Reader Comment of the Week (from Friday’s Post)


Thanks to everybody who shared their views on the HDR issue last Friday (link). When it comes to HDR, it seems like most folks are on one side or the other, with very little middle ground—-you either like it or you really, really hate it.

One comment posted by a reader named Cory really stuck out to me. It’s short and sweet, but says volumes.


The biggest trigger point for most commenters seemed to be the amount or style of HDR tonemapping applied to a photo, and they seemed to feel that the over-processing was strictly to hide bad photographic technique.

So, if a photographer creates an HDR photo, and even if they over-process it, does that somehow instantly mean that they’re now a bad photographer?

Not everybody that uses over-the-top HDR effects uses them as a crutch. They may just like they way it looks—plain and simple, and the photo they tone mapped may have been a strong photo without the processing, but they just like it better with the effect. Is that wrong?

Somebody I talked with this weekend about Friday’s post posed a really fascinating question, totally on the other side of the gamut from what I just wrote:

“If a photographer took a photo, and they looked at it on their camera’s LCD and thought it wasn’t a very good photo. But then they were able to add an effect to it in Photoshop (or whatever) that turned it into what a lot of people then thought was a good photo, is that a bad thing? At the end of the day, they created a photo that people like. What’s the harm in that?”

I mean, we all take a bad photo or two now and then, but the fact that the photographer knew a process that turned that boring photo into an interesting photo, is that all that bad?

Apparently, for a lot of people, it is.

  1. I think that using a camera isn’t purist. In fact, unless you are drawing on a cave wall with a burned stick, you are being totally fake. Our fathers, the cavemen, would hang their heads in shame for us all, especially you- Photoshop software developers. For shame.

    1. I tried to reply to this post with smoke signals and blowing through a sheep horn, but I did not get a confirmation that it had posted. I finaly broke down and used the internet. Curse you, modern conveniences and ways of communicating ideas!

    2. “For every DSLR photographer who want 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.”

      … and next to *him*, a medium-format photographer with the same lecture. And next to *him*, a view-camera photographer. And next to *him*, a pinhole camera-obscura photographer. And next to *him*, an artist with a paintbrush and pallet of oil colors. And so on down the line.. until the very end, where the cavemen are holding their burnt sticks, hanging their heads in shame…

  2. Why don’t people realise that with all of these new things (plugins, functions, features, whatever), they are all just tools to help us create art. I personally believe that as artists, we should never rely on one tool for everything and we should never dismiss a tool just because someone else has used it in a way that we don’t like.
    I also believe that, who am I, who are you and who is anyone else to say that a certain technique shouldn’t be used. The whole purpose of art is to express yourself. Whatever you create, there will always be those who love it and those who hate it. Doesn’t mean it’s good or bad. It’s just art. If you have expressed yourself truthfully by pumping up all the HDR Settings to 113%, then so be it. Those who connect to it will understand.

  3. Okay, let me give you Cory’s lecture.
    Film negatives have a larger dynamic range than any digital sensor. High end scanning software like SilverFast has a special mode to scan negatives several times, each with a different brightness range, essentially it is using HDR techniques to get the full range of the film mapped down into the standard range of digital files.
    However, HDR is a different thing entirely. HDR was originally intended as “light mapping” for 3D rendering, it serves as a omnidirectional light source that shines on objects. So that HDR file might need light intensities as bright as the sun, or specular highlights, and darknesses as dark as a deep hole in the earth. The human eye cannot take in such a bright range of tones. Neither can film. The human eye can adjust to look at different brightnesses, but film cannot. Any photo, digital or film, is a “remapping,” we convert a tonal map from its original intensities into something that can be recorded on a medium with fewer tonal values, i.e. a sensor or film. We “map” one set of brightnesses onto another set, this is an abstraction of light. Anyone who ever studied the Zone System knows all about this.
    HDR photos look unnatural because they try to represent the entire range of possible brightnesses, from intense sun to deepest black, in a single scale. The human eye can never take in this whole range at once, so the effect immediately looks artificial. “Normal” photographs are equally artificial, but the standard techniques evolved to make the range of brightness in a print more accurately reflect what range of brightnesses the human eye can resolve at once, it seems natural. It is still an illusion of natural light, but it is more accurate and pleasing than HDR>

    1. Morning Spike.

      Scott’s editor (me or Brad) doesn’t get up until 5:30am. That’s when I read and corrected the article.

