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What They’re Not Telling You About HDR Images

[Note: This originally ran on my blog a couple of years ago, and I hadn't thought of it again until G+er +Jenn Grover shared it yesterday.]

I remember showing someone one of my black and white prints a few years ago—and I could tell there was something they really didn’t like about it. They stared at it for a minute or so, and then said, “Why is it in black and white?”

I told them that the shot was originally taken in color, and that I had converted it to black and white in Photoshop, and they said something along the lines of “Why would you do that?” After talking a little longer, they just told me flat out that they just didn’t like black and white photography. Never had, and they couldn’t understand why anyone would take a perfectly good color image and remove all the color. (Sigh).

I understand that everybody has different tastes, and some folks just don’t like black and white, or duotones, and some people don’t like Split Tones (like me), and some don’t like panos.

You Mean, Like HDR?
Now, when it comes to HDR, I’m kinda of in the middle. I enjoy shooting my own HDR shots, and I get a kick out of processing them. If someone shows me a great HDR image, I’m like “Wow!” If they show me a few more, I’m like, “Those are good.” If they show me a book of them, after about the eighth page, I’m dying to see a regular un-HDR’d image. The novelty can wear off fast on me.

I know some people are at the complete other end of the spectrum. They hate any HDR that doesn’t look natural and photorealistic, (of course, if it truly does look natural and photorealistic, I guess that kind of really means “it doesn’t look like HDR”).  :)

What They’re not Telling You About HDR Images
There’s a secret about those “over the top” HDR images that you don’t hear a lot of non-HDR photographers talk about. While many of these photographers don’t like HDR images at all…

….non-photographers absolutely love them!

That’s right—-regular, non photographer people love those over-the-top HDR images. Even though it’s seldom talked about, I think that’s incredibly important to know.

Matt pointed out something a while back while we were talking about this, and it has proved itself time and time again. Matt mentioned that if he sends a group of images to a magazine, or a Web site, etc., for them to pick a photo to highlight, they always (always!) choose the HDR shot.

Now, I fully realize that by saying this, there are photographers who will now post comments that say “My wife hates HDR” or “my boss won’t allow HDR in any of our marketing materials,” and so on, but save yourself the time and trouble, and just think about it. Think about how other people (not photographers) react to images with the HDR effect. It’s been my experience, time and time again, they love ‘em.

My Love/Hate Relationship with HDR
You see the shot at the top of this post? That’s a pretty obvious HDR shot, taken on my vacation to China, and I didn’t even include the HDR shot in my post about my China photo book (link), because it was so over-the-top that I knew I’d catch some heat from HDR-hating photographers, so I intentionally left it out. The next day, I had a follow-up Q&A post (link), and that was the only photo that didn’t make the cut, so I thought—what the heck—-I’d run it and it might just go by unnoticed, and I’d be spared a nuking by the anti-HDR crowd.

I guess you can say I was incredibly surprised when I read stuff like this:

“That boat shot is killer! Good balance with HDR technique and the whole composition has “interesting story” written all over it. Quite frankly, I think it’s one of your best.”

“Love the shots from the trip, and your HDR on the ferry is FANTASTIC!”

“I like allot of your work, but this is my favorite shot of yours. It’s amazing. Love it…”

“First, that was an amazing image you used for the lead to this post. Great depth, detail and lighting. Well done sir!”

“I love the HDR Shot you posted! My fav of the bunch.”

“Fantastic HDR, the lighting and tones are beautiful.”

You’d think I would be ecstatic with comments like these, but instead I was really depressed. That’s because the regular un-HDR’d photo looks like the one you see below [at the bottom of this post] on the right:

It’s a nothing photo. It’s not terrible. It’s not good. It’s what I call “A three-star photo.” Not so bad that you’d delete it, but not so good that you’d ever let anyone see it (by the way, the only reason I’m letting anyone see it now, is as a teaching tool). So, it was the HDR-Toning that transformed it from a three-star image to what embarrassingly for me, became an image that some called “my best ever.” (sigh).

My Case for HDR
I’ve read again and again how photographers who hate HDR-effected images feel that when a photographer uses HDR for the “Harry Potter Look” or goes for the classic over-the-top HDR look, they are somehow cheating. They feel it’s a trick to take a mediocre image and turn it into a masterpiece, so it’s not “real photography.” Sadly, I think my before/after actually helps to make their case to some extent.

However, this is where my case for HDR comes in.

Taking the mediocre regular shot took very little effort. I did have to compose the shot (and I think the composition is actually “OK”), but outside of that, I just pressed the shutter button, and the camera did all the work. The post-processing in Photoshop (in Camera Raw) was minimal—-it took all of 15 seconds, so the entire image has a total of less than 20-seconds invested it in.

However, for me to create an HDR image, I (as the photographer) have to work a LOT hardert. First, HDR doesn’t work for just every shot. There are certain types of shots that lend themselves to HDR (images with lots of texture, or metal, depth), and over time you learn which types of shots work (and which don’t). So, the first thing the photographer does is scope out subjects that would make ideal HDR images (it’s harder than it looks). When I saw the rusty, peeling wheel house, and the thoroughly worn wood deck, and old coiled up lines (rope), I knew it would make a good HDR image.

I had to set-up my camera to shoot an HDR bracket of five photos, and then try and steady myself while on a moving ferry in the harbor, while leaning on a railing, and trying to keep very, very still while all five exposures are captured.

Later, I have to work with five images—not just one—then I have quite a bit of post-processing work to do, including using Camera Raw not just once, but twice, along with HDR tone-mapping, and final editing and sharpening, beyond what I’d normally do. In short; it’s dramatically harder to capture a good HDR image, from the moment of capture, through the post processing stage, and the image wasn’t rescued by HDR—-it was created to be an HDR image from the outset. I didn’t just press a button and out popped a winner—I had to work it.

It’s Not Fair!
Normally, this extra photographic effort would gain the respect and admiration of fellow photographers, but when it comes to HDR, it generally gains scorn. I don’t get it. Just like that person at the beginning doesn’t “get” black and white photography. I know HDR isn’t for everyone, but like any effect, it can be fun to do, fun to look at, and like any other effect, you can get sick of it after a while. But each image should be judged on its merits, and not dismissed because “You don’t like HDR” or “You don’t like Black and Whites.”

So, in the past few months, I did learn that non-photographers love HDR shots (and all the photographers I polled asking about how their HDR work was viewed by non photographers, agreed 100% that non-photographers seem to absolutely love HDR images). But I learned two other things as well:

(1) You don’t seem to find people who are really good at creating HDR images, that don’t like HDR images. Just like you don’t find people who are Photoshop experts, that don’t like Photoshop. The people I find that scorn the use of Photoshop, aren’t very good at it.

(2) I find that no matter how much I look at that HDR image I did at the top of this post, and no matter how many people tell me they love it, I will never like it. When I look at it, I know what “it really looked like.” In my mind’s eye, I always see the original, 3-star regular exposure image I showed earlier, and so I’ll never look at it as a great image. I guess I feel like it’s kind of cheating too, even though it took me more time, effort, and skill to get there.

For those of you that do shoot somewhat over-the-top HDR shots, how do your clients, friends, and co-workers react to these types of shots? Do they dig ‘em? And, how do you feel about them after the fact (after all, you’re probably the only one who saw the original single exposure). Do you feel like I do? (and did anyone get that subtle Peter Frampton reference?). I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.
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255 comments
Mary M
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+Scott Kelby Good Morning!  I need a tutorial on settings to make any image background on a website stretch the entire width of any monitor or device. Can you point me in the right direction, sir?
 
i'm live in Indonesia ?
yes ? but i don't know for that using ??
why ?
 
Where do you live in the mobile and cheap apple?
Ken Z
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+Scott Kelby -- I totally agree with Hiago's comment -- but anyway...great post! I really liked what +Trey Ratcliff says about this too, that some people actually see the world in an HDR-kinda way...not all of us, but some would look at those two pictures above and in their minds eye, they see the one on the left...

I love HDR and when its used for its purpose (capturing a dynamic range of light) -- it really captures some amazing stuff (that's a technical term, stuff). Usually when I shoot HDR (3, 5 or 9 frames) there's not a one that looks good by itself, but man, combine them -- and shabam!

I am with you Scott -- confused as to the love/hate thing...in the end, its the final photo and how it communicates to people...
 
hmm ??
whre do you live ??
 
You have nailed it +Scott Kelby . Non-photographers love them.  And because of that, photographers who adore mass appeal, just have to do it. And then grow to like it.

I still think HDR photos are more like digital arts.  Are digital arts interesting?  Of course they are.  But they are what they are, digital arts.

My 5-cents :)

PS 1: Love your well thought post here.
PS 2: Love your books too!
 
And than ??
what can i do ??
 
funny. the HDR-version have gotten 32 plusses. while the regular one has none :p
 
I am just a hobbiest - but I love the post-production aspect of photography. There are photos in my "portfolio" that I spent literally days working on. I've found that my family and friends are an even mix of those that like my more heavily "enhanced" pics as opposed to the more natural ones. 

But, they always seem to like my hand painted photos and that technique requires a pretty crappy photo to work well... lol 
 
I dig em for sure. But yes I completely agree that the novelty can wear off real fast. My take is this, there are only very few shots which when HDRd look good. Great photographers recognise that and come up with outstanding results. More often than not HDR tends to produce garish and vulgar (for want of a better word) images.
 
