HDR “Quote of the Week”


A week or so ago, by buddy Dave Cross had a great post called “The Debate about HDR”, which talked about the strong feelings photographers have about HDR, both pro and con (here’s the link). But what really caught my attention was a comment posted by one of his readers, because I’ve heard other photographers say the same thing, but none as succinctly as this reader’s comment:

“I too use to love it…now, not so much…and for some reason, once I quickly identify the HDR effect, my opinion of the picture drops a notch.”

This reminds me of something my teenage son does. If it hears a song on the radio from one of his favorite new bands, and I tell him, “Oh, that’s a remake of an old song from the 70s or 80s—no matter how much he liked that song—it now drops a notch in his book.

So, what is it about HDR that, once identified, that kind of taints the overall photo for these photographers?

Is it that they feel like it’s “Cheating” to use HDR, because it transforms the photo so magically? I have to admit that I’ve taken an HDR shot or two that, when I looked at the original base exposure, the shot was totally unimpressive, but once I applied lots of HDR Tone Mapping, and then take it back through Camera Raw for the final tweaking, it looks much more interesting. (the HDR photo above is courtesy of istockphoto.com /photographer cinoby).

Personally, to me, HDR is an effect like any other effect. It’s a strong effect, but it’s still just an effect, and I totally understand that when it comes to visual effects, you either like them or you don’t (especially if they’re overdone). But I think there’s something more going on here, because creating a duotone is an effect but nobody seems to complain about duotones.

One of my photographer friends once said, “The photographers who don’t like HDR are the ones who don’t know how to do HDR—just like people who complain about the use of Photoshop in photography—those are people who aren’t very good at Photoshop. You don’t hear HDR experts complaining about HDR, just like you don’t hear Photoshop experts saying “There’s too much Photoshop!”

I’m not at all saying that’s the case, but I’ve heard and read that argument a dozen times or more. So what is it? What is it that makes people so emotional about HDR? When you learn that an image has been “HDR’d” does it taint your opinion of the shot? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  1. Seeing an HDR image just tells me that someone cared enough to make an image and a statement, not a snapshot or a simple record. Ansel Adams preached previsualization, and practiced it as well. It is a technique, and can be made a way of life for a photographer.

    Overdone anything becomes a pose, skilled use of talent through technology and vision become art.

    Fads come and go in fashion and photography. Today’s HDR is the 1970’s Tri-X and Dektol. The big effect then with film was solarization and the Sabbatier effect. Some loved it, some hated it and most didn’t know how to do it. Call it knowledge envy on the part of some.

  2. I’ve never quite understood the apparent passion that drives one to take the time to complain about someones art (or artistic vision about anything actually). Guess that person might wonder why I even took the time to post this then….Hmmm….well, that was about a worthless comment now wasn’t it.

    Carry on folks…..

  3. Whoa, Scott – you just thought you’d stir the pot a bit here, didn’t you? I have a feeling this will be like mentioning Apple – you’ll get a lot of aggressive replies. Anyway, I’m a big HDR fan, love the technique and apply it to a lot of my shots. What I do NOT love, however, is the way some people seem to go totally overboard on it. They are the ones that are giving HDR a bad name. HDR Spotting gives you a very good idea of what’s going on in the HDR world and I think the people behind the site even remove some of the worst offenders. HDR, when done correctly, can be a great tool but basic photographic rules such as composition should always be followed. Dramatic processing ain’t everything.

  4. If the HDR effect is appropriate, use it. The image you supplied is very well suited for HDR or Topaz Adjust. There are relatively few people in the world who even know what we are talking about here so if you can make an image different and appealing go for it. Most people don’t want to know how the sausage was made, as long as it tastes good.


      1. Ken, Sorry for not coming back earlier – I’ve been in France for a week on Holiday!

        Thanks for the kind comment!

        I like your shot of the car – Yes it could be consider overdone- but car shots seem to work well this way!

  5. I really don’t understand why some photographers seem to dislike HDR so much. Viewers love it, and I attribute that to the fact that HDR images reveal something more like what our eyes see and our brain processes. Since our eyes and brain can see and process about 10 stops of light, you’ll never achieve that same image with a camera, which can only ‘see’ about 5 stops of light (at best). Ansel Adams was doing something similar with the Zone System and I’d be willing to bet that if he were alive today that he would be all over HDR.

    As Andrew pointed out above, it’s really about the final image and not so much about how the photographer got there. How many people actually bother to ask (or even care) about the kind of paper or typewriter that Stephen King uses?

    If you’re creating work that you’re passionate about and it’s what fuels your creativity and inspires you, then nothing else really matters.

    1. I think it all comes down to this: personal taste. To be honost, I don’t care much for HDR either. The photo posted in the beginning of this post looks weird to me. However, I find it difficult to explain exactly why…(maybe because English is not my primary language :P)

      The question is, why is is a problem not to like HDR? Just accept the fact that not everyone will enjoy the same thing as you and move on.

  6. As my hero Ansel once stated: “. . . the negative is the score and that the print is the performance of the score.”
    The same thing applies to HDR as someone’s particular performance.

  7. I am not a big fan of the heavy hdr processed images. I like hdr but it has to be in moderate doses. For me when it gets to heavy the image gets more about the effect than the image if that happens it goes down a notch for me :)

  8. Deja…….This can of worms known as HDR. You know if the computor wasn’t in the mix and we still used film. Hey that makes me wonder. Can I take some film shots (over and under exposed) scan them and make an HDR. I think it should be a law that all photos have an “HDR mark” if they are so. Man I’ve got to quit waking up in the middle of the night to get a blog in. Wait I’ve got another idea to try in Photomatix, ramble on…..crap one of my grandkids woke up crying, where’s my lensbaby.

    1. If your scanner supports over and under exposure adjustments, and most do, then yes you can do HDR with film. You can also take a negative and make prints under and over and then rescan them to get you HDR files. It works very well especially for those old Kodachromes with a dynamic range of 1 bajillion. I think that’s a number.

      mike meyer

  9. To say you don’t hear HDR experts complain about HDR is to miss the point. That person would never have become an HDR expert if they thought HDR was evil. Thus, almost by definition, HDR experts like HDR.

    Same can be said of Photoshop (PS experts like PS or they wouldn’t have become PS experts) or pretty much any other field, in or out of photography.

    And, of course, we have to remember that Ansel Adams was famous for his HDR. He just did it in the darkroom and didn’t use the term, but it was exactly the same technique now done digitally and given a new term.

    1. Hey Burt, you are right about Ansel.. He would have been all over this new fangled technology called HDR. I don’t think his images would have been super saturated like some are but he would have been capturing ALL the ZONES.

      mike meyer

  10. HDR overdone … not overdone … why should we really care? I might not like it, but it still is all about personal interpretation. Just simply a tool and how it’s used, is your call.

  11. I don’t like the fantasy/SF look on some HDR either, when I read about the extra steps that where done on the good HDR it may be safer to say that not the person who dislikes the HDR knows too little of the tool but maybe the person who created the HDR could use a bit more insight to the effect. I think everyone who started HDR thought initially “is that it ?” regardless of the tool and the number of exposure steps that where used.

    To stir along : if it is ‘just’ the dynamic range, you could as well do exposure merging on the set of exposures, you get a higher dynamic range without the artificial effect you inherently get with HDR.

    So for me it’s a yes BUT… it can definitely work but not on every image (some use the effect on all their images), and mostly not the single button processed ones… The HDR spotting site mentionned above gives fine examples of both ;-) (I hope my eyes and brains will never see the leather chair office party room in that state room without the comforting knowledge someone stuffed some magic mushrooms in my sandwish)

  12. In essence my opinion of a photo doesn’t go down when I find out it’s an HDR. However the so popular typical HDR look is something I just don’t like. Like you said Scott, it’s just an effect and effects come and go when it comes to popularity. For me an obvious HDR photo becomes more of a drawing than a photograph and therefore it changes my perspective on it.
    I’ve seen HDR photos where I couldn’t tell it was HDR because it was just used to get everything in the photo exposed right (to get it more like we see it with our eyes). Those HDR’s I love because you can still see the photograph as a reflection of what the photographer had in mind when shooting it. It’s hard to imagine a photographer has the heavy HDR look in mind when shooting ;-)
    But hey, to everyone his own and I get that people want to buy these prints because they look different. But as a photographer I really think that in a year or two, the HDR will loose it’s popularity and something else will be the object of our comments here.

  13. I’m a great fan of HDR but find that you can take your HDR images much further once they’re in their ‘raw’ HDR form. I now apply lots of different Photoshop effects (occasionally using Topaz labs plugins) to get the final effect I’m looking for. Indeed, I use a lot of effects I’ve picked up from Corey Barker’s tutorials (although haven’t moved into 3D yet!). This has the effect of ‘damping down’ the HDR effect but it takes HDR images to another (I think) more interesting place.

    Examples of ‘underdone HDR’ here:



  14. Your teenage son is an ‘it’ ??? Hehe

    I like HDR when it’s done right, then it’s just another effect as you said. However, I don’t like it when it’s overdone.

  15. I think it was David duChemin that said “there’s no un-suck filter” and that rings through for this argument/debate. A crappy photo is still going to be a crappy photo after the whole tone-mapping/HDR ‘look’ is applied, it’ll just be a crappy photo with a lot more impact. However, a great photograph tends to be able to hold its own no matter what post-processing is done.

    To me it’s all art. It’s the same as taking a digital RAW file and creating a black and white print from it. Would any “purists” complain about that? Even though the scene as it was captured wasn’t black and white?

    I’ve made tone-mapped HDR images to compensate for the lack of dynamic range my camera can produce. They closely represent the scene as I saw it. I’ve also made tone-mapped HDRs with the ‘over-processed’ look. I don’t see a problem with either and with some cameras now coming to market with the ability to shoot multiple exposures and combine them IN CAMERA… the dynamic range capabilities of all cameras is only going to get better.

  16. Scotty, that was MY comment on Dave’s blog!
    I still use HDR a lot…but my goal has become to hide it. It is a great tool…but when it is obvious, and trying to achieve a “photographic look” that I know immediately cannot be done…well it doesn’t move me as much. My favorite give away is muddy skies and halos…or lighting similarity across the photo that I know is impossible…still cool, yes…but just doesn’t elicit a “Great shot” reaction from me.
    Part of the allure and respect for a great photograph is the hard work/patience/luck that goes into a one of a kind shot. When I know it was a bracketed Bam, Bam, Bam…off to Photomatix and voila!…just not as cool.
    Plus, surely everybody has a different tolerance level for “stretching the truth” if there is such a thing…i guess mine snaps when I “think” I am being asked to accept the shot as the real thing when I know it is not.
    Finally, like it or not, now that I am selling my work, the public has a real hangup on realism. All my photographs are manipulated…some with stuff put it…but they damn well better pass the smell test…or I’m done!

    1. “The public has a real hangup on realism” really? since when? I’ve never heard anyone who actually BUYS photos complain about HDR. Quite the opposite – all I’ve EVER heard about HDR photos from clients is, “Wow that’s cool – I’ll take it!”

      Since waterfalls with cotton-candy blurred water aren’t realistic will the public stop buying them too?

      David duChemin also said it best when he said, “Here’s the interesting thing about HDR images – a lot of photographers seem to dislike them, it’s a love it or hate it kind of thing, sadly. But the general public, the non-photographers out there, love them. And we should be asking why.”

      1. Good for you my friend…wish i saw more of that! I certainly hear a lot of the compliments on my HDR stuff…just seams the more realistic sells better.
        Send me some of those buyers…please!

      2. I have most of my photo sales right from my restaurant (I have a gallery in there) and the second most sold portrait is an HDR. People who come in love it. I have been a novice photographer for 40 years but it’s not my bread and butter BUT it’s my life, I eat and breath photography. I also love Scott Bourne’s podcast (my favorite).

