Thursday, May 20, 2010

When HDR is a Good Thing – and When It Isn't – For Landscape Photogrpahy

I think HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography is one of the coolest developments in photography in recent years. I shoot HDR almost everywhere I go. However, there is a time and place for HDR imaging.

When HDR is Not a Good Thing

In the top example (Monument Valley, AZ), the image on the left is the HDR image. Sure, the dynamic range of the scene is captured, but the image lacks drama.

The pictures on the right are my available light shots of the same scene. The top right shot is a natural light shot. The bottom right shot shows the tree in the foreground illuminated by the headlights from our guide's jeep. I much prefer these photographs over the HDR image.

When HDR is a Good Thing

Here is an HDR image (Slot Canyons, AZ) that I like. Without HDR, I would not have been able to capture the dynamic range of the scene. Here, HDR was ideal. To capture the entire dynamic range of the scene, I had to take four exposures: at, over and under the recommended setting. See images below.

The next time you are out shooting, think about the end-result, and whether HDR is a good or a bad thing.

For detailed how-to information on HDR, illustrated with both good and bad examples, see my new HDR book, HDR Secrets.

Explore the Light,


Jason Collin Photography said...

I am in complete agreement with you here Rick. I like the headlights illuminated version of the shot the best.

Once a photographer discovers HDR, she/he can fall way too much in love with it and almost start using it exclusively.

Rick Sammon said...

thanks jason!

athomasimage said...


It's one thing to talk about a techiniques like this and another to SEE the results. Great job with the examples. And yes, your comments were "spot-on"!

Bill Pennington said...

Right on Rick! I feel the same way but when I shot I try to capture different versions and HDR frames just so I have my bases covered. I might end up compositing just 2 of the images and not go full blown HDR.

John Goldstein said...

I have always felt that way too Rick. Some shots are meant for HDR, some are not.

Now a question for you -- why did you take 4 exposures of the slot canyon instead of 5? I thought you were supposed to shoot equal exposures on either side of the camera's selected exposure, no?

Rick Sammon said...

John - Often, it's never the same about of over and under. For example, shot the inside of a car and it was 0, -2, +2, +3 and +4 - to capture all the detail in the shadow area. Hey,Amazon is offer 50% off my HDR for a limited time:

Ken Toney said...

Rick, I love the HDR method. My most popular selling photo is an HDR. I like your book too (bought it as soon as it came out). I like the HDR adjustment in cs5 for one photo under the adjustment tab. It's a quick way to get the look on one photo. Usually when I'm shooting I will think "this would look cool in HDR". It may or may not work but I think it's ALWAYS better to have it and not need it.