Monday, September 13, 2010

Calling all HDR Skeptics

I recently donated a print I had hanging on my office wall to our company's annual United Way silent auction fund raiser.  I was happy to help the cause, but the result was I had a blank space on my wall.  Time for a new print :).
I've mentioned here on the blog before that I've begun experimenting with High Dynamic Range or HDR (See "My First HDR" and "A Trip to the Eye Doctor").  While I've only been participating for a short time, I've been following the topic in the blogosphere for much longer.  I've always been fascinated by the amount of controversy that surrounds the topic in the photography world.  On one side are the purists who proclaim any computer manipulation of a photo results in it no longer being a "photo", but "art" so they simply refuse to participate.  On the other end of the scale are those that apply so much tone mapping to an image that it makes your eyes bleed to look at.  In the middle, however, is a technology that can save an image destine for the trash and turn it into something the camera simply couldn't capture by itself.

Here's an example.  Last fall I took some photographs of a scene that had too wide of a tonal range for my camera to take it all in.  It didn't matter how I exposed for this photo, there was just no way the camera was going to get it right.  Here's the original image.

The early morning sun cutting through the fog in the background caught my attention, but as you can see much of the image is "blown out" while a large part is also deep in shadows.  If I subscribed to the "purist model", there would have been no hope for this image.  Even with neutral density filters, I couldn't tone down that bright light enough to get the rest of the scene properly exposed.  Instead, I used Photomatix Pro to make a single image HDR to get this....

Click image for larger view
... which is now proudly hanging on my wall rather than lost to the electronic void which we call the "Recycle Bin".

Whether you're a photo purist or an HDR extremist, I think we can all agree that the image is better with HDR than without.  Whether you chose to call it "art" rather than a "photograph" doesn't matter in the least to me.


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