Why I hate HDR with a passion

As a foreword, I’m *not* going to illustrate this post with any HDR picture. First, because I’ve never made one. Second, because I’m reluctant showcasing other people’s work unless it’s nearly in public domain (like I would feature a photo by Don Mc Cullin, for instance, since his work is so iconic everybody has seen it)…
So WHY does HDR makes me sick ? 1) visually, I find it offensive. Unless it’s very, VERY subtly done, it always remotely looks like vomit. 2) because it goes against my driving photographic principle which is CHOICE (the same reason I dislike auto modes, auto crop, and pretty much autoeverything…). Let me dig a bit deeper here. What is photography about, if not choice ? We chose the subject of the image. Its size, shape. Traditionally we’ll go with 3:2, but compact cams have had 4:3 ratio forever, and I personally love shooting 1:1 (also known as 6:6, which is, the square format). Lately we got 16:9 that work well for landscape, and even panoramas that strech even longer and thinner…
Then, you chose whether you want color, or monochrome (and in the digital age can even have the luxury of both). So now on to the biggies : exposure, depth of field, and focus area. To me photography is all about storytelling. Getting both a visual and emotional response by telling a certain story, a certain way. How much of the frame you chose to be in focus, how much is blurred, and what to have sharp, is a super powerful tool in the storytelling box. But obviously exposure is, too. The dynamic range (tonality scale) of modern digital cameras as pretty much equalled that of film now, but is yet short of the human eye. Meaning that unless you have pretty flat and even lighting conditions (yawn….), you ‘ll get some contrast, sometimes strong, and that you need to *chose* how you want to spread your exposure over the frame. There, to me, comes the principle of choice, which HDR destroys and evens out by making everything equally vomitty (I’m purposefully exagerating here, but you get the idea). My images have bright patches, and dark areas. Like my life, right ? Don’t yours ? Is your life an even and perfectly equal and balanced place ?? Nah,,, I dind’t think so either. Perfection and equality are beautiful concepts… but they’re just that. Virtual ideas. Nothing is perfect (coming close is already a feat) and nothing is equal (as much as we must strive to aim at it). So I’m not terrified of a few blown highlights, nor do I try to get rid of any blocked shadows. If strong contrast with those elements is what I’m dealing with, I’ll just try to gracefully use them, to the advantage of the story I’m hinting at

Has07Avr14-05Ok, this is not a great example, as lighting is pretty well distributed here, but I still could have tamed the shadows in the back, and trie to lessen the bright areas on the horse’s forehead. Except I had no desire to do so

Has10Mai14-23Blown backround, sure. And ?

Has6Nov13-21Ok, here we go. Burned highlights, blocked shadows. And still one of my very favorite pictures from 2013 (YMMV)

So people let’s start embracing our limitations rather than always trying to fight, and be frustrated by, them. Let you chose how you’ll want to distribute the light you have at hand, and find how it contributes to sending your message ?

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About marla2008

Shutterbug. Shallow DOF nut. Mother of Child. Student of the Horse.
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13 Responses to Why I hate HDR with a passion

  1. irifi says:

    Gawd, why don’t you just speak your mind, and be honest about it . . .

    Psst . . the shot of the horse is beautiful . .

  2. Funny, I think the V word comes to my mind naturally when it comes to describe HDR pictures. I took a look the other day at the Flickr HDR group, and I think 99% of the pictures are horrendous. However, there is another blog I am following (http://blog.atmtxphoto.com/, he sometimes comments in VSL) that contains, imho, some really spectacular and subtle examples of HDR pictures.

  3. Forgot to tell you that the last picture is really spectacular.

    • marla2008 says:

      Thanks Laurent !!! I do know the site you are referring too, and yes, *some* very rare HDR photogs truly know their stuff and give the genre its “nobility letters”. However, as you pointed out, 99% of it is atrocious…

  4. I think decent HDR is a real skill, very hard to do well. Irifi was bring sarcastic about how honest you were being. I agree, there’s nothing wrong with burnt highlights or blocked shadows, sometimes an image lends itself to exactly that, like the horsey pic, which Is lovely 🙂

  5. James (Aus.) says:

    Couldn’t agree more. HDR is the photo equivalent of the infamous Australian “technicolour yawn”. What amazes me is how much pride its practitioners have in their concoctions. In their HDR world there’s nowhere the sun ain’t shinin’.

  6. jls says:

    I also agree with you. As for blown out bits and dark bits, they make it interesting. I spent some time with one of NZ’s top photographers last week and during thus time we talked about exposure. His answer was you make sure the exposure is right for your subject. It doesn’t matter about the rest. If it’s blown out, it’s blown out. If your subject is blown out, well the you have a problem.

    I’ve enjoyed your last few posts. Some great shots but that portrait of Gwen is my favourite.

    • marla2008 says:

      Absolutely there with you as well ! Brian Peterson, who wrote several books on exposure, always speaks about exposureS plural, because different ones can be suited for a same subject, depending on how you want to render it. He goes against the concept of one, cookie cutter “correct” exposure.

  7. Trecento says:

    I really love that last picture! And I totally agree with using blocked shadows or blown highlights to tell the story. The only blown highlights I dislike are ones where only one channel is blown, where you get weirdly vivid yellow-green grass because the red channel or blue channel is completely gone. But that’s because I find those colors distracting, not because of any fetish about technical correctness.

    On a personal level, I enjoy some HDR work, but that’s because I see it as a kind of illustration, and compare it to the watercolor illustrations I see in my children’s books. In fact, I think most HDR doesn’t go far enough away from reality. It’s the nebulous not-quite-an-illustration, not-really-a-photograph stuff that I don’t like.

    • marla2008 says:

      I can totally see your point of view. Indeed, heavily but artistically manipulated photographs are ok if they are only the ground on which another reality is built. As you say, it’s the awkward too-much-but-not-enough that is a disgrace. But then again, I don’t want to appear untolerant. If people enjoy HDR (and hords of them do) it’s absolutely fine and they should indulge. I just think it has ruined many a decent picture 😉

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