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Wednesday, 18 February 2015


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I would personally dial it back just a tiny bit, but that's mostly a result of the "seeing of the technique" that you mention. The average non-photographer viewer would probably think this looks just fine. The books and the chairs start to look a bit "crunchy" to me though. Take you advice of doing it until it looks right and then dial it back a notch and I think you'll be OK. This is completely subjective, I have to admit.

w/r/t the coffee mug handle: I didn't even notice it until you mentioned it. I'd say removing it depends on what you want out of this image. How fast and loose do you want to play? If you remove that handle are you going to level the horizon that's created by the window panes? Attempt to correct the horizontal lines?

Looks like a really nice spot to sit and read. I'd like to have a setup like that at my place.

The mug handle question made me smile. I've experienced a similar fading of concern about minor edge incursions with the passage of time. Priorities change, I guess.

Sorry Mike, it looks HDR'd to me. To look more realistic I think the windows should be a good bit brighter, and the interior—especially the areas not directly lit by the windows (e.g. the bookshelves and the backs of the two closet chairs)—should have less of the heavy micro-contrast that, to me, just screams "HDR!!"

Looks OK. The most extreme examples of the genre look like some had detonated a giant glazed doughnut an instant before the shutter was released.

The photo suggests that you have interesting friends.

I like the HDR version. It's not really so much HDR as what you could get with really sophisticated lighting, though lighting that room would be a nightmare (potential unwanted shadows everywhere.)

I like the mug handle. When you notice it, it leaves a question in your mind, which I think is good. Not all questions should be answered. The handle adds a bit of psychological instability.

Perhaps you should continue processing this photo. You've got the HDR, now make the lamp pole and bookcases vertical, look into the shadows a bit, etc. That shot could be good for endless experimentation. Maybe you should make the file available so that people could experiment against your experiments.

I didn't notice the mug handle until you mentioned it. If I was viewing the photo on a large monitor instead of on my small laptop it might have been a different outcome.

This is one of better claimed-to-be-HDR shots I've seen: it has no clearly fraudulent tone relationships andno telltale masking artifacts along contrasty edges. If I had produced this on my first try, I'd definitely make another in which the exterior seen through the windows played a bit brighter, so as to preserve the relationship between the 'hot' exterior and the presumed-to-be darker exterior.
I like it.

I'm an overly fastidious cropper. I would have moved the mug out of the frame . . . and the table. . . or recomposed. I would be more inclined to allow this sort of thing to be included if I could think of a widely acclaimed image that had the same issue.

HDR seems to be almost commonplace now. I casually note it on news sites, in retail catalogs, brochures and advertising. Not the overblown exclamatory stuff, but the more subtle kind that tries to represent, or cater to, human observation as opposed to photographic rendering.

(So glad we're beyond the 'Look, Ma!" stage.)

I figure that at this point, at least for many commercial applications, it's simply easier and cheaper than lighting, even if it tends to produce flatter, less punchy images.

That last is a minor issue for a small element in a layout, but it's a challenge for a stand-alone print. HDR is wonderful for allowing one to drink in details and explore a scene or subject, but can attenuate the broader dynamics that seduce or wow, or simply please, from across a room. To pull off both, the subject has to be right, execution good, and other fundamentals, like composition and color, even presentation, have to take up the aesthetic slack.

Undoubtedly John Camp is a far better photographer than I, but I disagree with his comment that this image could be shot with sophisticated lighting. To me the essence of HDR is that each object in the image appears as if it individually lit, photographed and optimized, then reassembled into a whole. At least to me this one is unmistakably HDR. Of course, and it's a very important "of course," I like the treatment in images of this type.

Looks quite fine on my laptop monitor, but how does it look printed out? My worry would be the "crunchy" factor mentioned by another reader above.

I too didn't notice the mug until you mentioned it, but if this was hanging on my wall, the mug would have been noticed at some point and it would bug me.

On my little (Retina) screen it looks like a very constrained HDR shot. So slightly over the top. Foreground a bit darker, windows a bit brighter, and it would have grabbed me as a place I'd like to hang out. And rock back and forth, back and forth.

As for mug handles: I think that is the sort of tiny mysterious detail that makes a picture worth interrogating. Makes the eye search for things like the box of tissues. Creates the idea of Real Life. Anyway, it looks like my kind of room.