Ohh no ??
it's so good for a topick
:)
 
A great perspective on HDR. I always get mixed responses on HDR. I am pretty new to G+. But, I agree it takes a lot of time on post-processing and sometimes, I don't work on images out of laziness.
 
Scott, really an interesting article on HDR.  I too have a love/hate relationship with it but I feel that it does have its place.  Some very mediocre shots can be made interesting using HDR and the same goes for black and whites.  I've found that non-photographers do in fact "Wow" HDRs a lot.  My wife usually doesn't like them and prefers my other photographs.  Photography is subjective and it's what is in the "eyes of the beholder".  Nice article.
 
I admire the technical excellence of HDR but have not tried it. I have to say the original shot is more 'atmospheric'.Being from the days of film and dark rooms I try my best to 'do it' in camera!
 
I think as you pointed out, that you have to have a great subject, one well suited for HDR for it to be successful.  I see so many that the subject just doesn't work and then they don't understand why people don't like the image.  In your case, this is a great subject and the HDR accentuates the image very well.
My colleague absolutely HATES HDR.  He says "it doesn't look real"...I just roll my eyes and tell him he's to old to appreciate new things.  :)
 
Hi Scott,

This post really cheered me up. It's interesting to see how you used HDR to make a rather ordinary image "come to life" :)

HDR does have a certain bit of "pop" to it, though there are ways to do without (eg: Drago tonemapping). However, with HDR, there's always a risk of going "over the top", and I've fallen prey to it too many times. Hopefully, I don't do that any more. :)
https://plus.google.com/photos/108354384487405950405/albums/5678627359451582193/5724857625616400690?hl=en_US

While you said that most HDR is "over the top", I think that there are a good many photographers who use HDR, and yet their work cannot even be recognised as HDR by other photographers. In such a case, it's just a method of overcoming the dynamic range of the camera, like using a flash.
 
Strange thing is that I look at the HDR, and it looks great, then i go to the original, and it looks ok, but like it needs a little editing, then i go back to the HDR and it looks overdone in comparison and i no longer like it.  I'm a non-photographer, but I enjoy photography and I'm typically not an HDR fan.  I would agree with the comment that the HDR'd photo is a fair balance of HDR.  Some of these photos anymore make the entire shot look like a slab of marble its so textured and glossy looking.
 
I think part of the reason there is this discrepancy in how we view HDR images is that us non-photographers look at a scene and have what we see engraved in our minds. When we snap a picture,  the result is often blander than what we remember - a high dynamic range vision. And thus we are attracted to HDR images or pictures with higher contrast or color vibrance than what the professional sees as a good picture.

I expect the photographer sees the picture he's taking for what it is, a work of art that is separate from his memory of the scene and exists independently. Thus the image is judged on its merits alone rather than how faithfully it reproduces a visual memory.
 
I enjoy looking at and processing HDR shots. I definitely agree with your comment about it feeling like cheating, but it also is just another creative, artistic aspect of this line of work. People could also label abstract photos as cheating too. They could say that anyone could take an out of focus photo of anything with multiple color and texture, but in reality, abstract is also another creative, artistic  aspect. Those who fear computers or are not good working with them will almost always shoot down post processing. Everyone has a different approach of creativity and a different vision. Instead of drawing negativity, it should all be embraced. I enjoy any type of wonderful image regardless of how it was created.
 
I actually stopped in my tracks when I saw an HDR image with your name on it.

Your candour about your views and use of HDR made for enjoyable reading. I'm not a big Great fan of HDR, but don't mind it when it isn't over the top or too much of it in one go.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to say that I liked this image, even if you only see the 3 star version.

Thanks for a great post and being real. :-)
 
Great post!  I agree with a lot of it.  When I share HDR photos here on G+ that I have done they never get the reaction that my "Regular" photos do.  I like them, it's an art I don't see anything wrong with them.  When I show them to others such as my friends or the people I have done them for, they think they are the best shots ever.  I always found it a bit odd and wondered about it but I think your post explains it rather well.  Thanks!
 
Great post +Scott Kelby. I have much the same mind-set as you about HDR. I generally don't like it, but not because it's HDR but because when it's over-the-top HDR it can actually detract from the photo itself. Kind-of like red-eye in a portrait shot. All you see is that red-eye rather than being able to appreciate the shot as a whole. Same with HDR. I think it has it's place, certainly, but I get tired of looking at photographers work where that's all they shoot.

I also think you need to give yourself a little more credit on this particular shot. It's not my favorite of yours by any stretch, but it is a nicely salvaged shot. You can fix up an old Toyota to mint condition, and just because it isn't a classic doesn't mean you should be any less proud of the hard work and time you put into restoring it to it's full potential.
 
Hey Scott, I almost always try to avoid HDR where possible, but sometimes it's a great tool to provide the tonal depth that the camera's sensor can't pick up.  I generally approach HDR from the point of view that if I can make it look realistic (not 'painterly' ) then it is a reasonable option.  I don't, however feel that it should make a 3 star image into a 5 star image.  A bad photo is a bad photo no matter what you do to it in post.  Consider this though: part of composition is contrast and exposure, two things that get major alterations when applying the HDR Technique.
 
IMHO HDR is the technique that went itself over the roof. While it is a great way to balance the photo, some people set parameters over the top causing the photo to look unnaturally. I hope you've already noticed that a key to successful photo is contrast and that's what HDR gives you easily. Personaly I find HDR overrated and used in places, where simple RAW processing can do the trick (and so with your photo of the boat). In fact, the best HDR processed photo is the one, where you can't tell if HDR was used or not.
You also have to remember, that the photo is the only way to remember the moment. Once you process it, your brain replaces the original memory with the picture, and in some cases (as of me) treats the original photo as really bad shot.
So, use HDR and do it wisely.
 
Yes interesting article. Personally do not "do HDR" but I sometimes take multiple exposures of a scene on a needs must basis eg either the dynamic range is too high or as in your scene the background is over exposed.

 If I subsequently put my image  up on Google+ for comment, I never mention HDR  or anything else unless it is a technical post (I did a few  on Photomatix for example) That way the audience or critics can concentrate on the image and not on the technique. Since I have never had a query "Is that hdr?" I guess that says I am at the "realistic" end of the spectrum.

From those who +1 my posts I would say that my audience is mainly other photogs. or those with an interest in digital art media, rather than the general public.
 
Yes, Scott, I think You´re right with many points. I don´t like HDR, but I do not generally dismiss it. The point is, most people who shoot HDR are not able to do it, IMHO.
Perhaps this is true for every technique in photography, but with HDR it is the most obvious. It is a very small grade to walk on, and You have to hit it. Otherwise it looks like a comic, totally overdrawn, and not only pushing details and structures.
Somehow it´s like a fashion trend, that everybody is wearing, but only a few fit in it. And, sure as You said, it does not work for every picture.
 
Well articulated Scott! I tend to apply HDR to single photos more than multiples, when I do use it, although that certainly limits the benefit. It has certainly helped some of my older photos. My interest in HDR/Trey Ratcliff is what brought me to the world of G+ and Kelby and some truly talented professional photographers, for which I will always be thankful.
 
I see HDR now as maybe more of a perception influencing tool.  I've had the same reaction to HDR from non-Photographers and I'm coming to the conclusion that they often like the feeling it gives a place, plus it's something they can't do.  Perhaps they appreciate the skills of an overblown HDR more than a perfectly exposed shot, because it seems further away from what they can do?
So why perception influencing?  I took some very saturated night-time HDR of La Boca in Buenos Aires (admittedly they're not great, but you have to start somewhere right?) and the non Photographers had the worst reaction!  They wanted to see it looking old and beaten down, but this is a place recently repainted in gaudy bright colours - you walk through it at night and it looks like an overly saturated HDR which is why I shot it that way to begin with.

P.S. I felt the Frampton reference made your post come alive
 
It was fun at first when first found out how to do HDR..it let's you bring out details on an image that you wouldn't normally been able to bring out by shooting just one image......i stopped using HDR technique when a few coworkers told me it didn't look real...since then i have deleted all my HDR images....nothing but ND filters now...
 
Which of the two photos would you say more accurately represents what you actually saw?
 
I can see how HDR can divide fans easily. While I love a well-processed HDR, which brings out a lot of details, I absolutely loathe the overzealous HDR fanatics who take the photograph from realism and take it to a whole new level of tacky surrealism. Much as I love colors and lights, there's a limit which these folk (even some professionals) cross, making the photograph look like a terrible painting. The trick, IMO, lies in making it look as realistic as possible, while trying to make it stay a photograph.
 
Or as I like to tell my students: "Computers don't make bad HDRs, photographers do."

Like any "new" technique, it is going to get used and abused by the masses before it settles down into something people start using with more subtlety and taste.

Same thing happened with the overblown high-key look that was so popular in the late 90's and early 2000's. Eventually photographers learned how to incorporate that look without turning everything they shoot into a Gap commercial.
 
This type of HDR shot is the kind I enjoy, it is used more to make up for the lack of range in the camera sensor.  The extremely oversaturated and way over sharpened stuff that most people associate with HDR is a waste of a good photo opportunity.
 
+Scott Kelby I have found one photographer whose HDR work I absolutely love, and that's +Elia Locardi.Maybe this is because he masks in parts of the source files. 
 
