You’re reading this article because you want to learn more about high-dynamic-range photography. Cool. HDR photography rocks.
But here’s something else that’s important to know about HDR photography: There’s a time and place for it. For example, check out this image. It’s a sunrise photograph that I took of the Two Mittens in Monument Valley, Utah. I could have used HDR, but by opening up the shadows for a high-dynamic-range image, I would have lessened the effect of the dramatic silhouette.
In the following illustration, you’ll see how using HDR on a similar scene wasn’t the best idea. You’ll also see two more examples of dramatic non-HDR pictures.
Use HDR wisely, in the right situations, and you’ll be a more versatile photographer. But remember that a photograph is all about the light—the light that illuminates the scene and the light that you create in the digital darkroom.
No Substitute for Good Light
Here are three images that illustrate HDR vs. non-HDR photography. The image far left (created in Photomatix Pro) is an HDR shot, made from several pictures taken at and over the average exposure. Sure, the dynamic range of the image is greater than the two photographs on the near right, but this image has no drama and looks flat compared to the other two images. When a dramatic silhouette is your goal, HDR is a no-no.
By the way, I increased the dynamic range of the image on the bottom right in-camera by “painting” the tree with the light using the headlights from our guide’s Jeep®.
Here’s another thought when considering HDR or non-HDR photography: There’s no substitute for good light.