I agree with Jonathan. "Too much HDR". You don't get that kind of micro-contrast with that kind of soft light. The "evening out" of the light however - the global contrast - is perfectly believable, but not the details. Just reduce micro-contrast and you're there. The left bookshelf is properly exposed in the original. See if you can retain that kind of contrast. Increasing it just slightly will probably not hurt either.
Windows are ok to my taste.
I didn't notice the mug. I was drawn into the picture.

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. Whether that's a good or bad thing, is a matter of taste. As you say, I may be especially sensitive.

I do see the HDR look as a legitimate artistic option, but with your condition "Only if it's invisible is it okay.", it doesn't pass for me.

I am somewhat bemused by HDR as a tool for making natural looking images of high DR subjects. I have many times bracketed exposures with the idea that I would need to mix then, either manually or with an HDR tool.

Inevitably, when I actually look at the results in ACR/PS, I find that I can get what I want from the single exposure that just clips the top of the histogram. (What "just clips" means varies with camera/sensor system)

And the result always looks more natural to my eyes than HDR.

That said, an HDR tool, used judiciously, which this example is not for me, may be an easier thing than what's sometimes necessary in PS.

You don't provide full information. Is this actual multiple different exposures on a tripod? Or multiple conversions of a single Raw file at different "exposure" settings? That can make a big difference.

If the latter, HDR simply can't do what a skilled digital darkroom worker can do with one conversion, because it can't intelligently mask to use differential amounts of various tools, NR, Shadow/Highlight, Levels, Curves, LCE, and so on on different areas of the image.

In the case of an image like this, where the extreme DR areas are fairly easily separable, manual "HDR" would be fairly easy. Still, I generally find it harder to get an entirely natural look that way.

Your digital darkroom mileage may vary. (As to the mug handle, a single swipe of content-aware Healing Brush makes it disappear, if one wishes.)

You could make the mug handle a bit transparent like the thumb in the famous Lang image of the migrant mother...

At this small size this image does not appear over-procesed, Mike. It's visually comfortable enough to maintain my attention on the room.

There are two little give-aways for what has come to be called "HDR" processing. The first is the often extreme local contrast around shapes. It's like an LSD-trip simulation. (Not that I'd know about such phenomenon from my youthful days...ahem.) The second is the lack of tell-shines from what would be fill light. The rounded features of the chairs, for example, would have a glint of reflection if you'd used a rear light of some kind.

But it's a lovely, restful image of a room clearly meant for spending many peaceful hours among tomes!

It's interesting - at first glance, it didn't strike me as HDR-ish; not exactly natural (I would have suspected auxiliary lighting at first) but not unnatural, the way objectionable HDR looks. I didn't look at it long enough before scrolling down, though, so can't say how my reaction would have differed had I looked at it longer without any info. Having read the post, when I look back at it, it does look a little too HDRish for my taste - just a little - mostly in the books and the slats on the back of the bench. Both have a little too much local contrast, making the whole image busier. At the same time, the drastic reduction in the total contrast causes it to lose the shapes created by the highlights and shadows and rely more on color and less on tonality. I also didn't see the mug handle at first, but again, didn't look long enough before scrolling down to read what it was about. Now it bothers me a little, but just a little.

Have you come across the "exposure fusion" method of combining bracketed exposures?

Much nicer, I find. I use this, but there are many other ways.

Looks OK to me, and I am generally allergic to HDR.

The mug handle, I would never in a million years have noticed. People have very different reactions to such things, of course.

I was reading a post on a photography forum recently, a comment on a photo of a woman lying prone, photographing something out of the frame. The commenter thought the image was ruined by her foot being cut off.

I didn't see what he was talking about. I looked hard. Finally I zoomed the photo to 100%, and saw that the barest edge of her shoe was cut by the edge of the frame. I imagine that commenter would be reduced to gibbering madness by the mug handle.

The HDR is not shocking, although at first sight one would expect the world outside to be over-exposed given the light inside. The shadows are revealing though; they indicate that the windows are the main "source" of light and then it becomes a bit strange that the books and backs of the chairs aren't in some kind of shadow/underexposed.

It looks fine. I use HDR often to bring out the details in the shadows and highlights that my eye can see but the camera can't show with one shot. The problem is that most photographers don't stop there.

