyone and their mom is flooding the scene with sub-par pictures... kinda like tablet PCs...

  • Tim Samson January 21, 2011 02:41 pm

    Numerous posts above already said what I think but the bottom line is, a good image is a good image regardless of the technique used in capturing it. If it had to take HDR to make me say "Hey cool! I wish I could could do that" then by all means bring on HDR. There will always be good and bad photography. Digital and HDR software just made it easier (and cheaper) to create a bad photo and show it to the whole world.

  • blaize January 21, 2011 02:33 pm

    I like HDR, but I think it can be abused... in fact I may be one of the one's Peter is talking about who have abused it. :)

    I'm trying to get in the habit of using HDR when the shot calls for it (i.e. a high contrast shot) such that HDR is just another tool in the same manner that I have different lenses for different subject matter etc.

  • Ken January 21, 2011 02:28 pm

    I guess we're all entitled to our points of view, but limiting your perception of art so narrowly is pretty sad. I have to wonder what else isn't artistic in your world? Oil vs Watercolor? Bronze vs Ice? Analog vs Digital? But... wow... Evil?!? Really!?!

    Take it at face value and appreciate it or don't! We all produce art - if you don't like it, then you don't like it. That makes it no more evil than the caricaturist or face painter.

    I'm disappointed that DPS would allow this writer to use this word in such a context.

  • Wayne January 21, 2011 02:00 pm

    Interesting article. I, too, find some HDR photos today as beyond the pale, but I remember when HDR first appeared it was a way to get all the details of a photo showing whether it was in a shadow or a bright area. I thought the results were great; it was a photo that really showed everything that was there... if you wanted it. Then came the garishness. Like all new phenomena it was probably overdone, and I think in time it will find its place if it deserves it. Digital photography has opened up so much in the post shutter phase that it will time to digest all of its possibilities. I'm sure we've all had our post exposure moments. I love the Nik plug ins as well as many of the effects from Auto FX. And look out Alien Skin! At the same time we've seen images that were made simply because they could be, neither intrinsically honest or artistic. Thank you for your article; it provokes questions of what photography is, should be, or, perhaps more importantly, what it shouldn't be.

  • Neal Jorgensen January 21, 2011 01:54 pm

    I also agree and disagree. I have seen the un-real HDR images, but I have also see some very appealing ones. The best point you made is learn exposure 1st. Then tweek it for a different look. HDR, and Photoshop are tools. If you have fix everything you shoot, ether with Photoshop, or HDR Think of going back to the basics, to save yourself work.. If you have a great image to start with tweeking it can be fun and produce a ineresting image

  • Alex Khun January 21, 2011 01:40 pm

    Hi Peter Carey,

    Thanks for your honest comment. Even though I'm a young and less experience photographer, but I whole heartedly agree with your points about over doing the image to try to make it look surreal by either using the available tools like photoshop and/or other technique like HDR, that don't really reflect the reality of the situation being captured.

    My thinking may be still based on the old style. But I believe that trying to change the photo from what it actually is or was, is in fact distorting the reality and doesn't really telling the story. I think true photography is about capturing the moment, and tell a story.

    May be it's just me that I work in the photojournalism field that influences me to think of it that way. But again everyone has an opinion and ultimately it's up to the viewers to form their judgement about the image. And people do know a real and true photos compared to the one done up by photoshop and stuff.

    Alex Khun

  • Jim January 21, 2011 01:38 pm

    HDR is simply a lie.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer January 21, 2011 01:31 pm

    Well articulated post on the current state of HDR photography. I have always tried to keep my own HDR photography as far away from the fantasy-look as possible.

    There are several local photography groups whose main focus is HDR and I cannot really participate in them because I would have nothing but criticism for the shots shown at meetings.

    I did participate in a HDR historical themed exhibition where HDR photos were compared with photos of the same places in the city (St. Petersburg, FL) 50-75 years ago.

    One woman said to me my photo was the only one she liked as everyone else pretty much had the "grunge" effect turned up high on their style of HDR.

  • Sharon January 21, 2011 01:26 pm

    I agree that people should have the fundamentals and basics down so that they can repeatedly produce solid images. That's skill. I don't create HDR myself however I see it as a creative extension of the digital imagery field. It kind of reminds me of the paint on velvet craze of the 1960's. Brilliant contrasting, unrealistic finished products that were in some ways grotesque. Nonetheless, it was highly desired by some. I have lived long enough now to understand that people see color and content in extremely different ways. We can look so similar on the outside but what we feel, think and perceive is so contrasting. I see HDR as a view from the minds eye of the person creating it. It's a statement to me. Either it is how the creator sees it or how he wishes it were. At the very least it is in his vision or interest. I find it a fascinating testimony so each result is a curious unique process to me. Every interesting image captures time, space, color, energy, emotion and technique...
    HDR simply tweaks the dial. It's the Outer Limits, Twilight Zone or Underground of digital expression.

  • Bosco January 21, 2011 01:25 pm

    HDR = just say 'no'. And then say it again. Can be (and usually is) cliché. If you're going to 'shop your shots, do it in unsurprising ways. I like to see shots that surprise and delight me, not make me go 'duh'!

  • Haybox January 21, 2011 01:07 pm

    Well I have scrolled through the replies and the recurring themes of "Reality" and the "Reality of life" keep popping up. Well there is no such thing , the fact is our perception of reality differs greatly from other individuals, what we see and feel is tempered by our own life experience hence the expression "One mans meat is another mans poison".

    May I suggest we all continue to express our photographic creativity in our own way , in the end we are, after all just searching within ourselves.

  • Chuck January 21, 2011 12:53 pm

    I watched someone make the HDR corrections via the computer and watched another photographer use graded neutral density filters to do the same thing. Any comments on whic might produce the better photograph?

  • Ollie Jones January 21, 2011 12:42 pm

    Hmmm. Even without dodging and burning in the darkroom, old-time chemical film was logarithmic and could manage a dynamic range of eight to ten zones (eight to ten f-stops or successive halving of the light).

    HDR digital photography done right tries to recapture that range. But of course the whole digital signal chain (sensor, digitization, compression/storage, retrieval/decompression, monitor display and electronic printing) has a whole lot less dynamic range in most cases.

    Ten or eleven bit d-to-a on monitors with a properly set gamma would fix a lot of that. But where the heck is anybody other than Gates or Buffet going to find that kind of tech? So we're reduced to color trickery.

  • Lorbie January 21, 2011 12:29 pm

    I'm practicing photography for only 5 years..
    with this, I'm not to be consideration, Im not a pro seasoned like
    most of you guys..

    just a point of view, i like vibrant colors like in HDR
    but not most of the time. composition is still best for me.

  • Hudson Malta January 21, 2011 12:20 pm

    I do not agree. HDR is another tool to creative impulse, for those who find expression on it. Art is art, with very elastic limits (or no one at all). The new photographic world is much closer to art than ever before, but new and accurrate concepts are also too much needed than before. Today we have too many opened doors, with too many new tools. HDR is just one more possibility. Good artists don´t throw away any tool. Good artists know your limits very well, and every new experience is a way to push those limits further. Sorry for my bad english. :)

  • Meri F Clason January 21, 2011 12:15 pm

    Thank you! I am just learning to play with digital & still love my old Nikon--and it drives me nuts to see "experts"
    who feel that it's necessary to tweak the wonders they photograph--makes me wonder if they're not competent to achieve a fine photo without aid!

  • Frank January 21, 2011 11:59 am

    I think that digital photography has taken us to a realm where photography is not just about "what is", but also "what if". I think it just goes to everyone's personal taste as too whether or not they consider HDR and other heavily manipulated photos as good photography. I enjoy both types of photography; I admire a well done HDR but also have tremendous respect for a photo that is far less reliant on the computer.

  • Hans Mast January 21, 2011 11:58 am

    Btw, a big kudos to Darren Rowse on sewing up points 13 through 16 with this post. The brilliant thing (and I need to remember this as I've flirted with ProBlogging for some time) is getting a guest blogger to write it, because Darren gets all the links and Peter Carey West gets all the heat. :-D

  • speedy January 21, 2011 11:55 am

    "Is it art, if not an accurate representation of what is?"

    I have never seen a molten clock, but I still consider Salvador Dali an artist. Analogously, I have never seen the world in black and white, with fish-eye distortion, with zoom effect, with creative depth of field, with light trails, with the motion effects you get with slow shutter speeds, etc. etc.. Unless you are in forensics, photography is not meant to, and cannot, portray reality. Even if you are in forensics, you'd better understand that a camera is never able to portray reality.

    You just don't like HRD. I don't either, but that's my issue and should not affect anyone else who does.

  • Hans Mast January 21, 2011 11:54 am

    Please tell me where I say art must conform to reality. I never said that and never think it.

    In your defense, if not to your credit, it is a little difficult to decipher what you were saying, but it did seem like it:

    The limits of digital photography, currently, keep the images captured within the realm of realistic, lifelike photos.

    Is it art, if not an accurate representation of what is? I doubt it. Most of the HDR I have seen passed around the internet as “amazing” is not attempting art. It is taking a literal scene that you enjoy and attempting to skirt around the reality of it; that it’s too harshly lit, that it has huge shadows or that the contrast is making things not so pretty. It’s taking an attempt at reality and turning it into a lie.

    So is it art (because it's not realistic) or is it "not attempting art. It is taking a literal scene that you enjoy and attempting to skirt around the reality of it". Or does HDR perfectly straddle the line between the realism of photography and the unreality of art making it neither art nor photography, thus "mostly evil"?

    The more I read this article, the more confused I become.

  • The Kav January 21, 2011 11:51 am

    Oh boy...I have not read any of the responses but I am sure you have a bunch of cheerleaders sounding the same as your comments.

    As for me if someone has juiced up an HDR I say - Go for it. Do I like it? not likely, but that is my problem. If they like it then its perfect. To go out on a limb and say that you don't like something like juiced up HDR is like I said...your problem. To put it in a forum makes for a good exchange and maybe I am getting sucked into this as well..once again, my problem.

    But if you are truly sticking to your guns on this and venting your opinion then I would suggest that if you want the purest form of photography then I suggest burning your camera. NO, SERIOUSLY! Isn't it a pure form if you sit back in a lawn chair on the edge of a mountain, open your diet Pepsi and just take it all in!? Because we all know that all cameras fake what we see and heaven forbid if you have some color blindness.

    So you don't like wacked out what...your problem. Maybe you can write about something of photography value instead of venting your opinion and seeing how many Amens you can get out of the faithful. You might think that I produce these types of HDR...quite the opposite but I will go to bat for anyone doing any sort of photography whether I like it or not. Since when did photography become a medium for everyone to like?

    Juiced HDR Fan!

  • Jim King January 21, 2011 11:45 am

    Two points. One, I have heard a similar type of argument used by those who don't like polarizing filters. And the second is that I've been around since 1943 and I remember photos that were very unrealistic waaay back.

    One reason I might agree with you though is that I can't seem to get an HDR photo that I'd be willing to show anyone. Of course, that's just sour grapes.

  • Peter West Carey January 21, 2011 11:43 am

    I appears I did lump in the fake HDR with the pros. That wasn't my intent and I didn't make that clear.

    alan a.,
    Please tell me where I say art must conform to reality. I never said that and never think it.

  • Alan A. January 21, 2011 11:19 am

    By your definition that art must conform to reality, Picasso was not an artist but a a psychotic doodler. Most artists would disagree. I think that the argument that photography must be an exact unaltered representation of reality is why so few accept photography as art. Art is the expression of an individual's inner vision. It is no less artistic if it is a distorted vision.

    The photography you espouse is one type of photography, but it is not the only type. I ask you to embrace the diversity, and do not condemn any particular school of photography, or any particular medium. Most people who buy a set of paints and brushes and believe that they are creating modern masterpieces really, really suck. That does not invalidate painting as a true field of art. The fact that many more people have photo manipulation software than know how to use it properly -- and when to stop -- likewise does not invalidate the work of those who do.

  • julie January 21, 2011 11:14 am

    I don't see why everyone is so huffy-puffy about HDR. the over surrealstic ones are just that surrealistic. Its not like there isnt a billion other types of photographs that havent been worked on harder than some celebrity's plastic surgery face. Oh its not realistic looking sometimes? I'm ok with that., seeing a version of my world in a different view is fun. I think people who don't like overprocessed HDR , are allowed to not like it, but please dont claim it is not art!

  • david joseph January 21, 2011 11:09 am

    I dont hate HDR per say , just that in the thousands of images I have seen i have not seen any that interest me enough to learn how its done. I am told x HDR " artiste " is very good etc and looked at their work and was " meeh "... so i dont think its that I looked at bad HDR. As you say people would be better served learning to be photographers..

  • Chris January 21, 2011 11:07 am

    Pretty poor argument - and one that most of us are tired of already.

    I agree that when overused, HDR indeed can be a "grotesque abomination of the reality of life." (that's my opinion, but if others like it, that's great - everyone has different tastes and who am I to say mine are better).

    However, when used properly, HDR has the potential to capture a much more realistic and faithful representation of what a scene really looks like. My eyes have a far higher contrast ratio than can be captured without HDR. Your argument presumes that a regular photo equals what my eyes see, and that is absolutely wrong.

    The trend of overdone HDR will indeed fade in time. But tasteful, appropriate HDR is here to stay.

  • marcus January 21, 2011 11:02 am

    Everyone can debate until kingdom comes but basically Hdr that looks fake is fake. You don't see anyone complains b&w simply because it is real and the mind knows that.
    Hdr overcooked examples that appear on one of the articles months back are in the fake category.
    If you can't tell a Hdr from animation studios , its Hdr overcooked.

  • Peter Marks January 21, 2011 10:56 am

    A $20 fluorescent pink wig is great for a laugh at a costume party or for the circus
    A $15,000 wig made of exactly matching human hairs looks great on a celebrity actress.
    The problem is that you won't even know the celebrity hair is a wig unless I tell you.
    So, I suggest that maybe you who 'detest' HDR images can only recognize pink wigs?.

  • Rick January 21, 2011 10:46 am

    There's a disconnect here. You seem to be criticizing the 'fake' HDR while at the same time lumping in the 'real' HDR photos right along with it. There are some flaws in your reasoning.

    The fact is, the future of digital photography will be sensors that are able to capture much wider ranges of light levels than they do today. A generation from now, they're going to be scoffing at our software that combines multiple exposures, when theirs does it all in one shot.

  • DougR January 21, 2011 10:29 am

    2010's HDR is 2008's Tilt/Shift Fake is 2006's selective color.

    Like any trend, HDR will fade in time. The good/useful parts will be kept and used appropriately and the rest left in the dusts of time.

  • Chris January 21, 2011 10:08 am

    I have to agree with the overall reasoning - HDR is sometimes "cute," often "interesting," frequently "eye-catching," but always "fake," and demonstrative of Photoshop skills rather than photography skills. I hate it. I think it will be a passing fashion.

  • Hans Mast January 21, 2011 10:08 am

    Oh, one more point that I meant to make earlier: Photography, at its most basic, is not an accurate representation of the world we see because it compresses (distorting along the way) three dimensions into two. That's no reason to abandon photography (I love photography!) but that fact, along with a host of other accepted, orthodox photographic techniques mentioned that are far from "natural" (sepia, B&W, small DOF, wide angle distortion, telephoto compression, dodging & burning, etc, etc) make an argument that HDR is "a grotesque abomination of the reality of life" ring very, very false.

