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Originally uploaded by Skink74

There’s a lot written about HDR around the internets. Depending on where you read about it, it’s either a fail-safe technique for producing fabulous art, or something only pathetic losers use instead of talent to make tacky photos that appeal only to the dirty, unsophisticated masses. Or it could be anything in between those extremes.

Here’s my take. HDR is a tool like any other that I use to capture the scene in front of me. Like any tool, there are many ways to use it, and is easy to overuse, or abuse. In my view the key is subtlety, but others prefer the in your face dramatic look.

Of course one of the problems is that people think HDR is a just certain over-processed look and therefore dismiss anything labelled HDR. And plenty of people are labelling things as HDRs that really aren’t, which muddies the waters further.

So let’s be clear: HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and means an image containing more information than would be possible in a single normal exposure. Take this sunrise scene – the sun, sky and foreground shadows comprise a large dynamic range that a single exposure from my camera could not capture. Either the sky would be solid white or the shadows heavy black devoid of detail, depending on how I metered and exposed. By taking a series of shots, exposed correctly for each area, and combining them we can end up with a single 32-bits-per-pixel image with detail in all areas of the scene.

But that’s not what you’re seeing here, or anywhere else for that matter. You can’t view the full range of a 32-bit image on a normal screen, you have to process it down to a 16- or 8-bit image first.
And that’s where the trouble starts.

There are many, many ways to get from an HDR to a normal image, and I can’t claim to have tried them all. But it’s the process of conversion, usually called tone-mapping, that can create the HDR “look” so common on flickr and elsewhere. It doesn’t have to be that way though – the software that does the tone-mapping usually has parameters that can be adjusted, or you can use different software. I use a package called FDRTools which produces quite a conservative result, which I tweak in Photoshop.

For a scene like this Idon’t know a better method of capturing the landscape as I saw it, with the equipment I have available.