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Why I Don’t Do HDR

I sometimes get asked about HDR (high dynamic range) images. Those who haven't browsed my website extensively will ask if I do HDR. Many will assume I do HDR or some sort of variation on it. Those who know me a little better will ask why I don't do HDR. Whatever the case, I thought I'd post this entry to lay out my thoughts on HDR.

First things first: I don't do HDR. I've never done an HDR. None of my images on my blog or website are HDR, nor have they ever set foot in Photoshop. I never airbrush, combine, dodge, burn or heavily alter my images. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I'll tell you that I make very minor adjustments to my digital files in order to get them to more closely resemble the film I used to use - Fuji Velvia. I'll also tweak the white balance on the RAW file because I don't like to think about white balance when I'm out in the field. And, of course, I'll straighten crooked horizons.

Now that that's all cleared up, let me tell you why I don't do HDR.

1. Time

HDR images take too long. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know you HDR guys have some Photoshop plugin that does it in a snap, but that's still more time than zero minutes of no HDR. Also, you are spending more time in the field bracketing exposures, loading the files in your computer, opening multiple files, processing them, blah, blah, blah. Besides, the auto-HDR plugins aren't perfect and you usually have to spend a decent amount of time tweaking it/correcting it so that it looks "good."

2. Look

To me, HDR images are hideous. I can usually spot them a mile away...then I'll get a taste of vomit in the back of my throat. I know, those weird halos around trees are absolutely gorgeous, but they scream Photoshop.

3. Skill

I know I'm going to offend a few people with this, but don't worry, you don't have to agree with me (no angry letters, please)...

I feel HDR, for the most part, is a tool used by bad photographers to make up for a lack of skill behind the camera. These people are great (I'm using that term loosely) with Photoshop, but don't know squat about photography. Yep, you need HDR if you shoot at the wrong times, under ugly light, don't know how to manually meter, don't know how to use split ND filters, don't understand your camera's limits, don't know how to use those limits to your advantage, don't know what makes a great picture great, can't use light to your advantage and/or just haven't practiced enough. If you learn to be a photographer and not a graphic designer, you'll get better results without the need for HDR.

4. Contrast

Let me say something that I hope the entire world, especially camera manufacturers, will one day understand: a limited dynamic range is a good thing! Photography is an art form, and like any art form, it doesn't simply document the world perfectly so that others can see it exactly as it is. The limited dynamic range of our camera is a tool to create art that represents the world differently than we see it in real life. Photographs that capture the scene EXACTLY as it was are boring and unimportant. Constantly battling our camera's limited dynamic range is a battle no one should want to win. This contrast we get from our camera's limited range is partly what makes photography a beautiful art form. Just stop shooting in the middle of the day when the contrast isΒ too strong - the light is ugly then anyway.

5. History

The old saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" comes to mind when I think of HDR. If you were to take all the best photographs ever taken in the history of the human race, I'd bet less than 0.0000000001% are HDR. All the gorgeous photographs taken by Galen Rowell, Frans Lanting, David Muench, etc. etc. utilized nothing more than a piece of film and what they could put on their lenses. Thank God they never had HDR because their pictures wouldn't be nearly as dramatic. Yeah, HDR is new and that might be part of it, but the contrast and limited dynamic range in all these iconic photos are partly what makes them gorgeous.

6. Auto-Tune

Ever hear of Auto-Tune? It's that annoying sound effect hip-hop artists have been using on their voice lately that makes them sound kind of robotic. It was cool at first, but then we all realized it's just ugly. Well, HDR is the auto-tune of photography. It's new, people with no taste think it's awesome, it's been overdone and, really, it's just way worse than the old way of doing things - with skill and practice.

7. Split NDs

Learn to use Split NDs on your landscapes (or better yet, hire me to teach you πŸ˜‰ ). They take 5 minutes of work in the field and will negate the need for HDR. Plus, you'll get the added satisfaction of getting the image perfect in the camera without spending an hour and a half combining multiple images later. Oh, and they look way better than an HDR image.

Before you start writing a long-winded rebuttal, understand that I'm not looking for a debate. These are just the reasons why I don't do HDR and why I don't like HDR. I'm sure there are some exceptions to my arguments and I'm sure there are a few awesome HDRs out there. If you do HDR, cool. Have fun. I'll stick to my split ND filters. And we can still be friends...we don't have to agree on everything πŸ˜€

Tip of the Cap to Kim Murphy

I wanted to give a little tip of the cap to my long-time and current student Kim Murphy! She recently entered a piece to the Orange County Fair photography contest and received a ribbon for second place! This is really a huge achievement as this is no small contest! The competition is steep and many. So Congratulations, Kim, for an excellent piece and for having the guts to get it out there - and win!

Kim has come such a long way since I first started with her. Her work has progressed immensely and her knowledge of photography is now far above average. When I first started with Kim, she was, let's say, a little bit intimidated by her camera and the concepts of shutter speed, aperture and ISO (I hope I'm not speaking out of line here, Kim!). But now she handles equipment like a pro, her work is leaps and bounds above the vast majority of landscape shooters out there and she's loving every minute of it!

Kim, I am so proud of you and I can't begin to communicate how impressed I am with your progress! Keep up the excellent work!

Surprise Sunset at Crystal Cove

I went out to Crystal Cove on July 1st with a very talented student of mine for a lesson. The weather was overcast thanks to the typical marine layer we get here in June-July. I wasn't going to hold my breath for a great sunset, but then I saw a little break in the clouds above us. That break grew larger until the marine layer burned off to a perfect balance of clouds and sky, resulting in some seriously awesome colors as the sun dropped.

For this first picture (which was taken later in my set), I wanted to highlight the reflections of these beautiful clouds in the wet sand. My intention was simplicity - make the picture all about the clouds and water without any rocks to distract.

I'm a little bit obsessed with wet sand reflections. I try to capture them just about every time I go to the beach for a shoot.

These next pictures are from earlier in the evening. Both are the same composition, but I felt the different wave patterns created such vastly different emotional responses in each that it was worth sharing both.

I felt this first one communicated the power and movement of the waves. Looking at it, you can almost hear the roar of the water as it comes crashing towards you. Gives a feeling of chaos and excitement.

This next one, however, is much calmer. Although the waves are choppy, the lack of whitewater and more prominent reflections creates a more serene feeling for the viewer . Also, the lack of ground in this picture makes it seem like you are further out in the water - as if you are looking at this scene while floating calmly on a boat. Personally, this one is my favorite. I like the emotional response it elicits in me.

Thanks for stopping by!