    2. “i guess mine snaps when I ‘think’ I am being asked to accept the shot as the real thing when I know it is not.”

      Why? What makes “the real thing” real in a photograph? What makes it not real?

  17. Photography is like any other art form: it’s a medium whose purpose is to convey emotion. Painters, for example, use different “effects” — though critics would call them styles — and recognizing the effect doesn’t lesson the quality of the work. Think Picasso. Is anyone really going to discount his work, saying, Oh, that’s obviously a Picasso?

    There are lots of tools (ie effects) at a photographer’s disposal that can be used to best communicate the emotion s/he wishes to express; it starts with composition and proceeds from there. The best photogs have a broad knowledge base so they can choose the effect(s) that works best for any given shot.

    I do agree that any effect should not be overdone and that’s a hard one to quantify, but here’s a hint or two… With writing, any good writer will tell you the author should disappear into the body of a well-written piece of literature. With photography, well, I can’t help thinking of two recent photos by RC Concepcion… He posted a B&W shot recently (of a bridge) and one of his readers responded to say it was “obviously” done with NIK’s Silver Efex Pro. “No,” RC said, “I did it in Photoshop.” And the other is RC’s award-winning shot of the two ballerinas — his daughter looking up at his wife. That shot has tons of emotional punch, and it’s all in the composition, the color, and just plain capturing the moment.

  18. To me it does not matter how a photo is processed. The important thing is it pleasing and a joy to look at and if so I will look at it again and again if it is really good. I shoot HDR at times and sometimes I do not like my own work as I have pushed the tone mapping too far. At other times, when I am careful not to over do it as with any effect, I am pleased.

  19. I love the ability of HDR to recreate a scene the way it was seen by the photographer… I think this is of great benefit to capturing that moment…

    I also hate it when I look at a photo and can tell by the greens that it’s been HDR’d ;-) I think it being overdone is awful, but others like that so let them enjoy the piece of art someone has created.

    Out of interest has anyone read – A World in HDR by Trey Ratcliff? I’d be keen to know how useful that book is to creating HDR images…

    1. Yes, I’ve read it. I attended a workshop in Tampa that he and Scott Bourne presented, and the book (signed) was part of the workshop. I’m not sure if I can tell you whether the book itself is useful to create HDR images, since I had Trey’s live presentation, but I can say that his words are the same in presentation and in the book. He’s consistent, but obviously it’s better to watch him do it.

      The process really isn’t that difficult. Bracket your exposures, process them in Photomatix, bring all of the images into Photoshop, mask in/out the pieces to your taste, and then finish the flattened image in Photoshop as you would any other photo.

      The HDR process in Photomatix tends to make some colors more punchy, but it also tends to make whites look grey, skies a bit dull, etc. So that’s when you use a mask to bring in the color you like from one of the original exposures. Experiment with varying opacity levels on your brush as you mask things to make them blend better between the images.

      As with anything else, it’s done to your own taste. You can make the image as close to real or fantasy as you like.

  20. I must say that I love it when the effect is very subtle. Especially when I don’t even realize it is HDR and find out after looking at the image. I don’t like the image less when I find out it is HDR.

    But I also like a few of the more extreme ones. Some of them look like a scene from a computer game, which I think is cool in some cases (like the second image on the link Richard Broom mentioned: http://www.photo-nomads.co.uk/wordpress/?p=7731).

    1. Thanks Martijn. The image is actually a dressed up dummy (I think mannequin is probably the right word) that sits in the back of the USAF helicopter at the RAF Museum in Cosford, UK. The HDR really brought out the ‘spookiness’ of the photograph and turned it in to the stuff of nightmares!

      Pre-HDR it didn’t look nearly as scary!


  21. To me, HDR provides an opportunity to replicate what my eyes saw and the camera sensor was unable to duplicate. That’s really all I use it for. A bright sunset for example could easily wash out parts of the image depending on how the camera meters the light. Our eyes are much more adjusting and therefore I will use HDR to achieve the same look I had had. Any artsy-fartsy use of the HDR moves the image out of the photo realm and into the abstract just like photoshop can do if its used to its extremes.

  22. When I see photos using HDR, they take on a more artistic quality in my mind. I see the photographer more as an artist… carefully and lovingly crafting his image. It enables me to see the beauty the photographer has envisioned.

    And I love controversial topics too!

  23. Hey Scott,
    HDR, if done tastefully the way Matt teaches on Kelby Training, can’t really be seen as HDR. It just looks like a really nice image with lots of detail. However, like you said in Arlington last week, we just can’t seem to get past the “ooh lest make it look like a fantasy.” I feel as if it’s just an individual perception like enjoying Dylan or not. A lot of folks like Rush. Bob Dylan’s voice is rough and crusty, but it works for me. Others don’t like it at all.

  24. I had a friend look at a pic of mine & ask is that how the scene looked. I had barley deepened the blue in the sky,but she seemed to think if it didn’t look like that why would I do that.

    I wonder if people don’t think of Photography as Art.

    For me heavy HDR images become more Works of Art & not so much a photograph which is fine with me.


  25. I have found that many photographers take sides on this issue but the bottom line to me is this . . . my customers love it and my sales have doubled since showing HDR.

  26. For me, there are two kinds of HDR:
    1. The Filter – These are the ones that immediately look HDR. They have wild halos near the edges and look the farthest away from reality. In these, I feel like the effect is applied slapdash just to make an otherwise boring photo into something marginally more interesting. A lot of the time, I feel like theses are downright ugly. Anyone else remember Photoshop in the mid-90s when lens flare was all the rage? HDR like this often feels to me like a cheap effect applied without any thought.

    2. Dynamic Range – these are the ones you may not immediately spot because they use HDR to compress the dynamic range in a shot where the camera technically was incapable of rendering the image as the eye sees it. in this case, I love HDR because it gives me the ability to match the image I show to what I saw when I captured the image. These subtler ones are a wonderful tool, but don’t capture as much immediate attention for it because untrained eyes can’t tell HDR was used, where they can with the first method mentioned above.

  27. HDR sucks and only people that use Apple and Nikon like it!!! Next topic… ;-)

    Seriously… I suspect that outside of the photographic community, HDR images are far less polarizing. I doubt you’d find as strong a reaction in either direction if you asked a non-photographer for their feelings about an HDR image. That leads me to believe that the polarizing factor lies somewhere in the technical/production aspect behind HDR.

    I would be willing to bet that a survey of professional photographers would come out much more strongly against HDR than we see among readers on your blog, Scott. I think you’d get a similar response were you to poll a group of professional musicians asking if they thought “Hooked on Classics” was a great way to spice up Beethoven’s Fifth.

    I agree that tonemapping can sometimes make a GOOD photo “better.” But I would bet money that not a single photo in history that we think of as being GREAT would look even GREATER if it was HDR’d.

    Happy weekend all!
    Trev J.

  28. When digital photo editing first came on the scene I remember seeing a photo magazine cover that was a landscape with a Grecian column floating in the sky like a cloud. Why? Because they could. Anytime we get a new tool there is a tendency to push it to the hilt to see how far we can go with it. That’s valuable for learning but learning involves discovering what not to do as well as what works. I learned photography way back in the days when retouching was done on negatives with retouch fluid and a pencil. The rule of thumb was “if you can see the retouching in the print, it is not done well” and that is my rule of thumb today only now I would rephrase it slightly to ‘the digital manipulation should support the image. Otherwise the technique becomes the subject instead of the original subject or idea that prompted you to shoot the photo’. OTOH rules, or perhaps principles is a better word, are made to be broken and sometimes an obvious “effect” helps convey the photographer’s intent. The trick is do use the techniques consciously not just as a “Gee Whiz. Look what this does” moment.

  29. Great post and comment stream (though you are obviously just trying to poke the tiger here!). While I hate to be a nitpicker, remember that it’s not the use of HDR that detractors typically complain about but the way the HDR image is tone mapped. The same folks who complain about hating HDR are probably seeing a huge number of HDR-derived, subtly tone-mapped images each day without realising that HDR was involved in the process.

    1. Good point! I like and use HDR for certain things. However, the pictures I’m most fond of are the ones that are HDR derived and subtly tone mapped so that they reflect reality as opposed to fantasy. I suspect that there are a lot more of those images out there than folks actually realize.

  30. Hi Scott,

    Well, being very new to digital photography, I find HDR an interesting process or effect if you will. I like many others here, think that HDR is a way of expressing your photo artistically. I’m sure the purist in painting had a real problem with expressionalist, but that’s cool. As many here have said over and over, and you say it in your books all the time, its what YOU want the picture to be! I personally, don’t like the over done HDRs, but I like the attributes that HDR gives to my photos, and I get many compliments on them. A great majority of people don’t know what HDR is, but they love the feel of the photo. I also think the same complaints can be made about grungy too.


  31. HDR can really look horrible if not done properly. I think when done correctly it really adds something to the image, esp if you are lacking some necessary appliances like flashes and strobes to get a nice indoor shot, or filters to get a good outdoor landscape. It’s great for those on a budget like me. Plus some of the black and whites one can achieve or the look you get when applying Topaz Adjust or Nik Color efex to the post-HDR process really make things look great. Don’t hate on others art as mentioned above. I fyou like it, great, if you don’t, move on.

    1. Who is to say what is proper? While I agree with your sentiment, the fact is that people have different tastes. As an example, I tried to tonemap a single RAW file shot of mine of the Golden Gate Bridge. In my opinion, the result was wretched. I totally screwed the pooch, but I put it up on Flickr anyway to get some feedback. I expected that people would give me some advice on how I could’ve done better, etc.

      Imagine my surprise when some people started marking it as a favorite. I hate this version of the photograph, but some people really liked it. I think I’ve gotten better at tonemapping images to my taste, but I can’t say it’s “proper.”

      1. With all due respect William (and I haven’t seen the photo), but people on Flickr comment and fave images for all sorts of reasons. Of course, some of them really do love the images they fave.
        Note: I’m not saying this in any way as a criticism of Flickr or its users. I just know from experience that there are a lot of different motives for faving and commenting photos there.

  32. When I see an image I recognize as HDR I think, “OK, they used HDR” and it gets me thinking about using it more. I’ve had some great HDR results and more not-so-great results with HDR.

    I suspect that the “controversy” for some people concerning HDR is that it’s entirely a post processing process and not something you do in the camera. Graduated ND filters, polarizers, etc. are all acceptable because you use them at the point of the shot. But HDR is something not done in camera at all and requires some software tweaking to look good. I think that is what creates the problem for some people. They don’t see it as authentic because you couldn’t see the result through the viewfinder before you took the picture.

    The only time I myself have a problem is when someone misrepresents their photo.

  33. I think that the whole issue is just a variation of the old Mac/PC, Fords/Chevy, Canon/Nikon, Film/Digital, BW/Color, albums/CD’s… etc… etc… ad nauseam. People (at least in the good old USA) tend to uber-demonize what they can’t do, don’t have, don’t agree with, or simply don’t like. It makes it easier on them somehow, which is why you get such strong emotions around these and many other issues.

    In this particular case, I think that at least some of the problem is the word “photography” or at least it’s short sister “photo”. It goes something like this… an HDR’d photo doesn’t look like a photo and if it’s not a photo… well then, how can you call yourself a photographer… and if your not a photographer, then how can your opinion be worth anything to me, a photographer? wait… you “processed” it on what kind of computer!!! (See?… it’s easy)

    Negative opinions about HDR are many and varied, but ultimately, you’ll end up with some form of the argument “it doesn’t look real”. Which, BTW, is either moot or Ansel sucked because his beautiful images only look “real” to a colorblind person.

