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My Mom Is Proud of HDR Photography
December 3, 2009 12:59 AM   Subscribe

HDR photography seems to be polarizing. People either love it, or hate it, including here on MeFi. For those who enjoy exploring the possibilities HDR presents, a good place to start is Stuck In Customs. Trey Ratcliff has the first HDR photo ever to hang in the Smithsonian. He offers a comprehensive, six-step HDR tutorial if you want to try it yourself. A sampling of his HDR travel photography is here, and throughout the site, and he is also experimenting with HDR video technology.

via HDR Spotting
posted by netbros (59 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
The problem with HDR is that it started off cool, and then became way over used and incredibly gaudy. The worst is when people do highpass filters on the brightness so you get these really obvious 'halos' around dark objects.

HDR should be about increasing dynamic range so that you can see all the detail in light and dark areas. but it's become in many cases a simple 'brightness compression' An example would be this or this (look at the edges around the building or bench).

Those pictures would have been fine as 'ordinary' pictures, but instead they've had their color 'sweetened' and had their brightness sent through a highpass filter. Just looks like crap.

The pictures linked off "Stuck in Customs", on the other hand, look fine. You can tell they're just increasing the brightness range, maybe through multiple shots or whatever, rather then simply sweetening ordinary pictures.
posted by delmoi at 1:09 AM on December 3, 2009 [8 favorites]


This creates some striking images. It seems a direct visual analog to the kind of techniques pop music uses in the loudness wars - which is either a promise or a warning, I guess. The effect reminds me of the images in National Geographic magazines in the mid '80s.
posted by idiopath at 1:10 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Best viewed with black light along with the other velvet Elvis posters.
posted by bwg at 1:11 AM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


There's something about HDR pictures makes me want to print the buggers out and put glitter glue on 'em.

... or what bwg says.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:16 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the link, Trey's website is very cool. I'd love to be a photographer and take shots like that, but I never seem to bring my camera with me on trips :)
posted by onalark at 1:21 AM on December 3, 2009


The problem with HDR photography is that people continue to insist it's a "thing" rather than a slightly higher quality way of doing dodging and burning.
posted by cillit bang at 1:34 AM on December 3, 2009


99% of HDR pictures looks like you've used the Unsharp Mask, increased Saturation and added a Soft Focus filter. Including the stuff on Trey's website I'm afraid.

The good news is, it's a fad. A fad that we'll look back on with the same glee as rolling up your blazer sleeves and big shoulder pads.
posted by dearsina at 1:45 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


@onalark: I think it's pretty obvious that you don't have to be a photographer to take shots like that. In fact, I think it's probably it's more indicative of the reverse.
posted by Poagao at 1:59 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's awesome is that HDR overcomes the dynamic range limitations of photography to more accurately represent what your eye sees.

What's not awesome is most of the people using it.
posted by scrowdid at 2:02 AM on December 3, 2009 [6 favorites]


HDR is done well if I don't notice it.
posted by chillmost at 2:11 AM on December 3, 2009 [11 favorites]


I think sometimes about how the parallels between variable local exposures based and how paintings might have it while regular photography does not. Also about how our fovea is small, and our peripheral is large and how that might play into it all. I think about this a lot and never really come to any real conclusion.

By the way, this is my only attempt at HDR. I think it came out pretty good, but probably more due to good sharpening than HDR.
posted by Brainy at 2:11 AM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is the first time I am learning anything about HDR.

I don't get the hate in these thread comments.

These are beautiful images. The Times Square one, for example, in his HDR tutorial -- before processing it looks terrible, afterward it looks stunning.
posted by meadowlark lime at 3:17 AM on December 3, 2009


HDR photography seems to be polarizing.