  • Noel January 21, 2011 10:07 am

    Peter, I agree with what Trep is saying as well, and I think everyone who has picked up a digital camera and has a copy of some photo editing software has over processed an image. I don't believe HDR is the culprit however it seems to be the scapegoat a lot of the time right now. That's probably because a lot of us photographers are always looking for that magic formula that will ensure that we get great shots all the time.

    One of the reasons I love photography is the sense of community and passion that millions of people share. There are so many people out there trying to capture this ethereal concept of an image that evokes some type of emotive response and we are all struggling to find and keep an individual identity through our photographs within this community. Why convey the message that a particular way of expressing that creativity is wrong?

    Rather than write off a technique all together, why not discuss why and how you can use this technique to achieve a desired result.

    I agree with Susan Sontag when she said, "The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own." To me photography is about how we see and interpret the world as individuals, so if I break the rule of thirds or I process an image a bit too much and that's the way I like the image then it doesn't make it wrong to use that technique nor does it make it an abomination. It also doesn't necessarily mean that I am going to like the way I processed that image 6 months from now, which says a lot about how our sense of reality changes over time.

    Much like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's world of Macondo, our world is filled with many "magical" moments, which for me require the use of HDR or other post processing to really tell the story that I experienced.

    So, when I see an image I don't much care about how it was taken or how it was processed, what matters is whether it tells me a compelling story or not.

  • Hans Mast January 21, 2011 10:00 am

    And for those touting the fact that our eyes have a kick butt dynamic range (and I still marvel at how cool the eye and brain are together) that doesn’t mean it’s used all at once!

    For instance, our eye might have the wide dynamic range, but put a 100W lightbulb in a pitch black field. Next to the lightbulb put a small diving wall and then an object on the other side of the wall. Let’s make it a tomato because I find them funny and the mood needs lightening.

    Now look at the lightbulb from one meter away. As your eyes adjust, you can read the writing on it. Now stare at the tomato. “What tomato?” you ask. Ok, give your eyes time to adjust. Now you see it? Yes? Now look at the lightbulb “Ahhhh!!!”

    When stepping back to a distance of ten feet (to be fair that everyone has to do math in this reply) and looking at the same scene, you can’t get the most out of both. Your eye has that dynamic range but it doesn’t use it all at once.

    You're going to the extreme, an unrealistic extreme, to "prove" a point. Most cameras cannot bracket enough stops (Canon's top end cameras limit you to a bracketing of 6 stops; Nikon may be able to do more) to create an HDR of the scene you describe. There are limits to our eyes' dynamic range + HDR process as well.

    Here are the stats:
    Eyes' dynamic range (at a certain aperture) - 16 stops
    Eyes' absolute range (if given enough time to adjust) - 12,272 stops
    Canon 7D's dynamic range at ISO 200 - 11.1 stops
    Canon 7D's absolute range - nearly unlimited since it can use long time exposure (another one of those "awful" unrealistic photo-types that are orthodox SDR fare, thus totally acceptable)

    If you take a standard HDR (0, -2, +2) with a 7D the resulting image has a dynamic range of 26.2 stops (-13.1 to +13.1). Wikipedia says that our eyes have 20 stops of dynamic contrast--the dynamic range that is covered by quick adjustments. So we do see that HDRs can theoretically have a slightly greater dynamic range than our eyes.

    The key takeaway, however, is that there is not much difference between the dynamic range of an HDR photo and our eyes. The scenario you describe would clip highlights and shadows for both an HDR and the human eye.

  • Mary Kolencik January 21, 2011 09:58 am

    Well written, well reasoned.

    Everybody gets to take whatever pictures they want. If using HDR whenever and wherever you want makes you happy, go for it. But aesthetically, I don't like pictures that are an attempt at reality but really are a lie.

    Every photo is a manipulation of reality, and I do enjoy photos that are clearly manipulations. A great example is black and white photography. I see in color, yet I could spend hours studying the works of Ansel Adams. But most of the HDR photos I have seen are an attempt to go beyond what our eyes are capable of seeing yet are trying to produce something that looks like we could see it. Many HDR photos try to hide the fact that they are a manipulation of the scene, a lie.

    If you're going to lie to me, then lie to me and let me enjoy it. Don't hide the lie.

  • Brett Russell January 21, 2011 09:49 am


    Article did raise a hornets nest! Where I disagree is the statement that the aim of photography is to capture reality. Might have been with the first tests starting out but then quickly became an art form. HDR is just a long line of tools for an artist. We are told to use a 135mm portrait lens with wide aperture and many leaves to get the flatter look of a subject in sharp focus against a fuzzy background. We use polarising filters and other tricks and do not feel that we are breaking from reality.

    I cringe every time I read "the purity of reality". A camera does not see as the eye so any photograph is a distortion of reality. Even the mundane but important accident scene ones. A lazy police photographer with a zoom can make the stopping distance appear massive using the widest setting or short using the maximum telephoto setting. In court a jury can get fooled. Unless HDR is been used for deliberately false reasons I cannot understand the purpose of the article apart to say "look at me, I am pure and great".

    O'well yet another passive aggressive has found a platform to stake their claim to life.


  • William Beem January 21, 2011 09:46 am

    " realistic, lifelike photos"

    You're kidding, right? Is black & white realistic or lifelike? No, but it's accepted within the limitations of photography. Is a time exposure that makes a waterfall look like cotton candy realistic? No, but once again, it's accepted within the limitations of photography.

    Is a photograph that shows less dynamic range than I see with my own eyes realistic? Not in the slightest. So why do you prefer to call it realistic and lifelike when it is anything but?

  • Framtonm January 21, 2011 09:43 am

    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.

  • Kevin Horkan January 21, 2011 09:41 am

    My first thought on reading your column is that your personal response to HDR is OK, it's yours. I like HDR images, and that's mine. I would find it difficult to support a column against black and white images, with their lack of dynamic range, but some people get to write columns about anything they want. Viva freedom of the press.

  • Brett W. January 21, 2011 09:40 am

    I just have one thing to say the people who think that HDR is fake and therefore not art. Since when is any art need to be only on realism? Does Picasso's work not belong in art, and not considered real painting because it lacks of sense of realism? I thought art was about the freedom of expression. If through even the over-processed HDR, if that is the view the artists wants, then it is art.

  • Hagen January 21, 2011 09:38 am

    Sorry to say, but you are a curmudgeon :-=)

    HDR was invented to increase the tonal range to something that our eyes perceive, as well as attempt to capture the ability we have to resolve different exposures in the same scene (with our eyes). So all that fits with your description of photography.

    Yes, HDR seems to have been associated with the extreme end of the spectrum. Whether that is art or not, is for each person to decide: art is subjective. No ifs and or buts about it.

    Me personally, some extreme HDR I like (old buildings etc). I try to use HDR to increase the image to reflect what my eye saw. So call that 'painting with light' or what have you: it is exactly the same as adjusting the shadows and highlights, just with a properly exposed second/third/fifth/ninth image instead of 1.

    Go, shoot and be merry. After all, that's what it is about (unless you enjoy post-processing and creating), then get out there, shoot, edit and be merry.

  • Walt Lindblom January 21, 2011 09:37 am

    Wow, that all hit a nerve. I'm a bit old school and always used graduated gray filters to equalize contrast in a scene. I teach a photography class and show a picture where I combined the 1 & 2 f-stop grads together. It is an example of overusing a technique. The sky has become way too dark for the foreground of the picture. Based on some of the comments above, I have stretched the dynamic range of the camera by about 3-stops to 8-9 stops of total range. That's too much and looks fake. I really appreciate an HDR image that on first look, makes you think nothing has been done to alter the image. If it takes me some time to look at it and figure out what the photographer did, that's a good use of the technique. I'm still out there with the filters, mainly because I am enough old school where I don't enjoy PhotoShop that much. I envy those of you that do! Keep the good stuff coming.

  • Michelle H January 21, 2011 09:30 am

    I see HDR as an extension of the photography artform. Do I do HDR? Some. Do I do it well? Some. Do I only do HDR? No. As with any artform, you're going to have people who love it, and people who hate it. I was at the Denver Museum of Modern Art, and there was a black canvas, with what looked like a corner torn off hanging on the wall. I walked by it at first, thinking the picture was missing, and did a doubletake, when I realized that that WAS the art piece. Did I think it was the dumbest and worst thing I'd ever seen? Yes, but obviously some people like it if it's hanging in a city museum.

    Everybody has an opinion about art, it's in the eye of the beholder what they like, and what they don't.

  • John Newton January 21, 2011 09:28 am

    I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with you. On the one hand, the over use of HDR can be annoying and looks to me a bit surrealist. I've used this technique to extremes for some of my images but they were never intended to be anything other that exaggerated images.

    On the other, I've used HDR to bring out some shadows and to hold back some highlights, and these images look very "real"

    If you wish to take a look at some of these please drop by and take a look.

    I'd be interested in your opinion.

    John Newton

  • Tom Baker January 21, 2011 09:15 am

    You know, this is just a silly rant with a bunch of silly self serving comments

    "there is a lot of bad HDR out there - therefore it's bad"
    Yeah - have you seen Flickr? Using that logic all camera's should be banned. Most people take horrible photos and you know what - who cares? They enjoy it. Do all of their bad photos and our of focus snapshots take away from the good photgraphers out there?

    "I honed my craft and techinque and spent 20 years in the field trying to learn the limits of my camera HDR is cheating"

    Well, great for you. Glad to see you dedicated the time and patience to learn your camrea. So did I. So did a lot of us. I've seen a few names here in the comments from photgraphers I know like Mike Olbinki and he knows how to compose and shoot too. It's insulting to hear that argument. Not using HDR does not make you a better photographer any more than using HDR makes you an artistic genius. If anything it isn't even the photography part that is in question. It's the post-processin if you want to get techincal.

    Good HDR (whatever that may be, and that is in the eye of the beholder) requires technical skill, artistic skill and lot sof hard work. It is not easier than "normal" photography nor is it less honest. It's all art and all about conveying a mood. Don't use it if you don't like it. Don't look at if you hate it. But don't be narrow-minded and haughty because you feel superior. You aren't. You are just different and that's OK too.

  • Keith January 21, 2011 08:53 am

    I'm not an old curmudgeon but onside with you Peter. HDR is a personal choice but it's been held up in places like flickr (by some members) as the final frontier of what a photo should look like... an elite club. If you can't jack up your frames in HDR - there must be something wrong with you as a photographer/processor. Some members just do HDR all the time and have blogs to share their insights on why they are pros at the technique... and they have their following of folks who go ooh and ahh. Obviously I am not one of them.

    I like looking at photos captured by other photographer's as they have experienced the moment whether it be people, places or things. And yes... I too like seeing some well done HDR but lean more to a well captured SOOC moment. If I want my photos to like a stunning orgasmic frame out of a sci-fi movie... I'll master HDR. That's my personal take on the subject.

  • janet keen January 21, 2011 08:28 am

    Why don't you just concentrate on your own photography and let everybody else concentrate on theirs.
    If you don't like HDR , don't do it. Don't look at it.
    Simple as that.
    It is an artistic medium now and anything goes.
    I personally hate realism and I find most phtography boring unless it's been manipulated but I realise a lot of people like it an good on them
    Just don't sweat the small srtuff and live and let live.

  • Peter West Carey January 21, 2011 08:06 am

    Noel, "As far as I see it this article advocates the concept that unless you can create a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph, well you shouldn't bother picking up the camera." Nope, that's not what it's saying. It's saying what trep ford , right above this comment, points out better than I:
    "What seems to irk you are those pretenders who use overly manipulated shots to hide the fact that they’re pretty clueless about basic principles of photography."

    That's it, more or less.

    And for those touting the fact that our eyes have a kick butt dynamic range (and I still marvel at how cool the eye and brain are together) that doesn't mean it's used all at once!

    For instance, our eye might have the wide dynamic range, but put a 100W lightbulb in a pitch black field. Next to the lightbulb put a small diving wall and then an object on the other side of the wall. Let's make it a tomato because I find them funny and the mood needs lightening.

    Now look at the lightbulb from one meter away. As your eyes adjust, you can read the writing on it. Now stare at the tomato. "What tomato?" you ask. Ok, give your eyes time to adjust. Now you see it? Yes? Now look at the lightbulb "Ahhhh!!!"

    When stepping back to a distance of ten feet (to be fair that everyone has to do math in this reply) and looking at the same scene, you can't get the most out of both. Your eye has that dynamic range but it doesn't use it all at once.

    It's when people step outside of that range that the brain starts to warn about something being wrong with the picture. There are some kick butt examples above of it done right and I suspect every one of those posting understand the fundamentals of the art first.

    And for those touring Impressionistic works, you're proving my point. Those people never could have raised to that skill level if they didn't understand the fundamentals of human form and painting to start with.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck January 21, 2011 08:02 am


    Interesting perspective. As an Engineer and Photographer, medium format film and digital shooter, I am always searching for new techniques, tools, advice and feedback from my friends and associates to improve my craft. This started many years ago with black and white film and has evolved over the years. I'll be the first to admit that much of my work could be considered sub standard when compared to the Master Photographer, but I have evolved, enjoyed the experience of trying new things, failing, retrying and growing.. And yes, I have used HDR for some imaging when appropriate, and yes, my first attempts were crap. However, with guidance from peers, extensive reading, practice, patience, this skill too is getting better. Like any art form, technologies evolve and introduce new possibilities to the creative mind...nothing evil about that.

    I am looking forward to the next wave of photographic technologies, new challenges and great fun.

    Kind Regards, Erik

  • Simon January 21, 2011 07:58 am

    I think dismissing HDR entirely is foolish - it's a useful technique just like any other, and shouldn't be discounted just because some people haven't mastered it, or are using it to create effects you don't like. As others have said, it's actually a very useful technique for *increasing* the realism of the photo by compensating for the differences between camera and eye.

  • Michael Bury January 21, 2011 07:55 am

    Well said, Mike Olbinski! I had a photographer friend give me a stack of "Professional Photographer" magazines from the early 2000's while I was recovering from knee surgery recently - it's fun to progress through them and actually see the improvements in image quality that digital photography has facilitated.
    HDR may be a fad, but it's fads like this that push the envelope of technilogical capability, and I prefer to think of HDR as a tool in transition. You may not like that computers are now fundemental to photography but sticking your head in the sand won't make them go away.

  • Trep Ford January 21, 2011 07:53 am

    Yep ... you're turning into an old curmudgeon. :) Maybe.

    If I read you right, my fellow (PNW'er) It seems that you're accepting the creative latitude of those who use effects on photos as a means of expressing themselves in a genuinely artistic way. If that weren't the case, then I'd say you've already crossed over into the realm of the curmudgeons.

    What seems to irk you are those pretenders who use overly manipulated shots to hide the fact that they're pretty clueless about basic principles of photography. I know where you're coming from. Anyone remember the days of "everything is high key"? Back then I could often be heard saying to my friends "it's not a preference or a creative choice ... it's a cover for lousy exposures". I too feel a natural reaction against an overworked image that hides lack of skill and understanding. I saw it a lot in photography school, when students splattered lousy shots with chemicals and called it a special effect. Right.

    But let's step back for a moment. Folks who create this kind of overworked shot are pretending to be more experienced shooters than they are, much in the way kids pretend to be grownups long before they are. And just as all grownups know when they see a kid pretending to be a grown up and think little of it, I'd suggest that we more experienced shooters simply accept these play acting newbies for what they are and stop losing sleep over them.

