As seen on this week’s episode of +onOne Software Perfect Inspiration –

I’m going to put this out there and my hope is that it’ll help educate and enlighten… and not spark a flame war. I went back and forth over whether I should even cover this topic because I tend to avoid making blanket statements in an arena as fluid as photography. Plus, it usually incents vitriolic responses… but, that shouldn’t be a reason not to share some knowledge, right? :) So, back to my point. Please consider the following statement that I wholeheartedly believe in:

HDR is less a style, but rather more a utility.

If you break it down, HDR is not even a utility itself. Rather, tone-mapping, layer blending and masking are utilities used to represent a high dynamic range in your image and, when used correctly, can help you represent a tonal range that is MUCH greater than normally possible. It is a tool to be used to create and craft something beyond the sum of its parts. When you look at the Before image above, you’ll see that my camera could not come close to capturing the gorgeous detail and color in the sky because it was limited to capturing the tonal range of the foreground. As camera sensors get larger and more sophisticated, this will improve but for now, I employ tone-mapping to work around this limitation.

I firmly feel that it is not a style. Would you use a Philips screwdriver to apply a coat of paint on your wall? Probably not. Does this mean that you can’t or shouldn’t use tone-mapping or layer blending to create a style? I’d never be so bold as to say that you couldn’t or shouldn’t. My goal here is to help you see the whole pie and not just one slice of it. It’s very easy to get mired in achieving a look (that is usually to the detriment of the image) while tone-mapping. And if you fall into that pool, I’d like to ask you to consider looking at tone-mapping in a different way. Imagine that tone-mapping is a process used to get you to the starting line. You’re only just beginning once you finish tone-mapping because now you have your flat, yet properly exposed, image to start stylizing upon.

I firmly believe the reason we have so many extreme opinions about HDR is because of how it is used, both effectively and… not so much so. When I tone-map, I am explicitly seeking out to create a flat image. Usually, the image is brighter than normal to compensate for how much of an effect my stylization techniques have on luminosity and brightness. But, by treating the tone-mapping as a utility to get me to a flat starting line, I give myself MUCH more flexibility to control just how vivid or natural my image ends up.

So, I really do hope this episode has helped give you a more well-rounded understanding of HDR and the tools that it is made of with digital photography.

Google Maps Location Info
37°8’8″ N 113°3’52” W

In terms of processing
You can see the video workflow of this image on this week’s episode of Perfect Inspiration –


In album Landscape and Nature (1 photo)

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