It’s Time We Had A Word About Overdone HDR Photography… [Opinion]

logo   Its Time We Had A Word About Overdone HDR Photography... [Opinion]HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and in photographic terms generally produces an image with even highlights, midtones and shadows so the entire scene is balanced, and evenly exposed. Recently I’ve not been seeing much of this when it comes to HDR on the web. I’m talking about overdone, blown-out seizure-inducing “photographs” where each and every slider has been cranked up to 11. What happened? Did the novelty wear off or am I just a miserable sod?

It’s time for a step back. Let’s all reflect upon HDR, its overuse and what else is necessary to take a good photograph or become an accomplished photographer.

Examples

These two examples were both intentionally created to be bad but perfectly capture the essence of overdone HDR:

hdrdisaster   Its Time We Had A Word About Overdone HDR Photography... [Opinion]

clownhome   Its Time We Had A Word About Overdone HDR Photography... [Opinion]

1. Learn How To Use Your Camera

So you’ve bought/inherited/won/found a decent camera. It’s a digital SLR, it shoots RAW, has changeable lenses and a lot of modes and settings to play with. Before googling the sweetest “how to HDR the crap out of your back yard” tutorial, it’s worth taking the time to master your camera.

Photography is an extremely accessible hobby these days, but also one that requires a bit of technical knowledge. This shouldn’t put newbies off. Basic concepts that will vastly improve understanding of photography and how your camera works include aperture, shutter speeds, ISO settings, your camera’s primary modes, metering and white balance (amongst others).

1learncamera   Its Time We Had A Word About Overdone HDR Photography... [Opinion]

It might take you a week to get the basics right but months of practice are generally required before you’re at ease with every function. Don’t fret, it’s a rewarding process with results you can admire as your technique improves.

Download: MakeUseOf Guide – Essential Guide To Digital Photography

Read: How To Read Your Camera’s Histogram And Take Perfectly Balanced Images

2. Composition & Subject

Unfortunately, simply squeezing the shutter and firing off 3 bracketed shots is not enough to create an interesting image. What I’m saying here is Photomatix or Photoshop will not produce a particularly interesting photograph.

Composition is one of the most important considerations to make before taking a photograph. Sure, you can spruce up a dull photo in post but if the photo is dull in the first place it is likely that no amount of burning, dodging, masking or tonemapping will save it.

2composition   Its Time We Had A Word About Overdone HDR Photography... [Opinion]

Learn about the rule of thirds. Hit up Amazon or head down to a good bookshop and pick up relevant guides on photography, other photographers work and do your research. When looking at a striking image ask yourself what it is about the image that makes it so powerful? For the most part subject and composition have far more value than darkroom or Photoshop tweaks.

Links: Digital Photography School – Composition Tips

3. Critique Or “You’re Doing It Wrong”

Flickr doesn’t count. Sorry, but I’ve seen plenty of badly overdone HDR shots on Flickr awarded all manner of dancing animated .GIF “Ur photo rox” awards – and it’s really not helping anyone. Getting proper critique will improve your technique as you learn from your mistakes. Flickr is not the way to go.

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Message boards are usually the answer. There are a huge amount of dedicated photo communities out there that encourage proper criticism. I can’t help but feel endless lists of “this is amazing!” comments on uninteresting and gaudy tonemapped images are only fuelling the fire. Add to the fact that Flickr allows the deletion of comments….

Links: Photography Review – The Power of Photo Critique, Jim M. Goldstein – Top 10 Most Annoying Photography Critique Comments

4. Photoshop

photoshoplogo   Its Time We Had A Word About Overdone HDR Photography... [Opinion]All modern digital SLRs shoot RAW, which is an uncompressed image format that allows for some serious processing in Photoshop or other image editors. RAW files allow values such as white balance and exposure to be modified in order to save or enhance a photo. Learning how to tidy up non-HDR photos before diving into tonemapped HDRs bodes well.

There are also alternatives to HDR in some occasions, and it’s probably worth learning about those too. Masking and precise adjustments require more work than selecting 3 files and moving some sliders about, but generally produce more natural and refined images. Check out our Photoshop articles and guides for some great advice.