    The only people such pretenders are kidding are themselves (maybe) and folks without a refined understanding of photography ... the very same people who won't appreciate the quality of your work, as they haven't learned to see with insight. Kids will be kids and newbies will be newbies, in any field of interest. And anyone who cares about the field will always be able to spot the difference. And the people who can't, well, they don't seem to mind.

    I hear you asking yourself if you're being too uptight about all this or not ... the answer is "that depends on what kind of person you want to become". And there's no right answer here. If you want to become the sort of person who lives in harmony with the world, even when the world isn't making much sense, then just let this go. If you want to become the sort of person who taps the world on the shoulder and reminds them that we know what they're doing, then press on with the expose. It's up to you ... and we'll love you either way. ;)

  • Frode Inge Helland January 21, 2011 07:41 am

    Ansel Adams Zone system was exactly the same as HDR, but executed in the darkroom utilizing the power of combination of over/undereksposure and over/underdevelopement: in film and on paper. The resultys were amazing, but clarly within the identity of the photograph.

  • Noel January 21, 2011 07:28 am

    "HDR, when overused, is a grotesque abomination of the reality of life." - Really? Who's to say that someone doesn't see things that way or maybe you missed something when you looked at that scene? I don't love every HDR image I have seen and then again I don't love every regular image I have seen. Just because the histogram on your camera says that's the proper exposure doesn't mean that's the way I see it or want to see a particular image.

    I'm glad to have a place to share our thoughts and opinions but I think calling a type of photographic processing an abomination is overboard and disrespectful. Just because someone isn't a master at using a technique doesn't mean they should never try it.

    As far as I see it this article advocates the concept that unless you can create a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph, well you shouldn't bother picking up the camera.

    Why are we so harsh and quick to judge whether something is "art" or worthy of our time? Why alienate someone who shares a similar passion for photography just because they do it differently?

  • Amryl Malek January 21, 2011 07:22 am

    Oh by the way, check out the new article in Luminous Landscape about this very topic.

  • Stan January 21, 2011 07:21 am

    Thank you Peter, for putting your feelings into written form. I too have felt that HDR is bringing us to a place of hyper-reality that is anything even close to how we as humans visually experience our world. Just because something technically CAN be done, doesn't necessarily mean that it SHOULD be done.
    People still have artistic freedom to do what they want, but I agree that there is way more to learn about the basics of composition and photographic content/meaning before we turn to the tricks and "wow" factor that HDR brings, so often devoid of human emotional impact.

  • jcjones January 21, 2011 07:16 am

    If photography is an art, how can anyone discredit an entire technique? It would be like saying Impressionism should not be allowed because it is not what my eye sees. Everyone has the choice to either like HDR it or not...a personal preference just as with art. Some have raised HDR to a very acceptable level and probably truer to what the eye actually sees. I say go out and have fun creating and don't have tunnel vision....enjoy it all for what it is.

  • Amryl Malek January 21, 2011 07:15 am

    Oh come on!, since when is black and white, monotone, high key photography is a representation of reality? HDR is just another facet of digital photography. You use it to express your vision, and as a person progresses to get his/her vision perfected, they'll get better at using it, whether it's black and white or HDR.

  • Daniel Ruf January 21, 2011 07:14 am

    It's a tool, just like any other tool, and there are those that work it right, work it too much, and make it sing. Since photography is an art form its tools are part of the craft. While your comments are appreciated, I think you might be standing in the same line as those that have that "is this "manipulated" look on their face and "this is not photography" on their tongue.

  • Hans Mast January 21, 2011 07:14 am

    Photography, from its roots, has always been an attempt at capturing reality as seen through the eyes of the person behind the camera.

    If that's the case, then your POV is wrong. It's a scientific fact that the dynamic range of an HDR photograph is far closer to the dynamic range of the human eye than even the most advanced cameras can capture in a single exposure.

    Beyond the fact that our eyes' dynamic range more closely matches the dynamic range of an HDR, even with that expanded dyanmic range, our vision performs HDR when it looks at a scene. It scans a scene, making thousands of aperture adjustments as it does to compensate for brighter and darker areas of a scene. It then remembers those bits at the variable brightness (this is called persistence of vision) and stitches it all together to produce more even light levels across the scene, something we call in the photo world, HDR.

    In fact, this is the very reason that to become a good SDR photographer takes training to properly judge light levels. When we look at the world, we see it in HDR. We don't naturally notice sharp shadows that will look awful in a picture because our HDR eyes have already lightened those shadows considerably and it looks fine to us. Likewise with the highlight end of the dynamic range of our cameras.

    Those types of scenes when the human brain looks at the HDR image and screams, “Fake!”.

    That is because we are judging it relative to SDR photos. If we didn't have the bias that the limitations of SDR photos are "normal", they would not scream "fake". Do our minds scream fake when we see a photo with shallow depth of field? Of course not, even though that's very, very unrealistic. Our eyes have an insanely large depth of focus. The only reason our minds don't scream "fake" is because we've seen thousands of photos with a shallow DOF and thus we accept it as normal for photos.

    Thus any argument that argues HDR is unrealistic while SDR is not, is destined to fail. You may say that you don't *like* HDR, but don't try to say that it is less realistic or fake. It is objectively more realistic than most SDR shots.


    Btw, I do both HDR and SDR photography, as you'll see from a few shots from my portfolio. Hopefully I've been able to do a decent job with both. I do agree that I have at times become lazy and just taken an HDR without thought to framing, etc and just rely upon HDR to lift it above its SDR equivalent. However, I don't think that's a problem that's limited to HDR photographers. ;-)


    A few terms for the uninitiated; lots of people understand what HDR does, but may not understand the terms and the technical process, especially important when talking about how our natural human vision works:
    dynamic range = the range of light levels that are detectable
    HDR process = the process of combing multiple "exposures" with their dynamic range at different levels (i.e. if a Canon 40D has a dynamic range of 4 stops, two stops on either side of 0, when you take three photos at 0, -2, and +2, the first photo covers -2 to +2, the second photo covers -4 to 0, the third photo covers 0 to +4.)

  • Rick Starkey January 21, 2011 06:56 am

    I'm new to digital cameras and HDR. I love both. The title of this "Knowing my limits-Why I don't do HDR, this is why the author does not do it. I'm learning HDR, but I still want it to look natural. How many photographers use Photoshop (I'm also learning to use it, CS5.) any thing done with it is not "natural". Removing blemishes, power lines, or whatever, especially in commercial photography. How many ads are printed with unaltered photos? How about white balance? What would the camera shoot if we could not adjust it? They are all tools, we use them to our best ability and keep learning, then alter our limits.

  • Ian January 21, 2011 06:54 am

    "Rather, for me, the annoyance comes from attempting to create something that doesn’t exist."

    The real world isn't in black and white or sepia, doesn't have depth of field differences, and isn't cropped or vignetted. What it does have is more dynamic range than digital sensors (or film for that matter) can capture. I agree HDR is often overused and sometimes even misused (I myself have been guilty on both counts on more than one occasion), but arguable so are any number of other 'artistic' effects. HDR is just another tool in the photographer's toolbox, it should probably be treated as such.

  • Rick Clark January 21, 2011 06:46 am

    Absolutely! Do away with HDR because it's not a realistic representation of what we see. While we're at it, do away with black and white photography, macro photography and anything taken with a telephoto lens because we don't see things that way. The ironic thing is that HDR, when used as was originally intended, is the most accurate representation of what we see that we have available.

    I think most people are in agreement that over cooked HDR can be annoying but even that has it's place, in my opinion, when the photographer just wants to try something whimsical. The easy thing to do if you don't like the style is don't look at it. I don't think any of us has the right to demand that others cease to use a particular technique that we don't like, whether it's HDR or one of the others I mentioned in my opening sentence.

  • Zibri January 21, 2011 06:46 am

    @marc: don't compare overcooked HDR to Van Gogh!

    Some may say the Van Gogh look can be recreated using a photoshop plugin... how crazy!
    Van Gogh was original. And he used his hands.

    It's just like saying M.C. Escher was a human reaytracer :)

    So what?

    Radioactive HDRs (as someone funnily called them) are a punch in your eyes.
    Even though, distaste is a taste too... not mine anyhow.

  • Smaperry January 21, 2011 06:37 am

    Myth Breaking time.....
    HDR - High Dynamic Range - refers to the available light captured in either film or photography using various means, most commonly bracketed images of over/under and normal exposure. This is done to replicate the amount of available light that the human eye can see in any given scene, As most Cameras will be only be able to capture a part of the available light. Either favoring the deeper shadowed area or the brighter lit area etc.
    HDR is not the images you refer to as most HDR images are 32bits per channel with a floating point and often referred to as Radiance maps. All HDR images can only be truly viewed in some form of moving space where light changes depending on the position of either the viewer or the image to the viewer.
    What you refer to in this article is called Tone-mapping.
    Tone-mapping can either be done with a single image or multiple images in the same way of capture as the images required for an HDR image though the processing is completely different and the tone-mapped result is referred to as an LDR or Low Dynamic Range Image as it then takes on either a 16bit or 8 bit result.
    Tone-mapping is too often used to enhance details or to equal out the light source over the scene photographed. Kind of zoning but without the Adams expertise. You are correct in saying that too often these images are exaggerated in there presentation and the results are somewhat sickly to see though I would have to defend the work of some individuals as being pure genius in using the right tools for the right job.
    A good tone-mapped image does not look tone-mapped in other words it does not have halos, seemingly fluorescent colours, and bitty details with artifacts all over the image, but rather has a smooth blend of minor detail in shadows as equal to the minor details in the highlight areas.
    Yes good photography and good understanding of a cameras ability can render great results on a single image but even Ansel Adams with his zone system would take several images of a scene and use slides to map out the detail in all areas for better and more realistic detail in an image, why? Because sometimes actually most times the camera does not see the world in the same way we would like to capture it.
    We are all welcome to our opinions but prejudices based on misinformation and the pointing of fingers at kindergarten examples of tone-mapping are not exactly the basis for a good article. I feel this article has set out to trash the overall of what should be good photographic representation by using tone-mapping and not to truly deliver a solid and well researched opinion.
    Please refer to studies by Paul Debevec for a further and better understanding of TRUE HDRi.

  • Bruno Postigo January 21, 2011 06:37 am

    You are my hero :)

  • jtmcg January 21, 2011 06:36 am

    "Just stop taking it too far and stop using it in place of proper exposure and accepting the limits of the scene in front of you."
    What is proper exposure and why should I accept the limits when I have a scene that goes from bright sun to deep shadow? I guess I should either walk away or give up on one part of the scene or another. The eye can adjust but the camera can't record that wide a contrast range. So what's real? If it's overdone and screams HDR it will have to stand on its merits but it obviously isn't portraying realism. Picasso didn't portray realism and neither did Van Gogh.

    What about focus stacking? Is that realism? Again the eye can adjust but optics have their limitations. I guess I should accept the limits of DOF and not try to get everything sharp.

    Interesting rant but to my mind a bit silly.

  • Dusty Richards January 21, 2011 06:33 am

    Fine. May well agree. However, just what the heck is HDR? My Miranda and Honeywell Pentax filkm cameras and my Pentax dslr and Casio Brigade (that i am using here) don't have such a setting.

  • DionV January 21, 2011 06:30 am

    HDR is kind of like 3D....just because you *can* do it, doesn't mean you *should*. Not everything lends itself to that method of presentation.

    I've seen a lot of HDR that is "too much", looking cartoony. Maybe that is the intent. But it's not always a great result to my eye.

    I have seen some other HDR that was *just* enough to add that little bit of extra oomph. And those are beautiful.

    Like most things, I think HDR will have it's peak, and then settle down. Kind of like 3D movies right now.

    Just my CAD$0.02

  • RC January 21, 2011 06:28 am

    I didn't read everyone's reply, but before camera there were paintings. Most had no attempt at be realistic. The Realism period in ART was short. Indeed, cameras pretty much killed it. However, Picaso says it correctly: "Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer, the mirror, or the painter?" Art is subjective. The author may like realsim, but it is his subjective viewpoint. It doesn't make other wrong. Photography isn't SUPPOSED to be anything, it is what YOU make it.

  • Gary Guest January 21, 2011 06:28 am

    Each to there own. The great thing about life is we are all different. and wouldn't it be boring if we were all the same. We could still be driving model T fords . I myself love the world of HDR it has allowed myself to create what I like. its part of me to be DIFFERENT. I love the fact that some people are willing to try some thing different otherwise doctors would be still doing witch craft. Each to there own and it is a free world. Be your self. and by the way. It doesn't matter what people think as most don't. We should all be free to express ourselves as we like.

  • Sarah January 21, 2011 06:25 am

    It's not my cup of tea either.

    It's why I so enjoy going to Photographic exhibitions of the old boys (and girls) to bring me back to the reality of looking at images without high saturation or digital processing.

    It's great that we've come so far, but also good to stay grounded and within the realms of reality.

    Still, if HDR is your art form, more power to you. There are plenty of others who appreciate your craft and enjoy looking at it.

  • Craig January 21, 2011 06:24 am

    I totally agree with this article 100%. HDR photography is fine as long as the photographer states that it is a HDR photograph. Many times you will see an obvious HDR photo with many positive comments and the shooter never concedes the fact that it's HDR.
    I grew up on film, and also agree with your statement that many digital shooters don't even know how to use their equipment as far as shutter speed and depth of field.
    It seems now a days that a person with a digital camera and the knowledge of the use of Photoshop(but not photography skills), thinks their photos are professional quality.
    If a person doesn't know how to compose and take a decent picture and uses HDR to "fix" it, it like putting lipstick on a pig. But it's still a pig.

  • J G Harding January 21, 2011 06:21 am

    A lot of HDR does look a bit nasty, when people use as much contrast as possible just because it's there!

    But this is my only ever HDR photo and it's probably my favourite! I couldn't have done it with one pic...

  • digirebel January 21, 2011 06:13 am

    you know Marc, I was thinking along the same lines while out for my lunchtime photo walk. How many like impressionist paintings ..I mean its not any stretch, but it had and still has its detractors & advocates.
    How about letting HDR exist on its own right as a different way of processing images that not everyone does or wants to do and leave it at that..If someone wants to overcook their images, well now I believe that's their prerogative right....I see far to many of you who if they could (based on your posts) ban whatever processing you don't agree with..."If its not SOOC or natural looking then nobody should be doing it"...

  • Stratman January 21, 2011 06:07 am

    The first time I heard about HDRs was over two years ago and I had no idea what it meant. I looked up examples and my jaw dropped seeing the outta-this-world, surrealistic images I've never seen before. Some of them looked like oil paintings and as arty they appear to be, I soon got jaded with overdone HDR images. They looked like they were done by photo artists rather than photographers.

    I had the opportunity of trying out both Photomatix and Mediachance Dynamic HDR software (prefer the latter) and had fun tone mapping single and 3-exposure HDRs and seeing the different results. I'm not a purist in any sense and I dislike SOOC images just as I despise overcooked HDR art. When it comes to HDR, I now attempt to achieve a more natural look, just like how the human eye sees.

    Just like steak, I like my digital images done medium rare. :-)

  • Mark January 21, 2011 06:07 am

    I disagree with the whole premise of this article. HDRI is nothing more than a tool and if used well, YOU WILL NEVER KNOW IT!

