Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When Will This HDR Fad End?

HDR Photograph by Rick Sammon
This post originally ran last year. I am running it again because someone at Photoshop World asked me the same question that inspired the original post: When do you think this HDR fad will end?

In thinking about a response, I first turned to my friend/HDR expert Trey Ratcliff of Stuck in Customs fame. We talked about a response.

I'll let Trey go first:

HDR Photograph by Trey Ratcliff
Anyone who thinks HDR is a fad is possibly someone that secretly wants it to be a fad. It's okay, H[DR]aters gonna Hate.

But, seriously, HDR is not a fad just like color TV is not a fad. In my experience, people do indeed see and process the world differently, and roughly 60-80% of people see and process the world in HDR. Thus, HDR photos are very satisfying to look at and produce for these people.

We often hear vociferous complaints by those other 20-40% that just don't see the world like this. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with these people -- they simply see the world in a different way. When they do visual pattern-recognition (what brains naturally do), they see line, contrast, and shape before they see color, light, and saturation. They do see it all, just like us (the HDR-seers), but in a different order. It's not better or worse -- just different. To these people, often B&W photography is more appealing than HDR because it speaks directly to the way they pattern-match the world around them.

• • •

Okay, my turn:

I think there is a time and place for HDR, which is something that I stress in my seminars and workshops. If you want a natural looking landscape, such as this Monument Valley scene, then you definitely want a non-HDR image. In this situation, HDR would have ruined the mood and feel of the image.

If you simply want to have some fun creating an artistic image, such as the South Beach Miami bar image, play with HDR to your heart's content. Have fun! That's why you got into photography in the first place. Right?

If you need HDR to capture the entire dynamic range of a scene, like this inside/outside image of an old car I photographed in Los Osos, California, then HDR is the only way to go – unless you want to spend a few bucks on lights and gels, and then spend the time setting them up. Even then, however, you might not get such a natural-looking image.

Consider this: the Renaissance painters often painted in HDR. No one complained about the dynamic range of the paintings– to my knowledge.

Ansel Adams basically printed in HDR by using different contrast papers, developing times, filters, burning and dodging, etc. Complaints?

When one uses Shadows/Highlights in Photoshop, he or she expands the dynamic range of an image, as does double-processing an image. No one seems to mind.

HDR can look realistic or artistic. The choice is yours. "Follow your heart" is what I recommend.

If you want some interesting reading on HDR, do a Google search: I hate HDR.

Maybe I am getting seasoned, having been around for long enough for Trey to call me, "One of the godfathers of photography." But I have to ask: Why hate anything that another artist produces? Might be better to say, "Ah, it's just not for me."

Sure, we are all entitled to our opinion. But I think the world would be a much better place with less hate.

As far as the "HDR fad" goes, I am sure HDR is here to stay. The picture below, I feel, illustrates my point.

No way, no how could I have captured the dynamic range (seven f-stops) of the lobby of the Florida Hotel in Old Havana, Cuba without HDR.

Hey Trey! Maybe we can do another post on the HDR movie fad! :-)

Explore the light – naturally or with HDR,

P.S. If you like HDR and want to learn more about HDR, check out my latest iPad app: Rick Sammon's iHDR.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more...HDR is very, very cool (although I haven't done it yet). Some people overdo it though, and I think that gives it a bad name.

victor said...

As the reader who first posed the question, I am happy that it prompted you to expand upon your initial reply.

Trey's response is downright silly, however. It has nothing to do with being someone who 'sees in HDR'! Maybe he 'experimented' a bit too much in his youth. And I, for one, am not an 'HDR hater'.

The general concept, as practiced by Ansel Adams and countless others, of maximizing detail from shadow to highlights is perfectly fine, though even that too can be overdone. I object to two things, and Goldstein echoes this. First and foremost is the overuse of the technique as to render the photo super fake-looking. Now some may enjoy that 'artistic' look, and that is fine. The problem is that it is suddenly so overused, which is my second objection. This is a fad, by definition.

If you doubt this, simply look at the cover of every photography magazine in the past year or so. HDR, along with the other current sensation, HD video, is featured on virtually every one!

I'll use another cliche - this too shall pass.


Andrew Ostra said...

Hi Rick,

I agree with you, world will be better with less hate.
I saw HDR for first time from Trey's site about 2 years ago and fell in love with HDR at that moment. At the moment I think HDR start to get recognise.. (even iPhone 4 has HDR function..) HDR will definitely stay.

Patrick Smith said...

There are lots of ways to manipulate a photo and even the Monument Valley photo above is artificially lit and not natural at all.

Since art is about reaching the viewer, whichever way it is done is fine as long as it is honest.

HDR is as much of a fad as Impressionist painting. It will last for 30 years until something new comes out. But even then, there will still be lots of fans.


Jim Goldstein said...

Thanks for the link to my article Rick. Let me first say in hindsight my experiment with this post was a success and failure. A success in that it generated great conversation back in 2007 and even up to today prompting posts just like this... and a failure in that I've been labeled an HDR hater ever since. My opinion is closer to the way you've stated... its not for me. Note I've tried to avoid hyperbolic blog post titles since :)

As I've stated in the recent blog panel discussion on HDRI on the photoshelter blog its still not my cup of tea, but is an artistic technique like any other.


For the record I had a great conversation with Trey about HDR on my podcast and its a truer reflection of my thoughts on the technique.

As an art photography is about artistic interpretation as much as the technique. And for those getting into photography every technique should be explored to see where one's interests fall.

Robert said...

I say push the technology as far as you can, as long as it raises the bar. That is what Ansel Adams did If he thought microwaving his paper would yield a better result he would, and did. Just don't use it as a crutch or it won't raise the bar. personally for me HDR is an exception not a rule. I would use it sometimes but not every time for sure.

