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HDR in the Big End

Bridgend Riverside Walk at Dawn August 2012 - HDR The Riverside Walk in Bridgend at Dawn August 2012 – HDR

Mention the acronym HDR to some photographers and they’ll turn a strange shade of purple, but to many it’s just an extension to the fascinating art of digital photography.

‘ High Dynamic Range’ (HDR) photography has been around for quite a while now, and over the years has developed into a rightful genre of photography all of its own.

High Dynamic Range Image of the Cenotaph in Bridgend Mid Glamorgan - Taken at Dawn. Sun Rise over the Cenotaph – Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan

Although for many photography purists it is so far removed from the normal way in which a photograph is perceived, that it is an abhorrent Chimera that should never be captured, never mind shown to an audience.

I would agree to the point that if executed poorly, HDR becomes nothing but a mish mash of over saturated pixels that offend the viewer’s eye, but done correctly with subtlety, then a HDR Image can be quite beautiful, and has the ability to draw a viewer into the depths of a photograph and make them want to camp out within the scene presented to them.

Photographer Joel Grimes, has carved out an extremely successful advertising career combining images of world-class American athletes and blending them into HDR backdrops, his work is simply stunning, and his skill in understanding tonality in an image and drawing the voyeurs eye to where he wants it to be, is unparalleled in my opinion.

Photographers have always combined images, and the use of taking double or even triple exposures when using film, to capture more of the dynamic range in a scene was and still is just a part of a photographers arsenal.

The creation of the famous Cottingley Fairy photographs were nothing but a very clever use of frame stacking and hand painting on glass plates.

HDR of Bridgend Town August 2012 at Dawn HDR Image of Dunraven Place Bridgend – Taken at Dawn August 2012

So what makes HDR so offensive to some people?

I don’t think it’s HDR so much, but the detail enhancement that the artist uses after the original tone mapping has taken place.

Careless use of the Micro Contrast controls, can tear an image to pieces, causing haloing around high contrast areas and posterisation that is so bad it tears a once beautiful sky into murky pools of pixellated colour.

I agree, an overcooked HDR is not a pretty site, but for someone such as myself who is fairly inexperienced with the software, then the temptation is to max all the setting out to see what can be achieved.

This is more of a learning process, akin to a teenager getting behind the wheel of their first ‘Hot Hatchback’, and tearing around the roads at breakneck speeds. It isn’t until after an accident or a brush with the law that hot heads are cooled and a more sedate and gentle approach to driving is adopted.

Wyndham Street - HDR Image taken August 17 2012

I am getting better though, and after looking at this last set of images I took in Bridgend this morning and comparing my efforts of a few months ago, I can see a definite improvement in my work. I’m no longer pushing the limits of the contrast and I’ve managed to keep detail in the sky without the pixels in the clouds becoming torn apart by the software.

The Old Stone Bridge in Bridgend looking towards Dunraven Place - Dawn - 8 August 2012 The Old Stone Bridge in Bridgend looking towards Dunraven Place – ooh! Look that’s my accountants office. How’s things Ian?

I enjoy shooting street scenes, and it’s great to look back at old photos of Bridgend to see how much the landscape has changed, but must admit I only use HDR when I’m in need of a little light relief from the everyday mundane portrait re-touching and editing that I have to carry out, it is a lot of fun, and I get quite excited waiting for the tone mapped image to render on the screen.

It’s the closest thing I’ve found in the digital world, to developing film, and I think this is why I find HDR photography so much fun…

If you’ve never tried it have a go.
You’ll just need a tripod (although not strictly essential), a DSLR or any camera that can capture a RAW image (RAW works best by the way), and some HDR software.

Just take three exposures (there’s really no need to take anymore than three) -2, 0, +2, and combine them in your preferred tone mapping software.

Then just wang those sliders around and see what you get.

If you’re like me,  your first attempts will be a total car crash!

But its great fun.

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