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HDR - The Autotune of the Photography World

Yesterday, while browsing one of my favorite non-photography websites, the topic of HDR came up in a comments discussion and one of the comments contained the following quote:


"HDR=The autotune of the photography world"


This ignorant commenter is relating the use of autotuning in the music industry - the process of digitally modifying a vocal track by making pitch corrections - to the creation of high dynamic range images. This implies two misconceptions about HDR that need to be cleared right now.


1. The HDR image creation process (also called tonemapping) is easy.


False. For proof, check out my HDR Tutorial. I think there are a lot of people out there that think HDR is simply a button on the camera or a program that easily turns a standard image into a tonemapped one. This is not true, it has taken me almost 2 years worth of trial and error with all the different sliders and settings possible, to get the production of my photography to where it is now, and I am still learning new things every day. No two images are ever the same, and each image that I produce requires a different balance of settings to achieve the right balance of light.


Ok, so maybe it is not easy to create a tonemapped image from brackets, but any amateur can create a compelling HDR once they learn tonemapping, right? This brings me to misconception #2.


2. The HDR process can turn any photo taken by an amateur photographer into something appealing.


This couldn't be further from the truth. When producing an HDR image, all the rules of good composition, lighting, and time of day still exist. If you don't believe me, take a look at some of my early work and you will notice a complete disregard for many of the core principles of composition. I will admit that a byproduct of the HDR process is the creation of excellent looking texture and this leads certain subjects to be more suited towards HDR than others. The below image of a wine cellar at Castello di Verrazzano is a perfect example of that. That does not, however, mean that any composition, with any set of f-stop, white balance, ISO, and expsoure settings would come out looking like the image you see below.


I give my readers the benefit of the doubt, and I believe that it is only a small percentage of people that still have these misconceptions about HDR photography. For the critics that are still out there though, I ask you to stop looking at HDR as some sort of cheap equivalent of autotuning in the music industry and start seeing HDR as what it really is. HDR is simply a breakthrough technology in the photography industry. Photographers can embrace this technology, or they can ignore it.


From the photoblog at www.shutterrunner.com.


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Taken on April 23, 2011