      Actually, it’s kind of a privilege catching a typo. It means that you’re one of the first people in the world to read Scott’s blog after he writes and posts it. — Think of it as getting the “uncut” version of Scott’s blog.

      Still, the fact that you read Scott’s blog and took the time to point out something that should be corrected, is appreciated… “strickly speaking.” ;)

  4. I wish people would stop debating what “counts” doesn’t count, or even how strong their opinions of distaste or defense were or are. Just like buying a camera is not photography, neither is heated debates about one general, or personal style or format.

    In my opinion it’s all good, glad everyone’s trying something new – next blog post please!

  5. Photography to me is an art-form. We are given so many great tools, but to be honest: a lot of them distort/enhance reality. But the funny thing is that the majority of people accept this…

    Take depth-of-field for example: you shoot a portrait of a model where he/she is sharp, but the background is blurry. How real is that? In reality you would also see a (reasonably) sharp background (unless you lost one of your contact lenses, then it makes perfect sense). But we all know which photograph is nicer to look at.
    Deep blue skies in landscapes: was that sky really that blue or was it enhanced in Photoshop and thus creating a more pleasing image to look at? You were not there, so you want to believe that sky is real, because it just looks so darn good.

    And to be quite honest: reality is boring! We are fooled so many times a day when it comes to what is real and what is not. But most of the times we don’t even (want to) know it. Why do you think a lot of women wear make-up? They trick people into believing that they have a silky smooth skin, without any bumps, scars, spots, etc. Sure they are pretty when they just wake up, but once they spend some time in front of a mirror, they look even better. (And the photographer makes them look even better still by lighting her perfectly, by shooting from the right angle and retouching her photograph to bring out the colors of her eyes. Oh wait… that is a whole other subject/debate in itself).

    I guess with HDR, especially the photographs where the tonemapping is very obvious, people know they are being fooled. We don’t mind being fooled, but we just don’t want to know it, so we either get mad or we embrace the fact that we know we are being fooled and just like the image for what it is: art.

    1. Makeup on a womans face is a good analogy. Interestingly, I have heard that 80% of men are turned off by women that they percieve to be wearing too much makeup.

      1. I agree that the makeup analogy is a very good one. And just like an image that’s been heavily HDR’d, putting lipstick on a pig may attract a certain audience, but it ain’t gonna win the pig any beauty contests (well, maybe in some towns). :-)

  6. No matter how much one love Photoshop or the digital darkroom in general my philosophy is to be as good behind the camera as possible. Using it is not a bad thing, fixing something that did not look as good originally is not the worst thing either, like creating a beautiful black and white where colors would not do. Be as good behind the camera as possible, we spend enough time at the computer as it is.

  7. People who have a passion for disliking HDR effects (subtle or blatant) must go nuts when they see a Warhol or Dali painting. After all, pocket watches can’t really melt. As photographers we attempt to be artists. Not everyone will “appreciate” the art we provide.

    There’s an Irish blessing that might be appropriate toward HDR. “May God bless those who love us. May he break the ankles of those who don’t, so we’ll know them by their limping.” If it were only that easy.

  8. You know, one of the things I love about photography is that there are so many different things you can do within the field. I may not like the same stuff you do and you may not like mine but we share this great hobby (or business) called photography and image editing. I happen to love the look of HDR. I learned from a master of B&W photography and processing. He taught me to dodge and burn in a wet darkroom. I was altering my images. Is that a bad thing?

  9. For those of us old enough to remember, 3 teeny-boppers on American Bandstand would be picked to judge a new record. They would listen intently and then each would give his/her verdict on the merits of the music. Invariably the criterion was whether or not “it has a good beat. You can dance to it.” And it was not always unanimous.