Yes, leave out the handle. A friend of mine who is a really good painter would tell you that edges are important in a print or painting. One of the last things in my workflow is to check all the edges. Of course sometimes you want the incursion. For example, if this image is about the room where you are going to have coffee with friends you may want to put part of the cup in such a prominent spot. It does make the story told by the image different.

I can just notice the HDR effect in the wood grain of the furniture. I think if you eased up just a little bit it would be perfect.

Mike, perhaps you or your readers can help me regarding an essay I read long ago about the importance of the print edge..one observation on the subject considered the space between the torso and edge on Edward Weston's photograph of his son Neil, but the piece of writing I am thinking of was more generalized, a thought provoking piece on that subject. As always, thanks for an enriching blog, regards, Roy

I noticed that end bit of your post, Mike, "Seems more free."

I've come to the same conclusion as my life slips past, ever faster and truth becomes more paramount. And if the truth is free, let's call it an extra special bargain.

I like the photo. The mug doesn't bother me. If it were my pic, I would experiment with toning down the books, maybe even blurring them; maybe darken the window on viewing left just a smidgeon. I really like the way the rest of the photo works. The light on the bench, chairs, floor, table, and windows creates a mood that I find very appealing. Thanks for sharing.

Overall, I agree with John Camp and Keith B in thinking the HDR photo looks fine, and is a good example of HDR used correctly.

The mild keystoning in the photo doesn't bother me at all.

I do agree with BH that the sharpening (or micro-contrast adjustment) could be dialed back just a skosh for screen display, though when you print it, this level of sharpening might be fine. As Jeff Schewe has so well-described, you generally need more sharpening for print than what looks good on screen because the resolution of printers is higher than computer displays; though the new Retina iMac is putting paid to that to some extent.

Also, another point for consideration; one could have probably arrived at this level of tonal adjustment by using Capture One 8 rather than multiple HDR frames/adjustment layers. It's remarkable at pulling down highlight detail and pulling up shadow detail without the contrast curve turning to mushy grays.

Regading the mug handle, I would probably clone it and the desk out using the patch tool set to content-aware. Its a little bit of a visual distraction, but that's just me.

Overall, looks like a really nice space!

p.s. Sorry to get distracted by my own pontification. The mug handle doesn't bother me in the least. It's not one of those pictures. Nor one of those pictures where the edges have to be "just so" if you want to even crop some or all of it out. Typical overmatting would take some of it out anyway. A minimal vignette might burn it down nicely, too.

I have a silly urge to copy and paste that handle into the corner of various iconic photographs, just to see what kind of difference it makes in each case.

And another thing. What's HDR anyway, if not a modern adaptation of balancing interior (artificial) light with the outdoor variety.

And I've been doing that for more than 50 years now.

Sincerest regards, Jim Roelofs

If I didn't saw the original, I would say it looks allright. Seeing the two versions I would say the final version lacks some of the smooth lighting of the original.

But I wouldn't say the original is perfect as it is. It lacks DR in the shadows, I would bet if doesn't look like what one can see in real life (even if I don't think that "realness" is something mandatory for a photograph).

Since I have a tendency to sometimes overcook my photos, my technique is to do all my layer-adjustments and in the end put a layer on the top of all with the original photo and adjust the opacity to taste (sometimes with some masking).

What a fine room, lots of books, comfortable chairs and great light. I would love to curl up on the sofa with a good read and maybe later, fall asleep.

HDR: too much (for me); just too visible for my taste.
Mug handle: fine (for me) - but I believe the decision on in or out for that element is more important than its size might suggest for this image.


"Psychological instability" as a desirable property. I like it. I'm thinking Gregory Crewdson would be a fan.
Beautiful and interesting room, the HDRyness seems about right to me, i.e. I wouldn't have been bothered by it until it was mentioned.

The HDR treatment doesn't bother me, the mug handle does. FWIW, I think this would look really nice in B&W.

If you hadn't said it was HDR I would not have noticed. Once you did the only thing that looked "off" to me were the chair backs to the right. Too good to my eye, should be blown out a bit more. The mug handle is wonderful.

Personally I like the mug. It makes your eyes move around the picture, which to my mind is a good thing. Perfection is for the Gods. Us mortals need imperfection in our lives. As to the HDR, on my laptop monitor it looks like it needs to come back just a tad. The bookcases look a bit "bright". I would think printed out it would look different.

On HDR, if you can not tell you used it, you did it right. I use it all the time and you can not tell if my architectural shots were done by HDR. You have to go through all the extremes before you can settle down.

