12 February 2010

I Hate HDR! (A Subjective Analysis)

I Hate HDR! If you know my photography, you know that statement is not true. But
researching and putting together an HDR presentation/tutorial I will be
giving next week, I came across a number of posts, blogs, discussion groups,
etc., that professed extreme distaste for all things HDR. It made for some
amusing reading and has provided me with enough juicy quotes to populate one
of my slides (my favorite: "It's like a bad acid trip!"). Reading deeper, of
course, revealed a number of interesting insights:

1) It's a "religious war!" As most heated, opinionated discourses are.
Film versus digital, Mac versus PC (versus Linux), reformation versus
counter-reformation, deedle-dem versus dweedle-rep, ad infinitum. It's
usually the chatter of the extremists who drown out the commonsensical
discussion of the middle-ground.

2) In one corner the Absolutists and the other the Relativists!...or,
if you prefer, the purists against the whatever-floats-yer-boaters. I
certainly am not a purist (in the 'old days' it was frowned upon to crop an
image) but neither am I an all-things-are-equal. To me there is a
qualitative difference between a Caravaggio and the doodlings of my nephew
(whom I nonetheless love dearly). 3) It's a tool, folks! Just like the proverbially pen or sword, imbued
with neither intelligence nor intent. What the individual uses those tools
for or even how they use them determines it's subjective value. 4) There be luddites! Amongst the chatter you could still read the
anti-digital and/or anti-Photoshop sentiment of some. In the "good old days"
(defined by whomever parrots that phrase) people created Real Art with hard
work and painstaking hours in the darkroom. Yes, I am in agreement: very
good Art was created in the past. But the democratization (and, that is what
it is) of digital and the Internet has spawned a multi-order-of-magnitude
outpouring of images that we can waste our days clicking through. This has
fundamentally changed the way we perceive photography. I can just as easily
view the work of incredibly talented photographers on Flickr whilst I am
also just one link away from gawd-awful dreck. C'est le nouvelle vie!

5) When the technique gets in the way of the image, it's not art! I'm
sure Monet, Renoir, Rodin, van Gogh, Munch, Picasso, Pollock, etc., etc.,
heard the same thing. This does not in any way equate my over-cooked HDR
image in this post with The Scream, mind you, rather, we should be very wary
of condemning a technique or methodology because of the technique or
methodology. 6) Well, really it's just the over-cooked images I'm objecting to.
Okay, now we are getting somewhere. Not necessarily because those images
suck (which they may well), but because we are now reasonably recognizing
that it is NOT the technique that's at fault but rather we just don't like
SOME of the output. Breakthrough!

Many photographers DO recognize that HDR and its related techniques are a
breakthrough of sorts. For these photographers subtlety is the key (sHDR?):
tamed skies, no halos, contrast and some shadows. You will find their
postings far more frequently than the shrill cries of anti-HDR people. It
really is a tool to use or abuse or ignore. The choice is yours. I wouldn't
campaign one way t'other. I just know that it is an important technique for
me but I also recognize that my tastes and proclivities will change over
time (thank Buddha). I hope people will appreciate my images for WHAT they
are and not obsess over how I created them. Hope is a good thing.



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