    For myself, I solved the conundrum by applying the term “Derivative Art” to some of my images. In my upcoming website (my developers tell me it will be ready real soon… no really, any day now! sheesh…) I describe this category of my work like so…

    “Somewhere in my head there is a line that I occasionally cross while playing in the digital darkroom. Once crossed, I feel that I have altered the original image enough that it has become much less of “what it looked like” and much more of “what I like to look at”. They are based on a photographic image and infused with some part me, hence… Derivative Art.”

    (Hmmm, hey Scott… help me out here… do you need to use quotation marks if you’re quoting yourself?)

    Anyway, it seems to cover all of the bases for times I use tools/techniques like HDR, Topaz Adjust/Simplify, LucisArt or simply can’t step away from the saturation slider. And for bonus points… I’m now an “artist” and not a photographer, which means that if you don’t like it… well then, you just don’t understand my art. This is way better than not liking my photos… which could possibly hurt my feelings.

    So there… I said it… I like HDR. I use it with varying degrees of success as well as many other techniques. If that isn’t enough to get your “negative response” juices flowing well then… I am also a Canon shooter, drive a foreign car and (wait for it)… plan on buying one or more iPads.


  34. I feel like I should step up and mention Alexandre Buisse’s awesome article on Luminous Landscape appropriately named “HDR Plea.” This man, a mountain climber and accomplished photographer, has created HDR images using handheld photos and developed them such that I would challenge any of you to recognize them as HDR.

    What he says about the philosophy of HDR and its use in photography is truly insightful, and I have nothing against HDR whatsoever. I actually rather like the ghosting effect sometimes, but that’s just me (check out the New London photos on my site for examples).


    Moreover, to lose respect for a great song because it is a cover of an earlier great song is to deny the reasons for which copyright was created. To protect innovation (through derivation); is HDR not anything more than technological innovation to be used in the way the artist sees fit? It is a tool, and it can be used or misused, but shouldn’t be judged on its face any more than a hammer should be judged on the basis of the things it helps to construct.

  35. I think HDR has a lot to do with the vision of the person taking/processing the photo. If you’ve got a great photo with a great vision of how it would look HDR processed, you can create some amazing images.

    For me personally, I like it when it enhances a great photo/subject and makes it better. Regardless of what style you go with (fantasy or natural). I tend not to like it when people take a photo of something that would normally be “blah” (and something you’d never ever keep) and use it to make the “blah” photo, “HDR Blah” instead.
    However, I’ll contradict myself by saying I’ve seen an HDR photo of a old boot taken in a garage. The original was a total throw-away photo. But after the HDR process, the boot looked worn, torn, and the image had the appearance that it was an old boot laying around in an old western town for 100 years. In that case, the processing totally made the photo, not the photo itself. It was the vision of the person processing the photo that really made it cool.

    Oh yeah, can I plug my HDR course on Kelby Training here ;-)

    Matt Kloskowski

    1. I’ll pimp your plug. I thought it was an excellent course and it was the first step to actually get me past detesting HDR to realizing that it doesn’t have to suck. You did a great job of showing how to use HDR to bring out the range of light without bringing out a range of suck.

  36. I don’t think it could be said ANY better “those who don’t like it (HDR, PHotoshop or whatever) don’t understand it or don’t know how to use it”….VERY well said!

    Agree with Matt above…it’s one thing to use all these tools to enhance an already great (or even good) photo…it’s another to use these to enhance a “blah” photo

    1. Rachael, do you not think that’s like saying people who don’t like classical music, Japanese animé, McDonald’s quarter pounders “just don’t understand it or know how to play/watch/eat it”? I think that’s drastically oversimplifying the issue and ignoring the simple fact that everybody has different tastes.

      1. well….I guess your absolutely right….

        I stand corrected!

        I guess my only response is I may not like something but can certainly have respect for knowledge/skill behind it. To not like good HDR photography as personal taste is one thing…however to think it isn’t photography because of the processes it has been through is another.
        I certainly have a respect for abstract artists…however I don’t like abstracts.

        THank you for making me think about my strongly opinionated statement (can you tell I am a bit opinionated).

  37. Well stated article Scott. Sometimes you have to use those types of techniques to make the image show what your eyes see. It’s just that simple. Especially for certain landscape photos, where no artificial lighting can be added to create the lighting effect desired.

  38. When I see a photograph that I am drawn to or that catches my eye, I immediately know there is something about it that I like. Rather it be the color, composition, or content, I still like it. In todays world, one can assume that most likely, an affect has been applied or the photograph has been edited in some way. Because of that, It doesn’t make me not like it as much, but instead, It sparks my imagination, creativity and interest. Its like seeing a beautiful woman. I know most likely that she has applied some makeup, but I still like what I see!

  39. I’m vacationing in the gulf coast of Florida this week and hoping to get some HDR sunsets (if I don’t have to shovel snow to get to the beach!) I enjoy the impact HDR has on photos but like many effects, it works best on only some types of photos and like all things, should probably be used in moderation. I have seen some that I’ve thought, humm, should have pushed that HDR a bit more. Matt, great comments!

  40. I won’t get Vincent Versace’s quote exactly right, but I agree with his sentiment that processing photos should produce a “believable un-reality.” Processing should also enhance the photo by emphasizing the photographer’s vision for the image when it was created.

    The example HDR that Scott posted looks like many other HDR photos I’ve seen, which is to say “like a video game rendering.” The lighting is too even and the DoF is too deep, so my eye is drawn away from two compelling subjects in the picture (the fountain and the railing on the staircase) up to a pretty uninteresting light at the top.

    The HDR Spotting website mentioned by Marianne above has some very believable shots… nice to see.

    I’ll sum up like this: “life’s too short to look at bad HDR.”

  41. When HDR is used well to enhance the story line of an image I love it. Unfortunately, the lacking thing in the vast majority of HDR images I’ve seen is a compelling story line. Those images are like flashing neon signs proclaiming, “Hey look – I’m neon!”

    That said, when the compelling story line is there – WOW!

  42. For me, I think Jim Hughes has got the best quote to date:

    “Some people like watercolors. Some people like oils. Some people like pastels. And some people like velvet Elvis’s. It’s okay folks…”

    Hey.. there are ppl who buy Dogs Playing Poker and think it looks cool, and thats all right by me.

    Recently we held a “1 Shot HDR Contest” at Layers magazine (link: http://bit.ly/d7Vg37)

    People came out of the woodwork to compete… and I feel that if it inspires people to get out there and try to create some art, thats a great thing.


    1. I love the way HDR better approximates the dynamic range of our eyes–to me, in this one regard, it’s actually “more” realistic than “normal” photography. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s often heavily done (a.k.a. over done)…but that’s something the artist does control. So, the creative controls whether the effect is photo-realistic or surreal…and both have their place IMHO.


    2. “Create some art”…I think that is the key here. I teach photography at an arts center and am surrounded by creative artists of a wide variety of media and skill level. You won’t hear them argue about an artist’s technique or whether it is over the top, just a discussion of what pieces they like or don’t like. My professional photography buddies, however, will analyze and critique a photograph more brutally than any art critic and generally don’t think anyone’s photos are better than their own (reminds me of writers in that regard).

      I say look at photography more as an art form and do what you like using whatever method you like. Don’t worry about someone else’s opinion. It’s your creative expression.

  43. Obviously, photography as an art is subjective. I personally love the subtle HDR effect, but it doesn’t play well in every photo.

    What I do like about it is that when I view a photo with the HDR effect, I feel like I was there, seeing all the details with the photographer. I’ll stand in front of an HDR photo a long time just checking out all fine elements in the photo. It’s like the photographer just let me in on a secret.

  44. Scott:

    My take on your son’s reaction is he’s disappointed to learn that the song isn’t an original work. Some people will think that HDR isn’t an original work because you didn’t nail it with one shot. Perhaps it’s a purist thing that they can’t get past.

    It reminds me of a shot of a composer (Leonard?) in Joe McNally’s book “The Moment it Clocks” that looks so natural. Then Joe describes in detail all the elements of light he used to make it look that way. He crafted the light to share his impression of what it was like to be in that room and feel “music.” He lit the shot to compensate for the camera’s deficiencies.

    Does that take his photo down a notch? Not to me. If anything, that shot is responsible for me spending unholy amounts of money to buy more lighting gear to help shape my own vision.

    Sometimes, you can’t light the shot for the statement you want to make. It could be a lack of gear or the size of the subject. HDR is just another tool to try and convey the scene as you experienced it. Making the scene look realistic or fantastic is not really pertinent to the simple matter of blending exposures. It’s a different part of the recipe.

    Of course, now that I’m getting interested in HDR, I’m starting to spend unholy amounts of money on tripod and ballhead gear.

    Photography is a money trap.

  45. I believe that others have touched on this idea and it is that any photo enhancing in PS has to be done with restraint if it is to be at all effective. The question becomes will this effect make my picture a better one? This is where the the artist and the hack are separated. I’ve seen quite a few HDR images on the NAPP portfolio page that have actually hurt my eyes to look at. Everything in the pic is given equal strong emphasis so that subtlety is destroyed, the very quality that pros know how to incorporate.

  46. Funny thing about HDR is its in its infancy… they are already making cameras that will integrate the over/under exposures and blend in camera? Ten years from now (or 2 years from now), I am sure the engineers will have incorporated an HDR button into 95% of digital camera as a standard button… Does that make it any less or more artistic in nature? Seems the whole thing comes down to personal preference and whether or not someone is willing to shell out their hard earned cash to buy a “HDR” print, becuase like any other form of art, it moved or touched them… Everything else is just noise or chatter… I think :-)

  47. I’ve looked at hundreds of HDR pics on Flickr and I found 90% of them crap. Even if they were intended as pieces of art, they often look to me like those kitsch paintings you can buy in the streets of tourist places. I see uses in documentary photography (which is what interests me) but HDR should be applied with great restraint and wisdom. New technologies in the beginning seem to seduce people to do silly things. The real potential is often revealed only with time and experience.

    1. See.. and I argue that BECAUSE most of what you’re interested is “Documentary” photography related – you have a bias to not like anything outside of what looks ‘real’

      That doesnt mean that HDR is garbage.. that means that even if it were done well.. it’s outside of your space of personal taste..

      1. I have to agree with you rc. I think the HDR is a tool for us to use based on our vision and style. I use HDR very differently and probably more like Herbert would. I am a landscape photographer and I want my images to look as natural as possible within the context of photographs. I often go back and re-process the HDRs I shoot just to take away the “Velvet Elvis” appearance. But some of the images I see (like the one Scott posted) I can appreciate without wanting to have my images look like it.


    2. I agree. HDR is to increase the range that a camera just can’t quite get sometimes. Used correctly it is a beautiful enhancement. Unfortunately too many people do overuse it like an overdone pop art effect.

    3. Herbert – I tried replacing “HDR” in your comment with “color” and found it to make as much sense as before. Let’s face it. 90% of everything is crap, so why get all bent out of shape that 90% of HDR-processed photos are crap? Just sayin’.

    4. In Herberts defense, RC, he actually says “I see uses in documentary photography (which is what interests me) but HDR should be applied with great restraint and wisdom.”

      I don’t have any problem with that comment and I don’t think anyone would argue the opposite, that HDR — or any technique— should be applied with reckless abandon and stupidity.

      William, I don’t think anyone, including Herbert is actually blaming the technique and not the photographer. We all know that the photograph is the product of the photographer.

  48. What is HDR? Herein is part of the problem: there is a lack of standard definition describing exactly what HDR really is. You ask 10 different photographers and you will get 10 different answers.

    Is it 5, 7 or 9 bracketed images from a tripod mounted camera and combining them in software?

    Is it taking a single image (Jpeg or RAW) and optimizing the highlight details on a layer, doing the same with shadow details on a layer and then combining them for a better image?

    Is Tone mapping really HDR or is it a technique applied to above?

    Is it Tone Mapping for that matter applied to just a single image non adjusted image?