I'm not a photographer and I don't like HDR images.  The shots nearly always look super-saturated, over-the-top, and dipped in crayon.
 
Isn't HDR just another tool in the photographer's bag? When I compose a photograph, I don't just "take" it, I make it - and that includes pre-determining how I intend to post-process it. I typically know at time of capture whether it'll be a B&W, duo-tone, or HDR, unless I am on a photo-journalistic assignment, in which case I pretty much 'just shoot' the photograph, and the only post-processing is sharpening etc.

I have similar reactions to HDR photography you described, and while I understand that many photographers have a certain style, somebody who only shoots HDR seems one-dimensional to me, but that doesn't mean that I necessarily dislike their work. It's just that - for me - every technique is 'fair game' and I will use whatever I think will assist telling the story with a photograph.
 
+Hoton Duran This isn't stirring, I'm genuinely interested in peoples thoughts on this - does a photo need to look real?  And how many genuinely do?  My animals frozen in mid movement certainly don't.  Is a HDR any different from a long (or ultra short) exposure waterfall shot?

+Geoffrey Wiebe that's a good question, but should a photo represent what we see, what we feel, or a mix of the two?

Unrelated to that, I'm not into HDR particularly, but I need to learn to do it.  There's an audience for it and if someone wants me to to shoot one why on Earth am I going to turn down their money?
 
+Alain Zarinelli That's what I wanted to say, but much better put!  It's not how real it is, it's how well it tells its story.
 
I do HDR more often than not. When I teach, I put up images at the end of breaks. A very common comment is "it looks like a painting" and I explain that cameras just can't see the range of shadows and highlights that eyes can see, but painters had no problem putting details where cameras can't "see". 

When I do HDR processing, my goal is to be as realistic as possible. A non-photographer should be able to look at my image and think "that's what it really looks like"
 
I really enjoyed your entire piece on this.....and the side by side comparisons are just so captivating I can't seem to break away from comparing them.....I love both and for many reasons. I feel one has raw truth and the other has what I like to think of as a 'memory cloud'....as in how we (or most people) actually remember things (in less detail). I remember things in both....when I think of somewhere I've been...I recall certain (exact) details if I think about it hard enough....if I don't....then I get the more HDR effect. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this post. If I were to paint your picture on canvas....I would have to choose the more raw detailed look because of how in 2 dementional pictures...there needs to be so much more for the eye to notice and see I feel...or else it's just to bland. Thanks again for this wonderful encounter. The photo is very inviting and full of depth...and it really tells a story.....I love it~!!!
 
+Scott Kelby - Scott I remember you mentioning in your "Crushing the Composition" presentation that when you take a shot of a scene that there is always something in that scene that made you stop, something that caught your eye. Though I am not a huge fan of the over processed look that you get with some HDR photos, I do find it is a powerful tool to help find that "something" that made you stop.
 
Thanks +Wes Drey. I really appreciate the compliment and shout out. :)

It's funny that what most people think is "HDR" in my photos is actually just some color and contrast tweaking in Photoshop. Sometimes I use a single exposure, sometimes I blend a few in Photoshop, and sometimes I process in Photomatix. Like +Scott Kelby said, not all scenes are good for HDR processing but when the conditions are right, the process can really make the details sing. 
 
For clients I attempt to give them what matters to them, for my own stuff I go wherever my mood goes. Sometimes B+W, sometimes HDR, sometimes colour, and sometimes who knows where?
Images interest me more than how they were arrived at.
 
Great read. I did some over the top HDR images. Was excited at first then realized how over the top it was and started to go for a more realistic look. Soemtimes the photos looked enhanced from a single image that is processed. I don't mind HDR and will shoot some myself, I just try not to do the crazy tone-mapping I was doing earlier.
Ke Zeng
 
HDR is all about processing. Any effort in taking it is to gear to the post process. Any ordinary scene or shot when processed into HDR will cause WOW effect.
 
+Ke Zeng so we can't compose and meter correctly and then process for HDR?
 
+Geoffrey Wiebe It's actually somewhere between the two. It looked really cool when I shot it but when I saw the shot, it looks washed out and really flat. That's not how it looked when I took it. The colors were rich and vibrant and I saw a ton of detail my camera didn't see. However, it's not what I saw in the HDR image either, but it's a whole lot closer than what the individual exposure was. Hope that helps. 
 
That was a lot to read in the post. Honestly, I only took my basic photohop class and don't know much of anything, but it doesn't matter. Both pictures look pretty good.
 
......and Yes.....I feel that.....''I Feel Like U Do''.....in reference to how we know how the original picture looks....but effects can be nice too....It's like anything else....sometimes you want some whipped cream on top...and sometimes you just want it left alone.....depends on the mood and what you want it for or how you're feeling at the moment I think. = )
 
I do alot of real estate photography and starting doing HDR a few months back to speed up the "in house" portion of the shoot.  I started out doing 3 shot and everything looked "over the top" and faked, but recently switched to doing a 9 shot HDR using a Promote and it honestly looks amazing.  
 
I think some photographers dislike HDR because they know its impossible to capture in a single exposure, therefore, it is not real. The layman on the other hand is envisioning the entire scene which would be viewed in HDR.
 
'HDR is like plastic surgery'? Photography is doomed!
 
Photography is Art and your medium is light, so I don't consider any HDR technique cheating unless you're bringing photo elements from a different scene.
To be completely honest, I love HDR photos.  I think they're absolutely gorgeous to look at and exciting.  I think they're unbelievably beautiful.

Your image has such great contrast between the darks and the lights... there so much going on that you just can't see (or just don't care about) in the right image.

Ultimately, Art is about expression for the artist and emotion for the observer.  HDR techniques create emotion for me every time.
 
I love finding HDR opportunities and sometimes the single image of that grouping is really the image I'll use.  But having the option and the software to merge that complete tonal range is just another avenue for photographic expression.  Like music, not every photographer or viewer is going to be drawn to every technique or style.  Soemthing that I have found out about HDR, is one can't "force" an image to be.
 
Great post!, I bet that if we could move G+ back in time to just when color film came out we would have the same discussion about how "unnatural" some color pictures are....
 
HDR for real estate sales sounds like false advertising personally but I think it's a neat aspect of the art.  But I can see how some may call it cheating when trying to get that good shot.
 
When I got into photography (70's), there was no such thing as HDR, my HDR was "human darkroom". You learned how to manipulate light and exposure through a lamp house and a lens. It took me a long time to come to grips with digital. Once I embrased digital, a whole new world of photography was opened. I like HDR to a point. The thing that disappoints me is that, a new generation of photographers are learning to rely on post processing software to get the image instead of learning how to use and manipulate light. Great post
 
Just another tool.
If you don't like it don't use it.
If you really really don't like it, then don't look at it.
Just another tool.
 
As a hobby photographer who's dabbled in (not very good) HDR, I love well-done HDR images. I find they work best in situations like your posted picture, as well as for pictures of cars.
 
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Our likes/dislikes are a personal thing.  If you like doing something photographically, do it the way most pleasing to you.  However, if you are trying to achieve a certain outcome with your photo, take into account what your target audience will most likely respond to and do it in that manner to achieve your desired outcome.  Appreciate differences in individual tastes.  Allow others to differ in their view and go on doing photography the way you wish.  
 
I'm struggling with this question myself. I still have a love/hate with HDR, and I do find other non-photogs tend to love them.

As you said, think certain types of shots work better than others for it.

Then just enjoy it. Don't over-think it.
 
Hi,
G+ is a miracle, I can thank my favorite author in person, so Thanks!
Now back to the HDR. There is not a single person who is not a photographer that doesn't like my HDR photos, this from experience.
I have hard time though showing my HDR to my Pro friends who have studios and make expositions. They like 10% of it and always question it, simply said they don't need exaggeration to see the point.
 So after 2 years now in the HDR i follow my simple 1/3rd rules:
1. For nature photography i make it 1/3 rd HDR  and 2/3 rds real, so the result is real with a bit of touch
2. For HDR i make it 2/3 HRD and 1/3rd Real, so it doesnt look from another world.
I agree that good HDR is an art! Not to say that the techniques should be perfect, from the shot to the web sized image!
So far this works OK for me. Though usually some clients make me push the saturation sliders and after that i need time to recuperate my vision :-)
Jenny A
 
Most of the time I don't enjoy HDR either but compared to your original photo, it does look a lot better since everything is clearer and not as washed out as the original.
 
+Scott Kelby read your description of the shot and how different it looked when the camera shot it. I agree that it often happens to me. I don't utilize HDR yet (emphasis, yet) mostly due to lack of skill. What I see happening to many photographers is that they start out over processing HDR in the beginning, and as they learn more about the tools and crafting their images, it becomes richer and more realistic. 
I do love the 'mood' of the shot on the right, which the HDR shot does not bring out. May not have been the original view, but it's a different idea with that foggy look. MHO :)
 
So I'm just a hobbyist, not really a photographer, and I don't really like most HDR. But, /but/... I do think my preference isn't a million miles away from people who don't get black and white (so it's interesting that you mention it).

I love B&W shots. I love the concept of B&W as painting with light in its purist form and I really admire photographers who have the ability to spot a great shot amidst the noisy colourful world we perceive. If I was more observant/practised I'd shoot in black and white most of the time. In contrast, I've never taken a single (well multiple) HDR shot, but before I get snobby about HDR I do try to remember that it's no less a study of light, even if I don't always appreciate it. So although it's not as 'pure' to my mind, HDR is not a million miles away from B&W in concept.