    Someone here complained about it taking longer in post-production than to capture the original image. By that criteria, we should "hate" Ansel Adams and his dark room "evil". Others have complained about over-saturated colors so we should also "hate" the landscape photographers who used Velvia film!

    The real truth is that Nikon, Canon, Sony and others are doing R&D to build HDRI directly into the cameras we will use tomorrow!!!!! As the ability to include more powerful processors into the camera increases, the possibilities increase! So what will the "purists" use for tools as this happens? Are all of you going to go back to "pin hole cameras"?

    Art has always been subjective and every step through history has had RANTS against it. Purists of any sort have always lost the battle in the long run. The majority of art throughout history has been GARBAGE so why should HDRI pictures be any different. How many millions of artists over the years lived and died with NO ONE KNOWING THEIR NAMES? Yet every generation has a few recognized masters. The same is true of photography. HDRI photography will be an accepted part of the "future history" just as Impressionism and pointillism are part of accepted painting skill sets today. Purists will "give in" or be passed by and left in the dust as always happens.

    Please stop the rants. They only show a closed mind and are not productive!

    I personally do not use HDRI, but have often used burning and dodging, exposure blending, and GIMP to its limits. I am pleased with the results to date, but continue to learn more daily that is why I am here. Rants like this make me wonder if it is time to move on to more useful sources of information for learning!

  • Alfredo Avila January 21, 2011 05:53 am

    This is very easy. HDR battle is just like many others out there, like Nikon vs Canon. It is not that Canon is better, it is not that Nikon is better. It depends on many things, but the main one being the photographer. HDR is the same thing, you either love it or hate it. No one will convince me, that HDR ir something "evil" or "wrong" since I love it. Period. I will not try to convince someone who dislikes HDR that they should like it or love it. I simply do not care. I love it, it is all that matters to me. HDR is great for me. If it is not great for you, it does not mean you are wrong, it is just that you do not like it. Nothing wrong with that either.

  • Sheryl January 21, 2011 05:51 am

    I think to throw HDR out of the photographer's arsenal of tools to improve his or her image is just ridiculous and like many here say - So What if someone uses HDR?! I do all kinds of photography: street, architectural, landscape, nature. Sometimes I change a color photo to black and white - didn't see it in black and white but the black and white makes a more powerful statement than the color photo. Sometimes I enhance the color, crop the photo, sharpen it, de-noise it and yes - HDR it, depending on what I want to represent in the photo. For me HDR is just another tool for artistic expression. I am not such a photographic elitist so as to not make use of the wonderful advancements technology has provided me for improvement of my photos - and yes sometimes dramatically change the photo I have taken. The only misuse of HDR or any tool I can see think of is when one tries to pass off crap as art - and that is true in any artistic genre.

  • Richard January 21, 2011 05:50 am

    I have to say I find most HDR photographs unappealing, even from photographers whose other work I enjoy. I find myself noting the artificiality more than the art. Maybe my eyes lack dynamic range!

  • Phossill January 21, 2011 05:48 am

    I agree that one should really understand the fundamentals of photography. A lousy photographer can't pass of a shoddy piece of work as art. Even artistic photographers have to follow "rules"of lighting and composition. I disagree though that we should always represent the world in photorealistic way.

    Haven't you ever enjoyed a Black and white image? But you see in colour. And how about an image with shallow deapth of field?? But again the Real world isn't perceived as having shallow DOF.

    There is the Photorealistic photographer and there is also the artistic photographer. Both are legitimate and both produce amazing work.

  • marc January 21, 2011 05:44 am

    Peter, great post and its fun to see all the back and forth and the frothing by some of the excellent commentators one always finds on DPS. Hats off to you for getting the Pajama brigade suited up and in full battle format.

    I wish we had a French speaking art historian who could go back and review the articles written by French art critics about impressionism when it first burst on to the seen. Who wouldn't give their right arm to have bought a discarded early Monet, Van Gogh, etc. These guys were booed by the established art world and now their works are the most valuable in the world.

    Photography was booed as well in its early days. We live now in a peaceful time where the issue of "Is Photography Art" is long settled. Now the shouting is just about the merits of one style versus another, which if you think about it, is kind of silly. All styles of photography have some poor examples of execution as well as some images that take your breath away. Let's applaud the images that inspire us and cheer on the photographers that stay in the arena and keep trying to push the limits. Today's "edge of the world" is merely the start line for tomorrow.

  • Joe January 21, 2011 05:42 am

    Your opinion of HDR (I do fool around with it it sometimes) is reminiscent of my opinion of "staged photos".
    We can look at many shots and realize there is something wrong, out of place and staged.

    Ever since the 1960s when I took photography courses in college my philosophy was never to change a scene other than with lighting or depth of field. If it was not real and natural I didn't want to shoot it.

    This being said, I do like to have some artistic fun with HDR. Yes we know it is not photo realistic but it can be cool to look at.

  • Mike January 21, 2011 05:40 am

    I agree, partly. There are many situations though, where the scenery, in particular landscapes with land, see and sky, simply cant be properly reflected without HDR. I use HDR as a way to increase the dynamic range, just like the term suggest. However, HDR is now-days equivalent to HDR+Tone mapping, which is something very different.

  • RJ meldrum January 21, 2011 05:38 am

    I take it that you won't be using any of Casio's Eilim hdr cameras any time soon then ?

  • Bill January 21, 2011 05:36 am

    Every photo we take gets mapped to the capabilities of the output medium. Most modern P&S cameras will capture more dynamic range than the paper we print on. Slide film does fairly well, but I think that a modern DSLR can drive even a good plasma TV to its limits. (maybe not if you believe the contrast numbers published by the manufactures). So HDR for me is just a way to allow me to have more choice as how to do the mapping. I can and do make lots of mistakes when i do that, but that is part of the fun!

  • Mya January 21, 2011 05:36 am

    I have seen some fantastic photos with HDR and i have seen some downright horrible looking ones. I think this like photography itself depends on the person doing it. I have never tried HDR but i would like to sometimes in the future when i know how to use it and produce images in which you cant tell if i have used HDR or not. So, i don't think HDR in itself is evil :)

  • Matthew Dutile January 21, 2011 05:34 am

    Except for exceptionally small circumstances, HDR is what amateurs do before they learn the magic of shadow and light.

  • Jack Wallace January 21, 2011 05:29 am

    I am an amateur photographer in the complete definition of the word. You can even add "bumbling" as a modifier so I don't have any credibility commenting on HDR. I am human and I believe that is, maybe, the only qualification for having an opinion about art. My beliefs are simply this: a person who modifies their surroundings to please themselves is an artist. Pleasing others with said modifications is a career.
    Career artists can compete at pleasing each other and the rest of us benefit but likely will never fully comprehend it.

    Choke the First

  • Sam January 21, 2011 05:24 am

    On the one hand, I definitely agree. I have seen an awful lot of HDR photos that just look unrealistic and are not appealing at all. They just look like computer animation and not at like photography.

    On the other hand, HDR done well can be fantastic. I have seen some HDR photos that look amazing because it has been used to enhance a photo and yet has not crossed into the realm of unrealistic.

  • ajsuk January 21, 2011 05:24 am

    wow, that sure kicked up a storm didn't it. :p

    It surprises me that so many people are still bothering to cite the same old arguments that we've seen time and time again over the years. I mean really, it's just another style of processing that either is or isn't to your liking(or somewhere in-between). Nobody is forcing you to use it, look at it, or even acknowledge it's existence.

    Personally, I find myself in with the majority(I think) who appreciate what HDR can do, as long as it's not overdone. (though there is the occasional exceptions where it can be quite impressive in a more artsy context.

    I haven't used it much myself but usually when I do it's actually in an attempt to make my photos look more realistic. *shock* I totally agree that HDR isn't a replacement for a thorough understanding of the basics, but some scenes are just too tough for the average camera expose correctly, as the human eye does. In these instances bracketing and a touch of HDR fill in the blanks.

    I suspect that when HDR is best used, most wouldn't actually notice it was. =)

  • Howard J January 21, 2011 05:22 am

    YAWN! I don't understand why people continue to bash HDR after what 4 years of this stuff being around?...
    Is it that HDR haters are jealous that it's still popular and hasn't gone away as they all smugly predicted when it came out, or are they jealous that their opinions aren't heralded as truth unquestioned and us poor pathetic HDR shooters are too stupid to realize that we should never shoot HDR again - ever.

    You don't like it don't look at it, don't complain about it, don't acknowledge it even exists and your world will once again fall into its proper order as you see it.
    I'll give you an example of how easy it is: I don't like "reality" TV shows, do I pontificate about it and try to convince others to believe as I do? No! I just don't watch them. Instead I enjoy the shows I like and skip the ones I don't My life is very stress free in that regard and yours can be as well.
    Live and let live, it's not being crammed down anyone's throat.

  • Chris January 21, 2011 05:20 am

    Personally I love HDR in the same way I love a Salvador Dali painting. I am also someone who wants to learn how to take "proper" photos. But I like to use multiple flashes. Hardly realistic that is it? And on the subject of realism, our cameras see approximately 5 stops of light whereas our eyes see something like 13. So expanding the range of a photo IS more realistic? I'm not against normal or HDR. They can both be great. X

  • marcus January 21, 2011 05:20 am

    Finally an article that speaks the plain truth abt Hdr. Let's continue to take real photos and leave Hdr to Hollywood cgi studios. Speaking of Hollywood cgis , they are trying hard to produce images closer to reality while Hdr goes the opposite direction .

  • Mysticman57 January 21, 2011 05:18 am

    I recieved Photomatix Pro 4 for Christmas and have really been enjoying my new toy. I think it's like anything else. When done in moderation it's ok. I consider it another form of Art. In less than a month I've actually come up with some very nice prints using HDR...besides" to each his own"....Peace

  • Mike January 21, 2011 05:16 am

    Wow, why don't you tell us what you really think? :-)

    While I would agree that there is a lot of overdone HDR out there (and some of that is interesting as well,) I would have to take exception to the fact that HDR in and of itself is evil.

    Do you think that photography should only capture reality as the eye see's it? Or is it an art form? If it is "art" then it is open to interpretation by the artist and the viewer. The artist gives his or her interpretation and the viewers decide if it works for them. Pretty simple. Obviously HDR doesn't work for you and that's fine. But to say it isn't art JUST because it doesn't work for you is being a little close minded in my not so humble opinion.

    Man has been manipulating "reality" in art since that caveman you spoke of picked up a piece of charcoal and drew on the cave wall. Look at painters they are all interpretations of reality.

    Every photographer, EVER has manipulated the images they took. Burn, dodge, change color settings, whatever virtually every image ever taken has been manipulated in some form or fashion. Ansel's zone system is all about manipulating reality. "Moonrise Over Hernandez" is heavily burned in. And yet I think most would agree that it is a very compelling image. And in fact I'd suspect that the unaltered version of it would never have captured the public's attention. That's what ART is, taking reality and giving it your own interpretation. The only genre that I can think of that may come close to presenting reality as the eye saw it is photo journalism. And even there, there is a lot more image manipulation going on than one might think.

    I'll agree with you that for me over done HDR isn't usually my cup of tea. Well done HDR is definitely my cup of tea. As is techniques like letting high lights blow out. It's ALL art and just the artist's take on the scene.

    So why not just relax, do whatever "art" suits you best and when looking at others images if you don't like them do like you would do with the TV. Click next.

  • Albin January 21, 2011 05:15 am

    As far as the referendum on "radioactive" HDR images, I agree with the author, i.e. as a matter of taste. Too many photographers are doing things with HDR, "because they can."

    But as for the technique, it can really enhance or make possible quality images that a given photographer's equipment couldn't otherwise handle: for example a bracketed series of a naturally lit church interior can capture details of walls and ceiling without blowing out the stained glass windows, in a very "realistic" mode impossible with a single shot. The technique makes it possible to do more with less, and as a technique, is not limited to doing much too much with less.

  • Khan January 21, 2011 05:14 am

    Your conclusion, paraphrased as "know the fundamentals before you explore the fringe" is sound, but your arguments leading up to it (and bashing HDR in the process) are flawed.

    I can name a dozen techniques off the top of my head that diverge from your strict constructionist approach to photography. If the photographer's job was to simply document "reality", there would be no need for filters. I'd wager that many landscape shots we've seen has used a neutral density filter. No need for glossy paper. No need for fisheye lenses. No need for tilt shift lenses. There'd be no way, in reality, for your eye to have the same DoF that a telephoto lens can produce. There's no need for photoshop. No need to crop your images, your camera should be able to capture the photo. And since our eyes are laid out horizontally, don't bother taking any portrait layout shots either. How many people really walk around with their head tilted so their eyes are above the other? We see the world in 4:3 aspect, not 3:4! Time lapse is out, as are long exposures that blur waterfalls or light trails.

    Look, the magic of photography isn't the art of capturing reality, it's the art of capturing light. It is, of course, the strict definition of "photo-graphy". And capturing light can produce abstract art, it can produce realistic art, it can produce surrealistic art, and it can capture the mundane and garbage too.

    If I had to choose between having some naive young photographers walk away from photography because some curmudgeon was bashing what they found exciting about photography or to have them walk away because they followed your advice and didn't find it exciting enough to hold their interest, I'd err on the first side.

    The guys buying the super fancy pro-sumer cameras (really, does that guy need a EOS 5DMk2 for his family photos?) make those cameras and equipment more accessible to the pros and amateurs, and keep us on our toes as they come up with new techniques and styles that challenge the old norms.

    Bottom line? Don't hate... appreciate.

  • David January 21, 2011 05:10 am

    I couldn't agree more. I am beginning to think that HDR is the worst thing to happen to photography in the last 20 years.

  • Simone January 21, 2011 05:08 am

    Everyone is entitled their own opinion, one Profeessional Photographer or several contempt for a particular method of photography does not make it the Bible and mean that everyone should stop using HDR.

    I'm a novice, which not really relevent, not sure why I added it, but the point is, to each his own. I like looking at HDR photos and I do want to explore creating them. His opinion and disdain is not going to change that.

  • Scott Frederick January 21, 2011 05:05 am

    I rock HDR and have put my heart and soul into perfecting the craft. HDR is a fad that has lasted over 100 years ;) Look up HDR on Wikepedia. It's here to stay and will continued to be used properly by myself and my photog friends, who are some of the best in the genre. What I consider most about myself is I'm one hell of a talented photographer, who uses HDR when needed to craft my vision. Maybe I'm in a league of my own and all the critics just don't understand how the process can be used properly. To say the software has improved is true, but if I hear another photog saying I'm going to try that other HDR software to see if I can get better results are not getting the point of tone-mapping. It's not the softwares fault! :)

    The real problem today is so many people are interested in HDR and very few can figure out how to do if properly. If we can create subjective articles on how to properly expose for a scene and that might include bracketing for HDR we'd have a lot more valuable resources than this perticular author has written.

    This photographer has mastered HDR and I will be running circles around most of you close minded haters whether we are comparing HDR or fine art photography. Get a grip, we all coexist in the realms of photography. If were bitching about HDR it's no wonder why the world doesn't get along. Close minded individuals who are unable to see the beauty within all the crap are forced to act a fool! Pull the wool from your eyes and seek out the beauty in all art forms. Don't just say oh I don't like HDR. Hate the artist not the artform! Have a great day everyone! :)

  • Paul January 21, 2011 05:04 am

    Surpised to see what is no more than an unbalanced rant on here that as usual splits the camp. Of course if you only cite overdone HDR you`ll get agreement and aspects of truth but I`d say that there is sometimes a place for HDR - even over the top where subject suits - and it is no more than a tool like long exposures, dodging / burning, using flash adn light modifiers and all those other unholy practices that go on ;-)
    The best HDRs are often not recognised as hdrs and as for hdrs selling for high prices with halos visible then they deserve not to sell any or people are mugs for buying poor work.

