Thoughts: I don’t like HDR

HDR photo from 7 exposures, taken in Warsaw, Poland. It shows one of the buildings of the Warsaw University.

Yes, I don’t like HDR. And if you take HDR photos you know nothing about art. You should only use filters, flashes and nothing more. Well, maybe a bit of Photoshop (but not too much!).

It’s not my personal opinion but some of the statements I often hear and read regarding HDR photography.

One other sentence about HDR I somewhat like is: I like your photos but don’t you have normal photos? Only HDR? and this was written on my Facebook profile. I like it because it made me smile because it shows that for some people it’s quite difficult to admit that in fact they do like HDR photos… telling so is not trendy.

HDR photography has really bad reputation nowadays. Why? I believe that many people not doing HDR when they hear this term they immediately connect it to oversaturated images full of halos, excessive noise, ghosts and other visual artifacts. The problem is that these issues are only typical for photos of beginners (and not all of them – there are some really talented beginners out there). Many great HDR photographers create such amazing and natural looking images that it isn’t easy to tell if it is HDR or not. Also are you sure that your favourite landscape/travel photographer doesn’t use HDR as well? Well, I wouldn’t be certain of that 🙂 Use of HDR can be very subtle, as subtle as using 3-stop gradual density filter.

Many people aren’t even aware that HDR photos are all around them – many of them are published (in the magazines and books, eg. tourist guides) or displayed on exhibitions (actually even my own HDR photos were already and I’m not a pro and not amongst the greatest HDR photographers).

Also many people believe that we, HDR photographers, are simply lazy or even lacking skills. Instead of using filters and flashes we just set our tripod, take 3 to 9 bracketed exposures during sunrise or sunset and we’re ready to go home to eat breakfast or dinner instead of trying to find perfect exposure for 2 hours. It’s so much more difficult to use gradual density filter than to auto-bracket and then merge photos in Photomatix some say. Nope. Not that easy at all. Although many beginner HDR photographers indeed don’t use filters (and I really recommend this), most of the most experienced do use them. For instance I use circular polarizer, a bunch of neutral density filters (for different effects), gradual density filter, infrared filter and a few others. This way we can achieve the results we want, whether it is better saturation of colours or smooth look of waterfall.

What about using flashes? I must admit I don’t use flash very often but not because I don’t know how to use it – I just prefer working with available light whenever possible. However, I know of a few HDR photographers who use flashes even in their HDR photography work and they make wonders.

Moreover, in my opinion it’s quite unfair that HDR photos are not allowed by certain magazines and the majority of photo competitions. They are considered evil, fake, unrealistic, psychedelic. Is black & white photography realistic? No, not at all. We do see colours, not greyscale. Is macro photography at magnification of 2:1 and higher realistic? No, because none of use have microscope built-in our eyes. Is long exposure photography realistic? No… Astrophotography? No… so why the hell it’s HDR photography that is being banned and “persecuted”? I don’t get it. Photography never was and never will be only about ultra-realistic rendering of a scene (unless it’s news photography). It’s also about artistic expression. And HDR can help in this matter pretty much.

That’s all I would like to write on the subject. HDR is just another tool and I hope that one day every photographer will understand this. It is one more tool in our arsenal that can make our photos better. One more tool besides cameras, lenses, tripods, filters, Lightroom and Photoshop. Nothing more.

2017-01-17T19:42:59+00:00 November 29th, 2012|Posted in: hdr, thoughts, warsaw|
  • Ghengis

    I think your HDR photo here looks great – but all too often people overdo HDR and it just looks fake.

  • Wayne Fenton

    Good points there. I think HDR is just an evolution of photography technology. Even the great Ansel Adams would have given it a try…I’m sure of that. Photography is art and as such boundaries and methods should be challenged and changed.

    HDR isn’t real….neither is monochrome or oil painting. It’s just another method to display you view of the world. Personally I love HDR in all it’s dynamic glory. Nice blog Wojciech.

  • Anonymous

    I enjoyed the read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that HDR can be used thoughtfully–or totally overblown.

  • Udo Krekt

    Wojchech, thank you for this article and i totally agree with you on this.

    In my opinion every technique has its place, and every photo has is likes and dislikes. There simply is no truly right, or wrong way in photography. To me it’s amazing to see that the discussion about HDR keeps going on and on. In the analog days, Ansel Adams is often seen as the pioneer in HDR techniques. And in the digital days there is Trey Ratcliff. Trey, who is of the charts in numbers followers on every social media platform and almost every photo Trey publishes is in HDR. So explain that if you are bashing on HDR.

  • blablabla

    Very well but i think HDR is not allowed in competition because they can not judge as there are no parameters yet, i hope

  • Wojciech Toman

    Thank you for response 🙂 it’s nice to hear that fellow photographers think the same way. As about Adams and Ratcliff, I completely agree, they were (Trey still is) pioneers. Now Adams’ works are “classic” – probably some of the Trey’s will also be in ten years time.

  • Wojciech Toman

    @blablabla But are parameters that important really? They are only of use for other photographers to learn in my opinion. Also from parameters you can’t say whether someone used tripod, filters or Photoshop (and they all alter image significantly). What’s more in the analogue era none of the photos had parameters. You could in theory draw/paint your image and then take a photo of it.

  • Van Zyl Videography & Photo

    Very interesting. Its sad that some photographers follow rules and what other people decide what is right and wrong in photography.

    I present a lot of HDR Workshops and always say “you are the artist on this canvass” express yourself through your photography and images that appeals to you and no one else.

    Happy Shooting

    Elmer van Zyl

  • Willie aka NomadWillie

    It has been thru your postings, explanations here and at HDR One that I have developed an understanding of what HDR really is. While I kinda of skim over the mathematical explanations, I understand them in concept. Thanks for the blog and tutorials. They are great. Oh so are your photos


  • Wojciech Toman

    Thank you guys 🙂