Furthermore, I've purposefully produced a few strangely coloured shots in my time (by playing with temperatures); occasionally I've even found the results enjoyable! So it'd be a bit strange to point the finger at HDR shots and say they're too saturated or, even, overly faithful. After all, there's nothing says art needs to ignore or slavishly follow reality...
 
I have to be honest that as a beginner, I have not as yet tried HDR, I'm trying to work my way up to that. I do however appreciate the work that goes into every shot, be it colour, b&w, HDR etc. It will take me alot of time, practice and error before I will reach this level, standard of photography and post editing. I personally think that HDR is trial and error and sometimes I can take it or leave but now and again a HDR image pops up in the flowing stream and I think to myself WOW that is awesome. I'm no expert but my kids absolutely love HDR images and want me to be able to do it so that they can have cool prints and posters in their rooms. Photography is like life and fashion, if you want to sell your images or impress people you have to keep up with the latest trends. I think people dwell too much on who likes what, if HDR is the new trend, I would be trying to be the new trend setter and come up with something new for people to like/hate. 
 
I know nothing about HDR, but I do know that shooting in Hong Kong haze and pollution often doesn't make for good photos. So I was interested to see how you were able to bring Central more into focus in the altered image. I think the HDR definitely enhances the shot. 
 
Very interesting article. I think you made a pretty good case for both sides of the issue.
 
HDR is definitely a cheat, but normal people sometimes need a crutch, and if that crutch is a finger swipe away, any average Joe would take it any day. So just hate what you want and worry on yourself.
 
Scott, I'm from Hong Kong. Your HDR image speaks to me personally, because it captures the city how I see it in my mind. Hong Kong pictures can turn out grey and drab sometimes because of the smog over the harbour...your HDR image transcends that and shows the ferry and skyline as people want to imagine they saw it or will see it when they are there. That in itself speaks for your photographic talent- to take a "good" picture and turn it into how I remember my hometown. Thanks.
 
Definitely went through a few perfect storms :)
 
I like your HDR shot, but the image looks like a painting and not a photo. That is at least how I see many HDR compositions.
I've been on the Star Ferries and they don't look anything like your HDR image, so to me it feels a bit fake.
That said, I still like your HDR image. I think it was a good opportunity to use HDR.
If I look at albums with HDR I can't go past the third image. I get tired of them. Too much fake colors. I never see that much colors in real life.
I believe that HDR has its place in photography, but if it is abused people will get tired of them. That might be why many photographers hate HDR. HDR is abused today already, people try to make all their 2 & 3 star images 5 star images by using HDR techniques.

Btw, I'm not good at Photoshop and I've never done any HDR shots ;)
+Scott Kelby 
 
HDR is the Thomas Kinkade photo filter. I really don't care if idiots like it just like they fawned over his horrible art. I'm not a photographer so I've been wondering why so many pictures lately have had this extremely artificial look.

With some restraint, HDR could have added some punch to the picture on the right, but it would have preserved the fog and not created so much fake high-contrast texture.
 
I discussed this post with 1 person in a hangout.
 
Very good observations. People do indeed need to learn on how to critically think about an artwork, but that is not something innate, you learn it through art history and art critic (self-) education.

On your two last points, though, I feel that you contradict yourself somewhat. You say there are no folks who are good at processing HDR but do not like it, or good Photoshop retouchers who would not like the program. But then, you point out yourself that no matter what you would do to a shot, your eye, your photographic memory, will always remember the original, and so, you cannot like the shot.

Well, this says to me that you are good at what you do but have issues with some post-processing techniques, as do I. In all modesty, I hold my ground very well in Photoshop, I work with it day in day out. However, I too have some issues about how far to abuse an image or a composite to achieve what I want. When it ends up being too far fetched from my original reality, I will know about it, even if others never will.
Matt C
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Disclaimer: Not a photographer. I like the image on the left because of the lack of lightness contrast between the fore- and backgrounds. Of course, it's also more detailed as well. The skyline in the right photo looks too hazy. I think it would be great if more photographers had multiple versions of their photographs: one to represent what they want to present as a photo, and another version to document what they actually saw with their eyes... using whatever technique suits that documentation.
 
I think you've made a glaringly obvious logical fallacy when you said that there are no people that are good at HDR that hate HDR. Why would you learn how to do something you hate? You wouldn't, so you could never be good at it.
 
I'm not a photographer, and I cannot stand HDR.
To me it is an effect used by people who think they are a decent photographer but in reality are not, so have to rely upon digital enchancement.
 
Interesting post.  I guess I'm among the crowd that like HDR, but the more realistic method where you use it to gain the extra dynamic range that is beyond the equipment, but not your eye.  Dan Margulis mentioned that our eye is capable of detected subtle differences in color shading and tonal areas.  The HDR allows our image to increase the contrast in these areas, more mimic the way our eyes see - to a degree if the process is not taken too far.

At the same time, there was a trend for the grunge look partly brought on by HDR images.  It seemed like every image I saw in a magazine, movie poster, etc applied this.  So I came up with an image as a tongue and cheek commentary on that effect.  You can see it here:

https://plus.google.com/103753551703688829000/posts

The image of the chainsaw.
 
Difference is HDR looks like "art" while the one on the right looks like a "reference".
 
To the market the image matters; to the photo-techie feeding the ego matters either thru criticizing the work or  identifying with the tools and/or the processing.  Hopefully most of us get beyond photo-techie and to the point that only the image matters.
 
I absolutely get what you're saying Scott.  Most positive feedback in my circle comes from creative use of lighting and my ability to pull detailed texture into the shot.  My images are quite often a hybrid mix of non-HDR/tone-mapped RAW single exposure - with the original. It's tough to know how much of this method to use because you're only as good as your worst image.
 
IMHO, HDR is to single exposures as color is to B&W. It is just a process that allows you to capture more of what your eye actually sees. Ppl shooting exclusively HDR are like the ppl who shot exclusively color when it first became ubiquitous. And it should not be surprising that non photogs respond positively to them because they actually give a more complete representation of a particular scene. Those of us who are passionate about photography have a problem adjusting to it because we are preprogrammed to recognize what a photograph should look like. HDR could become the new 'color' in photography. There is still a place for B&W now as there might still be a place for single (long?) exposures in the future. Also, motion and 'moment' capturing don't translate well, yet, to HDR so it might not completely replace single exposures for a while. I am still not liking most HDRs with that oversaturated look...
 
Just because you do an HDR shot doesn't mean you have to do over the top.  HDR can be used to make a shot more detailed without looking fake.  You can mask out parts of one shot and replace with the other.  For example, the city in the background needed the correction the most, but the water and rust and wood could use a bit less.  On the other hand... I wish I was as good as you.
 
Like +Matt C  I am not a photographer (outside of the usual personal stuff) and I think that - and here I must disagree with Matt C - what we 'see with our own eyes' is often not what is represented in a non-HDR photo.  I have so often been disappointed in a snap I took because the focus of MY attention (and therefore what I was trying to capture) is not sufficiently portrayed in the picture.  Using the examples in this post - if what I loved in the experience of the ferry ride was the vista from the boat, then the HDR shot is automatically going to appeal more.  If I liked the misty atmosphere of the floating world of the ferry, then natural shot is closer.  When the photo is not a personal one, most people are likely to see different things - and the more vivid is apt to be the one catching their attention.  Just my 2 cents!
 
To me, HDR is just for reducing noise in the shadows and prevent clipping on the highlights.

As for your photo, I seriously thinks that it doesn't need HDR at ALL. Just do local contrast adjustment, and pull down the highlights, increase blacks.
 
Great post. I also do HDR images. I like the render of some images and also probably like the challenge of the post-processing. When I post photos on my facebook, I don't give any details about the technical part (hdr, non hdr, ...) but I noticed that my friends put more "like" on my HDR images than on my standard ones.
 
I think I like both images equally, for different reasons.  The HDR image gives it a startling clarity and highlights a lot of the detail, like how the water looks and the buildings in the distance, as well as the obvious age and weathering of the boat.

However, the other image looks as I'd picture it if I were standing right there next to you seeing the scene with my own eyes, and I think both approaches have a very valid place in photography (Speaking as a non-photog, admittedly.)

I do love the HDR shot, but I can't see reality in it, I see maybe idealized reality.  I love your thoughts on the matter though.
 
There is such a combination of cool and warm!
Matt C
 
+Kat Slonaker I don't think I explained it well. The lack of lightness contrast between the foreground and background is actually something I think cameras exaggerate too much. Maybe the human eye sees the contrast between the two, but usually my brain doesn't perceive it. For example, looking out a doorway leading outside where the sun is shining from a dark room. Usually you can see with your eyes what's beyond the doorway to some extent, but with certain cameras you wouldn't be able to see anything but a dark doorway. So I think we sort of agree.

Just some estimations... I'm not very experienced with cameras.
 
I am pretty much old school. I love Black and White as well as color. I may like one form over another but I regard all serious photography as an artistic endeavor, a very personal expression and therefore all is valid.
 
+Scott Kelby I have much the same mind-set as you about HDR. I generally don't like it, but not because it's HDR but because when it's over-the-top HDR it can actually detract from the photo itself.I think it has it's place.