  • Karen January 21, 2011 05:04 am

    Like any artform, there are people who are merely experimenting and therefore have not perfected the skill; there are people who take it to far and there are people who work at the skill and expand what the artform can offer. I agree that there is quite a bit out there that just plain looks bad. If a little HDR is good, then a lot must be better? Not so fast. History is full of examples where artists varied from the traditional or norm and were ostracized for doing so. Impressionist painters, abstract artists, pop art are all examples. And although each has its supporters and detractors - art in general is better for the growth. There is no one right way to do photography. I think there is room enough for realistic photography to peacefully co-exist with HDR. It isn't that one is right and one is wrong. They are just different.

  • Robin Lawless January 21, 2011 05:01 am

    HDR is to digital photography what the zone system is/was to film photography. Damn that evil Ansel Adams and his over use of technology! a digital user that started his career in film I think this issue is beyond ridiculous. Each technique we use becomes part of a tool kit that can benefit the art-form. If there are bad examples of HDR, then there are definitely bad examples of the zone system too before it became better understood.
    Be open and creative and embrace the new ideas!!!

  • Alfredo Avila January 21, 2011 05:00 am

    I agree with Mike Olbinski - This article is lacking everything by calling HDR "Evil" .....Please!!!! As long as any kind of art is done properly it has merits. The fact that someone still shhots film is great if that person do it right. It applies for everything. The one writing this article obiously has no knowledge on how to make a good HDR. But that is ok. There is a lot of people out there who can do great HDR's and a lot of us who enjoy looking at them.

  • Kelsey January 21, 2011 04:56 am

    Amen. I believe HDR is most definitely art, but just not photography. Well said.

  • Frode Inge Helland January 21, 2011 04:54 am

    In general I agree with the author of the article.
    In the long run exaggerated useof HDR can change the way we look at photography.
    The reason fpr this is that many featured HDR-photographs has lost their identity as photographs. They have entered the fantasy world of computer games and cut any bonds to reality.
    We do not take photographs, we create them.
    We make choices all the way from selecting the subject before exposure to the final picture.
    HDR is a way to make pictures or art where reality merely is raw material to create fantasy pictures, pictures where the camera could have been substituted with oil, tempera or etching etc.
    Photography, painting and printworks are arts that deserve their own characteristics and identities.
    It makes the world richer and more faceted.

  • Peter West Carey January 21, 2011 04:53 am

    PS, HDR overdone is probably art to the person who used it in that fashion. No, I'm not saying that sarcastically.
    Let's take that point off the table, but I don't want to edit the original post to do it. I'll pretend someone else is reading this far in the comments. :)

  • Dugger January 21, 2011 04:53 am

    I like HDR, actually I think I like most anything that everyone is against, now that's a curmudgeon! Besides some HDR photos can produce a surreal look that is unique and unlike anything in photography. And in particular the digital age is responsible for some of the most creative innovations in the history of photography such as HDR, I say onward to the future!!!

  • Peter West Carey January 21, 2011 04:51 am

    "I agree that many newcomers are not practicing proper composition, subject matter and exposure. If you cant take a great shot then why bother with HDR."

    Thanks to Scott Frederick for that. I should have typed that one sentence as my entire post. :)

    And Scott Web (because I'm on a Scott kick), no example was specifically given because I didn't want to distract with that one image. You want to tell me what's wrong with that one image and that's not the point.

    Now to keep reading.... I do appreciate those who disagree, it's the only way to learn something.

  • PlanetFinder January 21, 2011 04:51 am

    Perhaps you are being inconsistent on one score. Your stated criterion is reality, but you don't acknowledge that a single exposure of a scene with high contrast cannot capture and communicate all the detail recognized by the human eye viewing the scene directly. It seems to me that you ought to reserve an exception to your criticism of HDR when it results in a viewing experience that more closely approaches direct experience. Otherwise, you are really saying you don't like HDR because it makes photographs look less like photographs, which is not the goal of most photographers.

  • Eric January 21, 2011 04:50 am

    The art of photography has always been technologically driven. The purists are the ones who refuse to move forward. It has always been such.

  • Eric January 21, 2011 04:50 am

    The art of photography has always been technologically driven. The purists are the ones who refuse to move forward. It has always been such.

  • Glen January 21, 2011 04:48 am

    I happen to agree with you and the opinions in your article. To me, while the HDR has SOME great looking pictures, most of them to me look FAKE. They remind me of the painting that was done with Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Humphrey Bogart. they just look fake. To ME (read that again, to ME) the point of photography is to capture the truest essence of a picture, not manufacture your own view of the image. But then again, I dislike pictures that are overly photoshopped and filtered. Good thing we live in a country where people are allowed to disagree and attempt to discuss in a civil fashion.

  • fynflood January 21, 2011 04:47 am

    I agree with most of the post, but to say it isn't art seems a bit off. It's just a different medium, and not to unlike the over photoshopped work some do (I'm thinking of deviantart mostly). It is was it is. It's different... love it or hate it.

  • CanonMaiden January 21, 2011 04:47 am

    I would never go so far as to say HDR is not art. After all, art is subjective to the viewer no matter the form.

    That being said, I am so sick of HDR I could puke. My PERSONAL opinion: If it looks like a painting it is no longer a photograph.

  • Bill January 21, 2011 04:38 am

    Peter...I have to say I agree with your opinion up to a point (that the technique can, and is at times, over-used). I think this problem has been the case whenever there is a push in art to go into experimental or even controversial areas. I'm quite certain the same comments have been made in painting by surrealists about impressionists and by cubists about purists, etc. And, I'm sure it's that same between some who practice dye transfer and those who use Photoshop filters. I believe anything can be overdone until the expression has undergone the process of finding its place in the repertoire of the artist's techniques. At this point, and in most cases, I think the tool becomes just that; a tool that is used when appropriate or when the inspiration justifies its use.
    Just like an opinion.
    Thanks for listening.

  • Anand January 21, 2011 04:37 am

    My 7 year old son and i were watching some of the HDR pics. He doesn't know what HDR is but the moment he saw one of those HDRs, he discarded them saying....this isn't a photograph but a painting.....

    That says a lot, doesn't it?

  • 7horses January 21, 2011 04:35 am

    Writer forget one thing. It's not the tool that does the trick, it's the artist. Whatever technique is used, goose feathers, pencils, film, video.... or hdr photo's these tools are used to express yourself and create something new.

  • phil January 21, 2011 04:33 am

    You said:

    "To me, HDR is trying to improve on the beauty of life as experienced through the human eye and brain. It’s saying, “Oh, you can’t see the highlight and the shadows at the same time? Here, let me change that.”"

    WRONG. It's our CAMERAS that cant see the highlight and shadows at the same time... and HDR is an attempt to fix THAT.

    "Photography, from its roots, has always been an attempt at capturing reality"

    Our eyes don't see in black and white either, should B&W photography be on the chopping block next?

  • digirebel January 21, 2011 04:28 am

    Who is taking the photo here, you or the photographer..whose vision is it, yours or theirs....The overcooked portion of HDR will for the most part fade away, to be brought up again from time to time when a newbie discovers it for the first time (I know my first ones where). But I also know that as the software has gotten better so has the ability to make the HDR more realistic, to the point I have gone back and redone some of my earlier HDR's and gotten better results..everyone has a starting point...
    Its not a fad, you now have some cameras that do it internally...
    Seriously though, If you don't like it, don't look at it...It's like going to an art museum and then complaining about what's up on the walls because you don't agree with it
    Yep some use it as a crutch for lack of knowledge...but that to fades if they are serious about the craft...
    This whole subject comes up from time to time anywhere there are multiple photographers present, and it gets argued...with the same no-result ending...everybody stakes out their side of the argument....and for what,

  • Robbie Preston January 21, 2011 04:25 am

    Thank for for presenting a real and clear objection to the latest fade caused by the world of computer owners who have purchased new tools but have never real learned fully how to use the older base tools of the photo trade first.

    The ownership and the use of cheap or expense tool never makes you a expert. One has has to have the passion and personal training to get to the front of the line to be called a expert. To many today feel the the purchase or ownership of a electronic program makes them a expert day one. HD results by most so called photographers puts them way back in that expert line.


  • Chris Groden January 21, 2011 04:24 am

    Photography, for the most part falls under art. So, of course there is going to be a lot of subjectivity. To go on and on about a particular style in a negative fashion seems silly to me. Say you don't like it and move on. If I don't like someone else's photo, I just keep my unsolicited comments to myself and move on.

  • Joe Adair January 21, 2011 04:24 am

    I occasionally use HDR, but I'm opposed the the cartoonish examples I see all over; I truly hope they're a fad that passes ...real soon!

    My goal is to share my experience with my audience. As our eyes take in a scene, they continually adjust to the changing light, and create an impression.

    In some conditions (5%?), I can't truly communicate the way I feel about a place without HDR. Used with restraint, I'm able to see more on the screen/paper of what I saw...and felt...when I triggered the shutter.

  • Andrea KP January 21, 2011 04:18 am

    I haven't done any HDR photography myself, but I can't agree with the following statement:

    "Is it art, if not an accurate representation of what is? I doubt it."

    While art may comment on reality it frequently strays outside the boundaries of the real in order to provoke emotion and reflection. Photography has never been purely about taking pictures of the concrete aspects of daily life. Even film photographers found ways to manipulate the film during processing so that it reflected their own internal vision rather than the objective reality that they were photographing. Now that we have digital means of manipulation the possibilities for alteration are even greater and while I agree that some techniques are over done and badly executed I content that altered images can certainly be art. Would you argue that the impressionist painters were not real artists because their paintings weren't 100% realistic representations of the world around them? While the ability to reproduce highly realistic images in paint, pencil, ink, or photography is a valued skill I believe that "art" extends to the realm of innovation and abstractions. Just because HDR doesn't look completely real it doesn't mean that it can't be beautiful, that it can't be art, or that it can't be a valuable technique for exploring our relationship to the world around us.

  • KGB January 21, 2011 04:16 am

    I agree with your points but I wonder if the issue is that you have not encountered the very best in HDR, can I suggest you go to this site, Cambridge in Colour, here is the link Sean McHugh has it cracked, his work is exceptional and his tutorials something to wonder at

  • Trudy January 21, 2011 04:07 am

    First of all, (to those who said this) you cannot be a purist and shoot black and white...unless you have no cones in your eyes to notice, the world is in color. In essence, pure = color then. Remember, even Ansel Adams dodged and burned people. Image alteration is ok, we are creating and conveying conveying art, not creating driver's licenses.

    Second, are people still complaining about HDR in 2011? Really? People need to create whatever they like and their paying clients like. photography peers ? paying clients, thus, though you respect peers' right to critique, their critique may not be relevant to the big picture. Also, critique itself should be based on the work itself, not particular dislike for a technique. How is the image composed otherwise? These are the types of questions that should matter.

    Third, the idea that somehow only HDR images can be bad is comical. I see plenty of terrible work in a variety of genres and techniques. In fact, I'd argue that some of the ugliest work out there occurs in weddings and boudoir. See, I loathe boudoir, yet I accept that photographers have the right to create it and their fans and clients may enjoy it. People act as if some bad HDR images invalidates the whole technique. If this is the case then not another wedding image should be created...ever, since the sheer count of bad wedding imagery outnumbers anything else out there. Every type of image technique or genre will have bad work shared by others, and that is the fault of the artists, not the genre or the technique itself.

    I do not use the word LIMITS and ART in the same sentence ever. There is nothing sadder to me. I hope people can move past their mental limits and create freely, not worrying about if another photographer will cry about it, and not worrying about if what they did is "ok" or not. Art has to be bigger than "ok." The expression itself is a form of freedom and freedom to express should not be policed for the most part.

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but if years pass and the same exact arguments against HDR appear, it gets old and stale. While people write manifestos of hate about one technique, some use that technique and build a compelling body of work that pleases so many. It's just ironic that photographers, not viewers who are non-photographers have an issue with HDR. Hopefully everyone can maintain their opinions, but also maturely move past the same tired argument over nothing.

  • Josh January 21, 2011 04:05 am

    Good article, I myself like (some) HDR images. I just started playing around with it last year. I know some of my HDR images are not the greatest but I like the results, and that is who matters most.

    I think a lot of people over do it on the images, but who am I to judge, it is just a fun hobby for me. It might be the same as a while ago when people started using the Filters in Photoshop, people thought it was cool back in the 90's and now they are just awful (and it was awful back then too).

  • Lea January 21, 2011 04:03 am

    I completely agree. I have worked hard to learn the basics and fundamentals of photography so that I can produce good, clean, and consistent shots. I find it very irritating when someone masters the use of Photoshop, promotes themselves as a 'photographer' and all the while, none of the images they are using for one HDR shot are properly exposed. This type of HDR is like a cheat sheet. Some HDR photography is amazing. But I definitely agree that in order for it to be so, you have to keep it within the realm of reality. However, that said, there are 'cheat sheets' all over the photography world (and the rest of the world as well). This is just one more example of people creating something subpar but claiming it's a work of art. The market is over-saturated with 'photographers' who can't shoot a decent portrait in ideal lighting with a model holding perfectly still. But then there are places like DPS where people who want to learn can learn and people who know what they're doing can share their knowledge. HDR is a fad. True artists will still be here in ten years.

  • Geoff January 21, 2011 03:55 am

    I have to agree with you for the most part. Although I've seen beautiful examples of HDR done right, it seems many are way overdone and and look more like images out of a video game. I still would like to learn how to do nice HDR. It has it's place I think if done right. I don't think it's evil. But I hate looking at the bad examples of HDR on Flickr which are praised as great.

  • Barry January 21, 2011 03:52 am

    I agree! HDR is an interesting tool to have, but has been "used to death" lately. It reminds me of the "fuzz boxes" guitar players used in the 60's...they were often used to mask limitations in ability. I'm certainly NOT saying that HDR is not and Will not be used in some beautiful shots....just don't use it constantly!

  • Lon January 21, 2011 03:50 am

    I don't particularly mind HDR. The biggest thing that personally bothers me is the obvious halos caused from heavy local tone mapping, but it is all a matter of taste. I think the technical background of HDRI is not to make life something more than it is, but is to capture it on print closer to the way we see it in our minds eye, and when someone has taken this technique "too far" it has resulted in interesting (ie divisive) results. If anything, this article presents to me a challenge to do more HDR and learn to use it in a way that improves my results... for me that means not overdoing it, but presenting images that tell a story the way I perceive or express it.

  • Matt January 21, 2011 03:48 am

    I regularly use HDR and I came across it while still using a superzoom. The problem I came across was when shooting landscapes, I could not retain foreground detail and keep the sky from blowing out. So I came across HDR. I do not use HDR to its garish limits and I find much HDR photography to be horrible and exactly as the author states - but, as with everything, it has its place and I find myself using it on most of my shots to fulfill exactly the purpose it is meant to, increase the dynamic range of pictures.

    Take a look if you want but I do hope that my images give a true to life representation of the scene even though they are 'HDR' images.

