I've been pretty serious about photography since about 2010.
I run The Edison Pen Company, and do all the product photography there. Since the inception of the company, I always did my product photography with a decent point-and-shoot.
I decided to get more serious about my product photography, and bought a DSLR camera. Well, once I started playing around with everything that this camera could do, I realized that a world of possibilities had just opened up to me besides photographing pens!
My tastes in photography gravitate towards HDR (high dynamic range). Cameras are limited in that they cannot process nearly as much exposure information as our eyes and brains can. This means that a photograph straight out of the camera will not accurately represent bright information simultaneously with dark information in the same photo. But our eyes and brains can process this.
HDR helps to overcome this limitation. I'll illustrate with an example.
The photo below is what my DSLR camera can do. Notice that the clouds and sky are a little blown out (too bright in some areas), and the trees are not well defined, especially in the dark areas around their trunks. My camera simply cannot expose for a dynamic range of brightness wide enough to represent everything in this photo accurately. But my eye and brain can. When I see this landscape live, I see the clouds and the trees very well defined, and I see the darkest parts of the trees, as well. My camera just can't "see" what my eye can see.
So how can we remedy this? How can we create photos that are much more realistic to what my eye can see in relation to a wide range of exposure?
I can take multiple exposures. I will take typically 5 photos at a varying range of brightness and bring them all together to recreate what my eye actually sees.
See the photo below. This is taken at an exposure of -2, so
everything is much darker. Notice that the trees look horrible, but the
sky looks wonderful! Those clouds are well defined and the sky is a
very nice shade of blue. But the trees are exposed very poorly. You can't visually define the trees at all.
And here's the same scene taken at an exposure of +2, so everything is much brighter. Notice that the skies and clouds are way overexposed and too bright. However, all of the details in the trees are quite visible, even in the darkest points at the trunks.
So what happens if we can take a series of photos that range from the darkest one that you see above to the brightest one that you see above and bring them together to keep all the details in one photo?
See below....this photo is the result of software that helps to make all the details visible. The clouds are crisp with no details lost. The sky is a nice shade of blue. The trees are well defined even in their darkest points.
Overall, this photo looks a lot like what I saw that day, overcoming the limitations of my camera.
HDR photography is very appealing to me. For sure, it's my favorite genre of photography. But I do realize that it has it's place. Not every photo should be processed for HDR. When most photographers just begin with HDR, they are so excited with this new technique, that they overuse and overdo the technique. I will admit that I was guilty of "overcooking" my photos in the early stages. You will even see examples of this here on this blog! (....purple clouds....)
And HDR is not as simple as I have outlined above. The process is notorious for creating halos around areas of great contrast. It also creates white shades that look dirty and grungy. Clouds can come out way too stormy and menacing. Nothing looks more strange than black clouds in a daytime blue sky. This just doesn't happen in nature very often. So it's pretty important to have the skills to learn how to take the mistakes that the HDR process creates, and fix them to bring your photos back into reality.
Some of my favorite comments from fellow photographers revolves around when they are not sure if I processed a certain photo for HDR. My goal is create realism without screaming HDR. If you are wondering what photos on this blog are processed for HDR, take a look at the tags for the post. I will always mark them appropriately.
And there are plenty of examples where HDR just won't work in my opinion. HDR will never do a good job with skin tones, so portraits are out, generally. Real dense forests never really benefit from HDR.
I would never do HDR in situations like this or this.
So part of doing HDR tastefully is knowing how to fix the mistakes that the process creates, and also simply knowing when not to use it.
If the range of brightness in a scene is not that wide, then why use HDR? It's just not needed.
So my aim is to make my photos true to what my eye saw at the time that I took the photos. Whether or not I decide to use HDR in the process, and how much to use is determined by each situation.
Thanks for reading!