    Is it a combination of the above?

    I have been using expanded range techniques (HDR?) in some of my images for well over 6 years. It a technique that resulted in images that stood out from the crowd. When shooting architectural interiors typically the windows are blown out. So I exposed for the room, then I exposed for outside the windows, I manually combined them in Photoshop and used a lot of layers and masking techniques to get the final image. The interiors looked good and so did outside the windows, I got more work.

    As digital evolves techniques are adjusted: Shooting the D3X in 14 bit depth in RAW I have found I can easily get (without noise and distortion) 2 stops more in the shadows and 2 stops more in the highlights if I need them out of a single image. That is quite the dynamic range for 1 image. If I want to contend with noise (although correctable with software) I can go even further and get very respectable images. Is this HDR? I guess you could call it

    SIMP: Single Image Multiple Processed

    or how about

    SIMPLER: Single Image Multiple Processed Layered Expanded Range.

    Bottom line: Does it meet the client’s needs/wants and is it saleable. I have sold images on both extremes of the “HDR” Spectrum. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

  49. I don’t “learn” that an HDR image has been “HDR’d”. I automatically know when an image has been “HDR’d” (and this includes so called realistic HDR photography). But that’s not the point. The problem for me is that HDR photography just looks fake. Period. HDR images look more like cartoons than photographs. We’re photographers, not cartoonists. We don’t complain so much when an image has been photoshopped because photoshopped images still look like photos.

    1. Justin,

      I find it hard to believe that you “automatically know when an image is HDR’d”. Yet you say that HRD photograph looks fake. Well it all doesn’t. Yes many can tell when an image has been taken over the top with HDR, but it cab be applied subtly, so the image does not look fake or like a cartoon and in when done in that way, you do not “automatically” know the image is an HDR.

      1. Speak for yourself. I always know when an image has been HDR’d. Period. There’s no ambiguity whatsoever. But, like I said, that’s not the point. The point is that HDR photography looks cheap. The same way a show on FOX looks cheap compared to a show on HBO. Or the way some corporate sponsored pre-fab boy band looks fake compared to real musicians who spend years struggling to make it into the mainstream. HDR is to photography what boy bands are to music.

  50. It would be great if a few points were addressed with “HDR” as we call it.

    Theres a difference between the Ansel Adams High Dynamic Range and Trey Ratcliffs HDR photography. Ansel captures a range of tones and light, which Trey does too, but Trey takes it to another level (and this is where in my opinion people either love or hate it) in the use of Tone Mapping.

    So many people push the tone mapping overboard that leave halos, fringing, noise that are just garish.

    Trey seems to have it down where its pleasing to the eye, bringing out the beauty in a place.

    I personally prefer both forms, done with taste, very appealing.

    So many people confuse tone mapping with HDR when they can be totally different animals but the use of tone mapping enhances HDR if done with judgement.

    Tone Mapping is not HDR and HDR is not Tone Mapping, but to me this is the crux of the argument.

    1. I’m in the same boat with you Chase and hold the same opinion that the confusion lies in ignorance between making the distinction between tone mapping and the HDR process.

      I too also like both Ansel and Trey’s styles because they both present interesting (key word!) subject matter and artwork which is so important.

      I feel the problem lies at the feet of people in photographic communities such as flickr who have praised the tone mapping effect as HDR where as the achievement of creating the HDR sometimes outweighed the subject matter or artistic value of the image. In other words, boring or unappealing photos if given a tone mapped effect became acceptable some how because everyone and their grandmother who have no vested interest in the artistry (sorry grandma!) praised it on the same site they see other amazing works of art. IMO.

  51. HDR is a photographic style. I shoot IR as well…infrared never creates such a stir. Why does HDR? I think it is due to the select few that post overdone HDR’s and it gives the style a bad name. The nay-sayers, jumble all the good and bad together and call it a day.

    But for the HDR artists across the globe that have ability…if processed correctly an HDR is art. Whether you like HDR or not, it has become the fastest growing photograhic style in the world in the past year. HDR’ing is here to stay!

    Here is Grace Cathedral in HDR…how can you deny the possibilites that HDR can offer?


    Enjoy! Pete Talke

  52. No doubt HDR is an “Effect,” however, when carefully used it simply brings out every detail available in a given scene, it is a dynamic tool. If you stay away from the extreme end of the HDR spectrum and simply use it to enhance (not distort) a given image, its hard to detect that HDR was used at all. In fact, what happens is what I call the “Ansel Adams Effect,” where you know that you are looking at a beautiful photograph with more detail than seems possible, and wondering how Ansel did it. Well, it was the “Effect” of a masters work. There in lies the value of HDR in my opinion. Use it to make an average image a superior one with little evidence of how it was done.

  53. I feel that when an HDR is done right, and done right I mean by taken the extra exposures in the camera and not making them out of a single RAW file, then I don’t have quite the quarrels with it. There are many “artists” on flickr and other places on the web and see an HDR and want to achieve the same effect, but don’t want to put the work in. They want that simple one-button solution and instant results.

    I have a friend of mine that he only publishes HDR images. It’s what he does, and he’s become pretty damn good at it. Craig Johnson Photography

    Personally I like looking at well done HDR images. I think that it’s over doing it if every picture that I see in a gallery is a HDR image, but I do hold a respect to the ones that have mastered it. Like Scott said, it is an effect, just like many other effects that photographers add to their images. But it’s got to be done with just the right amount of taste.

    1. Also, there is a time and place for HDR. Sometimes that image gains some power when HDR(ed). Such in the case of photo-journalism. Awhile ago there was a photographer that was fired and sued because of “photoshopping” out telephone poles and tweaking his images just right and then submitting to his editor. NOT COOL in photojournalism. But now if I were to see a properly done HDR image submitted, I think that I would remain a bit more reserved, due to its gained intensity.

      In the end, it is an effect done to a photo. Photography is subjective, so there what one person likes, another will hate. It’s the way of the trade.

  54. I like when you said “It’s an effect like any other effect.” I’ve gone through phases using overlays, textures, cloning, and yes, some HDR. I’m surprised there’s so much argument around it and not the use of textures, overlays or mimicing that faded ’70s look on an image. To each his own I say. If that HDR image is in your head when you shot it – and it’s your photo, not an art director’s or a clients – when where’s the issue?

  55. If a viewer has to be told that the HDR technique was used, its a good use of HDR. When HDR can easily be seen, ie: in your face, then it’s too overdone. Personally, I don’t mind small touches of it, but when it gets over done and it’s overboard, it all looks gray and middletoned, and blah, like the istock photo chosen for the top of this blog post.

  56. I think part of the problem is that when you use some effects, like duotone, you know that’s not really what the reality looked like. But with HDR, it looks close enough to reality, but part of your brain is saying “there’s just not something quite right about this picture.” I agree that if used subtly, it can be a great enhancement. But to me the overblown and heavy handed use of HDR as a super stylized fad is just starting to get old.

  57. I think HDR should be thought of as just another genre of photography. One can shoot black and white vs. color – we’d not necessarily judge them by identical criteria. IR, macro, duotone, HDR – all have their time and place. I enjoy the capture of wonder and beauty regardless of how it is achieved. Anything that helps us see more of the beauty in the world is wonderful.

  58. As someone who only got a dslr last month I am very new to all this but have been reading a lot, beginning with the trio of books by Scott and moving onto the blog daily since. The concept of what is art as opposed to what is photography is an interesting one but I would submit that if you are going to trash HDR or Photoshop or anything else then I would say you must abandon your flash if you are only capturing what the eye sees, the flash is function applied to the image to get a particular effect. HDR is the same thing, Mayr when I’ve been in the game for years I’ll care more but I got into this for fun and to produce things that look good. Why spend your time hating, grab a camra and take a beautiful shot instead.

  59. Back in the day I would look at photos in total amazement now days not so much. knowing that it has been manipulated just takes the thrill out of it. They are still beautiful
    but. Yes I know that there have always been dodging and burning and all types of variables that go into making a great photo. I just dont get that same how in the hell did they do that any more. I am moved more by great photography of ordinary people more that anything else. and that is all i have to say about that.

  60. Back in the day I would look at photos in total amazement now days not so much. knowing that it has been manipulated just takes the thrill out of it. They are still beautiful
    but. Yes I know that there have always been dodging and burning and all types of variables that go into making a great photo. I just dont get that same how in the hell did they do that any more. I am moved more by great photography of ordinary people more that anything else. and that is all i have to say about that.

  61. I think it comes down to whether HDR techniques are done well or not. I have seen some HDR images that do not look good to ME, but maybe the photographer loves it. No problem. I have seen some HDR images that look AMAZING to ME and make me wish I could do that as well. I bet you many of those I really like have been created by someone with more experience and skill and they have learned how to manage and manipulate the technique far better than others have. Just as with most any photography.

    I remember seeing work by a young photographer who was still in college a few years ago down in the Tampa area and he was creating some of the most amazing cityscapes down there using his own HDR technique. The building looked like some of the HD video footage they show as lead-ins on CSI: Miami with an extra pop! I wish I could remember who he was and where to find his work. Scott, since you’re down there have any idea of who it is?

  62. Maybe it has become cliche just like any other widely used “new” effect – but I’m referring to the tone mappings that create the unnatural colors. otherwise, it’s the digital equivalent of the zone system if you think of it…

  63. I think HDR has its place like most forms of photography or art. I guess the issue I have is that most HDR images I see are completely overcooked and look really fake. Some of the best HDR images I have seen I did not know that they were HDR until I was told. For me it’s about sublety and I think that gets lost when a process becomes easy for the masses. I think there’s a talent to doing HDR well and if it’s done well you only see the final image, not the all of the processing that went into it.

    Comparing to Photoshop, I also see a lot of “Photoshoppped” images that look overcooked. Again, the best images I have seen don’t have that “Photoshopped” look. Looking at them I know that they have retouched, but they look so damn good. Scott’s photography is a prime example. He even admits that he Photoshops a lot of stuff, but his skills are so good you don’t see it; you just see the amazing image.

    Just my thoughts.

  64. I just read on another blog that you aren’t a ‘Photographer’ unless you shoot film, you are a graphic artist. Ok now I get it.. method is more important than the image. I always thought the emotion and message in an image was more important than how it was made. To often they method is substituted for something to say, if you have nothing to say how you say it isn’t important. If you have something to say how you say it adds to it.
    Great post and take on the HDR reaction Scott.

  65. Last summer I traveled to Scotland, my first time to be out the U.S. I wanted to make sure that I captured what I saw, and bring back the emotions and impressions that surrounded and filled me. On one of my excursions, I found myself at Kilt Rock on the Isle of Skye. I took a picture…lame. I took a bracketed series of pictures…put them together…and…there it was. That was what I was seeing. Not that it enhanced the picture to look “magical,” but the tonemapped HDR with my LR tweaks was exactly what I had witnessed in front of me.

    There are several levels of tonemapping that you can apply to an image. And they don’t have to look fake.

    This is the HDR image from Kilt Rock.


  66. t seems to me part of what’s going on here, is that we’ve come to accept the low dynamic range limitations of earlier photographic tools as “natural”, so HDR which allows us to capture images that more closely match the dynamic range we actually saw, is considered “fake”. In at least some sense, HDR is more natural than LDR imagery.

  67. I think one reason for the popularity of HDR is that you can make images that look a lot like the images in computer games. I am not that knowledgable about games but I have seen a few where the scenery is very similar to the stronger effects from Photomatix. I’m thinking of Quake which goes back at least 10 years. At the time of first seeing Quake I was amazed at how realistic it was!

