The blessing and curse of HDR7/15/2015
When exactly does good enough become too good? Most of us have the memory of coming home from a night of trick-or-treating on Halloween and gorging ourselves on sugary treasures. At first it’s delicious, but eventually it becomes sickening. Just as hard as it is to stop devouring unlimited chocolate peanut butter cups until it’s too late, it’s just as easy to overdo our technology usage and consumption. But abundance isn’t the only cause of sinking into a tech whirlpool. There’s also ease of use, and exhibit A of this issue is high dynamic range image capture.
If everyone got exactly what they wanted all the time, we’d all be millionaires and yet no shops would be open. The same is the case with high dynamic range (HDR) image capture. HDR makes nearly every pixel of an image brilliant with color through close to zero effort. To successfully create an HDR picture, a photographer must capture three or more of the exact same image in succession made at different exposure settings. Following capture, the images are blended together saving as much luminance as possible.
Don’t let words like exposure, luminance, succession or the seemingly technical “high dynamic range” trick you into believing this is a hard process — most modern cameras can produce HDR images automatically, basically handing photographers eye-popping images. In other words, millionaires with no shops to spend their wealth are not rich — they’re middle-class shut-ins. Photographers who don’t work to frame, dial in the correct settings and take the time to color their shots after the image is captured are not photographers — they’re lazy shutterbugs.
To be fair, some HDR photographers skip the scenic route and painstakingly process their images in Adobe Photoshop in Lightroom. But for the vast majority, HDR is a fun trick that gets overused. Need proof? Look no further than Instagram or any photo-enhancing application. If you upload pictures to Instagram and Google Plus or use insta-edit applications like VSCO cam or Mextures, you’ve probably been faking HDR for years. These photo filtering tools are worse than HDR, as they fabricate the effects and distort light and color to produce HDR-like imagery.
But photography doesn’t lay sole claim to HDR. Video producers are starting to embrace the concept of HDR pixel pumping. Streaming right now on Amazon Prime, you can watch two web series that employ this technique. While not as surreally colorful as most HDR photos, HDR video is generally used to utilize as much light as possible. This allows for filming in darker situations and illuminating more of the depth in an image. Circling back to our candy-crushed halloweener who eats every ounce of sugar in sight, HDR video can just as easily become a bad idea for the viewer and the videographer.
To video producers, HDR video promises more storytelling options. But chances are, to audiences, it spells an unpleasant viewing experience. During the last few years, filmmakers have employed two tools that have either crashed and burned or slowly slipped into irrelevance in high frame rate image capture (a.k.a. HFR) and 3-D, respectively. Both were meant to engage viewers but ultimately distracted from what’s meant to be brought to theaters in the first place — entertaining stories.
While I tend to agree with photographers who are irritated with HDR, in the end, what’s the point of getting enraged? Whether HDR, 3D, HFR or something else, all of these are simply tools to be creative. Just as nothing else tastes quite like a Snickers, HDR can capture some images like nothing else, and that is cool. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.