To HDR or not to HDR……

When I posted my article on in-camera HDR I genuinely did not expect to stir up a controversy. I set out only to demonstrate the Canon 5D mk III’s capability and I chose the Art Bold setting on the basis that it would hopefully produce output similar to that which I associate with HDR.  I don’t think I actually said HDR is bad. I simply said I didn’t like it. A lot of the debate was off-line from the blog but one commenter thought it was wrong to choose the Art Bold (or is it Bold Art) setting if I don’t like the postcard effect. Fair comment but I visited a couple of Flickr groups to see what passes for HDR and frankly I don’t think the bold approach was too far adrift. Check this out:

So maybe the very expression HDR is being corrupted. This is what the founder (?) says about the HDR Anything group:

HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography is just another avenue to make your photos stand out in a croud, Post you HDR Photos that are pushed to the limit, Huge amounts of Color, Braod Landscapes, Whatever!!! Just make sure that the photos are Fantastic.  (sicut)

Pushed to the limit…… I rest my case. On the other hand there are very different approaches to managing HDR. It is comparatively recently that I even began to attempt anything more than the most basic post processing. I was blown away by some of the images I saw and I turned, on personal recommendation, to Sean Bagshaw’s tutorials. I’m not here to plug Sean’s tutorials, they just happen to be the ones I tried. I am sure there are others. I see Tony Kuyper cited a great deal. Take your pick. I also turn to for inspiration. This seems to me to be a body of work that includes a very different approach to extending dynamic range. Altogether more subtle yet also powerful in that the images begin to illustrate what the eye sees but the sensor cannot replicate.

One debater pointed out the time consumed in producing worthwhile HDR images and argued that HDR can not be generated in camera.

So in fairness I shot a couple of frames today on ‘HDR Standard”.

Firstly, the non-HDR shot. And as before other than resizing and a soupcon of USM these are as they come.

Plant - no HDR applied

And with HDR:

Plant with HDR in-camera applied

Take your pick. The HDR shot was at +/-2 stops off a base exposure of +1/3, 1/8s, F3.5, ISO 200.

The “without” shot was intended to be the same base settings but when I checked the EXIF it says the exposure compensation was zero. Mea culpa.

Now here are 2 more shots: one HDR in-camera but this time only =/- 1 stop and the other has been post-processed to see whether I can pull out more detail than the simple in camera programme.


HDR in-camera shot @ standard


No in-camera HDR applied - separately post-processed

Maybe this was just too tough a test but in my view the manual adjustments win hands down in the ability to draw detail out of the dark areas. Here I used Sean Bagshaw’s techniques of manipulating the darks and lights separately and creating layers that I could then blend. The camera took a few seconds. I took maybe 5-10 minutes but I’m slow 😦

If you are struggling to work out what this image is, it is a group of larvae of the moth Metanastria gemella on a tree trunk. I don’t know why they congregate like this but I see them each year and sometimes in much bigger gatherings. Perhaps they think they are wildebeest, thundering across the plains of Hong Kong.

When I look at these images and the ones I posted before I can not help but agree with the comment that HDR can’t be done in camera. Or perhaps it should be can’t be done well in camera. Feel free to disagree and if you like what it gives you, that’s fine by me. There is an image in the HDR Anything group, where the photographer attempts quite nicely to explain how the finished image was arrived at and his own response to the “I don’t like HDR” crowd. Here is a link to the  image “A Forest in Islamabad (4 shot HDR)“.

I also recall a very good article by Scotty Graham on Steve Huff’s site a while back. Here it is:

The article itself was a good read for me as I had gone back to rangefinders myself for certain types of photography. I was (and I still am) using my M3 and my M9 and I guess the difference was that I was still also using my 1D mk IV for birds and natural history generally. An M9 isn’t much use for birds in flight!! What was startling was some of the reaction to the images Scotty used to illustrate his article. The word I would use is disproportionate. So before you jump into the love or hate camp just remember, most of us do this for pleasure. Few of us are privileged to do this for a living and I doubt if many who do get rich doing so.

I guess this is a topic that could run and run but for me it is closed. Over to you.