Download: MakeUseOf Guide – An Idiot’s Guide To Photoshop [Part 1] [Part 2]

Read: How To Edit RAW Photos In Adobe Camera RAW, 4 Great Tools For Editing RAW Photos In Linux

5. Using HDR Appropriately

I’m not saying all HDR is bad, and there is a time and a place for it. Graduated neutral density filters are great for exposing perfect skies for stunning landscapes, but unless your horizon is fairly straight you’ve got an issue. In these instances, sure – why not?

5naturalhdr   Its Time We Had A Word About Overdone HDR Photography... [Opinion]

Try to resist the urge to jack everything up to 11. Consider your shot first. People generally look a bit alien in HDR, and if there are halos (glowing edges where exposures have been blended) appearing on the image then chances are you went a bit too far.

The best HDR shots I’ve seen were not obvious tonemapped images, and thus didn’t scream “HDR w00t!” upon first glance. Just saying…

Conclusion

HDR is a technique designed to create balanced, evenly exposed images. Unfortunately it’s been done to death, and much of the time is painful to look at. Of course this is my opinion, and we’d love to hear what you’ve got to say in the comments.

What do you think? Awesome neat-o technique or done to death? Do you use HDR?

Image Credits: densaer, Focal Intent, D700 + 24mm f1.4G by Fried Toast, The Rule of Thirds by fd, Rainbow Fuji (natural HDR) by Starfires

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3 Comments -

0 votes

Jerocis

For a sampling of stunningly beautiful HDR photos, look up +Alex Koloskov on G+. His work is amazing.

0 votes

A While Ago…

Although I understand the goal of this article, there is something the author doesn’t understand or is not taking into account.
There are several areas where HDR is intentionally overdone(!) and obviously, those who look at HDR as a way of enhancing a photo will criticize, completely out of the context, against that kind of work. No, Flickr comments DO count!The first time I realized how HDR was done, I’ve enhanced a photo to the point a hobbyist-photographer (friend of mine) said to me that the photo was completely unreal!And I said “Yes, I know! That’s the purpose! It’s going to be used in a music album artwork!”Overdone HDR is not bad! It depends on the purpose of the photo.Did you noticed that your first photo, that you made to make “fun” of overdone HDR, as an interesting 3D look effect?Did you noticed that your second photo, that you made to make “fun” of overdone HDR, seems like a real paint?There are no rules when using “bought/inherited/won/found” decent camera you can find today. What you are seeing/experiencing is the expansion possibilities given by technology to everyone. You can create anything and everything, there is no wrong or overdone!The last photo you mention has a good balanced HDR effect…to you! In my perspective, it’s tasteless! It’s just one more photo with a mountain and a lake. A completely normal and common picture.To me, it really doesn’t matter if it has a good composition, balanced colors or whatever. What matters is, if the final result is/isn’t adequate to what is desired! And that always(!) depends on what the photo is going to used for.Nothing more nothing less!

0 votes

Tim Brookes

Hi, and thanks for your comment. This article is purely opinion (my own), and let’s face it – everyone’s got one. I can see your way of thinking, but after about a decade of coming across boring photos that have been tone-mapped to hell and back I’ve become a bit jaded. 

My main criticism of Flickr comments is that I see Flickr simply as a popularity contest, much like DeviantArt, and while both resources are great websites for a variety of reasons they simply are not great places to get honest critique. If Flickr was more critique oriented it would have geared itself as such, but that was never their intention in the first place. The fact that comments are two clicks away from deletion further strengthens this.

My main issue with overdone HDR is that it is more often than not used as a tool to spruce up a photo that had little to no interesting factors in the first place. This should not be how photography is approached! It’s easy these days to shoot hundreds of pictures in the space of an hour, but pausing before each exposure to consider subject, composition and your camera’s settings will improve your photography far more than Photomatix or some other tonemapping software.

I think every photographer who’s tried HDR has come up with an overly tonemapped image that initially looks quite good, solely because you can never see HDR with the naked eye. Maybe I’m wired wrong, but “unnatural” doesn’t necessarily mean “good” or “appropriate” and things like halos, over-saturation and the general “turn it up to 11″ factor many HDR suites provide should, in my opinion, be avoided at all costs.

Thanks for adding your opinion, that’s what the comments are for after all! Apologies for this late reply too.

Tim