To HDR or not to HDR, that is the question

When the BBC announced their “In pictures: Landscape photo of the year 2009” winners, readers were up in arms at what they perceived to be pictures that were heavily manipulated digitally using a technique known as High Dynamic Range or HDR.

HDR is a technique where the photographer takes a number of shots of the same scene at different exposures to ensure that shadows, midtones and highlights are accurately preserved. These shots are then merged together in post processing to produce one photograph with seemingly impossible dynamic range.

HDR has long been a technique reserved for professional photographers who produced incredible landscape photographs that the amateur photographer could never seem to reproduce no matter how hard they tried. And even when the secret finally came out in print, the process of manually merging these pictures in Photoshop was just too time consuming and difficult for the average user. It was not until special HDR software such as Photomatix came out that HDR exploded onto the amateur photographer scene.

What followed was a deluge of HDR processed photographs, each more dramatic than the next. Unfortunately, in the process of producing the HDR photograph, many photographers also liked to accentuate the colors, often resulting in artificial looking — but very dramatic — colors. [Reminds me of all the “wonderful Bokeh” examples floating around the Web.]

When you first encounter an HDR photograph, you are bowled over — and quickly tweet your followers. However, after a while, just like when eating too much candy or chocolate you reach a point of diminishing returns, you also come to a point where you just cannot tolerate one more HDR photo.

However, not all HDR-looking photos have been processed thus. Alexandre Buisse has an interesting article on Luminous Landscape on the merits of using HDR and gives some very valuable pointers on when to use it and when not to use it. And when using it, how to use it properly to avoid the tell-tale fake looks that characterize so many HDR photographs. Well worth a read.

Now, if someone could write a similar article on “Bokeh,” please.

[ Read the article at: Luminous Landscape ]

Point of Diminishing Returns:
When you eat one bar of chocolate, it taste good. Two bars are even better! The third bar is all right. The fourth bar is painful to swallow. The fifth bar makes you puke.

Each bar of chocolate adds pleasure until a point is reached when pain replaces pleasure. From that point on, each additional bar just make things worse [“diminishing returns”]. That point where pleasure turns into pain is your point of diminishing returns.