Tyson V. Rininger's Blog

TVRPhotography – If it moves, Shoot It!

When NOT to use HDR

There’s no doubt I’m not a huge fan of HDR, or High Dynamic Range, photography. While I think it’s a neat effect and a fun thing to do with photos that didn’t turn out quite right, I’m seeing this overused effect pop in places it never should have even been considered.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) typically involves the blending of multiple images taken at different exposures to create a single image with a broad exposure range. In this image, three exposures were made from a single image and then blended together to create an HDR image. The HDR edit can be seen on the left with the original image on the right.

Now before I begin my little diatribe, I have given HDR a try and I even own RC Concepcion’s book, “The HDR Book: Unlocking the Pros’ Hottest Post-Processing Techniques”. It’s a fantastic and thorough book detailing the process. However, this overly used effect is becoming common place in places where it shouldn’t be common.

So what exactly is HDR? The proper way of creating an HDR image requires the blending of multiple images, usually three to five photographs, shot at different exposures. Think of it as a bracketing burst all in one exposure. The results enable a wider range of exposure similar to what our natural vision can capture. Unfortunately, this effect also pulls out details that are unrealistic and over saturated. Essentially, HDR images take on a more painterly or illustrated look rather than appearing like a traditional photograph.

Now I’d like to think I’m relatively accepting of new technology and techniques. My workflow incorporates the latest in software and computer technology, my equipment is constantly being updated to keep up with the Jones’, I’ve even embraced the world of DSLR video and motion picture editing. But, when it comes to tweaking photos to the point of creating an unrealistic world and still calling it photography, I personally have to draw the line.

An example of before and after HDR image manipulation. The HDR edit can be seen on the upper left with the original image on the lower right.

Case in point, my wife and I have recently begun our search for a new home. Browsing the thousands of listings, I occasionally come across homes where the real estate agent has accepted images from a photographer employing HDR or the agent has tried HDR first hand themselves. As I mentioned earlier, HDR brings out details not visible to the human eye in a very unrealistic nature. This is an instant turn off for me. Any time the photographer or agent feels the need to manipulate photography of an item for sale, my trust for that agency disappears.

High Dynamic Range was used in this image to bring down the intensity of the lamp and light seeping in from the window. Moderate use of HDR also helps brighten up shadows without turning the image into an illustration.

Another example I recently came across was an aircraft for sale. This particular broker showcased numerous aircraft all featuring HDR as the photo technique of choice. The effect was so prominent I had difficulty telling what kind of plane it was. The sky ended up becoming more defined than the aircraft and the leather seats looked like a newly discovered material never seen before.

But is HDR completely out of the question? Absolutely not.  I offer my clients the option of using studio lighting to properly light a home for brokerage or architectural photography or, if they choose, I can apply a subtle use of HDR to brighten up shadows and dim down hot spots. To reduce the cost of the shoot, most clients prefer the latter. There is however a bit of an educational process when comforting photography-savvy clients about the subtle use of HDR. When used in moderation, HDR can provide a realistic and pleasing image that will not change the overall appeal and still provide a factual representation of the subject matter.

Very subtle use of HDR can assist to fill in shadows and balance highlights without harming the overall subject of the image.

The point is, be very careful when using HDR. If you enjoy the effects of HDR photography, great, but the resulting illustrations should remain outside the considerations of showcasing products for sale if the effect is not used in moderation. If you’re a photographer, do your clients a service and utilize your knowledge of photography and post processing techniques that provide a realistic perspective of the product you are photographing. While HDR may be fun, it’s not a solution for everyone and can end up being detrimental to your client.

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2 responses to “When NOT to use HDR

  1. Mike Jorgensen April 30, 2012 at 4:23 PM

    I hear you Tyson. Used anything other than in a subtle manner, it begins to be an arty reproduction or illustration, compared to simply enhancing weak areas. Not that I use makeup myself (honest I don’t) I’m personally of the opinion that too little looks better than too much – unless you are a professional clown ;)

  2. haleyimages May 1, 2012 at 4:28 AM

    I have seen very few examples of HDRs where the results were pleasing or close to realistic. I too have played toyed with HDRs and found your subtle examples as a great example of restraint as well as a perfect time to employ the technique.

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