  • Jim January 21, 2011 03:35 am

    Interesting point of view, but I disagree with the whole premise that photography must represent real life. When monitors and prints can recreate eleven stops of light like our eyes see then it will be fun to make images look just like real live. Of course I'll have to limit my self to a 50mm lens and turn off all creative juices.
    I love HDR, both the mild use to bring out detail, but also on occasion I push the limits.
    My personal experience is most people love my "overuse" of HDR by the overwhelming hits I get from those pictures on flickr or the comments I get in my public presentations.
    I am in no way saying this opinion is wrong, but there is more then one school of thought.

  • Peter Gnemmi January 21, 2011 03:33 am

    Let's get our terms straight HDR - High Dynamic Range is a way of storing a wider range of tones in an image than the devices we use to examine those images (paper, monitors) can display. Tone-mapping is artificially assigning those tones so they can be represented on those brightness range-limited display devices.

    Their artificial representation can be either what the scene seemed like to our much less brightness range-limited eye-brain combination, or they can be artificially represented as something very much unlike what we normally experience in the real world.

    I agree with Peter (nice name) that the tone-mapping that deviates from what "looks real" is almost always tacky and gimmicky, but kind of fun sometimes. However, I feel that judicious tone-mapping to reproduce a visual experience that the technology (paper and monitors) is incapable of reproducing is valid. I use tone-mapping to get back the smooth tonality and latitude in digital that my 2 1/4 Rolleiflex gave me.

    Playing with tonal ranges isn't new. That is what Ansel Adams did. He exposed and developed his film differently for every shot to squeeze the wide range of tones in the scene, that his eye-brain combination saw, into the photographic paper's limited ability to reproduce those tones.

    Thanks for firing up this great discussion and allowing all of us to contribute.

    -Peter (Gnemmi, not West Carey)

  • brad bridgewater January 21, 2011 03:21 am

    "Is it art, if not an accurate representation of what is? I doubt it."

    Give me a break. The only perfectly accurate representation of what is is what is. If you want just what is, better give up art. I say hooray for every artist that pushes the limits and forces us to see, and think about, "what is" in new ways. And I call geniuses those rare artists who can actually make us see, and think about, things that can never exist in this life.

  • Ryan January 21, 2011 03:20 am

    Totally disagree, not about the overuse of HDR, which I agree with (though I use and occasionally abuse it myself). The thing is, photography is NOT about accurately replicating what the photographer sees. Black and white photography, for example, is not even close to an accurate representation of how the human eye sees (including to the color blind). Fisheye lenses, graduated filters, super narrow DOF, macro shots...everything about photography is about twisting the reality and accenting something that the photographer wants to accent, NOT about showing the world how we actually see it.

    Art, of course, is not about reality and never has been. It's about creativity and vision, and while photography lets the artist mimic reality as closely as possible if that's what he wants, it is by no means prescriptive that he do so. And it never has been.

  • Doug Sundseth January 21, 2011 03:13 am

    With apologies to the person I stole the following from:

    "I agree as well.

    "While [a fisheye lens] shot here or there is fun as [an] artistic experiment, its overuse is definitely an irritant. So few people are good at it to the point where it’s not noticeable, and so many people create images that look like clown vomit that I’ve really begun to dislike any [fisheye lens shots].

    "I think the problem is that just throwing a bunch of paint at a wall doesn’t make you Jackson Pollock; you have to start with good photography and use [a fisheye lens] as a tool rather than use it like a filter to try to improve bad pictures."

    See also, "sepiatone", "flash lit", "double-exposed", "light-painted","vignetted" ... shall I go on?

    Special effects photography or post-processing has its place. When used well, it works; when not, not. Don't hate the game, hate the player. 8-)

    (FWIW, I've not had much luck with HDR myself and essentially never use it, but the post and many comments are ... less than completely useful.)

  • Zibri January 21, 2011 03:13 am

    Thanks to everyone for your comments.
    That picture wasn't meant to be "art", it was shot from a place I love, in a perfect evening and (very luckily) I got exactly what I saw. Unfortunately with the first shot, zooming to check focus and details I noticed that, depending on exposure, I was loosing details my naked eye could see.
    So I tried taking a few shots and then using "tone mapping". I loved the result.
    Feel free to use that picture as long as you link the flickr page along with it :)
    I also uploaded (at that time) a few other "developments" of the same shots... but the one I linked here it's the one I like more.

  • Missi Ali January 21, 2011 03:02 am

    I totally agree with
    "Just stop taking it too far and stop using it in place of proper exposure and accepting the limits of the scene in front of you. There is so much great stuff to learn about proper exposure that the HDR gadget can just sit at the back of the drawer like the outgrown toy it has become."
    But HDR does have its attractions!

  • Jenn January 21, 2011 02:59 am

    I couldn't have said it better myself. I totally agree that HDR and other 'gimmicky' photography has it's place. But I think that once it goes outside of the limits of reality it should be classified as digital art rather than photography.

  • Stila January 21, 2011 02:55 am

    They say that a good make-up in a woman is one that looks like there is no make-up at all. And I think the same about HDR, in some way. If you look at a picture and your brain screams "fake!" it's probably beacause the HDR technique hasn't been used properly.
    In my opinion, it is a good thing to use HDR to make the scene look similar to how our eyes see it, but we shouldn't use it as a compensation for not being able to use our camera settings properly. :)

  • Pete Zerria January 21, 2011 02:52 am

    One word Peter: AMEN!

    I have never totally agreed with an article here on DPS more strongly.

    Pete Zerria

  • Matt January 21, 2011 02:52 am

    I appreciate this post as I'm just learning to use my camera and naturally was intrigued by the artistry in HDR. Maybe I'm not ready for it. I love dPs, but maybe it would be well served to provide the true beginners with some how-to guides on Shutter Speed, F-stops, White Balance, and ISO instead of slow-sync flash, introduction to smoke photagraphy, and HDR. While these techniques tend to produce the more intersting outcome - abstract, art driven photographs - they mostly assume you already understand the basics. I guess at the end of this article I was asking myself, "How will I know when I'm ready to try HDR?"

    Thanks for the post, I love it!!!

  • John A. January 21, 2011 02:52 am

    Just read up a bit on HDR. Apparently local tone-mapping has been around since the 1930s, and shot combining to enhance dynamic range since the 1850s. (No typo) So it's hardly new. Maybe you should have called yourself a young curmudgeon. :)

    Also it's apparently used to good effect in some medical video equipment. Hardly evil.

  • Keith Skinner January 21, 2011 02:44 am

    I've seen HDR used brilliantly, artistically and don't think it's wise to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It can be a legitimate technique. I tend to dislike many of the HDR images I see because those images, sans HDR, often can't stand on their own, be it poor composition, poor execution or just boring subject matter. The HDR is simply lipstick on a pig. But we also see that with light painting, textures, and lomo. The technique exceeds the underlying art. All those techniques well applied to a good image are completely legitimate and extend the art. Let's not forget that sharpness, DOF and perfect lighting balance are also overdone. Sometimes the "perfect" exposure ruins an image that would be much better over or under exposed. As long as the photographer HAS a vision, s/he should be free to use any device, tool, technique necessary to deliver that vision.

  • Mark January 21, 2011 02:29 am

    I think the key to HDR is producing images that don’t look HDR. It is just a technique / tool. Like any other post possessing techniques (like cross processing,) HDR is over-used by amateurs that are excited to produce a cool looking photo. I think most of us that started out digital are guilty of this in some way.

    I think the big thing is that because of the accessibility of cheap SLR's and software, a lot more people are getting involved in photography so many of them do not develop their skills beyond the basics. So now the internet is flooded with "bad" HDR....but that is ok to me. It just encourages me to work harder and improve my own skill to stand out in the crowd. And people experimenting with new technology only pushes the art form, but I can easily see how this could be an annoying trend to those who been working in the field for years. just my two cents. I love the site, and the discussion.

  • Tom Gaitley January 21, 2011 02:28 am

    The beauty of art is that everyone has an opinion...

    HDR is a tool - the same way graduated neutral density filters were a tool more common of our film days. Some people argued against those as well because they created "fake" images. Personally, I like HDR when it is used to overcome the limitations of the camera (digital or film) to create an image closer to what we actually saw because our eyes and brain are SO much more capable than our cameras. But, I also like HDR even when it presents some unearthly, oversaturated image - the same way I like some bright (and some would even say garish) paintings - certain images appeal to me even if I know there is more artificial creation than natural because they may be composed in a certain way, or the colors affect me emotionally, or they remind me of a Cape Cod artists, or whatever the reason. Sometimes an artist likes to use a different type of brush or paint...why preclude it?

    But I agree with everyone....the basics have to be in order. It's similar to the willing suspension of disbelief in a movie...I will go along with it and enjoy the ride, as long as poor underlying technique doesn't yank me back to reality. (and I've been known to screw up there as well :) )


  • mark justice hinton January 21, 2011 02:23 am

    Everyone is free to use, abuse, and push digital photography any way they choose. Beauty and art are in the mind of the beholder. Still, even HDR fans agree it can be overdone or that too many bad examples are out there. Honestly, the abundance of bad examples turns me away from the effort. I appreciate this article (and agree with most of it). I'd like to see a counterpoint article -- with good examples of HDR. Thanks. peace, mjh

  • Dusty January 21, 2011 02:22 am

    I don't disagree that HDR is abused. A quick Flickr search will show you how many people use it as a crutch to get that immediate "wow" factor on an photo that is otherwise unimpressive. That's bad HDR.

    But HDR has other purposes as well. The first purpose is just what the acronym says, to bring a higher dynamic range to the photo. When you refer to "what the human eye can see," bear in mind that our eye sees a higher dynamic range than what is captured on a photo negative or a digital sensor. Done well, a photographer can use HDR to enhance the dynamic range beyond what was captured without drawing attention to itself, and if art should be an accurate representation of what we see (as you say, which I don't agree with), then only an HDR image could truly be art.

    Since I don't agree that art should ALWAYS be an accurate representation of life, I would submit that HDR can be a technique to extend an image beyond reality. When used in an over-the-top fashion creatively, I would imagine some digital artists could create some really cool stuff. It obviously isn't the kind of "realism" photography that you like, but art takes many forms.

    As with any artistic tool, HDR can be done well or it can be gaudy. For example, I think Thomas Kinkade's paintings are cheesy and generic, and would never put one in my house. That doesn't mean I hate paintings or landscape themes. It's his use of both that I don't enjoy because I don't think it's done well.

    My point: You can't write off a technique because you've seen some bad examples of it in use.

  • Henk January 21, 2011 02:22 am

    I mostly agree with you. However, like any radical photo manipulation HDR has its place in the realm of "art". Applying a bunch of filters on a picture taken with a fine camera to distort it into something else is called art and is appreciated by many people. So why not HDR? The only thing here to keep in mind is that it is manipulation, not "correction". All these people that are talking about the human eye being better than the camera's sensor, yes they are right. At the same time, the human eye does NOT see directly into the sun AND see all the details in the shadows in front of it. Therefore, HDR should not be seen as an overcoming of a camera's limits but as a different form of "art". That the origin of that art is a (series of) picture(s) cannot be helped.

    When I see a sky with clouds I appreciate it. When I see the same sky overcooked by HDR, I think it's time to run for shelter. That may be the objective of that HDR, but it doesn't make me appreciate that sky more because I can "see" details that were not there in the first place.

    If HDR is called to the rescue of badly taken pictures is a shame. It's better to learn how to use the camera better. If the objective is to create a surreal picture out of a normal/dull one, there is place for HDR.

    The only thing I keep in mind is that HDR is not necessarily photography (anymore) and look at it as a different form of picture, Just like paintings of the old masters. Let the new "masters" have their shot at reality.

  • Scott Frederick January 21, 2011 02:21 am

    HDR was first used in 1890 and pioneered in 1930. To say it's new is proving someone hasn't done their research. I like to think I've finally mastered HDR not as a look but as a means to craft my vision. My images are free of halos and trippy colors. Are they a true representation of what I saw, not always but thats my decision. I went through HDR hardship a while back and have come a long way. I encourage all the Haters out there to cruise my blog. You may not like every image but I guarantee you'll fond some fine example of the art form. I look at your images not your technique. And like I've said in a previous blog post how you've reached you creative climax is your business. Maybe all of the Haters of HDR should try to master the technique before jumping to conclusions about it. I bet more than half of you will pull your hair out trying to figure out why you images look like shit! It's not easy to do!

    I agree that many newcomers are not practicing proper composition, subject matter and exposure. If you cant take a great shot then why bother with HDR. And while we are at it I don't need to see an HRT of your mothers cat! C'mon people.

    HDR is not going anywhere. Ansel Adams was the king of manipulating tonal values. According to Wiki a form of HDR!

    Do we say we don't like rock music or we hate rap or country. Sure some of us do. But there is an artists in those gengres that can resonate with us all. It's the sea of clutter that affects our judgment. Please don't jump to conclusions on any artistic medium as a whole.

    Thank you for listening. :)

  • Robbie Lopez January 21, 2011 02:08 am

    I agree strongly with your article. I've seen some absolutely dreadful overuse of tone mapping. I think when HDR is done well it accurately represents the world we see around us in the tonal ranges we can see with our eyes. Extreme tone mapping makes images look 2 dimensional, surreal, and amateur. I prefer to use exposure blending these days, or photoshop to mix light and dark values together to achieve similar, yet more natural looks.
    That is not to say I don't enjoy HDR without over-doing it, nor does it mean I don't enjoy editing in other ways, but it seems like any fool can tone map & over-process a photo and call it " art " and have everyone go crazy over it.

    Sincerely, - Robbie Lopez
    Organizer, Richmond Photography Meetup Group
    Richmond, Virginia

  • Chris January 21, 2011 02:07 am

    I think when done sparingly to increase the tonal range in certain situations HDR can be a benefit to the overall image.

  • Seb January 21, 2011 02:07 am

    As many have stated already, I agree that there are many people out there doing HDR badly. However, I consider HDR just another form of post processing. So, with that in mind, your argument should really apply to any form of post processing, not just HDR. The reason being that we are altering the image captured by the camera and so we are trying to alter reality. On a similar note, a long night exposure does not yield a "real" image either. The result is nowhere near to how we see the scene when we shoot it.

    As many have said already, HDR is just a another tool for the photographer to convey a message. When done well it can be as effective as any other post processing technique. I would love to see an article on how to improve it.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Marc January 21, 2011 02:06 am

    "HDR, when overused, is a grotesque abomination of the reality of life. "
    I absolutely agree... I hate those crazy sky looks that seem like they were shot on Mars...

    "It is taking a literal scene that you enjoy and attempting to skirt around the reality of it"
    That's where I start to disagree... HDR done properly is an attempt to skirt around *photographic reality*, i.e. the limits of your instrument. The scene is deemed too harshly lit because your film or sensor can't handle it, but your eye can... so HDR come into play to try to show what your eye sees - more dynamic range.

    "To me, HDR is trying to improve on the beauty of life as experienced through the human eye and brain.
    It’s saying, “Oh, you can’t see the highlight and the shadows at the same time? Here, let me change that.” "
    To me it's the other way around... My eye can see beauty that my camera cannot reproduce in some conditions... So I use HDR when needed to improve what my camera sees and outputs so I can remember the beauty of what my eye saw...

