There are always a myriad of styles and techniques coming down the pike, and I’m always on the lookout for what is professionally useful versus passing fads or amateurish approaches. I started experimenting with High Dynamic Range photography years ago, a process of shooting several bracketed exposures of a scene and combining them into one with a greater detail from highlights to the shadows, something closer to what the human eye sees.
HDR photography is one of those techniques that definitely had a “wow” factor when I first came across it and I tried to sell it to several clients doing pictorial work, with no success. It seemed a bit too surreal, they said – and they were right. In my early experiments I had fallen into the trap like many photographers on sites like Flickr’s HDR Group, with images way too unrealistic and perhaps cartoon-ish, but I also saw its potential in some of the work.
This image, taken for the cover of The West Hartford Book, is an example of how HDR was used to enhance the scene and also solve the problem of balancing detail from shadows, daylight, street lamps and a wide range of light fixtures. Much of the detail from the intensity of streetlights and the stores’s spotlights were lost in a single exposure, and HDR was the perfect solution to restore the richness of tone and color in the scene.
With all its maligned reputation, HDR may be the future of photography or at least an available option for certain situations. My iPhone’s built in camera has an HDR option, and I also have two other apps that shoot HDR with surprising good results – if only just to impress others (“you took that with the iPhone?”). There are several camera manufacturers that already have HDR or “exposure blending” built in.
Using HDR for certain situations is just another solution to get around the limitations of the range of what a single exposure can capture. I’ve learned to dial back HDR’s sledgehammer approach and have used it in many situations where clients often do not even know that HDR was used, nor would they care. A previous post about the Connecticut Science Center building is another HDR example. Ultimately, the goal is a realistic image that tells a story without calling too much attention to the process, a delicate balance in this age of easy manipulation.