  68. Hi Scott…

    Great post. I for one really like “effects” as long as they are not overdone or used to often. I even look at shooting with a flash the same way. Use it all in subtlety and moderation. But back when I first heard about HDR I fell in love with this new concept, and looked at a lot of work. If you want to see some HDR work that still amazes me, check out


    Some of his stuff is definitely overdone, but if you dig in his website through his archives and portfolio….he has some incredible stuff. And no, I actually don’t know him. I think his name is Pete Carr, so this isn’t my buddy’s website I’m trying to promote.


  69. Is it wrong to make a SciFi movie because it doesn’t accurately reflect what we perceive as the reality around us? I don’t like SciFi movies but I can appreciate the effort that goes into making something like The Matrix. I find HDR a matter of personal taste just like, well, pretty much everything. To each his own!

  70. Do what you love. For me that is oftentimes HDR – the only thing I care about a fellow photographer’s image is if I love it. I have loved HDR and non-HDR photography and will do so again. To “hate” HDR for being HDR is a dogmatic bias that is part and parcel of a closed mind. Thanks for the post, I enjoyed the read.

  71. I am a new photographer carrying around a nikon d90 and trying with all of the knowledge that i have learned so far about photography to capture a photo that i can show that is have a good as some of the photos that i see on the internet.

    i say all that to say i don’t know how to do a HDR photo and I’m not very good with photoshop but i think HDR photos can be so serene and sometimes so dramatic. People say they are cartoony i say they are awesome. i love looking at the way the detail shows up so clearly and the way the colors just pop so brightly. looking at HDR photos makes me want to see those places and things that i see in the photos.

    Fake or not i can’t wait to my skills allow me to take a photo and transform it into something that will make people feel or heck just make me feel like I do when i see and HDR photo.

  72. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When impressionistic painters started coming on to the scene do you think all the artists liked it? We know for a fact they didn’t, and some went as far as saying it was a lesser degree of art than that of realistic painters. Its all the same with this HDR debate, some will love it, some will hate it, but in the end its a style that is here to stay and will inevitably remain accepted just as any other photography.

  73. Too many comments to read all but I have used HDR on some photos and have either liked the effect or not liked the effect. If I didn’t like the effect I went in another path. My wife took a picture in Italy on a point and shot camewra and one of her pictures I liked very much. I did some some cropping and removed the distractions and processed her picture as a faux HDR and voila the result was fantastic. It was so good that I framed it and hung it on my wall. Comments have been did you take that picture and I say no My Wife Did. I only processed it. If you like HDR use it, but it is only another weapon in my arsenal of effects.

  74. Im not a massive fan of HDR as most of the pictures out there are over done.
    Some people turn every photo into HDR. It’s about choosing the right one and applying the technique correctly. Also not tone mapping the image to death.
    It doe produce a cool effect when used appropriatly. I used it the other night when I had a picture that was exposed correctly at the front but the details towards the back were in darknees.
    About a year ago magazines started to pick up on it and showing garish HDR images. Therefore people thought if they wanted to get anywhere in photography they had to use HDR all the time.

  75. Hi Scott:
    I think the problem is multi-factorial. In part/in some cases, I think you are right, but I would like to offer another explanation. At least some HDR is obvious, and that can be good or bad depending on the result, but if I may make the analogy to the use of flash. We all use flash, and often it greatly improves our photos, but we don’t want it to be obvious that we used flash. When it is obvious many of us view the image negatively, so with HDR. HDR can greatly improve an image, but at least in some cases it should not be obvious that HDR was used. Now, I know that sometimes HDR is used to create a totally different effect, not just an improvement of a high contrast range image. I think these are two very different concepts of HDR, and perhaps that later view of HDR is more a fad that some people will like and others hate, but the former – subtley use of HDR is just another technique to improve an image (like use of flash) that if done correctly won’t be obvious.

  76. I love the HDR look in many of my images. When I go out to shoot I find myself shooting for HDR most of the time. Then, once back in Bridge I’ll look at the images and decide which if any should be processed and tone mapped and which should just be processed in Photoshop. I don’t want to come back to an image and not have the ability to process as an HDR image. I know that some people tone map a single image, but to me that defeats the purpose of shooting HDR. These images could just be processed in Photoshop and HDR effects can be achieved in plug-ins like Topaz Adjust.

  77. I seriously dislike when some say that other people’s work is crap. I use HDR shots when I photograph homes for designers. They seem to enjoy the exaggerated color and the dreamy feel of the pictures. It also saves a ton of time when setting up lighting to get the shot. I use an arsenal of hardware and software to get what my client wants. If some think it’s crap … so be it. I got paid and my client is happy which makes me happy. My son is just beginning to take interest in photography and he does things his way. We don’t always agree on what shots are his best because he looks at things very differently than I do. Does that mean I think his work is bad? No. A photograph should be as unique and different as the person who created it.

  78. Well said Scott!!!!

    While it is true that there is a lot of garish and poorly done HDR photos out there, there are certainly even more “Photoshopped” or “Lightroomed” images out there that have been poorly processed. Does that mean we should look down on photos because someone has made a Photoshop or Lightroom adjustment on the original? Of course not!

    HDR is a tool which can be used effectively to create a photographers artistic intent to display an image the way the best image capturing device in the world (our eyes) sees it. Our eyes don’t see funky grey clouds, over saturated colors and aqua colored skies – those are just judgement calls (albeit poor to my taste) of the person editing the image.

    Thanks for speaking out on this controversal subject!

  79. I too am not too much of a fan of HDR because of the way it’s done..the only ones I’ve liked till date are the ones Matt Klowskowski pointed out in his Ps Podcast on HDR on the HDRSoft HDR Gallery on their website…they look like what our eyes would see…more realistic photography, capturing the moment as it was…
    Most of today’s HDR looks all funky and hyper realistic..which necessarily a bad thing if done well …but not really proper photography…
    ‘Course though there are times when HDR even in the funky grungy style is the best option.

  80. I find it kind of a Déjà vu type of thing …. I felt very similar in my initial reactions to Velvia …. but that has sort of “grown on me” by now and I haven’t automatically reacted negatively to a Velvia image for a long time now … I recognize it as a super saturated image and go from there … the composition and exposure still has to be “right” (for that image) if I am going to like it….. HDR seems to be a newer incarnation of the same discussion to me……. now for all of those that read this and don’t have any idea what I am talking about with Velvia then just write this post off as the ramblings of an old man ……

  81. Scott,

    The same thing is said about anything new in the art world. When photography was first introduced. Artist claimed that it was end of painting and photography was the devils invention. I can remember when 35mm was was a poor format, to the professional large format photographers, because it was too grainy. Then digital photography was not a viable medium. Because it lack the film grain or quality that the real photography had. I personally do not care for Apple’s, Canon’s, or Chevy’s. However, that doest not mean that they are not a fine product. It is a matter of personal taste. The same goes with effects in photography. They all have their place and usage. As long as the effect is use to enhance or make your statement.

    As you have said, Scott. It is just a effect.

  82. To answer your question, Scott, No… knowing a photo is HDR does not taint my opinion of it.

    Personally, I don’t care for most HDR photos but not simply because they are HDR, or tone mapped (or whatever you want to call it). It’s because the HDR technique, when taken past a certain point, makes the image lose its depth because you lose the interplay of light and shadow. The ones I love are those that the technique is applied to just enough to pull a little extra detail out of the shadows while still retaining some sense of depth in the image. One photog that can do this very well is a previous guest blogger, Trey Ratcliff. Although some of his stuff does go a little too far… but that’s just my personal taste.

    It seems to me all the vitriol stems from the fact that HDR changes the way we’re used to doing photography… from “seeing” the light, to sucking light from nowhere so to speak. By doing so you extract the third dimension from the subject… it has height and width but no depth. All that said, I certainly have a respect for photogs that do it well, even when taken a little too far. It’s not an easy technique to get right as we all know… as evidenced by all the haters out there. ;o)

  83. Perhaps the question we as photographers should ask ourselves is what catches our attention and how long do we spend with an image. For example, when we’re looking at a page full of thumbnails on Flickr, which ones do we click on for a closer look? How long do we spend looking at them to see how they were done? Does the photo make us want to try to make one like it? These questions are less subjective than whether we “like” the photo or not. In the end, if the photographer has gotten you to click on his/her image for a closer look, they’ve done their job.

    Where do I stand on HDR? I can’t get enough of it.

  84. HDR is another tool to create art. In some cases it’s the appropriate tool and other times it’s not. The view finder is a blank canvas. Creating art is what it’s all about. Personally I love this age for photography. The absolute control we have over the final image is incredible. I firmly believe Ansel Adams would’ve gladly embraced the technology of today. Had it existed back in the day; he would have been right in the middle of it. I know this is a detestable thought to some, but I believe it to be true. The following image was created using HDR. http://digitalimagecafe.com/viewPhoto.aspx?type=contest&id=618216 For interiors, it’s a great tool. Be creative and keep creating. Have a blast!

  85. To me “The Image is the Message.” It’s certainly possible to overdo anything and when overdone anything can be ruined. That said, I don’t use the effect all that often, but on the few images that I have used it on, they were far better for it. To me “subtlety” is always a good way to go with any effect. I prefer it to be secondary to the image itself, so that image itself shines and not the effect.

  86. I think photography is an art just because cameras are do not have HDR. if the cameras had the same dynamic range as your eye then they become what they are not supposed to be: snapshot tools.
    You want to play with the limited dynamic range of the camera, play with shadows and light to create the mood that express you..
    The unfortunate thing is that if you add range through HDR the results looks fake ( most of the time..) sometimes you do add some range and then it ok.. Jst a little bit..

    I would not compare HDR to photoshop usage. . It is more like the extreme wide angle effect. Some people think that can make a anything boring the see an interesting pic if they shot it with the wide angle they just got..
    After a while the novelty wears off and you left with bad pics… this is what is happening with HDR. People (my self) are quickly getting tired of it..

    1. John, what about double processing a raw file then masking them? Or better yet creating a B&W from a photo? We alter them as soon as we take them out of the camera. I agrre some are more extreme than others but how can anyone draw a line. This can of worms is always going to go on but what may be around the corner may be even more controversial. I know if there are large contrast differences in the scene and HDR is used right the photos look great.

  87. I’d have to say it’s not a look I go for particularly myself, but I have seen some really awesome examples that I liked. Really, I just see it as another version of self expression through photography. Sometimes I have photos I don’t totally love as-is, but convert them to B&W and do a little Photoshopping and I love them! So what’s the difference? Are they any worse because of that? It’s just another way of showing the world how I see it.

  88. I love Scott’s music analogy, my 10 year old daughter recently told me she likes lady gaga. I told yea I know her. She promptly told me she could no longer like Lady Gaga.
    How is using HDR any different than any post processing , you could blow out the Vibrance or the Saturation call that to much post processing or even tell some one its HDR. Any PSD filter could be called to much post. You can move with the technology or stay stagnate and be an Old timer with a View camera. Of course this is a Photoshop based Blog and probably every one used some sort of Post processing.

  89. I think we sometimes fail to let photography be art. For me it’s just that, art. How do you decide how far is to far. How do you overdo art. I’m not talking about clients needs and what they would consider overdone. I’m talking about art. I don’t like tons of art that has stood the test of time. But I don’t go talking smack about it either.

    Maybe we should all just go and take some pics for ourselves and not worry about what people think. hell don’t even show anyone. Just enjoy them…… I do it all the time. Hope you haven’t forgot how much fun it is.

    Ty Michael

  90. What’s interesting to me, in this media saturated time in which we live, is that everyone is starting to recognize and label HDR imagery. It has worked its way into the fabric of the visual lexicon for anyone looking at pictures on the internet. I think this becomes somewhat dangerous as surely Canon and Nikon will respond to the demand to merge multiple exposures more effectively in camera which will in turn likely eliminate some of the visual distinction of HDR imagery.