Clayhaus said...

Good post and you and Trey have succinctly summarized my own opines on this subject. I read the same Jim Goldstein post earlier this year (when I was researching material for a HDR workshop for a local photography club) which partially prompted me to write my own post:

Philip said...

Hopefully never. I love it.

Jay Burlage said...

Remember at the end of the day the acronym HDR has been unfairly linked to 14+ stops displayed in an 8bit world. Can you actually experience 14+ stops? Sure, you do every day with your own senses. These souls you speak of are not HDR haters they are tone-map haters. They hate seeing their broad senses crammed and crushed into a narrow spectrum of current technology. Thus this whole 'how do you/I see the world' mumbo-jumbo arises. The more appropriate way to approach it imho is; 'how do you like your world crammed into a given technology/medium'. Some love to keep piling it till it bursts others subscribe to the less is more principle. It's like arguing weather a slogan, short story or novel captures the human experience when they all pull tremendous weight.

CGarison said...

Keep preaching to the choir Rick because we need all the support you can provide to the community of digital photographers shooting in HDR. For me, I do not have the time to commit to full time photography career but I can shoot exceptional photos in less than optimum lighting conditions by using multiple exposures to control the blown out highlights and underexposed areas that occur by shooting during the wrong time of day. HDR is a win-win for my portfolio.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. I love HDR for some shots, and it can totally ruin many other shots. What I find most exciting about the new HDR software is the ability to wrestle a broad range of light (that would exceed the limits of a single image) into a believable image. To me, that's the magic, the rest is just creative fun.

Richard said...

Maybe the simple answer is "when the black and white fad ends..."

Al Marsh said...

Brilliant point about Ansel Adams using HDR. I hadn't thought of it that way but that is exactly what he did. Thanks, and let's have less hating in the world. Drink a Coke or something -- perfect harmony -- wait, that's the old campaign.

Kris said...

Maybe a variation on the original question that inspired this post. When do you think the sensors in our digital cameras will be advanced enough to cover the same dynamic range that our eyes do, without needing to take and combine multiple exposures?

Ken Toney said...

Rick, Rock n I mean HDR is here to stay!! Long live HDR.

Jim Goldstein said...

I should note one thing that I think is inaccurate in this post and in some of the comments. Expanding dynamic range via other techniques (ex. Ansel in the dark room) doesn't equate to modern software based HDR. HDR is just the latest attempt to expand dynamic range and often with broader claims. Burning and dodging whether in the darkroom or digital darkroom is about artistic interpretation not just an effort to expand dynamic range. In fact its used equally to trick the eye into seeing a broader range of light and to artistically highlight the focal points important to the artist. Perhaps that is splitting hairs and some may just see it as such.

Past artists to correct the post did not use HDR and I think its an inaccurate comparison. They used paints of varying luminance and reflectance values that tricked the eye & brain... in essence creating an illusion of broader dynamic range. Paint pigments are inherently more limited in color/luminance range than photography sensors.

Here in lies the problem with HDR...
There is nothing wrong with pursuing greater dynamic range nor artistic experimentation. Its a noble cause.
The broader problem is the over-promise of the technique, the lack of understanding surrounding its strengths & weaknesses and the untrained use of it.

I am sure there were complaints of painters and photographers using other techniques poorly in the past. Isn't that what art critics are all about and heaven knows they've been around since the time of cave art. We don't hear of it or remember bad artists because we spend our limited resources focusing on the exceptionally good work of a particular era. In 50 or 200 years we won't be talking about the bad HDR photographers we'll be talking about the master who hit the nail on the head.

victor said...

Most comments are re-hashing the same thoughts - many with silly comparisons, like when black & white goes away.

Not one person has addressed my main point - that THIS HDR sensation - featured on virtually every magazine, website and blog, will die down.

And for all the gee-whiz about the dedicated software, all I do is use the shadows slider on my comparatively primitive ACDSee program and I get very good range. Couple it with the Nikon D-lighting, and it's even better. No fancy software and no hype.

I am sure the software makers are helping to push their products. 'Use Your Shadows Slider!' doesn't exactly have the same impact as, 'HDR Software Makes Your Images POP!'

Tom Baker said...

Victor - it's hard to address your main point becuase it is an opinion. How can one argue that it will\won't die down and that it is\isn't a fad without any empirical evidence, and you have not provided any to back your opinion with.

I see no end to bad kitten shots on Flickr, or out of focus family photos on facebook. An abundance of photos doesn't imply that it is a fad. It simply means ther are a lot of photos. Many people like HDR even the "artistic" stuff. Will it die down? Maybe. Who knows.

I think Trey is actually right, People (non-photographers) DO respond to it. Thats why magazine editors use it. That's why advertising agencies use it (and believe me they know more about what people like than their own mothers). It creates an image than catches peoples eye and thats what they look for.

Personally I think it isn't a fad, but it will evolove. tone mapping has gotten better, and the software continues to improve. The final images will continue to be better and better - for those artist who care to learn the craft. And even if they don't as long as they are having fun, who cares. It's all in the name of fun isn't it?

(btw I admit my bias as an HDR shooter, but I also shoot good old fashioned non-HDR shots. whatever fits the mood)

Anonymous said...

I don't think this HDR fad is going to last very long.
To counter such abuse on viewers' rods and cones, the following fad will probably consist in darkened pictures with some bright lines outlining objects, like in dark field microscopy, or alternatively like in phase contrast microscopy. In any case, mainstream photography sooner or later will succumb to minimalism once the consumer's eyes get tired of such amount of firework tricks.