The realist in me struggles with stylized HDR photography, but the artist in me loves the vivid and surreal effects. Some of them look so cool! In the end I have to reconcile these two photographers in me: the photojournalist who thinks everything should look just like the real scene, no more and no less, and the artist who loves creative effects which go way beyond realistic.
So here is a non-HDR exposure for comparison, shot at minus 1.33 stop exposure compensation. I chose the (-1.33) from my (-1.33, 0, +1.33) HDR set. (I should have used 2 full stops over/under, but I wasn’t paying attention.) I chose the underexposed image (according to the camera’s meter) because the meter tries to expose everything 18% gray, and this night scene was a lot darker than that.
So that’s what happens when I shoot RAW and use slight negative exposure compensation, then edit in the computer with my still growing but painfully lacking skills. Not bad, and it looks fairly realistic.
This is the HDR version. I think “detail extractor” and/or contrast adjustments in my Aperture plug-in software caused the vertical streaks you see in the sky. I’ll have to experiment and figure out how to eliminate that unpleasing effect.
Combining three images into one seems to make the color saturation more intense. Also, moving things are blurred because the longest exposure was 30 seconds. It probably should have been longer, but 30 secs is the longest I can set the camera to without plugging in an external timer. If you look at the ship’s rear housing, it was obviously rocking slightly. And just above the front of the ship, you can see the blurred lights of two ferries pulling into port.
This last shot is more stylized and less realistic. The shadows lightened up and the colors are even more intense. It can also create some strange halo effects around objects like the dark building on the right
HDR, in it’s most basic sense, allows us to capture detail that a single exposure would lose in it’s shadows and highlights because the “Dynamic Range” is too “High” for the sensor get everything at a single exposure value. Shadows too dark and highlights too bright. Combining over- and under-exposed images allows us to capture that extra detail and compress it into tones we can perceive with our eyes.
I am still learning about HDR and when to use it, but from what I’ve gathered so far, most daylight shooting doesn’t call for it. It’s simply not needed because the tones from dark to light can be captured with a single exposure. An example of where it could come in handy would be if you are shooting a scene where the sky is much brighter than the foreground. Or you could just use a graduated neutral density filter to even things out. Obviously, it’s not practical for fast moving subjects or photos that require precise, split-second timing.
Someone said HDR exposures should be at least 2 stops apart, otherwise you’re just wasting exposures. Some people do 7- or 9-shot sequences, which seems a bit like overkill to me, but there may be some extreme situations that call for it. I do like some of the cool HDR effects, but I’m drawn to a cleaner, smoother, less gritty and texturized look.