To my eye, properly cooked HDR is obvious as HDR only when that fact is pointed out. Further, when properly cooked HDR is presented side-by-side with the original, unprocessed picture the HDR version usually looks somewhat unnatural. The picture you posted struck me this way. Regards, Jim

Personally, I am not an HDR fan, but in this case I will make an exception.
I didn't think it was - ergo ---

What bothers me is the reflected window light showing on the floor under the left-hand chair that doesn't match the window light source in the HDR version.

Otherwise, I have no problem with the HDR exposure; but maybe it's a little flat but that might be the tiny jpg. The same effect could have been achieved with diffused artificial light sources, so if it's the look you're after, it's a matter of taste; whatever floats your boat.

Given that the HDR version of the image carefully shows every last detail, the mug handle is out of place. I would not hesitate to crop it, or remove it with software; nor would I consider that to be anywhere near over-fastidiousness.

I too would dial it back slightly. I have ranted publicly about overdoing HDR, so I'm a bit sensitive to it. In this case the only place where it "jumps" at me is the texture of the three wooden chairs on the left side. There's just something about the tones there that yell "HDR" to me.

It would be interesting to compare this with a nicely processed RAW file, where the highlights in the window area are brought down and the shadows in the interior are brought up a bit. Would that not land in a happy place between the HDR and the OOC JPG?

The mug handle doesn't bother me because I've never been one to want to confine the "world of the image" to the frame. I don't see it as an intrusion, I see it as an invitation to imagine the space photographed in a wider context.

Looks a bit crunchy to me. No problem with the mug - I've learned to accept incursions as well.

This is he traditional use of HDR before there was HDR. The contrast between outside and inside is too big for any camera to record it in one picture without various manipulations, double exposures etc. Now sensors have more dynamic range and in some cases, like here, where the difference is not too much, one just needs to adjust a bit for the highlights and shadows. Advertising and architectural images for the past fifty years have shown similar HDR adjustments without them being called HDR. That is why it looks natural, more natural than a pure landscape, for example, that easily goes over the top. Ansel Adams did it with exposure and development, getting an extra stop or two of dynamic range in landscapes when needed. It was called zone system, not HDR. And it was done in camera and darkroom, so it was okay.

My wife would have noticed the mug handle before anything else. And done something to "fix" it. Me, I'm with others, didn't notice till you mentioned it. Now I can't avoid seeing it. Maybe it should go away.

Nice restrained HDR, though just a bit more would have been "ouch!" Since there's a lot that can be done in Lightroom now that gets you nearly to the same place, I haven't bracketed my exposure lately.

When the image is enlarged (12" x 8" on my screen) with a black background, the white cup handle is quite noticeable and draws attention from the rest of the image. I'd remove it.

I've never shot an HDR picture, and I've rarely seen one that didn't look like a nothing photo retouched by a nearsighted technician using oil paints. ..... formerly employed by Thomas Kinkade.

Am I being too subtle?

This one however seems within reason - at least on my iPad retina display. I've often wanted to try HDR, but having seen too much dreck, I knew I'd overdo it. I'll take the "when it looks right dial back a bit" advice, and put the Fuji to work.

I'm wondering how that would have looked with a slightly brighter exposure and use of the shadow and highlight recovery curves?

The HDR shot is a little unnatural looking, in so far as the light doesn't seem to go with the windows, as it were - as seen on my highly uncalibrated led monitor of course.

Too much to my eye, but if it looks good to you then that is the person who has to be happy.

To me the interior is competing with the view through the windows for which is brighter.

From the original I would have toned down the highlights on the coffee table, brought up the chairs in the foreground just enough too catch a touch of detail, and the pillow and items on the left and probably left it there.

Unless there is a pressing reason to reveal everything inside the house (insurance, etc.) then leave a little mystery. Don't give away the whole farm. :-)

A few people have mentioned that the windows could be lighter, and interestingly this subject is discussed in your favourite book, Looking at Photographs, on page 126 in regard to Margaret Bourke-White's photo.

Szarkowski calls that photo "hermetically sealed with illusions".

I thought it looked ok until I scrolled down and saw the straight version. At that point I thought the HDR version looked way over processed.

I'm with the others who feel it's a bit too much HDR. Not terrible but dialing it back a bit would be a vast improvement. And much as I like monochrome I think works best in color: The color invites me into the room.

