HDR Doesn’t Suck Anymore. (Well, it Doesn’t Have to, Anyway).

Remember when HDR images all pretty much looked like this?

I had to go download a trial copy of Photomatix Pro 6 to get this classic look (ahem), that we saw so often at the birth of HDR photography.

Oh wait, I forgot the heavy Vignette.

Today, HDR (processed in Lightroom) looks like this (below):

Even Photomatix Pro 6 now has a bunch of presets that look more realistic and normal (though sadly they did keep some presets like the one you see up top, and worse, so -5 points on them. Just remember; just because the preset is there, doesn’t mean you have to cllick it).

The Damage Has Been Done

As a presenter teaching live seminars, when I say the word “HDR” in front of a crowd of photographers, the image at the top of this post is what instantly pops up in photographer’s minds, and you can literally see people in the crowd making faces like they’re smelling the inside of a wooden leg. That’s because they’re picturing that overly vibrant, Harry-Potter-esque look so many found an affront to good taste, honest living, and all we hold sacred as photographers. In our minds, that is HDR.

But HDR has changed.

Now it’s back to what I think it was first intended to be, which is a way for us to have our cameras capture and record a wider tonal range than today’s sensor’s can manage. It’s the shot of a cathedral where the stained glass windows are no longer blown out to solid white, but have their full color, depth, and dimension. Landscapes, interiors, architecture, and many more genres will have us doing less heavy lifting to make the image we see on screen looks like the image our eyes saw in person. If we manage to make the scene look even better, then even better.

How Do We Change That Initial Reaction?

I’d love to see us get to a place where when we mention HDR it doesn’t automatically elicit a negative response from photographers. I know that today, every time someone does one of those over-the-top HDR images, God kills a kitten, but that’s not enough.

I’m hoping that the more people try Lightroom’s built-in HDR, the more they’ll realize the benefits of that expanded tonal range (like we talked about here last Friday), and that at some point we’ll get past the past. I’d love to see us see HDR as an awesome tool that makes our photos more realistic, with a wider range of editing available to us without adding noise and damaging the image.

So, what I guess I’m asking is; the next time you hear the term HDR, and you immediately conjure up something like this HDR image…

…instead, try to mentally replace it with this HDR image (below):

Stepping off my soapbox now. 🙂

Here’s wishing you at least a semi-realistic day! 🙂


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