    I’m sure other musicians would look much deeper into the music and find many other technical and artistic criteria to judge the relative worth of the music.

    Who are you creating the image for? Let that be the yardstick.

  10. Here’s what I liked with the last post on all of this HDR controversy. Yes, it generated a ton of feedback, as HDR talk always does. What the comments lacked was really serious venom that I’ve seen so many times on the subject. I take my hat off (my Tilley) to everyone who participated last week and this week. That’s a good sign.

    In the end for me, if the print sells it’s all good. Most of my customers don’t care how I arrived at the final image, just whether or not it will look good in their home.

    As several others said above, all good, next topic. Thanks Scott!

  11. Hey.. while we’re on topic for talking about how HDR is or Isnt an art form, Today at I deconstructed my 1 Shot HDR that I just offered up for a contest last week.

    This was my image:

    At the end of the day, I shamelessly use HDR. My skills as a photographer dont get corrupted in the process… I happen to like both sides.. but thats just me.

    If you want to see a video on how to do that kind of shot, check out layers magazine at the link below!

    Great convo though, guys.. good to see we’re trying to keep it above board.


  12. People have been manipulating photos since the day the camera was born. HDR is no different. I like the article, but I have a simple solution to those who don’t like HDR. Just don’t look at or buy it.

  13. I think Ansel Adams said it best, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” We need to stop trying to impose our own flawed perceptions of what an acceptable photograph should be. Bottom line, as long as the photographer and the viewer enjoy the image, its good.

  14. Well I like HDR, I like black and white, sepia, cyanotype, I really like anything that make a photo more interesting, and some of these effects really do add a sense of style to a photo that makes it more artistic. Seriously there is way too much time spent on the love and hate of all things photographic, Canon vs Nikon, Lightroom vs Aperture, HDR vs Normal Exposure. We just need to all go shoot a ton of photos and develop them in any way we see fit and share them with the world. It is the photo that matters and nothing else, for everyone critical of an image there is someone else who loves it, so we could all do ourselves a favour and try new things and dump our narrow minded negativity and go out and shoot, develop our photos they we like and just love the joy of photography!

  15. Scott Bourne had a post back in January about this very thing, with a great quote from David duChemin:

    “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.”

    Scoots Post:

  16. For what it’s worth, I’ve been shooting pictures since 1955 when I got my first Agfa. I did a short stint at Brooks. I shoot portraits professionally now in the Seattle area. I have lived to see some changes. I believe that there is a semantic problem here. Once we moved from the film era and into the digital era we also seemed to move from the “photographic” to the “imagic”. I press the shutter release, I download, I process, and I print. But what I produce is no longer a photograph in any sense of that word’s meaning that I have lived with for the last 55 years. What I give my client is an image. I produce images that my customers like. They look very much like traditional photographs because the technology I use is designed to make them look that way. They are not filmic. They are digital images. And frankly that’s a huge relief. When I was processing photographs the work was focused and repetitive. When I create images, my imagination and my artistic eye has more latitude and my vision is emboldened by the possibilities. Images are my business now. I do not produce photographs. As for HDR, if I look at them as images they are just fine. When I ask them to be photographs they look like a mess. For what it’s worth, that’s how I live with the currently fluid world of image reproduction.

  17. W. Eugene Smith was fired from Life magazine for “using miniature cameras” he was using 2 1/4 at the time (in the fifties) . It is the same story 4×5 versus 2 1/4, 2 1/4 versus 35, digital versus film, Hdr versus in camera.

  18. In response to critics Billy Joel said “There is no such thing as “bad music”…there is only music you like and music you don’t like..”

    The same can be said of HDR photography… it’s art, you either like it or you don’t, but in the end it’s still art.

  19. I have recently wrestled with the same dilemna with a PS plug-in called Fractalius. It can turn a pigs ear into a silk purse. Is that necessarily bad? It still comes out art. Why do I feel so guilty about it? I questioned on my blog if the resulting graphic art has value if it is so easy that anybody can do it, not even requiring a good photograph to start with. Interesting times, eh?

