Recently I read an article on Smashing Magazine called 10 Easy Steps To Advanced Photography Skills by Trey Ratcliff. The article discusses 10 great tips to further enhance and develop one's photography skills. He covers topics such as: caring your camera everywhere, examining art history, learning to draw and even the dreaded "practicing with HDR". But the majority of people that commented on the article couldn’t get past the HDR samples in the article. Trey was shot down for his HDR imagery and many readers missed the point of the article – how to better your photography, whatever your style.
Trey's photography is about 80% HDR (High Dynamic Range) and the samples presented in the article represent that. Many people find HDR photos “fake” or over processed and prefer the organic look of unprocessed photos. I can understand that, it’s a personal preference. But many people also react to HDR rather overwhelming — with statements like calling it an “80s fashion”, a fad that belongs in the “dustbin of history” or just calling it plain crap. I wonder if that’s what people said when perspective and foreshortening gained popularity during the renaissance.HDR Renaissance
Now I’m not comparing HDR to the renaissance, but just like perspective and foreshortening, HDR is a technique and any technique that is overused shows. A renaissance painting can be spotted a mile away, and so can a highly processed HDR photo. But those techniques and styles evolve. HDR does not belong in the “dustbin of history”. The only way to find out what works and what doesn't is to make mistakes (the last point of Trey’s article). It takes experimentation and practice to progress as an artist. And I think that’s the point many people miss when talking about HDR.
There is photographic art, but not all photographs are art — it’s the photographer’s intention that separates art from non-art. Personally I think many of Trey’s photos are fantastic, and not for their HDR processing. There is careful attention to composition, color, shape, contrast... all the things make up a quality photo. In the end, it is his style, his art.Here To Stay
HDR has its place. In history and in the future. As a technique it can be used to achieve endless goals. Personally I enjoy experimenting with HDR and the possibilities that come with it. The following are just a few ways I currently utilize HDR.Original
I went out this morning to the Fox River and found the underside of this bridge. The pillars and arches created interesting shapes and patterns that were emphasized by the direct morning light. This is the original image, as shot without any post-processing. While I think the image is nice, it is flat without much contrast. Additionally, the texture in the concrete is lost by exposing for the overall scene.Exposure Control
HDR can serve as a great way to achieve greater control over an image’s exposure. Traditionally one would expose a single image for a given subject or mood. If shooting a high contrast scene, a compromise between the light and dark areas would have to be found. With such a compromise detail would be lost in either the light or dark areas of the scene. By taking several exposures and combining those images, the overall tonal range of the image can be controled. Details in the light and dark areas of the image can be brought out while maintaining the integrity of the photo.
Here I was able to expose the detail of the burnt out area of the arch and at the same time enhance some of the detail of the textures in the darker areas of the image.The HDR Surreal Look
The image turns more surrealistic by further pushing and pulling the image and adjusting various HDR controls. This further brings out the details of the shadows and exposes the blown out areas. A common complaint of HDR images is that they lack contrast and take on a surrealistic look to them. The lack of contrast I feel is more a result of poor photography rather than post processing and HDR. And I happen to like the surrealistic look to heavily processed HDR images, I like to think of it as hyper-realistic. When combined with composition, shape, line, texture and other photographic skills HDR techniques can create visually compelling images. For instance, further processing this image really brought out more of the texture in the bridge and enhanced much of the detail in the image.Artistic Expression
I’m not a photojournalist. Photography just a hoby for me and in the end I want to invoke a mood with my photos. If I would have setup an easel, this is what I would have painted. I wanted a hyper-realistic scene that has lots of contrast and texture in it. I love the contrasting lines and shapes created by the square pillars and the support arches. By using HDR I was able to really define the texture and highlight those lines and patterns. Now the eye has a path to follow from the lines and fading pattern down to the dark hollow end of the bridge.
HDR is best viewed at a larger size, where the eye can move through the image... here's a larger version of the final image.My Style
For me, photography is art. With art comes style, personal style. Some people say you shouldn’t be able to tell if a photo is an HDR photo. Who says? I’m sure a lot of people said a soup can couldn’t be art, but take a walk through The Museum of Modern Art and you’ll see differently. Oh and you may want to walk around the Smithsonian as well... you just may see a print of Trey's there, he's had prints in there before afterall.
When it comes to art. Do what moves you. Trey, thanks for the tips.