As to that mug handle. I think you've found your watermark.

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.

I like the HDR image as is. I did not notice the mug until you pointed it out. At first it bothered me, but the more I look the more I like it.

I like the photo, and the room. As someone said above, looks like a great place to hang out. But I'd bring back the micro contrast a bit (yep, too crunchy), let the windows blow out to the point where you can just still see detail, and likewise bring the shadows down to where you can just see detail (not as dark as the SOOC jpeg, though).

Re the mug - I didn't notice it till you mentioned it, but if I was to live with the photo it'd start to bug me.

Tried and don't much like HDR, at least as put out by the many HDR programs. I am learning how to do masking, so what I do is simply paint out sections that have wrong exposure and paint in sections that have the right exposure. I notice that all the HDR programs I have tried reproduce the images out of register and that is why when they are reconstituted they have that crunchy look and the colours and elements within the picture often bleed from one part to the other. Try resizing an HDR image and if you use a standard size, you will readily see that the program does not resize as it would with a regular image. Some pixels are lost.

The mug handle wasn't noticed until I read the commentary. As to the HDR, while I assume it closely sees what our brains process, I think it's a bit overdone. It has that look of being just a smidge removed from reality. To my mind a successful HDR shot should be unnoticeable. This has a certain painterly feel to it. Having said that the HDR version pleases me more because iin the straight shot I would have exposed more for the room.

Too much. Just bring up the shadows some and leave it at that.

I think that anyone who tells you to remove the mug handle doesn't truly love you.

A very nice picture of an inviting spot perfect for browsing through books and enjoying a good cup of coffee (self-roasted / -ground or not...)

As for the 'HDRness', for my taste the tonal relationships look good. Maybe the windows could be a tad brighter but they're not really bothersome. What jumps out to me as overdone is the overly visible structure in wooden surfaces like the chairs on the right and the flooring. It just doesn't seem to be the visual impression that you get when walking into the room and stopping briefly to enjoy the cozy sight.
And that's what this picture is all about for me: it (successfully) captures and conveys the nice feeling walking in there evoked in you. In that context, neither the mug handle nor the fact that vertical and horizontal lines are slighly skewed are bothersome (I'm usually allergic to the latter). It's a subjective picture conveying a mood and not a real estate photograph destined to end up in a high-gloss brochure.

As others I'd say that you should definitely back off on the micro contrast. Other than that, the two versions are mostly just, well, different. I perceive the two versions very differently, and the main question is what you want to express.
With the HDR backed off a bit I wouldn't say it will look unnatural. That is not the same as saying it is "natural" - I'd state that it is not quite as your eyes see the real room. For me the HDR style often has the effect that I am more aware of each single object in the photograph. It enforces an awareness of each element an encourage your eye wander.
The non-HDR version is not "natural" either, of course. The shadows are wery dark and there are little micro contrast. This version has a lot of atmosphere and makes me more feel what it might be like to be in that room.
It is a great room (mug and all) and I like both versions a lot :-) (with less micro contrast in the HDR and lifted shadows in the non-HDR ;-)

Yup.... Too much for me I'm afraid. Less is more. Almost none is better!!!

Less localized contrast in the tonemapping - bring the shadows/fill up a dash. Otherwise it's not too bad.

And of course you're absolutely right about it being a tool in the box; I find some people's allergic reactions to HDR (by which they invariably mean tonemapping parameters) quite annoying.

Normally I'd object to intrusions in the frame edges, but that mug-handle is fine; it fits with the clutter in the rest of the shot.

Sorry Mike, but this photo is very obviously HDR. The tones are just sad, glazed facsimiles of the original. If it looks like HDR I'm immediately allergic to it.

My top 3 tips for avoiding HDR:

1. Use a camera with decent dynamic range (DR) and you won't need HDR. Probably ever. Dynamic range is the forgotten spec in the pixel wars. I won't buy a camera for more pixels but I would certainly consider it to get another stop of DR.