That being said I do shoot some images with the intention of making them HDR, as you said easier said then done for those that really know what's involved. It's an art in itself and like with any art people will undoubtedly criticize the work, after all it's art.

It's really simple as I say, I grew up in France if you don't like Mozart then don't listen to it, same goes with Vincent Willem van Gogh not everyone likes his paintings and that's ok.

As far as my fellow photographer were I live and clients, I have not had negative reactions of any sort the total opposite... I get the WOW factor every time.
 
Avoid all extremes.  That's what I think.
 
  The discussion reminds me of conversations I have had with friends  discussing whether or not DJ's, in the two-turntables and a microphone sense, should be considered artists.  My perspective is that anyone who puts time into a creative product earns that title.  The need to define what is or is not acceptable or appropriate in any art form is more a function of our individual need to classify and label which doesn't necessarily advance the art form itself.  

  As a neophyte the beauty of HDR images is the exposure and presentation of reality in an altered state which allows us visually experience something that nature wouldn't provide, something like dub-step or trance.  Unaltered images captivate us with the knowledge that what we are seeing is a pure representation of the photographers experience which, to continue the musical metaphor, I liken to classical or symphonic music.  It's an issue of appreciating the product for what it is as opposed to disliking it for what it isn't in my mind.

  Lastly I will pose this question.  If the dislike of HDR images is a result of their looking too altered or unrealistic I wonder if this same discussion occurred with the adoption of wide angle lenses, long exposures, filters, and other tools and techniques that now allow us to capture images that differ from their natural source?
 
"Photorealistic" is different than "natural", if "natural" is the reality perceived by the human visual system.  Even though the eye itself doesn't have a greater brightness dynamic range than a camera, our visual system doesn't work like a camera -- there's lots of post-processing going on in the brain to produce "vision".  The brain processes the highlights and shadows of what the eyes see (multiple "exposures" of a visual scene) in an HDR way.
HDR -- when properly done -- produces images more like what the human visual system perceives (i.e., with an effectively-wider dynamic range) than a standard single-exposure image can produce.
 
Can I go there yes i can but I'm from Kuwait

 
You are totally cool man, you explain HDR to every dum ass who wanted to learn about HDR.
 
I guess I must have "HDR vision". I prefer the HDR (at least in this comparison).  No question, it's the one I like.  I guess the reason being is, details seem to pop out so much better.  The other one seems a little washed.  That's great for an overall scene, but I'm a can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees kinda guy, so details appeal to me.

I don't see a boat heading to harbor.  I see ropes, scuffs on the floor, rivets on the bulkheads, the rear view mirror etc.  HDR makes all those tiny details that I love so much come to life.  I guess what I'm trying to say is, I found Waldo :)

That being said, I realize that there's different strokes for different folks and I would never begrudge anyone else's artistic opinion.  I am glad that HDR exists though, and I am glad that there are people with the talent and desire to pop one out once in a while.
 
Everyone has his own Taste.
 
+Scott Kelby I just play around with photography, and have never used photoshop to do HDR effects before, but your post enlighted me on how it works and what other people think about it :)
 
We need to come up with a set of glasses that allows us to see in HD.  
 
And lot has changed in that picture
 
But the point is really the currently no camera able to capture as much range as the human eye. Everybody talks about how HDR is faking and cheating however every other type of photography is faking and cheating. It never looks like reality. (IMO HDR is more real than most of the non-HDR photos) I don't say it as a bad thing, art is not about reality, its just not.
 
The thing about HDR images that has become all the rave in the last couple of years is that they very often are extremely processed. I am not just talking about the toning process. I see a lot of photographers that take really mundane scenes, don't put a lot of effort into composition or anything. They take 3-5 pictures of something static, go home, do some sloppy HDR toning and then do some heavy filtering with topaz adjust or something similar. Then they post it to their site, or sell them as prints or whatever.

And the problem is that most photographers in the know can see this for what it is, but the general audience has just not been saturated with these pictures just yet and don't really understand the process behind it. But I think even the novelty of HDR will wear of even for the general public in a couple of years. Especially when it becomes easier and easier to make these.

I also think there is an issue here of photographers that don't like HDR, that they don't recognize the effort some people put in the post processing of these pictures, especially since there can at times be a subtle difference between a good HDR image and a sloppy one. For some people it just seems to easy to do.

I took a HDR image once of a random car outside my house. Spent about 10 minuttes toning it and running it through some post processing with mostly default parameters, just to see how it would look without the effort. When showing it to friends I got a lot of "oh my gawd, you are the best photographers in the world! this is the best picture you have ever taken" type of comments. Which really is annoying when I spent no time and effort on it. :/
 
Great article! +Michael Leong Qi Jin : I think that HDR processing brought out great detail of the boat deck. So, it is not just about balancing the exposure  but highlighting and capturing  every little tiny detail with all their contrast beautifully in the picture. Although I do love HDR, I often use it moderatlely and I agree with +Scott Kelby in this article, non-photographers are often floored of the results!  
   
 
When I was just "snapshooting" - I didn't like an HDR look. When I started to take photography more seriously and tried HDR myself - I absolutely loved it. When I printed one of my over the top HDR imaged - it came out unexpectedly great in a physical print.

If photography is an art then HDR is a perfectly good expression of it. In your example, to me, the tonemapped image looks great and I don't really understand why it bothers you. In real life, your eye can refocus and readjust to different light conditions. A singe photo can't. HDR makes it look more alive. There are billions of bleak snapshots in the Internet. It is no fun looking at them. * shrug *
 
I guess I don't understand the kerfluffle.  Photographers have always done things to adjust the picture and make it better, whether it's adjusting the lighting or tone or even color.   Working in a darkroom you could get some awesome pictures with subtle changes in exposure.   With photoshop you get that ability without wasting huge amounts of costly materials.  
While I understand the idea of capturing the perfect shot without alteration, I don't see the problem in building the perfect shot if it actually involves work and thought.
 
I like the nonHDR one for providing a feeling of being there: it allows me to imagine it. The HDR one is more like a painting to me- in that it shows effort, invites you to see all of the textures each with almost equal emphasis. I also wonder how much preferential difference my be between generations 
 
Giovanni, we already see in infinite resolution without glasses. Life is very very HD ;)
 
I also like to mention the irony in the endless arguments and discussions about the validity of HDR in photography. Often lead in particular by those that publish their extensively photoshopped material in glossy magazines to appeal to a broad public that recognize at the first look that neither the milky waterfall nor the 40year old model with a wrinkle-free and flawless skin, small waste and overly toned hips are "real" 
 
I mean no disrespect by this, but I wonder if this has more to do with pride.  Meaning a professional photographer probably spends a great deal of time mastering the fundamentals of photography and if anything else comes along that almost contradicts their studies or works outside the "box", then its not  considered a good photograph.
 
The problem is when people do everything in HDR.  It's an artistic effect and should be used in a limited way.  Sort of like the tilt-shift fad from a while back.
 
Frankly what I like is there is so much more detail to explore in the HDR photo than in the washed out photo. HDR gives us mortals the ability to see more of the world than we could naturally. That is why it is amazing.

In the future it will be possible to have realtime HDR and someone will make glasses that have that as a real time option. 
 
My Canon 60d only shoots 3 photos how do I change it to shoot 5?
 
I'm a non-photographer that prefers HDR (when its not too over the top anyway - but maybe photographers think all HDR is over the top?).  What I really like about it thought is the emotion it evokes, the nostalgia, if you will.  But I also always wonder - does HDR actually capture a closer representation to what the human eye sees, opposed to what the lens does?  Is this why I enjoy it so much more, since it elicits the "feeling" I felt when I was in that moment?  Any insight on this is greatly appreciated! Great post!
 
Thank you Scott. Great post and very illuminating. 
 
I like the one in the middle that's 3D when you cross your eyes!
 
Your right the HDR image does look better than the image on the right.  I want to thank you for the explanation as to the differences between the two photos.  I am not a professional photographer but I think that B&W photos are better than color. 
 
HDR photography is an art. You have to find the right balance that makes the photo come alive without looking too over the top.
 
HDR is the photographic equivalent of autotune in the music industry. Originally used as a compliment to a piece but now used primarily by lazy or otherwise incapable artists. HDR does not make one a photographer anymore than autotune makes one a vocalist.
 
I like to see HDR when used to make a picture more realistic.

The human eye together with the optical processing in the brain is 'seeing' far more than can be captured in a single camerashot. It's like trying to record a symphony orchestra with only 1 pair of microphones. You can hear what they play but depth and detail are lost when replayed.
 
HDR is just not how the human eye see's - and for that reason they always seem slightly surreal to me - it is a bit like an information overload. They always make me think of Chuck Close - whose work I really like - and his work is very disturbing when you see it close up in a gallery...anybody that doesn't understand BW photos should take a look at Robert Mapplethorpes work - especially the flowers and black male nudes - they just wouldn't make sense in colour - but some people don't see photography as a discipline with a history - you can't help them - and why bother - not having an open mind is their loss...thought a long comment was appropriate after your mini article...
 
I like the ones that ate not over the top. I love HDR that adds a lot of texture and color with out showing noise. 
 
