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June 17, 2008
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Is HDRi relevant by JakeSpain Is HDRi relevant by JakeSpain
Full Title: Is HDRi relevant as a photographic technique or mearly a special effect process?

I have chosen not to give my reasons for discussing this subject and I believe that for most people interested the reasons will be obvious. This is just a demonstration of why I use HDRi technology as "one of the tools in my photographic toolbox"

I have deliberately directed this at people who understand the photographic process and a little about HDRi images. I am not trying to exclude others from the concepts involved here and am very willing to answer any questions from anyone of any age or ability in order to help explain the subject matter. THANKS.



This image was created from the 3 files which I have overlayed it with.

I was returning from a shoot back to the car and on the walk I saw an angle through the trees of Corfe Castle which I liked. I pulled my camera from my backpack and strapped it on to my tripod.
I realised due to the "against the sky" angle of the subject that I would end up with a silhouette image rather than what my eyes could see which was a subdued castle against a gorgeous sky.
I had 2 options if I wanted to create the image as I saw it rather than the silhouette my camera would record.
1. I could use a graduated filter over the lens which would help to hold back the sky so I could expose the foreground and castle a little better.
2. I could shoot multiple frames at varying shutterspeeds so as to cover the Exposure Range presented in the scene and then create an HDR image during processing.

If I had used the filter technique I would have been faced with a problem: As well as holding back the sky, which I wanted to, the filter would also have held back the top of the castle, which I didn't want.
I would have ended up with an image similar to the way my eyes could see the scene but with a distinct graduated light effect from the top to the bottom of the castle. This would have been acceptible at best but very obvious to me, ruining the picture at worst.

So I opted for the HDRi technique:

I framed the castle as I wanted it through the viewfinder and locked my tripod in place. I then set the lens aperture to F8.0. Then I exposed the first of 3 frames at 1/125 sec - about 1.5 stops below the metering on the camera. I shifted the shutter speed (whilst keeping the aperture locked at F8.0) to 1/50 sec (just over a stop higher than the first frame) and made another exposure. Then went up to 1/25 sec (a stop higher) and made a final exposure.
I now had the 3 images which you can see around the outside of the picture above.
The 1/125 shot is too dark as an image on it's own. The 1/50 shot is just too pale overall. The 1/25 shot is too bright with the sky burnt right out.
If I was to have used any of these images then either I would have to suffer a silhouete as my final image or lose the gorgeous sky. If I had used the middle exposure I could have got away with the shot as far as exposure goes but even with some lengthy processing it would have looked flat and lacking in contrast with the sky pushing the limits of brightness and parts of the castle showing no
shadow detail at all.

So I took my 3 RAW exposures into Photomatix Pro (HDR sofware) and allowed it to combine the three 12bit images into a single 36bit file. This is one image which contains all of the combined shadow and highlight detail from all 3 exposures. As it is this image is useless. It contains far too much detail to be viewed on a screen or in print which both only support an 8bit tonal range.
The next step was to "Tonemap" this huge file into an image which is able to be viewed as a photograph. This too was done in Photomatix Pro.

The result is the image above. You can clearly see the detail and colour in the sky, the detail on the castle and even some colour in the tops of the trees at the bottom. This is, more or less
how the scene appeared to my eyes at the time. To me it doesn't have the tell tale fake and flat look which gives HDRi a bad name. To me it looks real and more importantly the way I wanted it to.

So - Is HDRi relevant as a photographic technique or mearly a special effect process?

The answer is up to to you. My mind has been made up for a long time.

PLEASE TAKE A LOOK AT "Corfe Castle" [link] in my gallery. It is the final image from this set. I have converted it to black and white which was my original idea for this scene. I hope you like it.
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:iconandymumford:
AndyMumford Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2008
I find myself completely agreeing with Alex. I've seen some great HDR shots of building interiors, but I'm not convinced with landscapes.

I guess it comes down to what you want from your images. If you want to make an image that appears the same as it did to your eyes, then I guess it's fine.

For me that's not what photography is about. I'm not interested in the world as I see it, more how my camera sees it, which I accept as being inherently different to the way my eyes see it.
Long exposures, freezing of action, compressed perspective with telephotos, stretched with wide angles...and silhouettes caused by a smaller dynamic range are all a part of photography that I think we should embrace, rather than think of as drawback.
You saw my last submission. In real life it didn't look anything like that. The camera has compressed perspective, the narrow DR and underexposing by a stop has pushed the shadows deeper, and controlling the WB has given the image an orange hue that wasn't as strong in real life. All done in camera, all a part of the photographic process which is far inferior to the way our eyes see a scene, but elements that we can use to create drama in an image.

