HDR And Our Expectations of Photography

This topic has been burning a hole in my head or the past two weeks. And I get a gentle reminder every few days in the form of another comment arriving in my inbox.

Back around the 4th of July holiday, Mark Graf had a posting about some playing with HDR he was doing. He posted an HDR variation of a previous photo of his. Mark’s goal was to collect some feedback on what people thought was the better photo (see his posting for my exact thoughts). Mark does some wonderful wildlife and landscape photography and the general consensus of the two images was that the original was better. The idea of “what is the core reason everyone thought that the original was better” has been bouncing arond my head since his posting.

When I was returning from my recent trip to Chicago, I was passing through Denver International Airport and happened to stop in a Seattle’s Best Coffee. They have this huge photo that is part of their advertising behind the counter, it’s a view of the Public Market neon sign from downtown Seattle, but it’s taken near evening and has wonderful mood due to the exposure and low dynamic range (lots of dark areas with highlights just around the neon).

This got me to thinking about HDR and how the typical response to an HDR photo done badly is “it doesn’t look natural” (especially with landscape photography). Yet, I’ve also heard this statement applied to HDR photos that were done really well. But the statement usually comes from someone who is not a photographer, so they are usually uttering their initial impression. This impression has come from years of viewing images and having been conditioned to expect a photo taken near sunset to have lots of dark areas and a low dynamic range. Yet, if they were standing next to the photographer when the image was capture, their own eyes would see much more range than the camera captures.

So, this got me to wondering about how much our expectations of photography are based on our conditioning of the technical limitations if the craft. As the technology changes and advances (something that we have been in the midst of for the past 5-10 years, like never before) are these changes happening faster than the consumers are able to accept them? In 5-10 years from now, will the same person who complained about the “un-nature looking” HDR photo, complain if it’s a LDR photo?

Interesting mind trip to think about how conditioning of the audience affects our work, our decision making process about our photography, and our industry of photography…

One thought

  1. Thanks for the link Greg. I have thought about much the same thing – and is my preconditioning of what looks ‘typical’ for dynamic range affecting my judgement in tuning a HDR image to ‘look right.’

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