2. Shoot RAW, not jpeg.

3. In Lightroom (or Photoshop Camera RAW) pay attention to the Camera Profile selection in Camera Calibration settings. If you're trying to expand dynamic range, using "Camera Portrait" or "Camera Neutral" will yield longer tonal range than the default Adobe Standard. Customized camera calibration settings can be even better. If you don't want to create your own, there are some third party vendors. I tried a couple and settled on Colin Walker's Huelight profiles from http://www.colorfidelity.com/


It is a little too much for me. It is usually wood grain that bothers me in HDR and that goes here, in those wooden chairs lined to the right. Somehow wood just never looks like that in life. But there is a more general HDR problem for me and it is something to do with atmosphere, or lack of it. I don't always notice the HDR visually, so to speak, but there is an atmospheric wrongness that is sometime almost, but not quite, imperceptible. The out of camera Jpeg has problems with the shadows but it feels atmospheric, like a lived in space, with air that people breath and smells and textures. The HDR has some of that bled out, there is, to me, less reality even though in some ways it is more real, in that it gives us something more like what our eyes can see.

And the mug handle I am afraid, bothers me like a stone in my shoe. After a while it will be ALL I can see in the pic.

The HDR works fine as documentation, but would make a lousy print. The non-HDR, printed with judicious handling of the darker tones, would be much nicer. The lightest tones, the view out the window, are better in the non-HDR also.

Or to paraphrase another reader: "HDR is an abstraction of the real world and I think that you only like mono-exposure if it does not disturb that abstraction. Perhaps, one should ask what adding the HDR to a photograph adds to the image except for nostalgia for a process that had no alternative." Ha!

The cup handle is fine, but you've failed to hide your hand in the HDR.


It could be that only people who are interested in photography worry about whether it's HDR or not, or whether it's too much HDR or not. Lots of people would look at that picture and think, "I'd like to spend some time there" or "Wish I lived there."

Be nice if there were a parallel universe where you posted that pic under a different headline "Cottage for rent" or "Get away for a weekend" and compare the reactions. But we can't do that. This is a photography web space so we worry about HDR-like stuff.

Ultimately, you have to work this out for yourself. None of us can tell you how to see, how much HDR to use, or what to include or exclude. Your photography must only please you and no one else. This may seem rather blunt but most great photographers weren't worried much about what others thought. If all artists did that, we would have a pretty bland vanilla version of everything. (Maybe that is why I don't like buffets.) What you have received in the comments is very interesting and shouldn't be totally disqualified, but take it with a "grain of D76" as just like a home inspector, internet critics are always going to find something to complain about. Telling us it was an HDR was a mistake. (As well as showing the original file). It only invites the "critics" to tell you how you should have done it based on their own biases and preferences. Internet critique is also difficult because each commenter has a different experience viewing you image due to monitor size. The final print size will determine how much detail you really need via HDR and how important or distracting the cup and table are.

I think the "HDR" looks fine. It matches how you would expect that range of tones to look if you were looking at it rather than capturing it into a box that can only capture a subset of the range. I'm looking out my house window now and it's not all overexposed, and my books are not all in shadow.

I'm neutral on the mug. If I noticed it in my own picture I'd crop it out. But in someone else's picture it's sort of cute.

"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 above. 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.

"I personally believe you can apply HDR techniques to any or even every shot."

One day I may be fortunate enough to repeat the experience of suddenly seeing the peregrine falcon in my viewfinder fly towards me, accelerating rapidly.
My eye, hands and mind were fully occupied in trying to keep the focus sensor on the bird and hoping the shutter speed was fast enough.
As Hamlet might have said: there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in HDR philosophy.


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.

David Plowden, who shot 2 1/4, said the square formal made the foreground "a crucial part of the composition," the same idea as Friedlander's observation.

I hadn't noticed the cup handle 'till you mentioned it. But still, I would probably clone it out--a no-no for purists, I'm sure.

Completely dependent upon one's monitor: how bright it is, contrast level, saturation. On my old Dell monitor the HDR version looks quite nice; the original, too dark in the shadows. How it will look on my iMac (once the interminable virus scan is done) may be different, but my bet is that it will be pleasing. The mug handle? Didn't notice it, but now that you've pointed it out, can't stop seeing it.

At first glance it looked pretty good, but looking longer makes me think it's a bit overdone. The windows could be a little brighter and the darks need to get a somewhat darker, especially the backs of the chairs… but the biggest problem is the excess midtone contrast in the woodgrain of the chairs and floor. I don't really think this is a sharpening issue, as some others suggest, but more the "clarity slider"-like effect of HDR tone mapping in midtones. I think backing off just a bit would reduce it sufficiently for my tastes.