  20. HDR is an effect that makes crap look seriously crappier. As photographers, we tend to love crap, but most of us have our limits. When the craptocrappier HDR effect is used on non-crap, it often turns the result into crap. If you are an art oriented photographer, what the heck, suffer your slings and arrows like the rest of us and good luck with sales. Be comforted by the fact that there are people who like rap music.

  21. I have to agree with everyone who feels that the end image is the most important part of the equation. Even HDR isn’t going to make a bad image good.

    I use is sparingly, on a few images, using when I’m trying to get a good exposure of varying elements in a photo, such as bright sky, dark subject, etc. Sometimes it’s just the best way to go!

    Here are two images where I used HDR. To my way of thinking, they were enhanced in a way I would have had trouble doing any other way.

  22. As previously mentioned, some of the comments remind me of the Chevy vs Ford, Toyota vs Honda, Canon vs Nikon, film vs digital types of arguments.

    Personally, if the person creating the image is happy with the results what difference does it make what process was used to get there. Whether you used negative film, polaroid film, digital capture, some processing is done to obtain the final results. Heck, even Ansel Adams manipulated the processing to create the final results of what he “saw” as Yosemite.

    Can HDR be over done ? Sure, but when processed correctly (such as those done by Ben Willmore), HDRI can be the proper artistic technique to use and is better than the same image simply “developed”.

    Personally, I prefer a more subtle HDR tone mapping,though at times I do like to push the effect to what is obiviously not “real” but I do so because I personally like the effect.
    Bottom line to me is, if you like what you are doing, create it and have fun doing it.

    BTW – Honda, Canon, Digital

  23. I wrote a blog-post a few weeks ago about how some people think that if you use Photoshop then you basically aren’t a “real” photographer (it’s linked to my name above). Someone had linked to me in some random photography forum and another user commented that I “overused” Photoshop and that new photogs these days don’t get things right in-camera because they can “fix” it later.

    It’s an age-old argument for the old-school types that don’t want to adapt or accept change. Even painters thought photography was a joke and not “real” art when it was originally discovered.

  24. An argument can be made that Ansel Adams wasn’t really that good of a photographer, but he was a master in the darkroom.

    Yet somehow I don’t think that people would say that Ansel wasn’t a real photographer.

  25. I use HDR (or XDR – eXtended Dynamic Range) as a technique rather than an effect. I try for realism (as if that really exists in photo art!) rather than a discernable effect, much in the same way the zone system guys used pre-exposure and N-1, N-2, etc. development. Of course if you look at the detail in the shadows and the lack of blown highlights you can tell I am using it, but my intent is to whisper “hdr” upon closer examination rather than to scream “HDR!” at first sight. But that’s just my way…..

  26. What most folks can’t see is just because you can dosent mean you should.

    If you like the overdone HDR look then thats just your poor taste or alternatively maybe because I don’t I have poor taste.

    Art is subjective we all like different things no amount of justification or rationalisation can change that.

    My personal view is the over cooked HDR look is just a passing fad history will be the judge.

  27. Let me say, in response to the last part of Kelby’s post – Thank goodness for the wizards at Adobe. I was doing a photoshoot in snow, so I had my camera set to +1.5 stops to get a good exposure. I almost always reset my cameras at the end of the day. But, in the middle of my shoot, I came across another subject away from the snow. I forgot to reset the settings. When I saw the image on the back of the camera I almost wept for this was a once-in-a-lifetime shot. But Lightroom brought it back with a -1.x exposure compensation and the recovery slider nearly to 100. The pixels probably aren’t as awesome as they should be and I probably wouldn’t blow it up to 20×30, but for most purposes it should be great (it certainly looks great on my monitor!). So, bully to the Adobe engineers – you saved my bacon.

  28. I believe that there is a semantic problem here. Once we moved from the film era and into the digital era we also seemed to move from the “photographic” to the “imagic”. I press the shutter release, I download, I process, and I print. But what I produce is no longer a photograph in any sense of that word’s meaning that I have lived with for the last 55 years.

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