I see what you did there.
posted by jeremias at 4:23 AM on December 3, 2009


I use HDR to mimic the latitude of black and white film. I also stitch multiple images to get the resolution of a large format image. Results in stuff like this which can be printed to wall size:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkheadedbug/3932385939/sizes/l/

(Check out the 3000 pixel wide version for some idea of the detail)
posted by unSane at 4:32 AM on December 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


Nice black and white, unSane. I'm overwhelmed by the vegetal profusion. Now, as a layman, I'm mostly neutral on HDR, though I've recommended it for some print projects I've been involved with. What I really hate, and especially hate in art photography, is infrared. HDR adds information. Infrared... what's the point of making everything look like it's covered in snow?
posted by Faze at 4:51 AM on December 3, 2009


HDR in Photography vs HDR in Video Games [JPG]
posted by Liver at 4:57 AM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


For those who don't get the hate, here's some of the best and worst HDR has to offer (ignore that fact that they're all supposed to be "stunning," unless you're defining "stunning" in some cases as...."breathtaking").
posted by availablelight at 5:18 AM on December 3, 2009


Some of these look great, some of these look like "Thomas Kinkade: Photographer of Light."
posted by escabeche at 5:22 AM on December 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


Twenty-first century Thomas Kinkade. Oops did I say that out loud?
posted by ~Sushma~ at 5:28 AM on December 3, 2009


HDR is done well if I don't notice it.
posted by chillmost

Quoted for truth. It seems like paintbrush art to me. Now, if it were paintbrushed it would be pretty cool, but being photography these over-the-top glows and halo's just annoy me.
posted by Zigurana at 5:57 AM on December 3, 2009


I have always kind of hoped in the back of my mind that HDR was merely the new tilt-shift and people would move on once they exhausted all the viable uses, but I see from availablelight's link that it's not the case. I am glad to see that there are some good examples of HDR there, but a lot of them look extraneous and unnecessary.

The very first Venice shot on that page exemplifies the problem. The light colored buildings on the left reflect their color in the water. I am certain that without HDR, the contrast between that colored water and the "normal" water wouldn't be so jarring and glaring. It's the first thing that jumped out here, and almost looks as if someone applied a filter 2/3 of the way across the pic from right to left and then said "screw it". (That's not the way the Rule of Thirds works!)

It would be interesting to see that picture without the HDR applied, just to check if that water contrast is as weird.
posted by Spatch at 6:06 AM on December 3, 2009


HDR when used subtly can be remarkable. Overused, it's like a Thomas Kinkade scene on too much acid.
posted by Thoth at 6:14 AM on December 3, 2009


Dang, sashama beat me too it ;)
posted by Thoth at 6:15 AM on December 3, 2009


HDR photography is neat, but it somehow makes everything look like the pictures on those folders that you used to put in your trapper keeper. I can't think of any better way to describe it.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:31 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Isn't part of the problem that viewing real HDR requires a high dynamic range output device (like photographic print, or an HDR display)? The stuff people are pawning off as "HDR" now is actually using a lower dynamic range when displayed, it's just that there's more total image data being shown -- you can see into shadows, oo! -- at the cost of more quantized chroma and luma per pixel since the whole thing is crowded into the middle-high brightness area.

That's not HDR. That's just normalizing brightness data, isn't it? Or is there something I don't understand about how so-called "HDR" images are being displayed on non-HDR equipment?
posted by majick at 6:55 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


What I really hate, and especially hate in art photography, is infrared. HDR adds information. Infrared... what's the point of making everything look like it's covered in snow?
posted by Faze at 7:51 AM on December 3


You can use infrared the same way you'd use color filters in black and white photography - to enhance contrast. Just like a red filter will dramatically improve the contrast of a shot that includes a lot of sky or ocean, infrared can improve the contrast of those objects that have significant infrared content. See the graph here, which shows which objects appear "brighter" under infrared.

Consider also the use of infrared as a luminosity layer, as seen in these examples when used in conjunction with HDR.

Basically, the idea would be that any black and white photo can be used as the luminosity channel for a color photo. In other words, you get your color information from the RGB, but you get the "brightness" levels from the black and white. The black and white images produced in infrared photography are simply a different black and white than you are used to, but that may be a better way to emphasize the contrast between things like leaves a dirt than traditional manual post-processing using curves, D & B, etc.