I don't think you mentioned what technique/software you used for HDR here, but I've had pretty good luck using exposure fusion. I use the LR/Enfuse plugin for Lightroom: http://www.photographers-toolbox.com/products/lrenfuse.php
The resulting files tend to look flat, allowing you to add contrast, clarity and sharpening to taste later, and making it easier to keep a natural look.

The cup handle didn't bother me until you pointed it out. I'd probably try to remove it.

Lovely room!

A lot about photography is to choose what to include and what to leave out. But it doesn't apply just to the composition, it applies also to the tones and colors. I think especially beginner photographers should better come to terms with those choices, that neither in photography nor life can one include everything.

That said, in this particular picture I can appreciate the look attained by HDR (or really contrast control), but I think you could have let parts of the image go slightly lower on the tonal scale in order to reflect a certain mood.


Here's a tutorial video I made to explain how to do gradient burning in Photoshop.


Oh - just seen Ctein's suggestion of a graduated burn. If that's what I think it is, it's fairly easy.

New layer
draw a gradient from black to white (probably linear in this case - experiment!)
soft-light mode
adjust opacity to taste
Optionally: another levels adjustment layer to tweak the overall exposure placement afterwards.

To a fair approximation, greyscale tweaks in softlight mode are equivalent to L-channel changes in the direction of light (where the layer is white) or dark (where the layer is black) and a midtone does nothing. One of the better ways of dodge+burning is to paint large fuzzy blobs of black or white onto a softlight layer (and gaussian-blur the heck out of it); this is just using a gradient instead.

This is what I get for burying my head in video editing... I miss a great opportunity to expound on "the HDR look." (Sorry, I go way back with Greg Ward and a lot of the other old-timers who came up with this stuff, and I/we stubbornly stick to calling this image "tonemapped." HDR images, like camera raw, cannot be displayed on our screens.)

I like the look of the room photo. You're playing with the response curve of your "film," and adding local contrast and saturation all in one go; stuff that used to take hours in the darkroom. Does it look like you want it to? Great!

HDRI was invented (by Mr. Ward) as a way of preserving more (3D simulated) brightness than a computer monitor could display in a single image file, and tonemapping is a way to squoosh some of that data into the gamut of said monitors to better represent what we want to see. (Not always just "what we see.")

Anyone who says "HDR doesn't look like a photo" is forgetting that "a photo" can look like almost anything (color or monochrome or sepia or reversal or... or?), and not even "most photos" look one way or another. Beyond that, I've never seen a photo that "looks natural" because my brain combines stereo images with auto-exposure and zero depth-of-field. It isn't just semantics, but releasing prejudice about something unfamiliar. Give it a few seconds of rational thought, and all this kerfuffle about an image being "too HDR" just fades away...

Dear Tim,

Yeah, pretty much, except I don't like the soft light mode trick, because it doesn't give you any control over how tones are getting dodged or burned in. I much prefer to use curves adjustment layers, as in Christopher's video, because then you can shape the curves to produce the kind of dodging or burning in that you want.

I sent Mike a sample Photoshop file I did from his JPEG to show him how this works.

As it happens, I painted in the mask entirely by hand because I don't, in fact, use the gradient tool enough to be very adept at it. It would take me a lot longer by trial and error with that tool to get the kind of mask I wanted. Some people are just whizzes with it. I ain't one of them.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

I'm late to this discussion but feel compelled to comment.
Yes the HDR 'effect' is obvious and it bugs me to the point that I don't want to look, or experience the photograph further.
The 'straight' Jpeg has potential but the right treatment for your intent hasn't been revealed yet.

To me, HDR is for photographers who are afraid of the dark.
The dark places are where our fears dwell. A photograph with impenetrable shadows signals our primitive brain into action with a heightened awareness; exactly what art needs to do to engage with an audience.

The other bug I have with HDR is that it is not the quick and easy way to long dynamic range that it appears to be. Even if we cannot immediately notice them, there is a vast amount of boundary halos, both dark and light, that do all the pushing and pulling at the image, to bring it into line. This results in a visual confusion that disrupts our suspension of disbelief. We know we are looking at a facsimile.

Whenever I want to see what real dynamic range looks like I open Stephen Shore's book, Uncommon Places and hanker for an 8x10 camera and a patron to stump up for all that lovely sheet film.

Dear Adrian,

Nope, that's when HDR is done badly. Like sharpening. You can't tell when it's done well. Really, you can't.

pax / Ctein

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