    Beyond that for fine art purposes, I am a believer in do what you love. HDR is simply a part of a photographer’s toolkit, and I enjoy the varied creative permutations that people are coming up with. For commercial purposes, I’m more reserved. It’s yet another obstacle in sharing a collective creative vision with a client. Non photographers see HDR as more of a visual standard in my experience and want a look without precisely understanding what it is or how to articulate it. This translates in my world to more revisions hence more time for the same money.

    It is what it is, and I’m glad HDR came along. In these difficult economic times, sometimes I feel though that the technology of photography is far outpacing the realities of being in business as a professional photographer.

    1. Color photography was first thought to be a passing fancy. Real photography is black and white, said some.

      Bye the way, I use photoshop to cut my tonal range to three stops. Anything more than three stops is not real photography. He he.

  91. How could anyone be against HDR? If a camera manufacturer came out with a model offering 32-bit images wouldn’t you just absolutely love it?

    Hating HDR simply because of those awful, over-processed images we see on e.g. Flickr is silly. It’s like hating photography just because some retouchers go overboard with the whole skinny model thing.

    It’s sad really, that the term “HDR” has become associated with a garish look instead of what it truly is.

    I think one problem is that it is really very difficult to create a natural looking LDR from an HDR image. It is so much easier to just go overboard with every tone mapper’s control, and that is what we are seeing. God knows I’ve tried and tried, but never get it quite right. Blending to the rescue :)

  92. Scott,
    Certainly the HDR is a”HOT” topic. The first thing in your blog that caught my attention was how you equated the feelings to that of your son when you made you comments about a song from the 70’s and 80’s performed by his group. I’ll bet you son, like most sons, idealize their dad, and in a way your comment was a put down as in the original version is better than “this” version. Everyone has their own vision, and his group performed their vision of the song. Same is true in photography. And when we get so enamored with the process ‘HDR’ that sometimes we forget the end result which is the picture. Could it be that our excuse to not like the picture is we don’t like the process to get there or as your photographer friends put it, “we aren’t good at doing it, so …”.

    Just my thoughts.

  93. I think that trend is the same trend we saw several years ago about special effects in movies. As in all technologies there is a maturation time for the assimiliation of the technique (any technique) in order to benefit the message one want to convey (be it doing a movie or a photo).
    In those days some will say: “I saw a bunch of special effects with a litle of a movie in it”.
    Now, we have more special effects in the movies than ever and nobody complains about it. Sure, the usage of the technique evolved, but also we get used to it. The best effects are those that we don’t notice, but adds value to trhe story telling.
    I think we’ll be seeing the same in HDR photography. There are excess of effects in some samples, but as we all get more used to it and more proeficient using it, this particular technique will (already is) be of great value to help us produce better Photographs

    1. I saw Avatar a few weeks ago. Wow, that was loaded with special effects! But do you know what else it had? A plot, growing charachters, drama, metaphor, etc. The movie had special effects, but it was about a struggle to survive, and learning to love a completely foreign people. There was internal conflict, external conflict, man verus nature, man verus man. All the things that our first college film class taught us about.

      Some HDR may dazzle us for a moment, but it will not be an image to return to if it does not move us.

  94. If you can imagine an HDR camera was created that produced beautiful HDR photos with a single handheld snapshot, as good as the most careful HDR processing you are capable of, and now imagine that your annoying, photographically-challenged Aunt Mertie took this new Nikon to Paris and came back with better Eiffel tower images than you ever created, then you may understand why someone scorns a photo they initially admire after they learn it’s HDR.

    We love our photos because they say something about us, they are beautiful, and they are our creations. Some fear that HDR is a step down the path to the dehumanization of art, the removal of the human spirit and to the triumph of technology over humanity. The emotion is so strong because HDR was introduced at a time when these thoughts are in the back of society’s mind. Photoshop is grandfathered in-it was introduced when film was superior to digital.

    BTW, I hear Mertie is opening up her own Blog; all the comments are generated by an Apple.

    1. Unless Aunt Mertie learns some lessons about composition and story telling within a frame, I don’t think any HDR photo of the Eiffel Tower would hold my attention longer than it taks to say, “Wow, cool effect,” and turn the page.

  95. HDR is a tool for the photographer and can be the perfect tool in some situations. Having a tool doesn’t mean it has to be used for every job. I think we fall in love with a technique and use it to excess, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful and very well done.

  96. As other’s have said, HDR is a tool. For me, it has taught me a lot about photographic control and planning followed by proper workflow. Yes, it can be overdone, but being able to see the dynamic range in a scene has helped me to re-evaluate stylistic decisions, and has saved me in some uninspiring “flat” moments while shooting.

  97. Personally, I hate when photographers stray from reality. It’s impure and evil. That’s why I love black and white. (HA)

    I love HDR. . .I only wish I was better at it.

  98. Post production enhancement has been a part of photography since forever. Traditional chemical darkroom dodge and burn etc. are an altered reality. Technology has simply afforded us with more latitude in crativity. If it doesn’t alter the facts( photo journalism) what’s the big deal? Art is art.

  99. I think HDR is great too. But, when everything starts glowing like nuclear waste, it starts to burn my retinas. However, it can be used correctly to create stunning images with an extended range of light. Don’t hate the tool, hate the butcher of light using it. ;-)

    1. Yeah, like Scott Kelby’s overcooked image of the crew in front a Black Hawk Helicopter with an ominous sky. Those who don’t have raw talent try to invent in on a computer now days, and people are catching on fast, less and less like it, thank god!

  100. The only thing i wanna mention is that every one has his own taste of photography , and applying HDR to an image dosen’t affect photography at all. It’s a strong effect as you mentioned as any other effects you apply to an image.

  101. Whoever wrote this is joking!!!

    “The photographers who don’t like HDR are the ones who don’t know how to do HDR—just like people who complain about the use of Photoshop in photography—those are people who aren’t very good at Photoshop. You don’t hear HDR experts complaining about HDR, just like you don’t hear Photoshop experts saying “There’s too much Photoshop!”

    I don’t know how to play trumpet, but I sure as heck hate some forms of Jazz trumpet while liking other forms of jazz trumpet.
    The writer of the above is living in the world of the ’emperor’s new clothes’. Trying to say that if you don’t ‘se’ i, then you are not part of the ‘in’ group who can, or do!
    I can do PS. I still detest the overuse. Likewise HDR. YA don’t have to be ignorant of how to do it to dislike it.

    Get real writer. Perhaps the issue is that those who use it a lot – need to? Perhaps to give impact to an otherwsie crappy shot?

    1. Willie, who are you talking about? My comment above yours is a “somewhat” joke. HDR is like the Opera, you like it or you don’t OR maybe you like a little of it Or maybe you say you like it to make your friend (who just made his first HDR) happy. I like (personaly) sutble HDR but I have seen extreme HDR that I like. I use it very sparingly (like antibiotics) but they are useful at times. You know, this could go on forever…..Scott is probably rolling in the floor with laughter.

      1. Ken,

        Willie was quoting the original post by Scott

        Don’t worry he was not referring to your post ;o)

  102. I think what people hate is the overprocessed HDRs that probably took about two nanoseconds in photomatix by pushing every slider to the max. Like all art, HDR can be applied subtly and thoughtfully with proper consideration to produce worthwhile images.
    of composition and subject to produce worthwhile images.

  103. I use HDR very occasionally if I feel the light conditions will benefit, but am I missing something here? Surely the point is that conventional photography covers a latitude of five or six f stops which is about half the sensitivity of the human eye. HDR, whilst being another technological ‘effect’, does make it possible to create images with latitudes closer to what we actually see. We are so accustomed to the limitations of our cameras, film or digital, that we regard those limitations as the norm. Having said all that, I still prefer non HDR and I don’t like any photograph to be overworked. It’s art, so there’s no right or wrong, it’s all down to personal taste.

  104. I think Scott was feeling honory today, wanted some laughs and couldn’t afford the tickets to an MMA event…… so, he wrote this blog, called a few friends over and said “watch this”. :)

    I like good pictures! Period! I want to keep learning to take better ones. When I first saw HDR I was amazed and loved it. The more I see… the less I am amazed… and the less I care for it. Its my taste I can like what I want to. :) I try to keep my likes, or dislikes, to one photo at a time rather than an entire genre and the artist that produce it.

    I’m not a fan of chicken cordon blue but I’m not against someone enjoying it, the chiefs making it, those distributing it, or those profiting from it.

    I’m no expert in human behavior (ok maybe I am) but I think there may be some self preservation at work here. We dont want people replacing us. We dont want the skills we have worked years to learn, being producible by a kid with a new button. Maybe it’s not the HDR we dislike so much as it is the feeling some young punk can now learn to produce a shot in a few months that it took us years to learn to produce. In turn it makes our years of hard work less valuable. That’s understandable but life. Don’t be a victim. Keep learning and producing photos you like.

    It why I quit playing poker. The skills it took me 20 years to learn sitting by an old geezer trying to pry knowledge out of him is now available to my 24 year old son-in-laws in a few months on line and on TV. What ticks me off isn’t that they have ruined the game. The game is better, as are they. It just ticks me off that I have lost MY advantage…. and that they take my money. :)

    Have a great week end all!!! Long live HDR but get these kids out of poker. lol!


  105. See, I see HDR as an art form. If you can create a HDR image that dose not look like a HDR then that is what it’s all about. It is like with everything else, once it catches on you will get those small group of people that just over do it and in a way wreak it for everyone else. I my self love HDR and I try and not cross that fine line of over doing it.

    1. Perhaps part of the reason we see over done HDR is because we need to be able to recognize that it is HDR. For example, if I come up with a new lighting technique but I do not show it off in a way that highlights what that lighting technique does, no one can recognize it for its usefulness. I have to over do it in its initial presentation to create the aha, I see it! moment for others.

  106. I don’t have anything against HDR, but sometimes it seems to be a photographer’s last resort. If the light isn’t right rather than waiting or coming back at another time they use HDR.

  107. In this post I am reminded of something you said to me when you came to Denver on the LR tour and I had the pleasure of walking around the downtown area with you. We were talking gear, and I said something to which you replied “Don’t be a hater”…and that kind of stuck with me – we so easily fall into mental traps and if we aren’t careful, the blinders that limit our vision fall so easily into place.

    Such is the case with HDR – people can say they hate it simply because it’s something new, foreign, or done in a way that they don’t understand, or are not particularly fond of. That doesn’t mean to write off the entire form…hating on things is a waste of time and energy, and nothing good can come from that. To those that are saying they “hate HDR”, I am going to quote you from now on Scott – “Don’t be a hater!”

  108. I recently did a survey at a large and well known annual event while I was covering them for several clients. I figured since the crowd was young it would be a good place to broach the subject. The subject being, in the digital age where we now do nearly everything on a computer, is the heavy handed use of photoshop, i.e. HDR, over saturation and compositing fake moons or other foreign objects still photography?

    I read the definition as per Websters as such to each participant:
    a picture made using a camera, in which an image is focused onto film or other light-sensitive material and then made visible and permanent by chemical treatment.

    I ended up with 68 results, most in the age range of 15-28. 54 people said that the use of photoshop to significantly alter the image that the photographer originally saw was not what they considered to be photography. Many went on to say that they did not even consider it art anymore because so many people do it and it is really easy. I tend to agree, anyone can do this stuff, it takes real talent, vision and persistence to attain a real and powerful photograph, what we see on Scott’s site and many others now days is no longer that, it is a product of laziness, lack of talent and is worth very little socially compared to the brilliant photographs that have graced our lives before the digital age.

    There was a time that I was sad to see that photography was turning into fauxtography. But every year, I see more and more people are sick of what many of you call photography and want nothing to do with it, won’t pay a dime for it. This is why after 16 years in digital and over 20 in photoshop, I have gone back to real photography, back to film and my income is bolting upwards because of it.