The HDR shot to me is not unlike something I'd see in a magazine or hung on a wall from time to time. I always see them as "Paintings." You know interesting to look at for a few minutes... But the non-HDR shot is what I would love to have in a photo album. 
 
switching between both the pictures a couple of times...I'm sure you won't find HDR so awesome.... :P
 
I'm certainly no photographer, but I enjoy other peoples work and take an interest in how it's done. I generally don't like HDR images because they are obvious and over the top. But I just want to say that the image above is actually one of the best I've noticed on here. It's not overdone or obvious and I think might be the way that HDR is supposed to look. (Oh, wait, does that make me one of the non-photographers who like HDR? Oops.)
Ken Z
 
+Scott Kelby -- very interesting...a few weeks ago +Matt Kloskowski posted about HDR on G+ and the comments came flowing in -- just like here -- man, HDR sure does catch a lot of people's attention....and yes, it really is a way to boost your activity on G+...  *cats and HDR*
 
I think this is a great HDR photo. I'm not a photographer, but I think what really matters is the final picture. It's the reason people buy expensive cameras. You can take the same picture with an expensive camera and a cheap camera, but the expensive camera is (likely) going to produce a better picture in the end.

I also see what you are trying to say as a professional photographer, you respect the way that people can take shots before editing. This may be important for other photographers, but for the person just looking at the pictures, all they want is something that looks cool.
 
Your case for HDR seems to be that it's harder to make? More labor automatically makes something better? As someone who writes and debugs computer software, I don't buy that argument one bit. The simplest programs are the ones that work best.

Nevertheless, I love HDR shots. I don't think there's anything mysterious about it.. the colors are more vibrant, and more details are visible to the eye. Who doesn't want more details?
 
really touching my heart... im in surgery
 
I would love to be able to do these kinds of things. I stink at photography though and my attempt at HDR in Gimp was painful and pathetic. I am jealous of talent like yours. :-) You know, I think many artists have a piece of work they would love to hide except everyone else considers it amazing and want to see it. It's a curse of being good at what you do I guess.
 
Nice article. HDR is extremely hard to get right because it is so easy to over do it. A lot people like HDR but only if done right.
Also, HDR can be as simple as exposure fusion with no tone mapping. Works great in real estate shots as the natural look is maintained.
In the end, I do not think most people care how a scene really looked. But we must be happy as artists and not produce content just because it is popular. HDR has its place and knowing how to use it is a great skill.
 
I don't like HDR images. All they're doing is increasing contrast. They tend to look fake, unnatural, special effects based, like cartoons poorly rendered.
 
The HDR mode on my Samsung Galaxy S3 (stop sneering, photographers!) isn't just useful for making colours "pop", it also makes photos taken in low light with a bright background amazingly clear.
 
That shot there is truly an exception to HDR, as it does capture the textures that a non-hdr photo would pick up on. Otherwise it would be an average photo. Unfortunately HDR makes an average photo show more depth to an image, which makes the photographer think their photo shows greater interestingness. Interesting yes..but usually garish. I think it the same as the step from film to digital, where the classic photographer hated the digital photos for the greater detail, and not the softness of the film
 
Good post, well reasoned and well explained.
I think I can sum up why HDR can be both loved and hated, sometimes both at once. It's because
HDR doesn't show the world as it is,
but as we would like it to be.
The logical, cold, facts only, reporter side of us hates the lie.
The romantic optimist in us loves the fantasy.
 
I understand artists getting tired of the same old treatment. It does get old. But HDR is a tool in the photographer's arsenal just like any other. It has a place where it is extremely effective. You wouldn't use a hammer on a screw, but when you have a nail ... it's perfect.

HDR raises the contrast and the emotional voice of the picture which in some situations is just the perfect thing to make an image sing to the viewer as opposed to just pleasantly hum.

Don't do every photo in HDR ... but do use it when it's the right tool for the job.
 
+Scott Kelby excellent perspective on the subject. I have dabbled very little with HDR, mainly because I don't have the patience for it. Photography for me is capturing the scene you see in real life, the best way you can through a lens. Framing the picture in your mind, the trying to get as close as you can to that mental image. Just me. I hate everything else that goes with photography. There are times that I will take photos and they will stay on the card for months before I pull them off and actually look at them.

I'm neutral when it comes to HDR. I've seen photos I like and some I don't like, for varying reasons. Because of the small amount of time I HAVE played with HDR, it caused me to gain a lot of respect for the process. It isn't easy and takes time.

Your mention of knowing what the original was, might play a factor in my own use of HDR, but time will tell.

Just remember that you can't please everyone. Photography is art and everyone is a critic. If YOU like what you see, that's all that matters :-)
 
I think you just changed my mind.  Not to mention names.... but I have been baffled by the huge follower list generated by a few key photographers on G-plus...who are known for their HDR work.  I have that old film bias against HDR.... but your explanation about how others, even non-photographers see these images is most intriguing.  To be honest, I have simply not put in the effort to try HDR.  I suspect that when I do, my idea about it will change.
 
That's it's not photography, just image manipulation?
 
I hate over granulated HDR, unfortunately Google plus is for idiots thinking there alien HDR images are godly...all of G+ is full of those artificial photos. Good that someone is talking sensible afterall.
 
+Chris Lichowicz , you are absolutely right! But what's your point? Why can't romantic comedies also be art movies? The problem is mostly snobbism. I too hated HRD, B&W (which is also an artificial palette) as well as some other effects. But I think I've changed my perception a little and am not so sure anymore.

Photography itself is editing. Your eyes do not perceive the world as it is anyway, editing it does not change that it is artificial. How does everyone perceive color? People with Tetrachromacy? How about almost 100% of astronomical observations since most of the energy is outside human perception? Well I guess these may be exceptions... but it is something to think about.
 
I mostly love photography as a whole.  The whole artform, I see as an expressive capture of your current surroundings.  

What do you guys thing of MY HDR?  (in my album).  I try to get it realistic looking.  Any criticism would be very helpful at this stage... any at all...
 
Scott HDR or not... The feel, the beauty and range (boat, city, life ring, the cool blue destination , warm steering house.)

Either way. I stopped and paused and engaged...

That has to be any artist's ambition...
 
I just don't get how anyone can just blanket-hate a process or a look. Does the image look good or does it not? That's the only thing you need to be concerned with. Everything else is religious nonsense. I can look at the HDR and Non-HDR versions of this image and tell you right away why the HDR one is better - it makes me ask questions. It's immersive. I feel like I'm actually taking on the view of a person standing on the ferry. I want to know what city this is. What does it mean to the POV-subject? Why is he/she going there? Why on this crapped-out ferry that has so much character? And I realize that maybe some of that character is a result of post-processing, but who cares? 
 
+Scott Kelby I can almost 100 percent agree with everything you said especially number 2 under "It's not fair". I like to look at HDR images like the shot you are showing and a lot of +Trey Ratcliff images are very cool, but I think it's making photographers a bit lazy.

A lot of times when I'm at a location shooting and other photographers are there, most of them are doing HDR. They just set up with camera and tripod and all I will hear is the shutter speed of the camera capturing the exposures. I take out my gear with filter holder and filters and I normally get the question "What is that?". When I explain, the follow up question is "Why do that when you can do HDR". I live in the NYC area and I'm always out shooting and I get this question a lot.

Last year I started to shoot some HDR around the city and I liked the results but I felt it wasn't making me learn the art of writing with light but It made me a lot better at post processing/Photoshop. I decided to stop shooting in HDR and continue learn composition, using available light and mastering my camera. +Patrick Smith, +Jim Patterson +David Thompson and many others work are a perfect example of hard work and patience. Their work are always inspiring to me and makes me push myself to become better.  That boat shot of yours look really good tho. hehehe... The temptation of HDR.
 
HDR is a technique, not a religion.  Bad HDR is bad.  But you can make just as lousy of an image by over-saturating, etc.  So for any given technique... bad is bad,
 
Thanks +Cliff Peterson! I see your point about HDR making people lazy, in that you can go out at any time with at least okay light, take a shot and then make it into what you want. +Trey Ratcliff does make it into an intentional art form and it is fun to check out all of his work. And he does much more than HDR. I think he is underrated as a photographer because so much attention is focused on his HDR process.

In my opinion HDR is fine as long as you say it is HDR. I do it occasionally but most of the time I will wait for good light and do it all in a single shot. But I do seascapes and I the moment of a wave impact is often the focal point of the photo. So I like to do it in a single shot. Blending is a great way to capture a wave, and then capture the sky and blend them later. Trey does some of that too I think.
 
"If they show me a book of them, after about the eighth page, I’m dying to see a regular un-HDR’d image."

This is exactly how I feel, and why G+ Explore can be such a drag for photographers. It's one of the reason I follow few photogs.

That being said, I'm working hard to keep an open mind about HDR, and how popular it continues to be, especially among non-photographers.

I also play bass, and for a while everyone was learning to "slap" like a funkmeister. It was so popular that there was almost an instant backlash against it. You go to jams and people would say "no slapping" or see that same phrase in ads for bass players.

And, to some extent, they were right. There were a lot of mediocre bass players out there spending time on slapping instead of other stuff they needed to work on.

But, at the same time, a good bass player can make a wild range of sounds with his or her instrument, and at the end of the day, if you want to slap, go ahead and slap. Because it's just another tool in your kit as a working musician.

I tell myself this is why I should continue to experiment with HDR (and other multi-exposure techniques) and accept that others want to do so as well.
 
In #1 above, I think the causality is reversed: People who don't like HDR, or the idea of HDR at the outset, will never get good at it because they won't spend the time and effort necessary to become better.
 
