1. Reminder: Please use our affiliate links for holiday shopping!

A Case for HDR

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Brian G, Jan 15, 2011.

  1. Brian G

    Brian G Mu-43 Veteran

    222
    Nov 16, 2010
    Victoria, BC
    Hi all;

    Recently I became interested in HDR - very recently in fact, so I'm still learning a great deal, and also taking in all points of view on the use of HDR. This is a topic that seems to create very hot opinions and a great deal of polarization.

    Images from Trey Ratcliffe and Wasabi Bob were certainly a big factor in drawing my interest to HDR. Gorgeous stuff, and certainly artistically-valid statements. I lean toward loving HDR, in various styles and degrees of implementation, whether it's the absolute drama that HDR can bring, or more subtle processing that doesn't draw attention to the HDR "character".

    I was curious to see what a modest bit of Photmatix Pro 4 processing would do for (or against!) a single file (no bracketed images). The goal was not to have the image scream "look, I'm HDR!", but just to see what a little touch of Photomatix brought to the table, as an alternative to more time spent in Photoshop. There's nothing special about the pic I chose, it's handheld, single exposure processed from RAW in ACR, then brought into PM, then only very minor levels & sharpening back in PS.

    The first image is PS only - understand that this was done first, and very casually and quickly, before I thought to try a different path with Photomatix. The two pics are not an effort to make them look as similar as possible, nor even as well done as they might be - just a quickly done comparison for interest sake. I haven't even gone back and tried to make them more similar in terms of brightness, etc.

    I prefer the HDR version, for a number of different reasons. I could edit the non-HDR image to look a bit more similar in terms of color temperature, gamma, etc., but that's not my point here. (By the way, it was a very grey day, and the first image certainly reflects that.)

    I welcome your thoughts.

    Brian

    Non-HDR
    Fence_and_mountains.

    Light application of HDR
    Fence_and_Mountains_HDR.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  2. Pap

    Pap Mu-43 Regular

    81
    Jun 16, 2010
    Fleetwood, PA
    Actually I prefer the first image as wood looks older and more interesting. Perhaps because it is somewhat darker. I won’t say the second image is bad because you used a very light touch with the HDR. It’s more of an exposure difference for me.
    Pap
     
  3. Brian G

    Brian G Mu-43 Veteran

    222
    Nov 16, 2010
    Victoria, BC
    Pap - I get that entirely. It almost comes across as being exposure, and cooler color on the fence and grass.

    If I had to pick one, I prefer the warmer colors on the fence and grass, more open exposure, and this is in spite of the fact that the sky looks similar enough in both.

    Thanks.
     
  4. russell

    russell Mu-43 Regular

    98
    Dec 28, 2010
    Victoria, Australia
    I suppose the question is, where is the line drawn between "HDR" and localised tone manipulation -- dodging/burning or grad ND filters? A very similar result could be achieved with either of the latter. Is it only HDR if the localised tone mapping is done semi-automatically, is it only HDR if multiple exposures are taken out of necessity, or...?
     
  5. bilzmale

    bilzmale Mu-43 All-Pro

    Can I suggest you go back to your original RAW image and "develop" two different exposure versions, one to open the shadows (not that you have a lot in this shot) and the second to recover highlight detail in the sky. Then use Photomatix to process the three images.

    Using just a single image there is no extra Dynamic Range (the range between shadows and highlights) to make High. That's why it's called HDR.

    True HDR require 3 or more separate exposures - the method of manipulating one shot to get three will never be as good.

    In the meantime have fun and you might like to check a new HDR and RAW program called Oloneo Photo Engine. It is still in beta development and so free for now.
     
  6. Danny_Two

    Danny_Two Mu-43 Regular

    182
    Oct 30, 2010
    London
    I tried HDR for the first time yesterday to, my little S95 has it built in. Its great for moody landscape pics, expose for the sky and let the HDR ramp up the foreground that would of been under exposed.

    Some of the HDR Urbex stuff that's about is very impressive.
     
  7. Brian G

    Brian G Mu-43 Veteran

    222
    Nov 16, 2010
    Victoria, BC
    Thanks for the comment & the info on Oloneo. You're right about the merits of "developing" three images from RAW, even if they're all from the same RAW file. That's exactly where I started playing with Photomatix, as I definitely didn't have the recommended brackets carefully made on a tripod. I may not go back and readdress the processing on the image I used as an example, but here's another using (1) RAW image to develop (3) different exposures:

    Heidelberg-Church-Interior- | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

    (NB: for those who dislike the "characteristic look" of HDR, you can skip the link above.)

    Brian
     
  8. Wasabi Bob

    Wasabi Bob Mu-43 Top Veteran

    I appreciate your comments!

    Hi Brian, I'm honored that you liked my work, but I don't think I'm in Trey's league! They "key" to HDR is deciding when to use it, and when not to. I like photographing churches which are rather difficult. The range of light exceeds the dynamic range that a digital camera can reproduce. HDR makes it possible to capture such scenes. Using it in situations where you don't have a wide dynamic range will produce a more dramatic photo, but not necessarily realistic.

    If you treat HDR in the same way a good chef uses spices - to enhance but not necessarily to dominate the "flavor". Less is definitely more. Than again, every photo is also art work, so what one person likes, differs from person to person. I really don't think there is a bad photo, just some we like more than others.

    Again, thanks for your comments!
     
    • Like Like x 1
  9. Brian G

    Brian G Mu-43 Veteran

    222
    Nov 16, 2010
    Victoria, BC
    Hi Bob - I believe that you should accept the credit, and the compliments, because they're deserving, IMO. You've posted some lovely stuff (and I'm thinking of some of the images from New York, not only churches). :2thumbs:

    You've articulated exactly my thoughts on HDR, it's another tool in the tool kit, and a very interesting one. The original post was about just that - HDR not to produce an image that's a billboard for the process itself, but rather one that could look reasonably natural, with a lighter hand on the controls.