    By the way, the survey also reveled that it is the enthusiast that defends the use of photoshop in heavy handed fashion to the degree you see in this little club, not the consumer or the person who truly appreciates and pays for fine photography.

    Sorry Mr. Kelby, Photoshop is not photography.

    1. As a consumer of photographs, I have 4 on my wall, 2 profesional non-HDR landscape photos which cost me $5K and 2 HDRs which I took (and took and took, then processed) and the HDRs are not the best that I have seen; they are okay; I’m an enthusiast, albeit one who professionally interprets images.
      When my friends come over , the professional photos are almost universally ignored while most of the time, I will get a comment on the HDR photos (I don’t point out that they are mine). Just an observation. Maybe my friends don’t have any taste. But if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have bought the profesional pics.

      BTW, I like the pun “Bolt and bolting”!

    2. So David, sounds like you’re not all that good at Photoshop, eh? Don’t worry, I have some books you should read. ;-)

      Enjoy your ‘real photography’ and your soaring income.


      1. What do you consider “Good” at it? Use to get images press ready or inventing images that never happened and never will.

        While at a newspaper in the mid 90’s, I was asked to do a series of composites for illustrations, I actually had fun with it, but I knew it was not a photographic process, so to answer your questions, yes, I am good at it. I have taught workshops in how to get the most out of it. But the way it has gone, the Fake-O-Rama imagery I have seen flood places like Flickr, and other sites is just, well, disgusting.

        I don’t need photoshop for anything but making images press ready, I am a photographer Scott..:-)

        Enjoy your little fan club and your CGI!

      2. Jeez! David, lighten up. Boring. Get away from those chemicals. Pick up a copy of Topaz Adjust and have some fun.

      3. I have often argued that photographers were artists, but I’ve never had to argue this point with another photographer. Your Photoshop opinions are bewildering, such a short mind to have been involved in the arts for so long. Some folks have 20 years experience while others have one year experience twenty fold.

        Jonathan Green, author of “Photography: A Critical History 1945 to Present” says in his text, “In [Ansel] Adams’s photographs, the West is an abstract notion more appropriately understood in its transformation as photograph than in its actuality. Expression is more important than reality, idea more important than fact, the print more important than its subject. For it is only in the print that such magnificence can be unfailingly orchestrated.” I don’t think it could be said any better.

        When I first started with digital photography in 2001, with an Olympus E-10, I met with much resistance from almost everyone I knew. Critics said that photography had to have film, nothing else would do. My opinion is that an artist should look toward the future…there will always be new median waiting to be realized just over the horizon. Capture it, and you might just find a whole new world in your artistry.

    3. Hmmm, is 68 responses considered good for a “large and well known annual event”?

      I agree that ‘significant’ altering and deleting or adding objects becomes more of a digital art work and design than a pure photographic work, though good photography may very well be the main avenue of achieving it. As an art director/graphic designer I have done that with great success over many years. Both in film and digital. Yes, I did manipulate images in the darkroom. My straight photographic, or fine photography, works are simply done all digital now. My Mac with Photoshop and Lightroom are my darkroom today. Professionally and personally I am far better for it. I don’t think people who truly appreciate and pay for fine photography today give a rat’s rear end whether it was shot on film or digital. On behalf of the ‘little club’ of millions of enthusiastic users I say happy 20th birthday to Photoshop!

  109. I have found hdr very useful in enhancing my images. I use it as a tool to enhance my images which I thought was apart of the whole Photoshop experience. I shoot for an awesome in camera shot, but in some cases Photoshop, shooting raw, and hdr take it up another notch. I submitted an image for my company calendar this year, it was a three shot hdr shot of a cloud day. The hdr really pulled out the texture of the clouds and it was chose for the cover of the calendar. Thanks to Matt, R.C. and Russel Brown it works for me!

    Temple Hill

    1. By the way…. I work as a mac operator in a printing company. The images in magazines are what draw us into the magazine. I am pretty sure alot of the images used in magazine have had some form of Photoshop help for the enhancement of the magazine sales!

      Temple Hill

  110. It’s like anything else…either we love it or we don’t. It all comes down to personal preference–from the photographer to the client. As a photographer you think you’ve created the perfect picture and then someone comes along and says….”it’s..nice”.

  111. Can it be that we as photographers or as a people are so used to seeing all the low dynamic range photos produced by all the photographic processes since photography’s inception that we have trouble accepting HDR photographs as depicting reality? I don’t mean the over processed look sometimes described as the Harry Potter look. I mean the fully detailed photos that have 10 or more stops of range. Do we somehow just know cameras, film and digital sensors can’t record and reproduce this range that we just reject it? Photographers have long tried to control and expand the dynamic range of photos either by adding light to the shadows or blocking light to the highlights, and the use of special developers or processes. Digital cameras and software has just made this whole process a lot easier. Any time something that was hard becomes easy it gets over used and abused. Look at what happened to typography in 1984 after the first Macintosh was introduced. Suddenly everyone could really use all kinds of typefaces, and people did, often all on one page. Now things have settled down and most people know not to mix more than two typefaces on one page or one document. I believe HDR will settle down too and it will start to produce wonderfully detailed photographs and photography will really start to match what the human eye can see.

  112. Personally, I’m a big fan of HDR. As long as it’s not overused. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that, like duotones, HDR is an effect. I don’t think we should shoot HDR images exclusively, just like we don’t do duotones exclusively, or shoot low-key portraits exclusively, or shoot only fisheye.

    I think in moderation, HDR gives us an incredible new perspective of some subjects that would otherwise just be the same old same old.

    I believe the same about Black and White photography. I personally don’t shoot only black and white, but some times, even though you’re taking away color, you add another dimension of interest to your photo.

    And, of course, this is just my personal preference. I’m sure there are some who would agree and some who would disagree.

    1. For every DSLR photographer who wants to remain a “purist” and despise HDR, there is another photographer, film SLR in hand ready to give them nearly the same lecture about photographic purity.

  113. I think my issue with HDR is a simple one. It’s over used, and kind of a cheat. I remember someone, and it’s one of your friends Scott, though for the life of me I can’t remember who, say, a similar thing about fish-eye lenses. It’s one thing to find a completely interesting photograph and then use fish-eye lenses to making it better. Many time though, we simply use it to make an uninteresting photograph, interesting.

    I see the same thing being done with HDR. We take a subject matter that is uninspiring, and a composition which is lack luster, throw in some HDR and all of the sudden it’s amazing, sort of. And there is the problem.

    Why do we like HDR? There are a lot of reasons people give, but from my view, it’s because it’s the closest thing we can do to mimic how the eye sees. Our eye has an incredible ability to adjust from lights to darks in a very fast manner. It’s actual contrast range is very low. So photography gives us the ability to see a vast amount of information in one moment and that is what we love.

    I’ve wondered if that is a problem though. Are we trying to cram too much information into one photograph. I recall the oft repeated photograph in a cathedral with stained glass. The HDR allows you to not only see the beautiful stained glass, but also the candle lit gothic architecture. But that does a disservice to the actual building. The stain glass windows should be enjoyed. The architecture should be enjoyed. Many times it should be enjoyed separately.

    That being said, sometimes we like that. It allows us to get some sense and wonder of what the environment is like. And that is where HDR is good. I think like everything, and effect should be used with prudence. We all can see HDR, or at least I would think we can. We can all see when there is more information there than should. But good HDR allows you to suspend you disbelief for a few moments and enjoy the scene. Bad HDR, the kind all of us dislike, makes you think, oh that’s HDR.

    Much like an actor, if you ever find yourself saying, oh they are doing a good job there, then they are not good HDR. It’s only when the acting slips into the background that the actor has done a good job. It’s the same with HDR. If you ever think, oh they did a good job on the HDR, then it’s not good HDR. It’s only when you go, wow that’s a wonderful image that the HDR was done appropriately in an appropriate situation.

  114. I think the question of whether HDR is photography/art or otherwise has been done to death a billion times before. There is nothing new in these comments.

    If you choose to process your images with HDR, good on you and do it. If you choose not to, then good on you and don’t do it. Some people like it, some people don’t. Some HDR images are over cooked, some aren’t. Get over it! :)

  115. It’s all art, so it’s always subjective. I don’t get awed as easily now that HDR is commonplace, but when I see it used with the proper subject and composition, I can still get excited about the image. A great picture is a great picture, I don’t care how it was done, as long as the artist is honest about his or her tools.

  116. Well don’t you find yourself taking images that prior to HDR you would have just passed up or settled for no detail in the shadows or blown highlights? I like having the ability to photograph scenes that I know I can pull out the amazing things I am seeing and share them with the world, rather than just shooting the same old images the same old way.

    There are and have always been folks who see anything new as an abomination to photography. Well, I think have a movie camera inside my DSLR is an abomination, so there!

  117. HDR is a technique. Why has it, or how has it become 1. associated with one end of the spectrum (strongly processed), 2. seen as a “bad thing”.

    >the removal of the human spirit and to the triumph of technology over humanity

    Excuse me? The camera was seen as the exact same thing over painting. The ability to make changes in the darkroom. Digital over film. Jeez people.

  118. I take a lot of photojounalistic photography and with the advent of digital, frown at how much editing a photo goes through before it’s published. BUT, as HDR is an effect, how is it anymore of an effect than changing contrast or dogging an image. So few photographs go stright from camera to publish without some kind of editing and who’s to say because we can ID the HDR effect faster than we can see a change in color balance or saturation or any number of the effects we use in lightroom/ps/aperature, that’s it’s any more original. Photography has changed; the lines have blurred between what you can do with your camera and what you can do with your desktop. Take a look at some of your original files from the last event you shot and then look at the final print. Is it cropped? Has the WB been changed (fixed)? Did you sharpen? Burn? Add a vingette (spelling?)? HDR is just another “slider”/”tool” in the toolbox. When used correctly, HDR can represent a scene more like the human eye saw it, and isn’t that more of what photography is supposed to be like?

    1. And I’d like to, with respect, call your statement about complaining about too much HDR and Photoshop untrue. You can do too much of both and each community will call you out on it. Take Trey Ratcliff, possiably the guru of HDR, he openly admits pushing HDR too far in his early work, just take a look at his photos from years ago and compare to today. The only reason you (the photograper editing) do see it is becasue you are working there with the photo and it’s realiative; until a third party sees it, you may not notice the over HDRing/photoshopping.

  119. In 10 years we will lok at HDR as we now hear the gated Phil Collins drums in the song “In the Air tonight”. It was a very popular effect for a while and is nowadays something that identifies a time, and hardly used at all anymore.

  120. Personally, if it takes me a second to figure out that a shot is HDR it means it’s done really well. The “HDR Effect” is a result of people who are new to HDR overdoing things because they think it’s ‘cool’ (been there myself) or they’re using it for artistic purposes (which is rare). So if I have to pause and take a good look at a photo to figure out that it’s HDR, then my opinion of it actually goes up because I know how hard it is to actually make a good HDR image.

  121. I have seen vomit inducing, retina burning HDR photos on Flickr of less than spectacular subjects with the famed ‘Harry Potter’ look (that Matt K likes to refer to it as) with comments saying the photo is brilliant and spectacular from other users.

    I think it is a passing fad in most photographers that they will eventually grow out of, but it will hang around like a bad smell for a while to come. Like Dave Cross said, it’s good for the real stuff like real estate or commercial photography where normal dynamic range can’t interperate the scene properly. But fluffy halos, near black textures and day glow colors are not my bag.

  122. I think a lot has to do with the point at which HDR goes from simply ‘allowing a photo to work’ to digital art. HDR can be used to overcome the technical short commings of a digital sensor or to creatively manipulate a photo into something else. Both are valid but both have a different aim and obviously, result. As for me, well I still want to learn to do HDR properly to create realisitc photos of of amazing secenes that I just can’t reproduce any other way.

