HDR Photography – What is it?

(Click on a small picture to open the gallery and see larger images)

A great photographer, Ansel Adams, once said “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

There is a debate going on between photographers – 2 camps, the traditionalist that favours film vs. the new age digital champion. The traditionalist says that a digital camera cannot produce the quality photograph that a film camera can. The digital camp say nonsense it is quicker, truer, and more fun to use a digital camera.

I don’t really see the point of either argument. With either medium it is possible to take very good photos as well as very bad photos. For me the medium used is the expression of one’s art. A graffitti artist uses a spray can while a 3D street drawing artist uses chalk. Both are valid art forms. Likewise with digital & film cameras. With photography the art is in the the mind’s eye first and then in the development thereof. The camera captures the moment. The development of the image transforms that moment into something the viewer can enjoy. If you are a traditionalist and are  fortunate enough to have the space, equipment and technical know-how, you can develop that image carefully and artistically. If you are not that fortunate, then the best you can do is send the negatives away for development and hope that the end product is what you wanted.

The digital age renders all that unnecessary. It still is not inexpensive, for in order to be artistic, one needs software. Sometimes very special software which could cost quite a lot of money.

For this blog I decided to demonstrate one form of digital photography called HDR photography, or High Dynamic Range photography. This form of photography is specialised. With traditional film you would need a lab capable of layering images onto the photographic paper and I imagine it would be very difficult to do, if indeed it is at all possible.

In the digital world it is easier. An HDR photo is actually more than one exposure of the same image using different exposure settings. Most DSLR cameras have the capability of bracketing an image. That is to say, 3 exposures, or images, of the same subject, one of which is correctly exposed; one under exposed and one over exposed. Using software these images are then combined into a single image which results in a much richer image. One can tweak the image to manipulate the brightness, overall saturation, saturation of highlights and shadows, contrast and many other attributes. The photographer decides which attributes to alter to achieve the desired image. Some DSLRs offer a wider bracketing range of 5 or more images.

In the gallery above I have tried to illustrate some of these points, sometimes to the point of overdoing it, so that you can see the difference. I have also included one set of 3 photos of the sun’s rays filtering through the cloud which shows the correctly, over and under  exposed originals before creating the HDR image.

I do not consider myself an expert in HDR yet, but I think it is an interesting art form and one that is worth the effort taken to learn it.

There are other photography styles that I will cover in future blogs, Portraiture, Landscapes, Long Exposure to name but a few.

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