    "It’s not that HDR is totally evil (just mostly) and should be done away with. "
    This is where you show you are an old curmudgeon after all... mostly *evil*, really :-)

    "Just stop taking it too far and stop using it in place of proper exposure and accepting the limits of the scene in front of you. "
    I agree with 2/3 of this... Yes stop taking it too far, yes learn how to properly expose, but why accept the limits of the scene, limits dictated by your photographic material not what you see? HDR - when done tastefully - can stretch these limits and make an image be what your eye can see and what your photographic equipment cannot.

    I've been debating this with seasoned pros for a while now and I'm sure I will be debating it for a long time...
    Essentially, to me HDR is a tool, like a reflector for instance to fill shadows, that you can use to render a scene closer to what your eye can see...


  • t.scudiero January 21, 2011 02:06 am

    "HDR, when overused, is a grotesque abomination of the reality of life."

    I'm not one to feed obvious trolling, but I'll bite here since you seem to misunderstand HDR.

    You're not complaining about HDR so much as you're complaining about poor tone mapping and the resultant images. As for the "unreal" or "fake" look, that's just your photographic training speaking. We've been trained that "this is what a photo looks like" even though when seen with our eyes we see far more.

    The dynamic range of the human eye is ~18-22 stops, the dynamic range of a DSLR is, optimistically, 8-10. A print? More like 6 stops. When I stand in the forest and look up I see blue sky behind those leaves, not white, yet the leaves have detail and are not flat black. My camera cannot discern such subtelties. So HDR is not just some nifty thing that makes these surreal images, HDR is something that lets us create images that capture as much light as our eyes see and project it down onto a medium with dramatically lower dynamic range. You probably don't know, but HDR was developed as a computer graphics technology to allow CG in video games to show details in lighting situations that are more like when viewed by the eye (not an imperfect camera). The name is even misleading, HDR is specifically NOT high dynamic range, but rather the compression of a high dynamic range onto a much smaller one.

    The reasons it looks "fake" are one of two things: bad tonemapping or you're just so trained that a photo must "select it's 6 stops' out of the available dynamic range that you recognize that the dynamic range has been compressed. I'm not going to say that there aren't countless examples of bad tone mapping, there are. One of the first things its important to recognize when doing HDR is whether or not the scene calls for HDR.

    And finally, to take up the inflammatory tone of this article: if everything you has to be real or whatever your definition is, throw out your copy of photoshop and lightroom and shoot in JPEG with default parameters. There are plenty of 'that doesn't exist' photos out there, every major advertising photo is airbrushed, liquified, and seriously distant from 'reality'.

    In summary: It seems to be trendy to hate HDR these days, especially if you don't do it yourself or haven't managed to do it successfully. Unfortunately, every single photographer I've talked to who spouts off against HDR does not understand it. Haters need to do their homework.

  • Paul January 21, 2011 02:03 am

    I agree, I think HDR is over-used. However, I think HDR should be another tool in the photographers toolbox that enhances the photo. We should be using HDR, like we would with DOF, shutter speed, Flash and ISO. If it doesn't allow the subject of the photo stand out, then it should not be used.

    Most HDR photo's that i have seen make HDR the focus of the image. However, Zibri's example [], demonstrates how HDR should be used. It should enhance the subject of the image not be the subject of the image.

  • Leah January 21, 2011 02:02 am

    I grew up on film, so the idea of spending more time post processing, than composing, the shot is a turn off to me. HDR is subjective, like any "style" of photography, or art. for that matter. Some like it, some don't. When done well, it can really make a photo pop and turn even the mundane into something beautiful. Subtle HDR can enhance details, colors, texture, etc. But, when it is overdone, to the point of looking like a paint-by-numbers scene, I think it causes the viewer to focus more on what looks "unnatural" and forced than the subject itself. That's just my opinion anyway.

  • Scott Webb January 21, 2011 02:00 am

    Before getting into it, I would like to know why no examples were used? Photography is about images. To boldly state "I don’t like the overuse of HDR that is touted as examples of good HDR these days" and not share an example is ridiculous.

    Tell me my I should even bother reading past that sentence?

  • Eric January 21, 2011 01:58 am

    I completely agree with some degree.

    The first point I want to make is that HDR is a processing tool and nothing else (at least it is in my opinion). The reason I say this is that HDR is simply a process by which you can take an existing photo and, through some process, enhance or tweak what it does. To me, playing with HDR is no different than playing with the white balance, colour saturation, sharpness filter,...

    The second point that I want to make is that the internet is littered with examples of HDR photos, mostly from people who either: a. choose to make the photos look unrealistic; b. do not know how to use the tools to get the appropriate result; or c, fail to realize that once an HDR effect has been applied, more work is required on the photo processing to make a final image. Every Flikr group on HDR is full of these examples.

    This second point should not be the cause of much debate, but the fact is that the resulting images are so over-the-top, that most people tend to encourage these images rather than challenge the photographer to improve his workflow to enhance the results. For example, if you look at a photo in Flikr where the composition appears to be a little off, you might see a comment about how good the photo is, but also maybe a hint as to how to make it better. This is not seen in the HDR processing, there are very few comments or hints on how to make your HDR photo look more realistic in the community.

    Where I agree with you is how HDR should come out. I tend to believe that an HDR photo should look as realistic as possible. I like to process my photos with HDR to try to get more details and textures from the photos. Sometimes I succeed, sometime I end up with something you would most likely call "an abomination." And I don't mind. You are entitled to your opinion on any piece of art.

    Most of the HDR I have seen passed around the internet as "amazing" is not attempting art.....this is where I disagree with your commentary. Any expression people make is art. You may not think it is good art, but that is your opinion. I think it is unfair and a little cruel to say that someone's work should not be considered as art because it does not look good to your eyes. As a matter of fact, seeing as any particular photo would evoke a strong emotional response (i.e. repulsiveness) by definition, makes it a piece of art. Don't get me wrong, I do not like most of the HDR photos floating around on the internet, but that does not make them any less of a piece of art.

    To add an argument to my point, if I don't like a particular painting, does that mean I can say that it is not art? What if the painting has the Picasso signature on it? What if it has my signature on it?

  • S January 21, 2011 01:55 am

    You know why you never see good HDR? Because good HDR isn't detectable. Because "good" means "representative" when it comes to photography and most HDR is like a horrible horrible mishmash of awful colors. Anything I look at that makes me say "that's HDR" is, to me, bad photography, frankly, barely even photography at all. @Zibri - that is great HDR - completely undetectable, just ends up being a photograph that represents what a place looks like in gloaming.

    The rest of the HDR can set up shop in the same place Thomas Kinkade does, which is preferably somewhere far, far away from me.

  • lblake January 21, 2011 01:49 am

    are you saying that dodging and burning, photoshop and other programs are not acceptable to use in photography? Dodging and burning and modifications in the dark room have been going on almost as long as photography has been around. Some would argue that digital photography is the true evil here. (I do not) HDR is yet another form of photography and a way of creative expression; an experiment for some, a passion for others. It's a difficult process to get perfect, so of course there will be failures. But is this not true with every aspect photography? I agree that before jumping into the HDR pool, one should know the basics and fundamentals of photography and exposures, but this in no way discounts anyone's attempt at being creative.

  • Achyut Hatimuria January 21, 2011 01:48 am

    You just spoke my mind. I see a lot of newbies doing HRD and ruining photographs. Some HDRs are good. However, it's important to choose right subject and click it in a right way first then it makes sense to use HDR if required.

  • Tor Westerlund January 21, 2011 01:44 am

    I kind of agree but you are judging HDR as pictures like this one:

    HDR can be used way way more subtle, and while pictures like the one above gets comments like "oh so artistic" and "amazing!!!". It's mostly because people who comment aren't serious photographers. In my book, using HDR like the picture above is just as amateurish as slapping on any of the artfilters and publishing it.

  • Nicole January 21, 2011 01:38 am

    HDR when done right isn't altering reality... just the reality of what a digital camera can process - 5 stops of light. Maybe 7. Our eyes and our brain can handle much more than that so good HDR can mimic what we really see as opposed to just what the camera can see. HDR is just an attempt to make a captured image look more like what our brain would see... the eyes and brain will always be better than the camera. We are amazing creatures!

  • Dave Wilson January 21, 2011 01:37 am


    Firstly, let me agree with you on a couple of points. There is an awful lot of terrible HDR out there and there are a lot of people using HDR tools and techniques without really knowing the background that is required to determine whether using those tools is justified. Too many people are of the opinion that the quality of a photograph is determined by the amount of weirdness they can add in post processing and this results in, as you note, people ignoring good exposure and basic composition.

    Putting aside the bad examples, though, please don't throw the baby out with the bath water. HDR is just another technique we have at our disposal to manipulate the scenes we capture and, very importantly in this case, overcome some of the limitations of the equipment we use to capture them. If I can use HDR to record a scene more closely to the way I remember it, getting round the obstacle imposed by the fact that my eyes do a far better job of recording the brightness levels in the scene than a single exposure on my limited digital sensor can manage then I will use that tool.

    Another mistake you appear to be making is to assume that HDRs aways need to look unnatural. Again, I agree that many do. Many photographers, myself included, use HDR tools to produce unreal looking versions of images, pulling out fine texture for example, but we also use it in subtle ways that are unlikely to draw attention to the particular technique employed. Take, for example, this image which, in my opinion, does a far better job of depicting the interior of the Texas State Capitol dome than any of the 6 single exposures used to create it.

    In the end, what matters is the final image regardless of whichever tools were used in its creation. Please don't discredit all uses of any given technique just because there are many examples of it being used badly. Let's concentrate on the final pictures instead.

  • Meg January 21, 2011 01:36 am

    I'm not a fan of HDR either and I am also sick of seeing it. I think since the technique went famous and everyone started to do it (or attemped to do it), I've only liked ONE picture. And I've also seen the showcases in blogs with "perfect examples of HDR" and I am not impressed at all, as you said, it looks fake and also overdone.

  • Andrew Rickmann January 21, 2011 01:36 am

    I agree, and disagree. There are bad HDR shots out there but I think you discredit the lot with your understanding of photography as a medium.

    Photography may or may not be "an attempt at capturing reality as seen through the eyes of the person behind the camera". It may just be an attempt to use photographic processes to make something that looks nice. It is still photography. So you can't dismiss HDR as being contrary to the point, spirit or principal just because you have fixed notion of what the point is.

    Secondly, as some other commenters have already stated what a camera sees is not what the eye sees. The eye moves over the scene, adjusting exposure as it goes, and the brain merges them all together to provide a much larger range than it, or a camera, could expose for in a single shot. In that sense HDR can be far closer to what we see than a non-HDR shot.

    You can argue that you shouldn't use filters, you can argue that you shouldn't use didging and burning, you can argue that you shouldn't combine expsosures in photoshop, you can argue that you shouldnt' use HDR and tone mapping. Everyone has their own line, and their own intent, and so HDR isn't (As you so linkbaitingly put it) evil, it is just not to your taste.

    Most HDR isn't to my taste either, and I write a lot of it off as a fad or a learning process, but it is neither of our places to say that we are photographers and they are not. Or that we are somehow better, purer, more adept at keeping it real.

    Finally, remember, that what we see is only our brain's representation of the different wavelenghts of radio waves that hit our receptors. There is nothing 'real' about it.

  • gjakovare January 21, 2011 01:30 am

    I'm actually not going to differ with you here. I am not the biggest fan of HDR and because I have seen it overused. But then again, anything that gets overdone is of no good anymore. Experimenting is a good thing, however, especially on flickr, what is the trend seems to get more appraisal than a perfectly good image. So, I'm going to agree with you that the basics should be perfected before moving on to something as complex as HDR.

  • MJD January 21, 2011 01:26 am

    I think you make some very interesting points in your article. But you forget that between the invention of photography and colour film all pictures were taken in black & white. This is hardly relistic except for those few who are colourblind. In reality hasn't photography always been about recording moments AND making them look nice? If HDR can do that just as well as black and white can then i'm all for it. The ability to create a new or interesting feel to a photograph will just help diversify the works of the photographic community. Sometimes its nice to get away from reality, 3D CGI films like Avatar offer just that and are amazingly popular. So why not a little bit of HDR for the sake of maintaining creativity?

  • Alexey January 21, 2011 01:24 am

    Look... you can see with your eyes a vase on a windowsill and what is outside, but your camera can't unless you setup lighting, etc.
    Many HDR's these days are overcooked to the point to make me shadder but still when used properly provide a scene when you can see details in both bright and dark parts of the pricture... just like when you are there in person! There nothing you can do about this with proper exposure.
    Go try and shoot a picture with both cloudy skies and not well lit landscape

  • Chris Baldwin January 21, 2011 01:20 am

    Fortunately art is in the eye of the beholder and not limited to your definition of it.

    "Is it art, if not an accurate representation of what is? I doubt it."

    Being the determiner of what is and isn't art, or thinking you are, pretty much sums up the value of your article.
    I am glad Picasso and others did not share your views....

    "Maybe I am an old curmudgeon after all."

    Judging by your photo I would say you are not old, not as old as I am at any rate. Maybe when you are you will be less of a curmudgeon.
    I believe, as you do, that learning the basics is the best plan....learning the rules before breaking them so to speak, but whatever any one does to enjoy themselves is fine too.
    Just my thoughts on the subject.....

  • Onus Probandy January 21, 2011 01:19 am

    I don't disagree with your dislike of over use of HDR. Or rather, the misuse of HDR.

    However, some of your arguments against it aren't valid.

    - Art has never been purely representational. Some is, some isn't.

    - Non-HDR photographs are no less a distortion of reality than HDR images. Human vision is already HDR, so if anything HDR is more accurate, not less (used wisely of course). An easy example is to take a photograph of the sun with a tiny aperture. You will get a photograph of something you will never see with your eyes. Does that make cameras evil?

    - As digital cameras have advanced, their dynamic range has increased, some hitting 12 stops. That's well over what's needed to create a HDR image. Should we demand lower dynamic range from manufacturers to prevent the misguided few from taking bad photographs?

    HDR won't replace skill. But then neither does an SLR make you a good photographer. Nor will Photoshop paper over cracks in your technique. However, that doesn't mean these things should all be discarded. HDR is just another tool, if you don't like what you see, blame the artist, not the paints.

    Here's someone much more qualified than I making the same point (and backing it up with photographs)

  • Yngve Thoresen January 21, 2011 01:18 am

    Not first at all it seems. That was strange. Anywho, I think HDR can be done nicely, but in 99% its not.

  • Geren W. Mortensen, Jr. January 21, 2011 01:18 am

    Amen, Brother Peter! I couldn't agree more!

  • Yngve Thoresen January 21, 2011 01:17 am


    And... First?

  • David Fair January 21, 2011 01:15 am

    One of the most amazing things about the human eye is it's incredible versatility. With time to adjust the eye can see detail in shadows that only the most sensitive film could pick up. It can also adjust to extremely bright situations, allowing us to see detail where light overwhelms even very low ISO films. By concentrating our focus on certain portions of our scene, we can choose what details we see.

    What HDR does, is attempt to capture in one image both extremes of human eye ability. We can stand on a scenic overlook, and by adjusting our gaze, we can enjoy the beautiful colors of the sun light and reflections in the water, while later looking at the rocks and trees and seeing amazing detail in the shadows and middle areas.

    A photograph does not have the benefit of our eyes ability to selectively concentrate it's attention but by combining exposures via HDR, a photograph can simulate that ability.