Figure out what you are trying to show, and use the best tool to get there.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:08 AM on December 3, 2009


You can have my shadows and highlights when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.
posted by Poagao at 7:13 AM on December 3, 2009


to supplement my earlier comment, you can do this with UV as well. Using a UV B&W is a great way to bring out contrast in flowers, many of which have quite stunning patterns in UV that are totally hidden in visible light. Example 1 Example 2. More here.

as anyone who has tried to photograph flowers knows, it is often very difficult to pull contrast out of petals, pollen, etc without very careful but very involved post-processing. UV is a perfect way to identify in an exaggerated way where the contrast actually is, allowing you to blend it in with the ordinary color photo as you see fit.

In addition, some flowers reflect strongly in infrared as well, so to get all the contrast info available for some flowers requires IR, UV and visible light shots, and then working with all three to get the result you wanted.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:18 AM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Like almost all photo processing techniques, when used well, HDR doesn't scream its own name at the top of its lungs. A lot of these photos do that, unfortunately, but with the good ones, it isn't necessarily obvious what technique was used. It's the blessing and the curse of the new, and also of easy digital processing.

The curse of the new: when professional zoom lenses for movies first came out, there was an unfortunate period in cinema where everyone started zooming all over the place. I'm sure people thought it was neat at the time, but now those shots seem terribly distracting and everyone in Hollywood (and film school) knows better.

The curse of digital: when photographers worked on film and photo paper, in dark rooms, dodging and burning was a lot of work, so it didn't seem very attractive to screw around much -- it took so bloody long to do the effect, and wasted so much expensive paper, that you wanted to get it right. Most people don't have the self control to handle no artistic restraints unless, at some point, they were forced to deal with that.

I went through a similar thing when I took an audio editing course in the late '90s. To start with, we worked with reel-to-reel tape, cutting and splicing like in ye olden times. I cursed this process initially because it was so slow, and seemingly simple things like loops turned out to be a lot of work. And if you made a mistake, there was no "undo" (unless you count splicing your cut tape back together). But later on, when I "graduated" to modern audio software, I found myself appreciating that analog world since it encouraged me to think more carefully about just how much processing was needed to achieve a desired effect.

On preview, I agree with Pastabagel: "Figure out what you are trying to show, and use the best tool to get there."
posted by attaboy at 7:24 AM on December 3, 2009


I wonder if it is possible to switch the sensitivity of the CMOS sensors fast enough to do it on alternating scan lines (or alternating Bayer blocks). This could potentially allow single exposures with much greater range of latitude, without the registration and other problems of multiple exposures. The resolution would be significantly less, but for most applications 12 MP is as good as 25 MP.
posted by autopilot at 7:25 AM on December 3, 2009


I've never heard of HDR "equipment" - it's all visual information, and the limitation comes from cameras. To work around the limitations of cameras, multiple images are shot, then overlaid and blended in such a way that EVERYTHING is bright, and that is the problem: no contrast in light and dark.

This image, though Kinkade-sweet in it's portrayal of a Christmas scene (sans father, huh) still has shadow. It just feels like a really well lit photoshoot. Again, still some darkness, where as there is none here, and not enough here. It's like the loudness war on many major label CDs: no range of quiet and loud. Nothing to discover, it's all there, all the time. There is no mystery of the shadowy corners, no balance of the bright with the dark.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:27 AM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just posted my HDR rant to MeFi last week! Long story short: it's good to have a technology to increase the dynamic range of your images. It's bad to collapse that down into a screen image that looks like a cartoon. (Unless you like cartoons).

