Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Love / Hate Relationship with HDR

I've had a love/hate relationship with (High Dynamic Range) HDR photography for a while now. I love it when it's done well as you can pull out a tremendous range of tones and detail. I love how they can be gritty and edgy (and halo free), and I also love when they have that silky smoothness. It's the simple beauty of HDR done really well.

On the flip side I hate it when I see HDR poorly done, and truth be told I have done some pretty horrible HDR myself, so another point for the hate side of the column is that I have not been able to create HDR images anywhere near the level of those that I look up to.

All that being said I'm now sliding more over to the love side as of late. Giving due credit to folks like RC Concepcion from Kelby Media Group, and Trey Ratcliff over at Stuck in Customs, who are not only tremendous HDR creationists, but also failingly gracious with their teachings and musings on the subject. In a very short time of following their HDR work I can now say that things are making more sense to me.

Now I've written a few HDR posts on the blog starting back in March 2010 and followed up with a couple of revisits later on in the fall of that year. I still stand by what I wrote then, but personal development is continuous, and what a difference a couple years can make. When I first tried HDR I studied up on how to shoot bracketed frames and then grabbed Photomatix to merge and tone map the images. My understanding at the time was capture in camera, merge to HDR in Photomatix and you're done. But boy, was I naive! I missed the most critical and creative step, which is finishing the image.

It's extremely important to spend some quality time figuring out what you want the final image to look like, and also knowing how to get there. This is something that I think comes with time and experience, but the more you do it the better you'll get. Also, by following others who really know what they're doing you can see how they approach finishing an image and you can then begin to develop your own style and ideas. I love video tutorials exactly for this reason. How are they creating a certain look and feel, is it a Photoshop or Lightroom technique or certain software plug-ins? There's no shortage of tools and techniques out there, you just need to find what works for you.

So at this point I'm happy to say that I am beginning to leave more of the hate behind me as I now understand HDR photography a lot more, and I'm getting better at making some of those finishing decisions.

So keep an open mind and always look for new way to develop your skills; the results can only get better over time.



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