On HDR- a rant
This post is going to be something a little different than the usual for me. I’ve been seeking critiques on my work lately, and let me tell you it sounds easy but isn’t. Most of the time you get very general comments like “looks nice”, “boring”, “interesting subject”, and the like. It seems that people are afraid to tell you where you got it right or wrong or they are too lazy to write an actual critique, in which case I wonder why they’re on a critique site.
Oh hey, I haven’t even started yet and I’ve already gone off on a tangent! The point is, I’ve been looking at an awful lot of other people’s photos lately and were it not for the fact that I use HDR on a regular basis I would be ready to hate it as much as I despise Instagram. Instagram is quick and easy to use, it can be a useful tool but in general it seems to be employed in an attempt to make a boring photo interesting. I don’t care how many filters you run your photo of a poorly lit burger through, it is still a boring photo of a poorly lit burger. I haven’t seen a many photos run through Instagram that could stand on their own merits, although to be fair I’m generally not looking anymore.
HDR on the other hand is not quick and easy to use. I can forgive Instagram (somewhat, a little, ok, maybe not) for encouraging smart phone users into thinking that they are now professional grade photographers because they used preset filters to make their photo look quirky. I have a harder time forgiving people who spend all the time and effort to set up a shot, bracket it, get home and spend time post processing it to get it “just right” only to post a poorly composed photo that is interesting only due to the technique used and they decide that it is “quite nice”. The subject matter is in the middle of the frame, the horizon line is totally off kilter, the colors are terribly over saturated, the processing overwhelms the subject, and there are massive halos around everything in the photo. Perhaps even worse is the serious amateur or pro who brow beats the viewer with ALL THE PRETTY COLORS!!!!!!!!
Look, I understand good composition is difficult, and the majority of people out there are casual photographers who really enjoy the hobby, or serious amateurs of varying levels of skill. I got started as a casual photographer and when I look back at the photos I took 4 years ago I cringe. I admit that when I first got my hands on HDR I went a little nuts and over processed the hell out most of my photos. Yet, it still makes me crazy. If my idiotic self can learn to use HDR to enhance rather than overwhelm, can’t others? But then I see the semi-pros and pros who have great composition doing the exact same thing and I despair. It would be one thing if it was occasional but when every single photo is the same in-your-face HDR style, well I just don’t want to look at it any more much less use it.
Then I get on location.
I start thinking “What would this look like in HDR?”. I go and bracket shots where HDR isn’t really called for just because I am curious and then I go and over process them. I’ve been known to over saturate colors, I pretty much always have to fix my horizon line and some days a trained baboon could probably come up with better composition than I do. In short, I commit all the crimes I am currently bitching about.
So why am I so annoyed with HDR right now? I think it is because people outside of my hobby see it and go totally gaga for it. It is like it short circuits their brain and suddenly no matter the subject they love the photo. I have recently received more than one email or link on Facebook pointing me to this “awesome” photography set where the main element was over done HDR. In some forums the photos I have taken that have gotten the most positive response have been the ones where I thought I was being too heavy handed with the HDR effect, which tells me they like the effect, not the photo.
HDR is here to stay, they are building cameras with in camera capacities and programmers are creating pseudo HDR apps that work on one shot rather than a bracketed set for those who either shoot a lot of action or are just plain lazy. The fact is that we’re going to be seeing a lot more it in the future, to the point where it may end up even more common for casual photographers than standard photography is, simply for the ease of use. I don’t think single shot “HDR” will ever be able to achieve what a true bracketed composite can tone wise, that is until camera sensors improve to see higher range than they do now. I’ve employed the pseudo HDR once, and will probably never do it again because it lacks so much. Sure you get the effect, but you don’t get the range.
Better photographers than I have been complaining about HDR and refusing to use it for years now for exactly the same reasons I’m annoyed with it. But like everything else we have for post- processing, it can be used for good or evil. In the end it is the photographer’s choice to go all out surreal or attempt to stay true to what they saw, and it is up to the viewer if they like it or not. I’m not going to stop using HDR simply because it is such a valuable tool for me and I think that for the most part I’ve learned to employ it in a manner where it enhances my subjects rather than replacing them. One day restrained use of HDR will become the normal for it and I will no longer have to fear the HDR tag on blogs, Flickr and other photo sharing sites. This is my dream, and I’m going to hold on to it. (after all, the 90’s and 00’s had selective coloring and that has mostly, thankfully, fallen out of favor.)