I have to wonder if the snarkers above bothered to read the article. Personally, I found the article obnoxious, but the guy has a sense of humour about how HDR can be misused
Below, I paste an example of how you can really make your image look too funkadelic. Funkadelic is cool if that is what you want or you have a lot of druggie friends that like laser light shows and your mind-bending HDRs, but most people don’t like them. Actually, please don’t look at my old work. It’s a little over-the-top too… I cringe when I think about it. Just look at the newer stuff. Thank you kindly.
For the TLDR crowd, here's the tutorial in summary:
  1. Get Photomatix Pro
  2. Get a DSLR
  3. Learn about dynamic range
  4. Take 3 exposures at -2, 0, +2 in aperture priority mode
  5. Tonemap in Photomatix Pro
  6. Load the originals and tonemapped image into Photoshop layers, then paint in the exposure you want in specific spots in a careful way
That last step is interesting, I've never tried it. It lets you override Photomatix' automatic tone mapping to select specific exposures for parts of the image.
posted by Nelson at 7:29 AM on December 3, 2009


HDR is done well if I don't notice it.
posted by chillmost


<rant>
Exactly. The problem is that most of the time when I see an HDR image, the focus almost always seems to have been "How can I make this photo look super nifty?" rather than "Is this photo interesting in the first place?". HDR + boring photo = boring photo with HDR. And even when the underlying photo is interesting, all too often the effect is taken much too far. The whole point of HDR, IMO, is to preserve detail in the shadows and the highlights, not too make everything the exact same shade and add massive halos to everything.

StuckInCustoms is better than most of the people who do this, some of his images are pretty good (for example, although even here, there is some weird stuff going on with the buildings and how bright they are), but there are definitely others that fall into the "because I could" category.
</rant>
posted by pwicks at 7:56 AM on December 3, 2009


I think that the biggest mistake people make when applying this technique is choosing the wrong scene to use. If it's not a scene where a photographer would want to use a grad ND filter if she could, then HDR is probably not the way to go. It really should be an attempt to reflect what our eyes/brain see by overcoming the dynamic range recording limitations of film/digital sensors.

Max Lyons, the guy who wrote PTAssembler (a graphical frontend for Panorama Tools, an early photostitching program), has a small gallery of what he refers to as "blended exposures". I think this was back in 2001/2002, but I still think they are some of the best examples of HDR pictures (particularly the indoor+window and the semi-indoor ones).
posted by odin53 at 7:59 AM on December 3, 2009


HDR is done well if I don't notice it.

I hate that people even call it 'HDR photography.' Its not just a photo, ITS DYNAMIC!!!1!
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 8:01 AM on December 3, 2009


This is such a brutalization of terminology, though it's a battle that can never be won, now that it's gone so far. HDR images cannot be viewed on an ordinary display, because ordinary displays can not produce enough luminance or contrast to display them. These images are "tonemapped" images, made from HDR images, and the awful visual effects that everyone loves or objects to are artifacts of the tonemapping algorithm used to bring the High Dynamic Range image into Low Dynamic Range.

SO blasted annoying, so misleading, and so ugly. When HDR capable displays one day become commonplace, this will look as shortsighted and amateurish as it often is. However, for purely physical reasons, print will probably always be this way.
posted by fake at 8:03 AM on December 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Just to repeat myself again. These are not HDR images. These are tonemapped images.

I work every day with HDR images and one of the only HDR displays in the world, the Brightside DR-37p. And even that insanely expensive bastard contraption does some tonemapping to display the things.
posted by fake at 8:06 AM on December 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I wonder if it is possible to switch the sensitivity of the CMOS sensors fast enough to do it on alternating scan lines (or alternating Bayer blocks).

Google "Fujifulm EXR", which does exactly this (amongst other tricks).
posted by cillit bang at 8:09 AM on December 3, 2009


Infrared can be overused, yeah, in the "Why do those palm trees have snow on them?" sort of way. And that can be fun, sometimes.

But it's also useful in more prosaic photos, too.

HDR can have its place, too, if you don't overdo it.

Of course, you can also do HDR infrared...

(all self-links, to illustrate the point.)
posted by notsnot at 8:15 AM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Amateurish or not, I still think a lot of 'em look bitchin'!
posted by ignignokt at 8:24 AM on December 3, 2009


fake: Im curious, what do you use HDR images for? Is this to get the full dynamic range so you can decide on your specific tonemapping at your leisure? At some point the images will be compressed to normal dynamic range, no?
posted by Zigurana at 8:28 AM on December 3, 2009


The HCSP pool on Flickr has a few interesting perspectives on HDR that arose the other day.