I tend to agree with John's comments.  I don't follow a lot of photogs for the same reason.
 
+Mark Hurn Nothing against HDR technique.. in my case it just lost it's fun...does a photo need to look real?? of course not...all just personal preference.... I'm just an amateur but if i was ever to make a living out of photography and doing HDR would bring me some extra money i would do it in a heart beat...   =)
 
Of the two images, I definitely like looking at the non-HDR image better, but if I were to hang one on my wall... it would be the HDR image.
 
the one that looks like it has fog looks better
 
I agree with you! 

While HDR does look so nice, it's becomes a fake image. You go there, it will look nothing like that. Take a picture, nothing like that. You can only get that same image by changing the colors. 

Really, true HDR is just combining the different exposure images, and leaving it as is. No changing of colors. 
 
well said Scott Kelby, its the same here on my side. I never understood why such a small group of photogs would appose HDR images while the persons who interact with my work love them. Like i saw to the photogs they wont buy my images but i am happy that the greater target market appreciates them. 
 
Bad HDR:
Un-natural shadows or no shadows, looks like a computer game.

Good HDR:
Maintain the deep darks and the high brights where needed.

Easy-peasy :)

 
I've been using an HDR app on my cell to post. The increased definition helps the quality of the camera. Either way most of the photo is created digitally so I don't see much difference. I mean, is a pencil sketch not art because it's not done in oil?

I do like the top photo. How the detail in the forground pops did take skill.
 
I do like the HDR image better.  But behind color blind (red/green), I gravitate more to rich color and detail, since a lot of photo's to me look bland and muted. When I first started shooting HDR 2 years ago, I went for the more over the top effect.  Not knowing better and it looked cool to my color blind eye.  Made everything look Sci-Fi (love sci-fi movies and fantasy - 'Harry Potter').  I got a lot of good responses from people how it looked like a painting and so unbelievable or like out of a fantasy book.  I was so proud.  Little did I know, I wasn't do myself any justice to my Photography.  I was using tricks to be a better photographer. It made my photo's look like what I saw in my mind's eye.  I took more time on making sure I took better first shot photo's, getting correct color, white balance, exposure, using fill flash, all the great techniques to take better photo's.   Now use HDR techniques to look more photorealistic and use HDR to brighten the exposure and less about changing the tones of a color's and to over the top HDR effect.  I've enjoyed learning about how to take better HDR photo's from Trey Ratcliff reading his blog's and articles and books.  

I compare HDR from 2 years ago, 1 year ago and current... As a photographer, I don't feel the over the top looks as good, and I'm embarrassed at the pictures I created.  I think that learning to do it over the top first helped me understand how to do it better today.  And of course when to use HDR and when not too.  Now I use HDR to make very nice photo's that don't look over the top and I get even better comments.  Most of the time, people asking how I can make a picture look so good and look so nature out of my camera?  They are now asking for photography lesson's.  Not knowing they should be asking for HDR lesson's & photoshop lesson's.... or maybe both...  :-)
 
In this case I actually like the regular photo more, the HDR one is very dirty looking.
 
Art is art when done right. What is right? That's to the eye of the beholder. Today the differentiating factor is a technique. This is what separates a good photograph from a bad one. Nowadays, the spectrum includes an iPhone snapshot to a black-and-white archival print done in the Ansel Adams style of photography.
 
And remember when 'real photographers' would never use autofocus when it first came out?  ;-) 
 
HDR is just an arrow in your quiver of tricks and techniques for photo processing.  Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.  Why not use techniques that are available to get the photo that you feel best represents how you felt or what you saw when you took the photo?  Is it really any different than using two photos and masks inside PS? 
 
Paragraph (2) is one important thing. Everybody (not only the photographer who made the shot) should see the original shot (composition, story, emotional background) behind every HDR image.

HDR only makes better a good shot.
 
This might sound crazy, but i actually think that HDR is more life like. Hear me out. When you look at a single object with your own eyes in real life, you see full detail. what you are not focusing on is not in full detail. Your eyes dynamically adjust. When you take a still (non-hdr) the exposure is showing full detail only in a certain range. When you look over the image, you see high detail in some areas, and much lower detail in other. Since it is a still, when you change what you are focusing on the detail will not change. In HDR, everything is pretty much in full detail, regardless of where you are looking. Just like in real life if you focus on a single object its going to be in full detail. When you look at the picture as a whole though, you see detail that you normally couldn't with your own eyes though, so i guess that can make it less lifelike.
M Smith
 
Great article, mind reader
 
Is this like saying people love psychics so forget about science? I don't change my opinion because people not-in-the know ... don't know.
 
Does it really matter? The person who produces the image, HDR or not, is creating art and that art is approved of or not by the viewer.
HDR images are popular because people like them. HDR  images are fantastic if done right but so are unaltered images. This argument is like saying photography is better than painting because photographs are real. Look at any Ansel Addams photo, what you see was heavily manipulated to bring out the best qualities that Addams wanted to show the viewer. HDR is not that much different in spirit, it is just a tool that artists can use to produce an image that they want the viewer to see.
 
I myself am proud of taking what was mediocre and making it wow people.  I have read some of your books and try to stay within reason with my processing often taking 2 or 3 HDR renders of the same image and choosing parts I like from each in a final composition.
At the end of the day - like +Alex Koloskov told me, I just have to make sure I like my images (which I do!)
 
+Scott Kelby About your point #2, yes, "In your mind’s eye, you always see the original, 3-star regular exposure image" but I guess what you also "see" and did not mention here is your "total" experience in that moment - including the wind, the sound, the rolling waves and the thoughts and memories.  The HDR image, unlike the regular one, gets the the viewer closer to that "total" experience, and that is why that one is a better image.
Sean G
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Just seems that Real Photographers are getting annoyed that Anyone can take a Great Shot. What does this mean for photography?
Reminds me of iphone vs android... All what you like.
Matter of taste. You can read for hours on the debate.
Idk? Nor am I a Pro Photographer. 
Forget the noise... do what YOU like.
Can you imagine, one day, we can do everything from our phone & wont need High End Cameras?? Nooo! 
 
Besides the obvious HDR effect used in the photo, I wonder how much the yellow/blue color tones effected people's opinions of the shot.

People seem to flip their lid when they see yellow/blue as the dominant colors in a shot. Hollywood film poster designers seemed to discover this phenomenon a few years ago. The funny thing is most people that go crazy over the color scheme have no idea that it's the color scheme they are in love with.
 
This reminds me of the days when sound engineers first got their hands on affordable digital compressors, expanders and 24-band coloration filters. Some used it so hard and often that the ear got bored. Others used it to make music sound better, clearer and more detailed.

As with sound mixing, it is very hard not to overdo and after a while you can't hear/see clearly neutral anymore.
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I'd not thought about HDR in quite that way before. Interesting post, food for thought.

(I'm not nearly good enough with my photography yet to tackle HDR, but I'm curious to try it some time.)
 
that looks like last to this year hahaha LOL :)
 
People like all kinds of things in the moment, but what stands the test of time? It's like I'm still bugged by fake looking CGI and don't care how much the movie grossed. Mass appeal means a lot of people like something, so what?
 
I like HDR... but it doesn't mean I must like every HDR. Some HDRs are so overdone that they no longer look right to the gestalt laws.
That's why I prefer a toned down HDR instead of a single exposure shot or a "over the top HDR".

I know, you said that photorealism doesn't look like HDR... but that's because someone set that trend and most decided to follow. If it isn't overdone then it's not HDR. I do not agree, since I use HDR to take "almost natural" pictures that my cheap equipment wouldn't be able to capture. eg. http://static.panoramio.com/photos/1920x1280/69359050.jpg

Generally people love HDR because they look so unique and NEW, and hard to obtain = professional. New cameras have the HDR option built in, so in a year or two we will be overwhelmed with HDRs that finally people would be able to distinguish a Great HDR shots from a "meh" one.
 
Sometimes in black and white photos you can't tell some things apart.
 
In my opinion I do a lot of photography (digital) and on my phone. I am not impressed with HDR. I mean a lot of people always say when I post pictures they due always say that the HDR looks better but in my mind the original one is always the best one.
 
I like HDR, and I like shooting it. I try to keep a lid on it, but it's fun, and people do generally like it. I also like B&W and panos sometimes, when it seems right. Sometimes colors distract from the subject, or you want higher contrast without turning the image into a field of skittles, and B&W can help with that. I think post processing is an all-things-in-moderation kind of pursuit.

And as long as I'm throwing opinions around, I think there's more snobbery than reason in some (certainly not all) of the photographers who turn up their noses at HDR. Everyone has their own taste, but some people get a little in-your-face with it. Maybe they think it's fashionable to disdain HDR as a crutch (for those who can't magically overcome the bit-depth of their cameras sensors in a single exposure?), but I think you make a pretty good argument against that thinking in your post.
 
HDR has its purpose. I use it when I need a little extra dynamic range and my DSLR can't do it. So I push out 5 bracketed shots or take a RAW file if I end up shooting in RAW and create some faux frames out of the RAW file. Made some pretty nice, realistic images with it, and some far out ones as well. But I still prefer the close to reality images, and sometimes HDR just doesn't cut it.
 
