Posts Tagged ‘love’

Is HDR a Four Letter Word?

November 17th, 2012

HDR.  Many people respond to those three letters in shock and disgust.  For them, HDR is synonymous with over the top processed images.  It embodies all that they think is wrong with digital photography and the implied MANIPULATION that goes with it.  It is a shocking insult on reality.

I’ve heard of photography contests that strictly forbid HDR and insist that all the photographs that are submitted be a single exposure.  I’ve judged photography competitions in which the other judges viewed an HDR image that was just slightly over the top and felt it should be placed in the Manipulated category.

But the letters HDR stand for High Dynamic Range.  Nothing sinister about that.  It’s a situation frequently encountered when out photographing.  That’s when the dynamic range of the scene, the difference between the darkest and brightest spots in the scene, is greater than the dynamic range our camera’s sensor is capable of capturing.  When we encounter this situation we’re going to get clipping where the highlights or shadows or both lack detail, are blank.  This is not a desirable situation.  If there’s anything that’s shocking here it’s that the camera, that supposedly great recorder of reality, does not, cannot see what our eyes see.  So what can be done about that?

Well, if you’re shooting color film the answer is simple. Nothing.  Move on.  You’ll never be able to capture high dynamic range images on color film (without clipping) no matter how beautiful they are.  If you are shooting black and white you can do what Ansel Adams did – water bath development.  He exposed for the shadows and adjusted his development process and chemicals to get a proper development of his highlights.  Sounds to me like he’s doing what we digital photographers do with HDR – adjusting the process to capture the full dynamic range (Read “How Ansel Adams did HDR”)

If you’re a digital photographer you can use the HDR technique – capture two or more images with bracketed exposures that span the dynamic range and then blend them together using software like PhotoMatix Pro.  So where’s the problem?  I mean, doesn’t that sound like a good thing, taking photographs we weren’t able to do at all with color film or with great difficulty with black and white?

But somehow HDR has become a four letter word in some circles.  It’s become synonymous with that word that is so offensive to some – MANIPULATION.  HDR images are manipulated images.  Never mind that HDR can be used to create photographs that are a lot more like what our eyes see than what our cameras are even remotely capable of capturing. 

Many of these same people that think that HDR is a four letter word are also prone to look down their noses and ask, “Did you PHOTOSHOP that picture.”  Yes, with Photoshop we can easily drop in moons that weren’t there.  And our photographs are cheap because of that.  But it was OK in the days of film when the masters that we so admire did it.  What’s the difference?  Is it that it was hard when you did it with film and therefore to be admired but it’s easy with Photoshop?  Don’t know.  Could be.

And with HDR a similar thing might be happening.  With the software tools that are available you don’t have to settle for recreating what our eyes saw, you can take your images over the top, give them that grunge look.  Or that painterly look.  It’s up to you and your vision.

Now, for the record (not that it’s important) I choose not to go for the grunge or painterly look in PhotoMatix Pro.  I prefer to control the dynamic range, remove highlight clipping and return an image to Lightroom that I can continue to work on.  And when it comes to moons in my  photographs I prefer to be there when the full moon comes up behind my  favorite bristlecone pine.  It’s a lot more fun that way.

But I have no argument with those that drop moons or cloudy skies or whatnot in their photographs.  And I have no argument with those that choose to express themselves with grunge HDR images.  I readily confess that some of them are extremely effective with the grunge look.  That’s just not my style, not my personality. 

The only thing I think we all owe our viewers is to be honest about it.  When people come into my booth at an art festival and ask if I manipulate or Photoshop my photographs I  answer, “Of course.”  I often go on to say, “Let me put it this way.  I approach photography from the mindset of a painter.  I want to have all the creative freedom a painter would have.’”  And more than once, they have responded, “Oh, I get it.  You’re an artist.” 

Smile

Love it when that happens.


What do you think of HDR?  What do you think of manipulation in Photoshop?  Leave a comment.  We’d love to hear your opinion. 