The amount of photographs "enhanced" through this method are usually overdone, with a poor use of colour, lighting and subject matter. You can make all the arguments for it that you want, but 2009 is not it's year, and I'm guessing it will take at least another two decades before someone really talented comes along and figures out how to master it. This is one of the handful of HDR images I've seen and liked on Flickr, and I follow a wide range of very talented people, a handful of whom have given it for a spin at least once or twice and then gone back to regular photography.

For me personally, as someone trying to build my own photography skills, I've been going backwards into old (and cheap!) point&click cameras, trying to figure out how people made great images with fewer options back in the day. Because my history teacher always said, you know the future by learning the past.
posted by saturnine at 8:34 AM on December 3, 2009


Sturgeon's Law applies to HDR as well as most other things.
posted by mike_bling at 8:57 AM on December 3, 2009


fake: Im curious, what do you use HDR images for? Is this to get the full dynamic range so you can decide on your specific tonemapping at your leisure? At some point the images will be compressed to normal dynamic range, no?

I work in a lab that does visual neuroscience research. We display incredibly bright, high contrast grating stimuli to subjects to suss out the properties of the early visual system.

When I display photos on it, it's just for fun. ;)

There's nothing mysterious about what an HDR image looks like, though. Just look out the window! The whole world exhibits incredibly high dynamic range, except in times of fog, etc. Want to experience VERY high dynamic range? Turn on a lamp in a dark room. HDR contrast ratio of a million-to-one.
posted by fake at 9:02 AM on December 3, 2009


I'm guessing it will take at least another two decades before someone really talented comes along and figures out how to master it.

Umm, Ansel Adams' zone system is just hand tone-mapping. Our current generation of button-pushers could learn a few things from him, and he passed twenty years ago.
posted by fake at 9:05 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ansel Adams wasn't a digital photographer. fake, as much as you want this to be about what HDR really is, with your fancy knowledge and monitors*, it's kind of clear that everyone else is discussing the bastardised trend that is sweeping through the current generations of photographers.

*Kidding, your comments are really interesting.
posted by saturnine at 9:18 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've seen HDR used effectively a few times by a few talented photographers. As others have said, it's most effective when you don't instantly recognize it as HDR.

But most of the time, I think of HDR images as the photographic equivalent of a popped collar on Polo shirt. Tackiness on display by people completely oblivious of their own bad taste.

I've fallen into the HDR trap a few times myself. But I haven't popped a collar since trying to hide hickey once in the '80s.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 9:39 AM on December 3, 2009


Here's a bit of back-up to my earlier comment about lack of contrast between the light and darkness of a scene, using the images I liked to earlier:

- This Christmas image, now in grayscale
- Again, still some mountain darkness, versus grayscale
- no darkness in Venice, now in grayscale
- not enough darkness in Germany(?), as seen in grayscale

Note that the first two "work" more than the last two, as there is some visual interest in terms of contrast. The last two don't necessarily seem washed out, but they are lacking the balance of the darkness.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:40 AM on December 3, 2009


HDR is fine as long as there is a chimerical beast in the shot. High Dynamic ROWR, if you feel me.
posted by everichon at 10:03 AM on December 3, 2009


Apologies for the rant ahead of time. But here goes.

My general complaint or annoyance with the HDR set is that I feel a lot of newer photographers use it as a way to compensate for their still lacking skills.

It's fine, really if thats what you want to do then go nuts, but the second someone tells me to check out an HDR photo they took I immediately think to myself that they are amateurs and still haven't really mastered what their camera can do and just don't have a grasp on good photography.

In other words it is usually poorly composed photo of a (building, woodsy area, mountain, hill, boats) that would be boring as shit but now it looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting so that is supposed to make it good. No, still boring as shit.