  123. Well, I don’t really like HDR, not because it’s HDR. I tend to find the images really artificial.

    You’ve asked “When you learn that an image has been “HDR’d” does it taint your opinion of the shot?”. I’d have to say that my opinion about the image doesn’t change once I know that it has been “HDR’d”, because I usually don’t like them from the moment I see. Which doesn’t mean they’re not good images, they just don’t appeal to me.

  124. I think that this argument is the same argument that we have been hearing time and time again. First it was digital vs film, then it was original vs “photoshopped” now it is normal vs HDR. If you look at it as another technique used to “enhance” a particular scene, then what is the problem? Look at all the stuff that is already out there to augment the photos; lens babies, graduated filters, coloured filters, photoshop, etc. All have good and bad effects on the photo.

    I have been using HDR for a few years now, and I play around with it. Yes, some times the images are “vomit inducing” but so are a lot of the “regular” photos out there. I think because it has been “HDR’d” means nothing, it just changes the criticism.

    Years ago, the comment on a really good photo was “Oh you just did that in photoshop” now I guess it just got simpler “oh its just HDR” I feel that if the photos used to make the HDR are worth something, then HDR can enhance the image, just as a graduated filter can enhance the sky. I just think that when processing photos, some people get a little carried away with the saturation and tone mapping. You can’t blame them for experimenting can you?

    Truth be told, I think you will see a lot more HDR pics in the future and I can guarantee that some are going to blow your mind. I say this not because I am a huge fan, but I just think that this industry (photography) is constantly improving upon itself. What will make you throw up in your mouth now, may get you excited later… just give it some time.

    I also heard the same comments about snowboarding (unrelated, I know) and now look at the sport. May people back then were saying the boarders didn’t belong on the ski hills and they were destroying the runs… To me this argument is a growing pain of a dynamic industry.

  125. The first HDR image that really struck me as simply amazing was the image of “Tokyo Nightscape” by /\ltus in Flickr. The first thing that came to mind was the animation “Akira” and how vibrant and engaging Neo Tokyo looked in the movie. Is it wrong for photographers to utilize a tool (HDR) to replicate what other artists have been able to do for years?

    HDR, Photoshop, and all of our camera toys are simply tools that we use to create and capture images to share, to sell, or to inspire. The most important thing is to focus on the application of our tools than the tools themselves.

  126. I have the same “tainted” reaction to sequel movies. My kids are always asking me “which Star Wars movie do you like best?” The first one. “Which Jurassic Park movie do you like best?” The first one. “Which Indiana Jones movie do you like best?” The first one. So, I totally understand the reaction Scott is referring to.

    I really wish HDR was not associated with garish tone mapping. I like true HDR and I intend to keep using it when my camera cannot capture the dynamic range of a scene as well as the human eye can. Then, someday, cameras will be able to capture scenes the same way the human eye can, and HDR won’t be needed.

    I wonder if HDR is comparable to 3D movies. It’s an effect, a trick, to fool our eyes. Poorly done is obvious and perhaps worthy of ridicule, but well done is a real treat to behold. Perhaps someday video will be so realistic that 3D tricks aren’t needed anymore, but until then ….

  127. Is pushing film in the darkroom cheating? What about the use of darkroom techniques to squeeze every bit out of your negative? Complain all you want, the only art prints I’m selling have been tonemapped to some degree. The debate about the “purity” of any given art form is rediculous. Have your debate and I’ll be over here catering to the demand.

    Plus it looks cool.

  128. HDR blows my mind! :D It produces incredibly beautiful images. If it is done correctly. And I have to agree completely with you. At first I didn’t like HDR but it was because I didn’t know how it was done and I felt they were snake oil salesmen. NOW… I got a bottle of snake oil to sell! haha

  129. I love HDR because I hate pics that have dark areas that I know my eye saw when I was behind the camera. What I’ve done is narrowed my exposure range (+2,0,-2 was too “HDR-ish”) where now I use +2/3,0,-2/3 which gives me a better photo without the garishness that a lot of people associate with HDR.

  130. When I see a well done HDR image, I’m reminded of all the great iconic images of Ansel Adams. He was always more concerned with showing what his eye and mind saw than what was “realistic”. He pushed, pulled, dodged, burned, mixed chemicals, etc just to produce a print that moved him and in turn, move us. Adams wrote books on how to see, think, and process images like him, but I have yet to see his Zone System work reproduced by anyone with the success as the him. HDR is no different, some will master it’s use and produces images that really move us and the rest will eventually fall by the way side attracted by the next, new process. Also, when was the Art Police formed and who’s stupid idea was it?

  131. I’m all about the visual impact of the image. If it makes people oooooh and ahhhhh and moves them emotionally, it’s just another win-win for both the viewer and the image. It’s like saying digital artists and painters aren’t REAL artists just because their process of creating an image uses tools other than natural media. That’s bullshit. To object to ANY art form or creative process just comes across as closed-mindedness to me.

  132. Hey, interesting comments, but Scott you seriously CAN’T be a critic of this type of technique, havign usut read your book, The Digital Photography Book 1 on Page 174 you advicate exactly this type of technique.
    I personally don’t see the difference between using HDR as a techniue to using any other photoshop technique, if you want to be a purist, then dont alter anything once it leaves the can! just take your photos and print/use them exactly ‘as is’ what is different about HDR compared to photoshoping a white, or black, background to a portait or a shot of a flower? whats different about HDR to altering the white balance of a RAW file?
    Whats different about it to any number of potoshop techniques I could list? in my mind, nothing! they are all techniques we use every day of the week and no one complains, my one issue is where a photo is deliberatelly photoshoped to the extent that it just doesn’t look natural, this can apply equally to any technique, I have seen some pretty lousy examples of photoshopping to apply, say coloured filters, or the likes, and it looks terrible!

  133. “When you learn that an image has been “HDR’d” does
    it taint your opinion of the shot? ”
    That reminds me of similar opinions that I heard when I started using Photoshop ver. 4. “Oh you used Photoshop on that picture.” Funny thing is…you don’t hear that any more!

  134. I’ll squash this so we never have to talk about it again.


    Sometimes HDR is done well. Sometimes HDR is done VERY poorly. But it all simply reduces to the opinion of the viewer. It’s art. You either appreciate it, or you don’t. We all have a right to be critical. Who cares? Group hug! That’s it!

    Now we can get back to important debates like Mac vs. Pc, Canon vs. Nikon, SD vs. Compactflash, and so on and so on… LOL

  135. I think it is time to start simply accepting photos on their face. Whether anyone likes it or not post-processing is part of the art.

    Why waste time worrying about exactly how an image was crafted? Just let it be.

  136. I wonder if some people don’t like it because it’s cheating since you could use a graduated filter? (Or whichever is darker on top than bottom)

    I tried, unsuccessfully to use HDR, but I don’t hate it. I think it works on some images and not on others. I also think it had more of a “wow” factor when only a few guys were doing it. Now it’s just another technique like high key or low key images.

  137. I think it’s a healthy debate. But as any debate over right and wrong, there’s no clear answer. We may be trying to solve the wrong problem. I have a theory, and you tell me if it rings true or not:

    HDR as originally intended, was meant to allow photographers to reproduce a fuller range of highlights and shadows than was possible by one shot alone. This basically means that highlights don’t burn out, and shadows don’t fill in. Generally. But the truth is, that our eyes do not see the world in such “high definition.” We make the mistake of thinking that because we don’t have as wide a range of highlights and shadows in one frame alone, that the complete opposite end of the spectrum must be needed; that is, we want every corner of every shadow, and every highlight of every point source of light to have tonality. And that’s where we go wrong.

    These “bad” HDR shots, I agree, not to my taste. But certainly, they have an artistic quality all their own. IF that’s what the photographer intended, then more power to him/her. However, if the photographer wanted to simply use HDR to get the fullest range of highlights and shadows, and turned out an “overprocessed” image, then it’s bad technique, not bad art. Intention is the decider.

    But back to what our eyes see…they don’t see the widest range of highlights and shadows. They see more than film. But not as much as HDR. So most of us balk at seeing the whole dynamic range that can be proffered from combining 2, 3, 5 or more images. Because our eyes don’t expect to see it, it looks “unreal.” How’s that for irony? The technique that was meant to make images look more “real” can be misapplied to make something that is wholly unacceptable to the human brain as unachievable in real life. And that is why most people instantly pick up the HDR and hate the look. We are trying to achieve saturation, brightness, and a dynamic range that more closely fits what we see in real life. We don’t see the subtlety of the shadows as we see it in HDR, when we look at the bright spots in our environment. Our eyes adjust quickly, from bright to dark portions of our environment, but they still perceive very dark shadows as not having detail. And our brain, when seeing over-processed HDR, tells us, “that’s not possible.” I won’t even get to the slight blurring of the image that adds to the whole “unreal” factor. I bet you severely over-processed HDR would be wonderful for beauty photography, since it would give that old Hollywood look to women that we used to see in the films of the 50’s and 60’s.

  138. I think HDR can be done well. It just means “high dynamic range.” There are HDR images that look realistic, because the naked human eye is an HDR “input device”. We see a much broader dynamic range than most devices (cameras, etc.) can capture. HDR held the promise of bringing print closer to reflecting our perception of the real world.

    The problem is that people push the HDR effect to such an extreme that it is no longer about enhancing an image to protect the highlights and bring out the shadows. Suddenly the scene looks surreal. The example photo you used above has passed well into the “surreal” zone in my estimation.

    Now sometimes surreal is OK. Some people love surreal art. Realism may not be the goal for everyone. But the original attraction of HDR for most professionals was not surrealism, but enhanced realism. Therefore anything that starts to look surreal looks amateur to them.

    In some ways it is like the old drop shadow controversy in desktop publishing circles. Subtle shadows often do add a little punch to a design. But then 90% of the people using them overdid them, and then came this “drop shadows are ugly and amateur” reaction. Something that was really a perfectly valid tool became stigmatized. To me that is what is happening with HDR.

  139. I agree with Cory from a few days ago. A powerful image stands, no matter what the process. If any of us went back and reviewed some of the famous LIFE photos, my guess is that we would be reminded that a good image is more than just a pile of technique. While technique matters, it is completely secondary to emotion. If my HDR’ing hinders an image (usually), I scrap it – and if it helps (occasionally) I’ll use it. The important part is that I feel something when I look at it.

  140. I don’t like most HDR because of the over processed look to many have. I have seen some great HDR but out in the masses of digital photo land you can see mass amounts of HDR that just look over done. It’s kinda like a women waering tons of makeup, more often then not the effect just isn’t appealing…

  141. I find the images that were originally shot to be an HDR image, with thought put into why and how it would enhance the image are the best ones.

    However automatically bracketing every shot you take in the hope that an HDR treatment might save the image usually ends in something that looks false and overproduced. To have HDR in your mind from the perception of the image lets you consider why and how HDR’s work and what your shots should contain in order to maximise the effect.

    I’ve been guilty in the past of trying HDR from one exposure in the hope of salvaging a photoshoot. That’s the point at which it doesn’t become effective. By only using it to salvage something and not having HDR in mind during the taking of a shot leads to shots that I generally think don’t work and look false and fake.

  142. I love HDR! Most of my flickr photos are HDR. Yes, when some people overdo the effects it doesnt look good, but when you do something natural looking, its totally awesome! Plus, lets face it, guys… HDR allows your photo to compensante the camera lack of being able to expose different zones of light, which on the other side, our eyes can see perfectly.


    ps: http://www.flickr.com/carvalheira for my HDR’s :-)

  143. It’s when I see a photo and immediately know it’s an HDR, that’s when I don’t like it. The overdone look reminds me of paintings on velvet, Kinkcaid and lot’s of other “arty” stuff that’s overdone for effect. However I have seen HDR done very nicely and tastefully – these I like.

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