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WordPress Tags: Four,Letter,Word,Many,images,photography,MANIPULATION,exposure,judges,image,category,High,Dynamic,Range,situation,difference,sensor,highlights,shadows,Move,Ansel,Adams,development,Read,technique,PhotoMatix,PHOTOSHOP,Could,tools,grunge,vision,Lightroom,argument,viewers,booth,festival,mindset,painter,freedom,artist,Love,competitions,chemicals,exposures,digital,camera,black,software,were,moons

(1917)

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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs

July 6th, 2012

I’m continuing my journey through this marvelous book, “Examples – The Making of 40 Photographs” by Ansel Adams.  It’s a fascinating experience.  Much of the legacy of Ansel Adams is distorted these days because of all the hype about him in the press.  But to read the master’s own words is inspiring and refreshing.

Alfred Stieglitz, An American Place

Alfred Stieglitz

I could only find this tiny rendition of the photograph Adams discusses in his book.  So I apologize for the quality.  But the story is the important thing.

Adams’ main cameras were large view cameras.  I have two 8X10 prints of his hanging in our home, contact prints made directly from 8X10 negatives.  In fact, most photographers of the time (1932) photographed with large format cameras and their prints were contact prints.  Photographers that used enlargers were extremely rare.

This photograph of Stieglitz was taken with an amazing new device, a Zeiss Contax 35mm camera.  It was taken when Adams visited Stieglitz’s gallery in New York to show some of his photographs to the one most people considered the finest photographer in the country.  Stieglitz was impressed and arranged for Adams to have a one person show.

Adams commented on his experiences using a small camera which sounds very similar to today’s comments regarding digital SLRs.

“Small cameras make pictures far more immediate; and many negatives could be made in the time required to produce one with a sheet-film camera.  The technique of 35mm photography appears simple, yet it becomes very difficult and exacting at the highest levels.  One is beguiled by the quick finder-viewing and operation, and by the very questionable inclination to make may photographs with the hope that some will be good….  The best 35mm photographers I have known work with great efficiency, making every exposure with perceptive care….”

One can substitute ‘DSLR’ for ‘small camera’ and the statement rings just as true today.

Having photographed in the past with a 4X5 camera I know the slow, exacting deliberation it takes and often think that this is a desirable approach with my Canon 1Ds Mark III and even my Canon G11.  The latter especially is great for spontaneous photography.  Setting up the Mark III is a much more deliberate process but not like setting up a 4X5.  I like to encourage my workshop students to slow down, connect with the land and then try to capture what they are feeling.  You don’t get this from chasing after as many  captures as you can find.

I was standing next to a large format photographer on ‘The Bridge” in Zion National Park at sunset.  He was shooting 8X10 color film.  I asked him how much it cost to press the shutter.  He replied, “$35.”  The light didn’t happen that time and he did not press the shutter.   One of the beauties of digital photography is that it doesn’t cost us anything to press the shutter.  But if it did, we would slow down and our photography would benefit from it.

In researching for this post I came across a letter by Ansel Adams that I must share with you.  The letter was written to his good friend Cedric Wright.  Adams had just come through a period where he was emotionally torn between passion for his beautiful lab assistant and commitment to his wife Virginia and their two children.  He had a clarifying moment in Yosemite when he observed a glorious thundercloud over Half Dome, a moment in which he saw clearly the meaning of love, friendship and art.  Here is what he wrote.

“Dear Cedric,

“A strange thing happened to me today. I saw a big thundercloud move down over Half Dome, and it was so big and clear and brilliant that it made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me; things that relate to those who are loved and those who are real friends.

“For the first time I know what love is; what friends are; and what art should be.

“Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things….

“Friendship is another form of love — more passive perhaps, but full of the transmitting and acceptances of things like thunderclouds and grass and the clean granite of reality.

“Art is both love and friendship and understanding: the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of things. It is more than kindness, which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light of the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is a recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the interrelations of these.

“Ansel”

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