    Every photograph is an incomplete record of what the photographers eye recorded at the time, and because of that, and how we make images, photographs lie all the time. We can use focal lengths to change the perspective of an image, or to compress or expand distances between objects. We use aperture and/or shutter speed to blur what our eye sees as sharp, or to sharpen what appears blurry. We use strobes to add light where it isn't, reflectors and diffusers to change that light. We choose telephoto lenses that bring objects closer or wide-angle lenses push them away. We adjust ISO to force more or less light sensitivity into a situation where it is not natural for our eyes to be that sensitive or that insensitive.

    It seems odd to me to complain about one kind of lie in a photograph, while ignoring all the many, many others. It is OK not to like HDR images, and there are many, many HDR images i don't like. Over-saturated images that look unreal don't appeal to me, but neither do all the works of the old masters. Just because i don't like, does not mean it is not art; It simply means I don't like it. On the other hand, the use of HDR by someone who has the skills to use it well and uses it to supplement skillfully taken images can amount to amazing images that take the breath away.

    Don't condemn the tool because of the skill (or lack thereof) of the user. Let them learn, and make those overly processed, poorly framed HDR images as a step to learning how to do it better in the future.

  • prince January 21, 2011 01:12 am

    well spoken... i dont think it will be passing fad .The overuse is bound to kill its popularity though.

  • fortunato_uno January 21, 2011 01:11 am

    O' Pete I really enjoy when you stur the pot. I'm with you on the fact of HDR being over done (mostly by those who should learn to get a good shot in the first place). I have seen some shots I really like that I later found to be HDR (like Zibri's shot), so I am also not totally against it. I've never done it my self. More often then not I would rather just get a slightly over exsposed shot (ETTR) and tweek it in post prossesing. I find I get a simular effect to what many people are trying to get with a HDR.
    You keep sturring the pot, I find it's better to have someone who will differ on a point (like your article on how to take terrible travel photos), rather then just say this is all good and we should all do it like this.

  • Helder January 21, 2011 01:10 am

    You said:
    "Rather, for me, the annoyance comes from attempting to create something that doesn’t exist."

    I've read this a lot of times about hdr. I dont like overuse of hdr either, but I think is usefull sometimes if well done. So if create something that doesn't existe annoys you what is your opinion about black and white photography ?

    I love it, and its something that doesn't exist.

    Btw, I agree with you that people should firts understand more about exposure, shutter speed, depth of field, etc.

  • Greg January 21, 2011 01:08 am

    I agree - HDR done just a little, subtly, realisticly is nice however a lot of people think that HDR should be gaudy and totally blown out - looks like crap (can I say that here?)

  • Phil Hawley January 21, 2011 01:08 am

    I agree with all your points here, I have seen some great examples of HDR being used as a simple way to blend exposures and the whole scene looks realistic (in the past I have used this myself on occasion). However like you say this isn't capturing the reality of how the scene actually looked and on the whole all to often people produce these cartoon-like monstrosities that are simply offensive to my eyes.

  • Ceri Vale January 21, 2011 01:07 am

    Zibri - that is an excellent example of controlled and justified application

    Peter - I can't help thinking that your tirade should be more against those who distort tonal and colour ranges to produce the "Fake" images you're talking about. I stared at Zibri's shot for a full two minutes...not because it's HDR, but because it's HDR done very well...which (sorry) negates your argument.

  • TDSutter January 21, 2011 01:06 am

    Arguing about the artistic merits of HDR (overdone or not), IMHO, is about like arguing orver the merits of abstract art, very dry wine, or extra sharp cheese. Some folks like it; some don't. It is ALL in the mind's eye of the beholder. In this instance, like abstract art, dry wine, and extra sharp cheese, there certainly is NO universal absolute. You say toe-may-toe. I say toe-mot-oh.

  • Mike January 21, 2011 01:00 am

    I have no objections to HDR photography, it's just that most of it is not done very well.

  • John Doe January 21, 2011 12:59 am

    First off, I feel your sentiments are perfectly valid for you and you are entitled to them, but it limits you. You state, "Photography, from its roots, has always been an attempt at capturing reality as seen through the eyes of the person behind the camera" and I have to disagree with this. There are two camps in photography that for some reason seem to be at odds with each other. The camp that says photos must represent reality and the camp that says photography is art and can be whatever you want it to be.

    Lets take the first camp, the realists. Photography has never been real. The limits of photography, as you mention, mean the photo can never truly represent reality as the camera sees things differently than the human brain. Use of limited DR, DOF, selective focus, etc mean the photo will look different than the scene did in reality. Secondly, how many times have photos been used to show the viewpoint the photographer wanted you to see? So how "real" are those kinds of photos?

    Now lets take the artists. Artists feel photography is just like any other medium and can be used to do whatever you want to do with it. You can manipulate them, color them, blur them, copy-and-paste other elements into/out of them and so on. This is where HDR photos fall, in the world of art. HDR done really well could actually fall in the realists camp as they can capture more DR than any single photo can, but lets face it, most HDR photos are obvious. But so what?

    Where the real problem lies, is when a photographer tries to represent a manipulated (i.e. artsy) photo as reality. Then the photo becomes a lie. So to me, whether the photo is realistic or artistic doesn't matter, it is the intention of the photographer behind the photo that matters.

  • Mike January 21, 2011 12:56 am

    Last month, my wife and I spent two weeks in Philly. Checking out the "artsy" part of town, I noticed HDR pictures selling for $100+/print. This is rediculus. Blown out, poorly composed, pretty halos around everything, and a fortune. Buy a comic book, people, it's cheaper and looks better in most cases.

  • Angel January 21, 2011 12:53 am

    I have to agree with you. As cool as the HDR effect is, it definately distorts reality. I like to shoot what I see. I tried HDR effects on a few, but ended up not keeping any of them.
    Great article, Peter!

  • El Diablo January 21, 2011 12:53 am

    Agreed, 100%. I'm so tired of seeing way overdone HDR with comments like, "great grab!". They're no better than the images from 15 years ago with an overdone watercolor filter.

  • Zibri January 21, 2011 12:52 am

    Well, I have to agree with you with one exception:
    sometimes a digital camer can't capture what we see AS we see it.

    This is where HDR can come in handy grabbing details and colors from different exposures.
    Not the cartoon-like picture I see sometimes around...

    Here is an example:

  • Saurabh January 21, 2011 12:50 am

    Great article, and one that I agree with for the most part. As an amateur photographer, I've realised that just learning to balance shutter speed, aperture and ISO alone will take me years of practice and I find it fascinating to challenge myself and play with different settings. I've been learning photography for almost 2 years and still feel like I know next to nothing, so I will probably continue to focus on the 'clicking' part with minor editing in lightroom.

    I definitely see the point of HDR photography for commercial photography, and I think it's an interesting technique, but I suppose I'm also a traditionalist at heart, and agree with your comment on learning the fundamentals. The best piece of advice I received when I just bought my dslr was, 'Take as many photographs as you can in a year. If you feel like you have learned all that you want to know, then photography is probably not for you'.

  • Michael Sorensen January 21, 2011 12:50 am

    I agree that much of the HDR out there is overblown and overdone. I believe that part of its popularity is due to the fact that you can fiddle with the image on your computer in a few minutes with Photomatix rather than spending long hours in the field. I've noticed that I very rarely use HDR because I've learned how to position, light, and shoot scenes fairly well in the field (and I'm still working on this rather than spending all my time doing HDR).

    But the arguments that HDR can represent scenes more closely to what the human eye and brain can perceive is correct. Also, a lot of people are drunk, on drugs, and/or stupid, so excessive HDR really is a good way for them to display the world as they see it.

  • Martin January 21, 2011 12:48 am

    There are some phenomenal uses of HDR out there. Admittedly some don't look "real" but so what; The beauty is in the art process. As with anything else there is crap out there; I know; some of my attempts have been utter failures which I don;t wish to share with anyone. But taking the chance and making something is what is important.

    I prefer straight up photojournalism and detest when editors or photographers manipulate their images to alter reality; But HDR, as an art form, is totally acceptable to me and some of the results I've seen with it are amazing - just check out the rural decay HDR panoramas at

  • Kerensky97 January 21, 2011 12:46 am

    I agree as well.

    While an HDR shot here or there is fun as artistic experiments, its overuse is definitely an irritant. So few people are good at it to the point where it's not noticeable, and so many people create images that look like clown vomit that I've really begun to dislike any HDR.

    I think the problem is that just throwing a bunch of paint at a wall doesn't make you Jackson Pollock; you have to start with good photography and use HDR as a tool rather than use it like a filter to try to improve bad pictures.

  • Matteo January 21, 2011 12:43 am

    Maybe someone is not a professionis and just have fun shooting for and composing HDR (yes, that's me). Anyway, after some a phase where you feel everything must be shot for HDR, where you feel your eye's range is too narrow for your mind.. you get tired by halos and overall poor results and take another way. Or at least, you better do..

  • Jean-Francois January 21, 2011 12:43 am

    I care to differ... and concur with you at the same time.

    HDR is clearly overused these days as a simple way to get a wow!-effect, and most of the time in a very unnatural and poorly made way.
    But, I disagree when you say it is a lie, or then so is long-exposure, or even flash photography, who help to see what the eye can't.
    The real shame is that HDR is becoming the first thought of "creativity" for many new photographers, they see a nice landscape and think "oh, this will probably look great in HDR, let's do it". They don't try to think of anything else, more natural, and that's just because it came too fast and too easy to do thanks to modern technology and hype.

    My 2 cents.

  • Lucas Reis January 21, 2011 12:41 am

    In fact, our eyes have a longer dynamic range than any camera (digital or not). We can look at things that are very bright by the side of a very dark one and still see the details.

    HDR techniques first appeared trying to mimic this. They are supposed to look MORE in the way we actually see!

    Sometimes we feel it's fake because it's different from what we expect from a normal photograph. But when we look at a scene, we certainly see a lot more than gets captured by the camera.

    Sorry for my english,

  • Chris January 21, 2011 12:39 am

    I am a bit disappointed as this seems to be more of a rant than anything else.

    Photography is not meant to conform to any rules other than physics. I think it is interesting how we can produce something surreal out of something that is 100% real. That is the beauty of art. It is all part of the experimentation and fun of photography. Most of us don't do it to follow rules, rather than to enjoy the activity or results there after.

  • Tom January 21, 2011 12:39 am

    Defining whether some technique is allowed or not, or defining whether works using some technique is art or not, is a rather danger path to take. For example, painting was originally thought as a way of reproducing a projection of reality on a canvas. Picasso does not really fit that mold, does he? Yet, today it is widely accepted that Picasso's works indeed are art.
    In my personal opinion, excluding a technique from the list of accepted techniques is bound to result in difficulties. Only the end-result should count. If the end-result has artistic value, then the work is art, regardless of whether it uses technique X or not.
    That said, it is true that many people over-use HDR. It is very common in all fields of art to forget the artistic content over novel technology. But at the same time that is a healthy process of finding the natural limits and natural uses of a technique. In 50 years, we'll look back and think: "Those were the times that lots of people experimented with HDR." But the pictures that we remember, the once that remain, are only the once with artistic value.

  • garhol January 21, 2011 12:36 am

    I guess you are referring to the large number of tonemapped images being touted rather than HDR.
    HDR has been about for a long time and can be spectacular when used as a basis for lighting. See the work of Paul Debevec for examples, most dramatically showcased in "Fiat Lux". (check youtube for an example)
    I'll always be a fan of HDR when used for things like lightprobes for CG but like yourself, the tonemapped stuff leaves me cold.

  • Arron January 21, 2011 12:36 am

    nice article but yes im going to disagree to a certain extent.

    personally i dont like the grunge effect on some over processed HDR images, but i wouldn't go as far as saying its not art.

    i think its just 'surrealist photography'

  • Alex January 21, 2011 12:36 am

    In general I agree with you. To play devil's advocate though: It seems that this line could be drawn in the sand anywhere once you're out of the camera. Once you fiddle with the image at all it seems like you've crossed that line.

    If you're willing to modify the image in post-processing to make it look better even with a tiny tweak... it's the same as HDR abusers to me. If I were to go old school I'd say: Get it right at the camera in the first place.

  • Andy Hinds January 21, 2011 12:35 am

    I completely agree with you. It's good but will suffer from over use in time making it rather contemporary in nature.
    I took a digital astrophoto of the planet Jupiter a while ago, and someone suggested I should do an HFR image of it; how?? There isn't the dynamic range there in the first place! A planet with bands across it's surface against the blackness of space; what was he thinking?

  • tom January 21, 2011 12:35 am

    oftentimes as i travel i do not have the luxury of waiting until just that one perfect moment when the stars will be aligned and the light will be just so, so that all will be come visible to the camera's fact it is common knowledge that the eye/brain is able to see much better than a camera, so by using HDR or something that mimics it, i am giving to my audience a photograph more in line with what i saw, and not the limitations of the camera...i agree that the fake look is not very cool every single time, that would be a gimmick that has its place, but to allow my audience a chance to see more in line what i saw is doing them a service.....

    we all try to lighten up some areas and darken others, even ansel adams spent days in the darkroom, dodging and burning until he got it just that not a rudimentary form of HDR?

    great article though, gives us all something to think about, for sure....

  • Jen at Cabin Fever January 21, 2011 12:34 am

    I do a lot of HDR photography, admittedly not as much lately, but I find that just like any other aspect of photography one must practice it to move from the overdone abominations to tasteful examples of art. We all have photos in our portfolios that after years of continued growth we go back and frown upon, HDR or not. I always maintain that whether the photo is an HDR or regular digital image makes no difference in the quality and artistic composition. If anything an HDR image must take artistic composition and quality into more consideration since those images are so significantly scrutinized. What I've learned is that people (including myself) don't take the time to learn how to properly process HDR images and (probably most important) understand what will make a good HDR image versus a regular digital image.

    Northeast Kingdom Photography

    One Word. One Photo. Everyday.

  • Mike Olbinski January 21, 2011 12:33 am

    It would be awesome to have an article like this not talk negatively about HDR just because there are a bunch of people who don't have any idea how to do it properly.

    It would be like bashing wedding photography because there are thousands of hacks out there who haven't a clue.

    And your comment:

    "It’s not that HDR is totally evil (just mostly) and should be done away with."

    I don't know if you are joking or not, but this pretty much discredits your entire article to me. Evil? Really?

    What gets me is all you people who hate HDR being overdone, and instead of providing a useful solution, you come up with articles like this. Others out there are actually doing tutorials and helping people learn how to use it the right way.

    I'm certain this little article of yours will get you all kinds of traffic and yay for you. But what you wrote is nothing new, nothing that hasn't been said a hundreds before by other people.

    I would have been more surprised if you would have offers some ideas and steps people can take to improve their techniques.

  • DeNacho January 21, 2011 12:32 am

    i could not agree more. like so many i'm sure, i was impressed with it when i first saw examples of it, but now, i think it's overused. as you said, i look at HDR now and just think "fake". i often think "gosh i bet this would be a cool photograph if i knew what it really looked like". getting the true representation, now that's good photography!

  • Shawn Hoke January 21, 2011 12:31 am

    As a purist, I definitely share your opinion of HDR. I still shoot film 95% of the time and when I use my DSLR, I actually decrease the saturation because I find the colors too jarring. :)

    However, if people enjoy using it then more power to them. I see a lot of it and it's not my cup of tea. I view HDR and all the Hipstamatic, Instagram, etc. programs as some kind of weird hybrid "related" to photography; it's more dependent on a computer than a camera.

    I don't think you are alone.

  • Dimitri January 21, 2011 12:31 am

    Definitely agree