I think this is the most heavily HDR'd shot I've ever made. Still, it looks right to me, in the larger version at least, and on my monitor. I'd need to make a print to see if it really looks right. I might need to back off a bit.
How does it look to you? Okay, or too much?
I personally believe you can apply HDR techniques to any or even every shot. As with every tool, it's just overdoing it that's a problem. With almost every technique, my strategy is to not let the technique call attention to itself. If anyone were to look at this picture and think "HDR," then it's too much. Only if it's invisible is it okay.
Out-of-camera JPEG (Sony NEX-6, Zeiss 24mm ƒ/1.8)
"Only if it's invisible is it okay" is a moving target, of course, because different viewers have different sensitivities to different things. This might be too much HDR for a seasoned fine-art printer, for example, but not for a visually sensitive non-photographer. The former "sees" the technique too easily; the latter doesn't see it at all, but looks through it at what the picture shows.
I do wish this picture were a little taller. I wish I could remember quotations exactly like my friend Jim does (that's his and his wife Becky's living room in this picture)—Lee Friedlander, when asked the difference between his old Leica M and wide-angle lens vs. his then-new Hasselblad Superwide, said something like "there's more at the top." Don't quote that because it's not a real quote.
Another question: does the mug-handle in the extreme lower right bother you? The older I get, the more I don't mind little incursions from the edges like that. Rather, it's overly fastidious cropping that bothers me more, now. I like a few wrong notes. Seems more free.
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Featured Comments from:
Bill Poole (partial comment): "Too much? Meaning what—that it doesn't really look like a photo to those of us who grew up in the age of film? I like the image a lot, but it doesn't look like a photo to me. That's fine. Our concept of what a photo should look like is changing, and those of us who got used to looking at them in the film age will just have to adjust. Conquering brightness latitude has been a long-held dream of photographers. We're getting there, and in another decade, your question will probably be meaningless."
Christopher Perez: "I learned to like 'good' HDR after visiting the Charles Russel museum in Great Falls, Montana. Standing outside the restrooms while waiting for my wife I looked at a fine painting just across the hall. In the foreground were trees and a meadow. In the background was a snow covered mountain topped by clouds. I instantly (if not a little belatedly) realized that artists capture everything from the highlights into the deep shadows as part of their art. They do this while representing the scene in a way that can be rather pleasing to the eye. We don't see nor many times realize what a good artist has done. I have come to appreciate imaging processing systems that capture everything from the nuances in the highlights as well as details all the way deep into the shadows. Such things can help me move closer to realizing something that artists have done quite naturally for centuries."
Roger Bradbury: "I find the HDR version to be a little too much, but the straight shot is not enough. Splitting the difference would hit the spot, I think. A touch of fill in flash from a large source like an umbrella or perhaps bounced off a white ceiling would be another way of doing it, but perhaps that's not the point here. The coffee mug and the bit of a table it stands on need to stay in. They give a little more depth and context to the scene. Things can get too perfect and retouched, at which point they become sterile. Life is untidy."
ctein: "Since it looks a little 'punchy' as a small JPEG, I'm going to guess it will look just about right when printed out full-size. Larger, it will have less of that contrast punch and printing will flatten out some of the subtler gradations, as well. If a photo doesn't look kind of gutsy as a small JPEG, it tends to make a really flat larger print.
"I didn't notice the coffee mug handle until you pointed it out to me. Now it bugs the heck out of me. I would clone it out of existence.
"The one artistic change I would make would be a slight, graduated burn from the middle towards the bottom. Not a lot, but you're losing the sense of light coming through the window; it's a bit too uniform. You want to bring down the stuff furthest from the windows a tad. Other than this really minor stuff, yeah, a really good job. John C's right—with a really complex internal lighting setup, neutral density gels on the window, etc., you could create almost the same thing Like the way the top-end real-estate photographers used to do it in the battle days. HDR makes life so much easier! I use HDR more often than most people realize."
Mike replies: I don't think I know how to do "a slight, graduated burn from the middle towards the bottom." I really need to get you to give me a Photoshop lesson some time. You'll be surprised at how much I don't know, and I'll be surprised at how much I do know.
Ian Land: "Moose wrote, 'It screams HDR to my eyes. Honestly, that's the first thing that arose in my mind when I opened the page, at first without words, before descriptive words appeared, long before starting to read.' Same here. It has that unmistakable HDR signature, the 'crunchiness' mentioned in other comments. I absolutely hate this look, no matter how subtle. It immediately reveals its processing to me, and gets in the way of looking at the image as an image."
Joe Holmes: "The only way I could possibly judge whether you overdid the HDR is if you'd first shown me the after photo and asked how I liked it, without hinting that it had been HDR'd. But once you told me and showed me the before photo, I could no longer judge. It's not that I'm inherently prejudiced against HDR. (The iPhone does a surprisingly subtle job, so good I just leave HDR turned on.) It's that I immediately started looking for telltale signs. And when I found them, I couldn't stop seeing them as artificial. I didn't notice the mug handle until you asked about it. Now I can't stop seeing it."
Clay Olmstead: "My teacher would have scolded me (gently) for the cup handle because there's no way in or out of it. It would be better if there were some visual bridge between the handle and the background, so your eye could slide easily in and out. Otherwise, your eye gets locked inside the handle and it's hard to go back to looking at the rest of the picture. Take the sail in Manet's 'Boating' for an example:
"The sail cuts off the upper right corner of the painting, but the rope ties it to the rest of the image (visual pun probably intended)."
Mike replies: You've convinced me. I think you're right. But then...
Dara: "I really like this photograph. I like the feel of it. It takes me somewhere. It makes me wonder who these people are that live here and makes me want to sit there and enjoy a coffee with them. Just like a good painting of this room would do. I despise the idea that it needs this or that to feel real or look right. If this is art, and not just a document stating this is what this room looks like, then the purpose is to convey emotion; to make one stop and think. This image does that for me.
"HDR is a tool, just like my paintbrush. I have paintings that, at first glance, people think are photographs. But, if you look at the painting closely, you see brush strokes, You know what tool was used. So what if you see HDR! The image works. It moved me.
"I didn't notice the coffee cup handle until you pointed it out. It bugs me but, it too, has it place. The world ain't perfect. Things are askew. I would add the full cup there, with some steam, but then I'd probably ruin your photo.
"(Steps off box o'soap.)"