photography from the ground up

HDR: Thus I Refute Photographic Snobbery

I recently received an e-mail which made the argument that HDR is a polarizing subject in the photographic community. It led me down that road that forks and forks again and…well, you know.  Are we as photographers to believe that we are (and should be) fenced in by rules? In this case the rules are about technique and processing. When photography was in its infancy, it was considered to be outside the realm of “serious art”. Now, nearly one hundred years later, it has become acceptable, but only if it fits in a certain box.

So, I am having trouble coming to terms with the ongoing debate inside the photography community concerning HDR processing. I consider the ability to blend exposures to expand the dynamic range of an image to be a wonderful addition to the photographer’s toolkit. There seems to be some divisive opinion about how much processing is allowable. What bothers me about this debate is one very important consideration: CREATIVITY! If someone’s vision requires that heavy and obvious HDR look, then who has the right to tell them it’s too much? Each one of us is different; we each see things in different ways and wouldn’t life be boring if we all agreed on everything?

This first image was made in the Bisti Wilderness last year. The landscape was other-worldly, and the dramatic sky added even more to that impression. In my post processing, I consciously emphasized that quality by making the HDR effect more obvious. I used a tool to help me achieve my vision.

The second image is from the same trip. It was made about an hour after the first. By then the skies had cleared somewhat, and, while the landscape is by no means common, it doesn’t quite have the alien feel of the previous image. This is also an HDR exposure fusion, but I backed off on the processing; I used the technique to enhance the contrast and to make the sky pop a little more.

So, two HDR images that express two very different emotions. I think I have succeeded in capturing my vision for each of them, and that is the point of art.

22 responses

  1. These debates irritate me intensely Jim. Comments like ‘I don’t approve of post-processing’ to me are meaningless. Every picture ever taken with a camera has been post-processed so what are these people saying? Where is this line that they are drawing? Like you, I think the choice about how you process a picture should be based on creativity and creating the picture you want. HDR is a wonderful tool to have at our disposal. If people don’t like a particular picture, HDR or otherwise, that’s fine but they don’t have the right to suggest that how you processed your picture was outside some set of ‘rules’ written by self-appointed individuals who feel they have the right to dictate to others. That is just plain wrong. As creative individuals we make our own rules just as other artists have for centuries.


    June 13, 2012 at 10:27 am

    • Yeah, I’m not sure why some folks feel the need to impose their way of doing things on everyone else. I think it probably has something to do with over-compensation. 🙂


      June 13, 2012 at 10:52 am

  2. post processing is nothing new in photographic history
    i shoot most of my pictures in RAW and use Lightroom to tweak the results
    i don’t consider this an aberration to the photographic process
    it just calms the finicky artist within me.


    June 13, 2012 at 10:44 am

    • …and in the end, that’s what art is all about. I know that there are a lot of photographers out there who feel that they must present the image exactly the way their eyes saw it, but that leaves no room for the way their hearts saw it.


      June 13, 2012 at 10:55 am

  3. Gene Trujillo

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Jim! I love viewing HDR processed photos (and I enjoy processing some of my own photos in HDR as well) and I also enjoy photos that are supposedly unretouched. Nowadays, with all the tools available to photographers, I don’t believe there are too many photos taken that are not post processed to some degree, hence the popularity of Photoshop, Lightroom, Topaz and the list is a mile long. So called ‘purists’ are everywhere, in every profession, hobby, etc, etc. That’s okay, I like their work, as I mentioned earlier, but it’s only one way of many of achieving a pleasing image. I really enjoy your work, Jim!


    June 13, 2012 at 10:51 am

  4. Your title definitely drew me in. Isn’t it odd that creativity must be enforced or controlled somehow? I guess some things will never change. If we all fit into someone’s neat little box, where would true individuality go?


    June 13, 2012 at 10:54 am

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more! I’ve said many times, for me, the image from the camera is just the starting point of the creative process. We are creating an artistic statement according to our vision. It’s only appropriate to use the too9ls we have at our disposal – including postprocessing software tools – to make an image that represents our vision. Who is to say what image best corresponds to “reality.” The camera itself imposes compromises, itself represents a processed image. Why do we stop there. I agree that HDR has been overdone at times; such is a risk with any new and powerful creative tool. The principle of using HDR and other tools is something I agree with. Else, how do I create a uniquely individual expression of photographic vision?


    June 13, 2012 at 11:01 am

  6. It is, for me, all a matter of taste but I would never push my tastes upon another artist/photographer! I have thought many things many times over and I am now of the opinion that if an image works it works, regardless of the process used to make/create/process the shot. If it is how YOU wish to portray YOUR image then no one call tell you that it is wrong or over processed or whatever. It is as you say about the person and their own creativity. I have to say that your work has always impressed me, a artists point well made and another great post with some excellent comments and a debate I feel will rage on!


    June 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm

  7. John P. Meyer

    An intelligent argument. I can’t disagree with it. (Gotta get me some a’ that there HDR!)


    June 14, 2012 at 10:01 am

  8. Digital vs. film, color vs. black and white, photoshop vs. no intervention. Photographers spend a lot of time debating issues that would be better spent taking/making photos. Your work speaks for itself. It’s an individual vision that you express. I admire your work and if you stand on your head, whistle, and balance on one foot while shooting or processing, the only thing that truly matters if it communicates.It does.


    June 17, 2012 at 9:03 pm

  9. Composites of multiple images has been around long before digital photography and HDR. I wonder if the fellow would say Alfred Stieglitz was not an artist? Thanks for the thought provocation, Jim.


    June 20, 2012 at 3:28 pm

  10. I don’t understand the debate really, it’s like discussing music: “I like this, you like that. Electronic music is not real music, rock music is the only thing, no symphonies is best, etc, etc…”
    It’s useless to debate such things. People have their preferences and we have different taste.


    September 27, 2012 at 12:40 am

  11. I really like your set up! Great looking Blog. 🙂 And excellent beauty in photos. HDR is cool.


    July 29, 2013 at 8:02 pm

  12. brunosellmer

    Outstanding HDRs !


    August 5, 2014 at 5:22 am

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