The Thing About HDR Photography

Mention “HDR”… then Duck!

Mere mention of “HDR Photography” can be very polarizing amongst photographers. There are thems that love it – and thems that think HDR is the end of civilization as we know it. Or something along those apocalyptic lines. I like shooting HDR (High Dynamic Range). It’s fun. I like color – and I like the option the see allllll the variances of color and light in a photo. Where a typical photo can handle 6 or so f-stops (levels) of light, a human eye can take in 12 to 14 levels of light. HDR lets you create a photograph that’s more in line with what your eye sees. And I love doing that.


Ack! It’s Not Traditional!

But here’s where it gets wonky for some. It’s not traditional. That bugs alot of people, because they say “that’s not photography.” I know that’s how the ballet dance world felt when modern dance was born. Oooo, the haters! “It’s not traditional!!” they ranted. “It’s not dance!” they sniffed. No it wasn’t… and yes it was, as it turned out. Energy and creativity isn’t static. It moves, grows and recreates itself, often in surprising ways. That’s the nature of life, like it or not.  But that also feels unsafe to many, no matter what field they’re in. Because the “status quo” is somehow wired into our collective DNA as being the “safe place”.

A wonderful voice coach of mine, Marice Tobias used to tell a story of “Louie the Crab”. It goes something like this: You’ve got a bucket of crabs. In the bucket of crabs, there’s Louie. He dreams of being more just another crab in the bucket. He needs to get out. See the world. Find other like-minded Louies and be all the Louie he can be in his short lifetime. So he climbs… and climbs… and reaches the top of the bucket, seemingly unnoticed by the other crabs. Just as he’s about to cross over into the new world, a single claw reaches out, grabs Louie’s leg and pulls him back into the bucket. Why? Because the collective crab consciousness says;  “All members of the society must be present for its survival”. Nevermind that they’re about to all go into a big vat of boiling water anyway. They didn’t get that memo.

Marice would tell this story as a preparation for the mentality that happens around you as you become more successful in the voice business. People tend to tear you down because it threatens their structured existence, which does not include you making more money, having more opportunities – or whatever – than them. Unfortunately, that thinking completely misses understanding that there’s really enough to go around for EVERYONE.

So that’s how I think of it when someone goes after HDR so vehemently. It does threaten the status quo of “traditional”. I get it – I was born into traditional photography. Fact is, I still love it. People get confused sometimes when they see some of my more traditional work, because I’m known more for HDR these days. At this point in my life, I crave color, vibrancy, texture and the “yum factor” of this type of art. But here was a time I was ALLLLL about black and white and moodiness and the tortured soul of the artist. And those were the photos I created back then. Color was so… garish, so common, so literal. “Pweh!” (you had to make that sound with a French accent. hahaha!)

Living Your LIFE As Your Art

It’s such a personal journey. Personally, I love living my life as if  life itself were my art. Meaning, fill it with meaning and things that make my heart happy. No, I don’t love all HDR that I see, nor do I love all music, dance or any other art. What I DO love is seeing people’s vision, no matter whether  it’s to my personal taste or not. Watching how they try to bring this unnameable, unknowable force that vibrates undeniably within them to life through their art. Their heart, soul and spirit won’t let them sleep until they do. It’s kind of like that part of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Remember that? Where this group of people find themselves all seeing the same image in their minds: a tabletop mountain. And they HAVE to recreate it through whatever means they have at hand, whether it’s drawing, painting… even mashed potatoes. They can’t stop till they do! A drive like that is something you can’t ignore. Nor rightfully judge. Although people do, unfortunately.

I saw HDR photography in my mind way before I saw Trey Ratciff’s work. I couldn’t stop seeing it! It got lodged in there and wouldn’t go away. But I had no idea what it was, nor how to do it until I discovered Trey’s work and his free HDR tutorial (thanks for showing it to me Eric Smith!!). I jumped in with both feet and never looked back. I still shoot “regular” photographs for my other loves of macro, long exposure and people shots. But for landscapes and architecture… I loves my HDR.

For the haters… well, I’m sorry. No, I’m not apologizing. I’m sorry that you live in bitterness. That can’t be fun for you. So here’s my wish:  In this lifetime, may you find whatever it is that exhilarates you, makes your soul speak and your heart soar. That makes you want to climb out of your crabby bucket come hell or high water.  Because the view from outside of bucketlandia is… breathtaking. It will not only become the “signature” of your work, whatever it is… it will turn your life into the art it was always intended to be. Peace out.


6 thoughts on “The Thing About HDR Photography

  1. It was in the 70’s that Ansel Adams came to San Francisco for a talk. Of course, as a budding film photographer, I hung on his every-word and was fascinated at his description of taking multiple exposures of the same scene and then ‘dodged and burned’ them into one print in the DARKROOM. “The magic happens in the darkroom”, Ansel stated.

    Although i loved the magic of the darkroom, my lungs did not; the chemicals were just too caustic.

    Isn’t it delightful that decades later, we ALL can now merge different levels of light into one image without the chemical intrusion, and carry on Ansel’s work of presenting a story through the reflections of that light?

    As said at the SFPhotowalk, I love your work and their stories touch and inspire me – as surely more similarly feel this than those who don’t.

    Yes, there will always be the ‘haters’ out there but the reality is a DARKROOM has always been the MAIN element in photography – just that today it is called LIGHTROOM :>)

  2. I’ve commented on your Google+ post as well.

    But, I think it is safe to assume that the argument in the UK on HDR is considered as its a “No goer”, as we are in the UK a pretty much ‘stuffy old lot’ and prefer not to change things. Camera club judges in general dont like it! There seems to be this ‘block’ of understanding it. I suppose those that have made an HDR image and gone to town on it “Grunged it up” as you would say, have been responsible for the “I dislike it” brigade.
    Here are some thoughts that I have had for a long time though about HDR and post editing in general.
    1/. It took a long time for colour photography to be “accepted”…
    – Even Cartier Bresson was not an advocate of colour!
    2/. The advent of the Leica and 35mm photography took a while to catch on…
    – Medium format was consider to be “the be all and end all” in photography…
    3/. For how long have photographers manipulated images?
    – Since Photography was invented!
    4/. Do you think Ansel Adams would have liked HDR?
    – You bet your life he would. He is/was the most prolific of all image manipulators.
    5/. When does art stop and photography start.
    – In my opinion now its seamless. HDR, filtration and manipulation (post editing) to an image is artistry.
    And long may it continue…

  3. As I heard trey ratcliff say once “frankenstein” -ing pictures together is a lot of fun! Hdr is great, so is a single exposure, who cares as long as you like what you see and what you come up with.. really dig all your photos Karen.

  4. Looks like you just poured your heart out for HDR. I just get the feel that this came out after I saw a recent comment on one of your posts when somebody mentioned “throw that hdr out” 😉 Nevertheless a great article and anybody questioning hdr should be directed to this… it.

    1. Thanks Ratul!
      Actually, I didn’t see that particular comment… but do see lots of others. This post really comes more from a loooong time of thinking about the whole discussion. And reading incredibly awful comments mostly on other people’s streams. I certainly get a few haters, but I’m pretty fortunate in that my audience has a very big collective heart. We always try to rise above snarkiness. But I always felt there was a point I wanted to make about it all that didn’t JUST address HDR (which is a dead end conversation IMO) – but spoke to a bigger point of view. For some reason, it finally gelled in my head what I wanted to say about it today. 😀

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