    But I do love some of Trey Ratcliffe's images, no doubt!

    Brian
     
  10. squidbrand

    squidbrand Mu-43 Regular

    55
    Dec 22, 2010
    Hà Nội, Việt Nam
    This is true semantically I guess, but as sensor technology improves, there will be "extra dynamic range" between the highlights and the shadows within one single frame, as compared to a single frame from a camera made a few years ago when this technique became popular.

    There are two elements of what most people call "HDR". One of them, the more mechanical element, involves combining bracketed exposures to increase the dynamic range within a single image. This is a technique that only exists because current digital sensors don't give us quite as many stops of range as we usually want when shooting a very high-contrast subject, and it will become more and more pointless as sensors get better. It's a clumsy stopgap solution.

    The other element is tone-mapping, which (in my very non-technical terms) is the artistic process of actually using the DR at your disposal to darken highlights and brighten shadows so that more areas of the image have the appearance of a perfectly exposed midtone. This element, not the bracketed exposures bit, is what results in that "HDR" look that people love or hate. The only thing you need to do this is a dynamic range that's significantly wider than the DR of the presentation medium. It doesn't matter how many exposures that range comes from — 7, 3, 1, whatever.

    What I'm saying is that there's almost no real difference between making an "HDR" shot with bracketed exposures, and just bringing out midtones in a single exposure with the Recovery and Fill Light tools in ACR/LR or the equivalent tools in some other RAW engine. It's solely a difference of degree — how many stops you have to work with. And I'd say that for all but the highest-contrast subjects, the newest digital cameras tend to have more than enough DR in a single exposure to handle the kind of restrained, realistic tone-mapping that Brian used. If you're talking about the more extreme examples, where every area in an ultra-high-contrast scene is a deeply saturated midtone, bracketing is needed right now but it may be unnecessary some years down the road.

    tl;dr "HDR", as a photographic technique, is either a misnomer or a fallacy depending on how you look at it. It's really all exposing and dodging and burning, just like the old days. The nitty-gritty of how we do those things is just a function of the current state of the art, and is artistically irrelevant.
     
  11. Brian G

    Brian G Mu-43 Veteran

    222
    Nov 16, 2010
    Victoria, BC
    The point above (made, once again, very articulately) is kind of what I was indicating in my starting post; that you could choose to regard the use of an HDR-processing application such as Photomatix or others as an interesting alternative to the tools in PS, Lightroom, etc. And use it so. It doesn't have to be based on bracketed images on a tripod, nor does it have to be about cartoonish renditions of traditional photography. (I'm not saying that the more dramatic effects created by others in pursuit of their individual vision are inherently cartoonish, you understand.)

    Good discussion, IMO. :bravo-009:

    Brian
     
  12. Wasabi Bob

    Wasabi Bob Mu-43 Top Veteran

    That's faux HDR

    If you refer to Christian's book on HDR he makes it very clear that the photos are properly refereed to as "tone mapped" photos. The process remaps the extended dynamic range into the limits of a JPG photo. Trying to adjust a single image to this extent, especially JPG, will produce some undesirable artifacts, especially when you are trying to extract details out of what appears to be a very dark area.

    The bracketed images give you the means to add detail to the very dark areas through the over exposed images. At the other end of the scale very bright areas also get detail via the underexposed photos. Burned out detail cannot be reclaimed.
     
  13. squidbrand

    squidbrand Mu-43 Regular

    55
    Dec 22, 2010
    Hà Nội, Việt Nam
    It cannot, but the thresholds of pure unrecoverable black and white have been expanding steadily. The amount of highlight and shadow detail buried in today's RAW files is sometimes astounding. In a few short years, we may be shooting RAW files that have enough DR per frame that bracketed exposures are simply not needed for most tone-mapping.

    I mean... if you need X stops of DR to achieve the look you want, who cares whether those X stops come from multiple exposures or one? And how can something be "faux-HDR" when "HDR" itself is a misnomer? I just don't like the idea that exposure bracketing — something which is done solely as a technical workaround to today's limited sensors — is the determiner of how you categorize the type of photograph someone makes.
     
  14. Wasabi Bob

    Wasabi Bob Mu-43 Top Veteran

    It's still an 8 bit image oriented system

    Improving, yes but you still have to work within the constraints of an 8 bit image which has a rather limited gray scale to begin. Secondly you have the dynamic range limitations of your computers graphic card. So even with all the improvements that are occurring, unless we adopt newer more robust technology tone mapping is still the only way to go.


    Buried, yes and when you start trying to do 2-3 EV adjustments you are really pushing the system to its limits.

    That is a media fopa. Officially they are tone mapped, remapping the dynamic range to fit within the system and format constraints.


    The Fovion sensor offered more dynamic range, but at a great compromise in image processing speed. Point and shoot cameras can take snap shoots very quickly. When your goal is to create a photograph often the preparation time can be quite long. To capture the photo within Sacred Heart Cathedral I spent about 20 minutes setting up and another 15 minutes capturing all the individual shots. Back at home I spent over an hour processing them and than joining them to one seamless image. Yes, some will consider it a real PIA, but to me the effort was well worth the time. It was exactly what I was looking to achieve.
     
  15. bilzmale

    bilzmale Mu-43 All-Pro

  16. Brian G

    Brian G Mu-43 Veteran

    222
    Nov 16, 2010
    Victoria, BC
    Very balanced point of view on the topic, and informative.