Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Attempting to Understand HDR

Hi. I'm Randy, and I'm a photositeaholic.

I'm addicted to checking out photo sites. When viewing the most popular images on photo sites, I've been noticing more and more HDR images recently. More accurately, I've noticed many top-rated images look like an amazing, fiery airbrush acid trip. Most of these posts look like varying degrees of heavy-handed high-saturation dodge and burn masking were applied.

I've assumed that most of these images were part of the transition or trend in imaging towards more illustration and hypereal photo compositing (as an alternative to various past movements towards greater photo realism). I assumed the work was done by hand. (Some HDR compositing is done this way.)

Recently, thanks all to those helpful people who were nice enough to declare what they were doing, I realized that many of these images use automated processing. They are created using photoshop's HDR feature or special software like photomatrix to produce a High Dynamic Range image: a composite of multiple exposures to produce an image with a greater range of visble shades.

This lightbulb motivated me to go back and look at some of my favorite "photocomposites" that had some level of localized brightening, contrast or saturation, and I realized that many of the images I thought were closer to illustration (in their use of air-brushed-looking dodge and burn manipulation) actually used HDR technique as the key workflow step.

Some people say all of these HDR processed images are more realistic. This makes me wonder if my reality if somehow dulled or if many photographers are on acid. (This would explain a lot.) I have seen a select few HDR pictures that were more realistic to my eye. Many more are more realistic in presenting some small part of the visible spectrum and far less in presenting all the rest.

Like most trends that produce a new and interesting alternative, I really enjoy these images. I really don't have a problem that the results are more like a dream or air brush painting than a photo. I also don't mind that they are not really all that much a bump in dynamic range, as the this really a limitation of the medium not being ready to support the message. (Although, in fairness, current HDR processing seems like a great solution for many of the problems presented by stationary high contrast scenes; shooting anything with the sun visible in the shot immediately springs to mind.)

I downloaded Photomatrix and am playing with it to see what it will do for me. I hope to post some examples after I've explored the tools a bit more.

I expect I will continue to enjoy these HDR images until the technique is no longer a new and interesting alternative for me. After this, I suspect I will still enjoy HDR but will expect the HDR results to be more photo realistic. I hope I will never get tired of the possibilities, and, if the technology matures rapidly, I may never tire of the results.

I will hope that HDR technology will be used more and more in the capture (cameras, cell phones, etc.) and the display (monitors prints, etc.) of our photos to produce images that match to a greater degree the level of dynamic range and shades that we see with our eyes. As the technology evolves, I also hope that the freedom of expression to have a great degree of control over the complete workflow -- capture, process, and display -- will continue to increase.

Until then, I hope to experiment with the outrageous images popular today, and also find out how I might use this technology as more of a corrective technique to produce a final product that looks a bit more like reality.

For reference, here's a question I posed today on photo.net:

HDR stictly as Correction, not effect

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Welcome to my new blog.

I actually have web coding skills and have my own sites. But why make things harder than they need to be? I just want to type in stuff and post pictures relevant to my life and my photography, and it doesn't get much simpler than this.