+Scott Kelby I don't have any base objections to what is deemed 'HDR' these days, but a couple thoughts.....
  - I don't care at all for the images that are so over the top that halos are the dominant compositional element of the image, and every cloud in the sky is so dark/heavy that one can only assume a CAT5 hurricane is not far behind.  Your China boat image included in this post might be a hair overdone if I saw it as a standalone image. But I would agree it's much more appealing than the original in this case.
  - My other thought is that much of what I see referred to as 'HDR Photography' really isn't. Though the image originated from a photograph, the end result in many cases is much more 'painterly' than a photograph....or maybe what I used to know as 'printmaking' or 'illustration' or 'photo art'. And that's not a bad thing.....I've seen some tremendous image making being generated in that genre. I just wouldn't think of much of it as 'photography'.

In the end, it all comes down to the 'carpenter'. Do you always swing the HDR hammer as though it were a 20lb sledgehammer, or do you know how to use a finishing hammer as just that.

Good read!
 
I am not in love with HDR. No I'm not a photographer; however most of these HDR'd (?) images don't do justice to what was actually there. I understand some uses for HDR, but for simple every day use it can be a bit distracting.
 
You need a balance. For instance; in the pictures you used, the cityscape looks better in the HDR image, just because it's washed out in the regular image. That being, it's not HDR that makes the city stand out, but the aperture. So really, you should take a few pictures at different settings and take the best parts of each of them and merge them in Photoshop. I'm not a photographer, hell I don't even own a SLR or DSLR. Just my thoughts.
 
I guess I will go ahead and add my comments to this sea.  I like HDR.  I'm not particularly great at it.  I'm learning.  But, after a bit, I find I'm seeing things as they "could" be when I shoot.  I will commonly process single shot HDR.  It's time consuming as hell, but many times much superior, due to wind, other movement, etc.  When processing for HDR, I'm at both ends of the spectrum and all points between.  When processing, I'm trying to create the image I originally saw in my mind as the final shot. It sometimes take an ungodly amount of time.  I don't really care, as I'm not a professional and time isn't money.  I'm happy to report that I've had a gallery want to sell some of my prints.  I told them, I have a Creative Commons copyright, but to have at it!  If they give me even 5% and credit for the piece, I'm good.  I do this, as well as my woodworking, for myself.  It is a creative outlet.  If I don't create, sooner or later I get stifled.  
 
HDR's art makes pics so much visible... makes it alive....I love it!!!
 
I think people enjoy HDR because it shows details we don't usually recognize. I consider it being more of a painting art supported by some photo that originally was there. It's like being blessed with higher perception. Plus you usually find very brilliant colors - who doesn't enjoy those?

By the way: I like black and white material :-)

And I like "HDR" - but I don't like the abbreviation "HDR", because it's misleading; no 32bit display can even display what HDR really stands for. What we see when we talk about "HDR" is (in best case) just "based on some HDR image" - in worst case a normal 32bit image with higher saturation and contrast. So I think there should be another name for it. Maybe HBII / HB2 (Hdr Based Image Improvement). Err... [/blush] I'm getting carried away. Sorry.
 
Black and white images to me capture the sole purpose in which the image is trying to portray :)
 
I wish I could remember which photographer was quoted as saying, "a photograph is not an exact copy, but rather 'my opinion'". That statement is so true. It's all art and personal interpretation of a moment 'they experienced' and chose to share. Obviously, as an HDR shooter, I like HDR and certainly don't feel my art is cheating. But, again, that is my opinion. I'm not defending HDR so much as personal interpretation and expression. I know that subjects I'm passionate about or have a connection with--regardless of technnique--will always be my better work because I have not taken a photo copy of it; rather I have created a moment. A very special moment.

HDR, black & white, infra red, pano, composite, reverse lens, straight up photography, are all used as a medium to convey a moment that was personal to the artist. It's personal taste, like chocolate or vanilla. One is not the only right one...tastes are personal and emotional biased. And tastes change....
 
The Oxford Dictionary defines art as, "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power".  Photography is just another "visual form" so how can someone say we are not allowed "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination"?
 
I am one of those critics that usually  is not attracted to the HDR photos. They usually seem to have a hyper reality feel to them, and sometimes remind me of the neon clown or Elvis painted on black velvet paintings, visually SHOCKING.

Having said that, I rather like your HDR version of the boat and HK harbour. There is a light touch it seems to your processing that doesn't overwhelm the scene. The detail is nicely brought out and in my opinion reinforces the nautical mood. 
 
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Thesis.
Thesis who?
Thesis turning into a graduate level manifesto for some.
 
The textures are so much richer in the HDR shot.  I really do like that one better.  I understand where you can get HDR overload eventually though.
 
Would you use HDR, on a boat?

I could not use HDR, on a boat.
I will not use HDR, on a goat.
I will not use HDR in the rain.
I will not use HDR on a train.
Not in the dark! Not in a tree!
Not on a car! You let me be!
I do not like HDR in a box.
I do not like HDR on a fox.
I will not use it on a house.
I will not do it with my mouse.
I do not like it here or there.
I do not like it ANYWHERE!

You do not like it.
So you say.
Try it! Try it!
And you may.
Try it and you may, I say...
 
Very true! I love HDR photos and I'm not a photographer. You really have some awesome points here and I never realized this until you pointed it out! You definitely did a great job.
 
U cant please everyone, beleive me, I tried :\
 
Mmm, I believe most photographers are doing post-processing on their photo. Last nite in a party, I took some photo with my camphone, friends asked me to transfer the photo to them at once, but I didn't, I said, post-processing had to be done :P
 
In the HDR case, as a matter of fact, HDR photo are much more closer to the view our eyes are looking at. Our eyes are amazing, while we can see blue sky and white cloud, the model on the ground can still be bright enough to be in a photo! Without HDR, I can only hv one of these results; a dark face, or a "white" sky.
 
Yet, I don't take HDR photo often, the only reason is: I don't usually need to :)
 
What they're not telling you about HDR... What HDR is! :p
 
As with clarity, vibrance or saturation, it's hard to tell when you've crossed the line after you've committed to HDR. I agree with the blog post. Good HDR is hard!
 
I agree with your thoughts on HDR.  Good HDR is nice and great HDR doesn't look like HDR at all.
 
+Scott Kelby I enjoy your books and own a few of them. You're aware that your non-HDR photo needs post-processing in the first place and that both best exposure and post-processing of a basic kind would have brought out suface texture and you could have enhanced the cityscape since there was some detail there.
  It's just not a good example because you didn't do what you tell us to do in your books.  You presented it as-is (or if it was post-processed, it was a poorly taken image, which is not like you).

Your HDR'd photo got surface detail well, of course but you made the cityscape so over painted-in, in effect, that it loses a sense of seeing it in the distance -- it's as if someone plopped the cityscape separately into the pic so we'd notice it. Like a stage background.  I prefer the first image only because you presented a washed out primary image that you'd never accept for your book as-is.

But you gave an example, at least, of HDR work that is not garish, as is true much too often and makes me wonder if people are appreciative of beautiful colors we see in nature.  Too often HDR work is cartoonish and seems to show a lack of trust in even normal colors slightly boosted in saturation.  They're like illustrations for children's books, as exaggeration can help awareness there.
 
The problem is that HDR (in opposite LE and IR) changes nature. All we know about beauty we have found in nature  If we change nature ...  And If people go to the spot they saw before in a superb HDR image they are mostly disappointed - and maybe don't like nature anymore and maybe don't care about anymore ...
 
As a rank amateur but enthusiastic photographer, so often have I taken  a picture of a spectacular scene that resulted in a disappointing photo.   If HDR can transform a mediocre photo into the spectacular, it would be payback.  I don't understand the natural vs unnatural debate, all photographs are artifacts, and all photographs are the result of manipulation, if not the by the photographer or post processor, then by the technology embedded in the camera. 
 
Thanks for sharing, very insightful..
 
Everything is great, but the picture is not taken in China. It's on the star ferry in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was a British exclave for one and a half century, and although its sovereignty was given to China for one and a half decade, it has a unique culture and it's resident shared a particular identity. 
 
Scott, I like the way you see the things... this is all true and reproducible.
 
+Maciej Łaszewski You said:  "In fact, the best HDR processed photo is the one, where you can't tell if HDR was used or not." and that is exactly my opinion as well. When I first saw examples of HDR processing in a photography magazine, I thought "Nice, rich color, even lighting" and then I started seeing the version that you often see nowadays, and I thought "Oh make it stop, my eyes are burning!"
 
I am just a HDR beginner and I have tried several shots with my own works. I am not satisfied with my current HDR pictures, because they are not natural. I agree that certain scenes are better than others suited for HDR. I will try those with rich textures and thank you for your tips. Learn a lot!
 
A sane article on HDR to balance the rather emotional rants elsewhere.  I find it baffling that there are people who are posting examples of 'bad HDR' (that they 'hate').  One estimate has 375 billion new photos being taken each year with around 3.5 trillion photos (analogue and digital) taken to date.  How many 'bad photos' will have been taken?  Lots, of course.  Some will be processed using tools such as HDR, others will just have been tweaked in Photoshop.  And some 'bad photographs' (gosh) may well have been taken by members of Group f/64 with their 'new-fangled' approach to photography.  As Ansel Adams said, an image should say something about the emotion that the photographer felt when capturing the image.  You may want to use HDR techniques or slave for hours in Photoshop or Aperture to achieve this result.  Adams sometimes spent weeks processing a single plate - dodging and burning to achieve the result he was looking for.  I wonder what he would have thought about Photoshop?
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