HDR is OK, I don't have a problem with it...It's just not what I seek in my photography and have no use for it personally.
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:iconjakespain:
JakeSpain Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
I agree with all of that.
Sometimes I want to create a scene differently from my camera - maybe more like I would see it. I offer this whole thing as an opening statement to discussion rather than a be all and end all on HDR. I believe that the subject gets more flac sometimes than is necessary and is often just thrown out instead of being understood for what it can achieve in the right hands - as I've found out though mine are not the right hands ;)

Hopefully someone will gain something from it.....
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:iconalex37:
Alex37 Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Well firstly I would say this isnt a great example because the sky has taken on an unnatural colour, somewhat stereotypical of HDR.

HDR has its place, but hasnt reached the level yet where I think it can be used for serious landscape work (although there may be one or two exceptions)

I have seen it used to great effect on architecture.

I think the main problem is that our eyes dont take in X number of stops of tonal range at once. Instead they flit around a scene building up a picture of the various contrasts and luminances. This way we see the best of both worlds, large tonal range and good contrast. You can only acheive this with blending really (at least I have not been able to do this with HDR).

Its the automated process that is the issue. I forsee future HDR programs incorporating a masking approach to chose the tonal range selectively.

There is also a major issue with fringing and movement in HDR shots which needs to be addressed.

Unfortunately too many beginners apply this in situations where all it does is produce pretty colours at the cost of every other aspect of the image. I would even speculate that in some cases HDR may encourage beginners to shoot anything anywhere anyway regardless of lighting composition or content.

Alex
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:iconjakespain:
JakeSpain Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks Alex I always admire your honesty. Sorry I'm not great with colours so I'll have to just agree on the sky. Your points are all relevent and more what I had in mind than the "it looks fake" or "it's cheating" approach to HDR.
I am obviously not implying that I would use this technique alll the time or that I will stop using filters or blending - Been there, done that, not happy with the results.
On the subject of blending tho - that takes a serious skill to get it perfect. Some shot work with a simple gradient but others are increadibly time consuming to do correctly...
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:iconalex37:
Alex37 Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
yeah, I have often spent over an hour on complex masks. The results are worth it though, and I have never been able to acheive the same standard with HDR.

As far as colours go....the sky is rarely cyan, but clouds never are, thats where the comment comes from, you could correct it easily by adjusting the hue.

Alex
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:iconjakespain:
JakeSpain Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks.
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:iconstringoflights:
StringOfLights Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
I'm not sure I'm really qualified to talk about this, but... I think HDR has its place in photography, but I see it overused and misused a lot. It works well for a scene like this where the light just didn't allow for what you saw, but just taking random shots that have no other artistic merit besides HDR is terrible. I think that's where a lot of stilted views come from. That and the cult following it has, but that seems to me it will die down as fewer people see it as a novelty. I haven't really delved into HDR because I feel like I still have a lot more to learn about the tools I have available right now, though I have manually merged different exposures and that always looks unnatural to me.

This also calls into play any postprocessing, and I think it also has its place, but it's a different genre within photography, and I think it's important to differentiate between heavily postprocessed shots and those straight off the camera/minimally processed. I wish there was a better way to do that on dA, like a button you hit when you submit that says whether or not the photo has been heavily edited - but then where do you draw the line? There is the "digital darkroom" category, but that ignores the subject of the photograph.
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:iconjakespain:
JakeSpain Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Great reply, thanks. Yes it seems to have it's place and no it shouldn't be used just for the sake of it.
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:iconstringoflights:
StringOfLights Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
I'm actually a little curious to try HDR in a controlled setting. I'm doing all kinds of research photography (of fossils), and I'm trying to get a handle on things like image stacking to increase depth of field...I wonder what HDR would do to some of this stuff. Fossils can be really irregular in texture and color, so I guess it's worth a shot. It'll probably be disastrous. lol
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:iconjakespain:
JakeSpain Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Image stacking is quite a process for focus but more time consuming than anything. I have no idea how differently focused images would work with HDR. Disastrous is certainly high on the list. I have never heard of a piece of software to automate image stacking - now that would be cool. I look fwd to seeing any results you get.
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