This is just a guess but I get the feeling that a lot of people that are into HDR are also 'pixel peepers'. Those camera geeks that are too focused on analyzing what a camera can and can't do rather than just going out and making what you have work by just being a good damn photographer.

Rant over.
posted by WickedPissah at 10:32 AM on December 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


HDR by Caspar David Friedrich 1832
posted by msalt at 10:49 AM on December 3, 2009


Oh lord, the HDR (IT'S TONEMAPPING FFS) debate is alive and well.

It's a tool. I like using it to take awesome (imho) shots which would never work nearly as well with standard dyamic range.

BRB, popping my collar.
posted by mullingitover at 12:34 PM on December 3, 2009


I came here only to find that my rant-to-be was already ranted, seconded, and thirded. So I'm left saying "me too", and to reiterate that the vast majority of HDR photography looks to me like something from the cover of a paperback fantasy novel.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:03 PM on December 3, 2009


Polarizing? Those of you who like the HDR look either just saw it for the first time today, or have no taste whatsoever. There, I said it.

If there is even a slight tonemapping halo around _anything_ in your 'photo', its ruined and disgusting, please don't share it.

And for crying out loud stop saying there are a few people who use it 'correctly'. That only encourages the ones who do it. There aren't any good examples of it and once you see it a few times, every one just looks bad.
posted by rubin at 4:04 PM on December 3, 2009


"I wonder if it is possible to switch the sensitivity of the CMOS sensors fast enough to do it on alternating scan lines (or alternating Bayer blocks). This could potentially allow single exposures with much greater range of latitude, without the registration and other problems of multiple exposures. The resolution would be significantly less, but for most applications 12 MP is as good as 25 MP." - autopilot

Now that's an interesting idea! There might be registration issues, but considering the amount of interpolation needed to bring a Bayer array into full RGB pixels, it couldn't be too much of a big deal. Perhaps a different filter pattern would be optimal. I also wonder if electronic shutters could be used to take full-frame images in rapid succession. If the electronics and buffer could flush the sensor sufficiently quickly, you could get three 1/2000 second exposures on a sunny day and have a sharp HDR image handheld.

Aesthetically, most HDR photos are pretty bad, but some of the nighttime city shots look nice. It definitely has utility when the main goal is to gather as much information as possible, not to create something beautiful.
posted by scose at 5:34 PM on December 3, 2009


rubin: "Polarizing? Those of you who like the HDR look either just saw it for the first time today, or have no taste whatsoever. There, I said it."

Pentax begs to differ.
They've built HDR tonemapping into their latest DSLR.
posted by mullingitover at 5:52 PM on December 3, 2009


Pentax begs to differ. They've built HDR tonemapping into their latest DSLR.

Having more dynamic range in camera is GREAT, because it allows me to change my mind (or fix mistakes) regarding the exposure after the photo is taken, or to do more white balance, and other effects without the risk of clipping a color channel. And, you can selectively choose which parts of a photo should be which exposure (sky vs ground) if you can cleanly separate the two without ghosts (no trees).

It also has to be said that just because camera makers add features to cameras doesn't mean they are good things to have. Camera companies are always adding gimmicks to cameras. They trade in useless crap that sounds good on the box and take out useful features you maybe needed to have years of experience to really find value in. You could say digital zoom is a useful technology too; Kodak has it built into their latest camera!

Just look at the useless mega-pixel arms race, bright but useless-for-focusing 'microlens' focus screens instead of dimmer but more useful split image ground glass, slow zoomable lenses instead of fast fixed ones, and a ton of other things that were sacrificed to the marketing department.
posted by rubin at 11:32 PM on December 3, 2009


My own issue with HDR is that it makes every photo look like it was taken on an incredibly cloudy day. Sure, you can see every detail, but that just makes them all busy, since you can't use light to direct attention to one area or another
posted by rubah at 10:11 PM on December 4, 2009


Aaaaand the new Sony A550 also has in-camera HDR. I'm guessing in a couple hardware generations it'll be a standard feature in all DSLRs.
posted by mullingitover at 2:52 PM on December 9, 2009


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