To HDR or not to HDR? That is the question


Dodge Bootlegger Truck

HDR Dodge Bootlegger Truck


By now pretty much everyone, whether they know it or not, has seen an HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo and has an opinion about it. But of course that opinion is usually based on their very 1st HDR viewing experience which can be a good one or a very bad one. Truth be told, there is some very good execution of HDR out there and there is also some very bad HDR execution – it’s just the balance. Each photographer/artist has their own vision and as the Master Ansel Adams once said, “The negative is the score, the print is the performance, and as a photographer and artist, you have the opportunity to use a variety of tools at every step to create a print that achieves your vision.” – after all, who are we to judge another artists work, right? Having said I have in the past been bascially crucified for some of my heavy use of HDR in some of my photos but at the time it was the vision that I had for that particluar subject. The photo above is one of my earliest and most popular HDR photographs – in fact, this fabulous red truck basically changed my life. I know that is a HUGE statement but it really did! You can read all about that in an article I wrote for Outdoor Photographer Magazine in 2011. I call this photo my “signature photo” – many people see it and instantly know it is mine. I think the use of HDR works very well here – in fact so did HDRsoft, the parent company of Photomatix HDR software. From this photo and the aricle in OP I gained one of my best corporate sponsors and to this day I am thrilled to sing the praises of my favorite HDR software. I teach HDR and do speaking engements about how HDR really did change my life. It inspired me back into a business that I thought I was all but done with.

"Aspen Stand"

HDR Aspen Stand


As my work continues to evolve I find that, for me, less is more when it comes to HDR but that rule is not a hard and fast one – every now and then I like to amp it up a bit especially for rusty old trucks and relics that I find around the Great American Southwest aka “My Office”. I love how HDR can really bring out the subtle detail of a landscape or of course, a gorgeous old truck or building. And since I am a HUGE lover of clouds I LOVE what HDR can do for clouds…drama, drama, drama! I always say the only place that I allow drama in my life is in my photographs. In the wintertime here in Scottsdale I do weekly art shows and it’s amazing how many people will think that some of the photos that I display are paintings – they will not take “No” for an answer. Or they think I have spent hours in Photoshop making the image look like a painting. I simply tell them, “Nope – that is not my technique. I don’t even own Photoshop. I simply shoot 3 differently exposed images at the same time then I combine them in my software to make one dynamic photo that depicts exactly what my minds eye saw while I was shooting the photo”…it’s that simple, really. Some are satisfied with that true statement but others want to know more and I am happy to explain the process and then they are quite happy to have learned something new.

Sedona Sunset & Cactus - Processed with Photomatix HDR software

Sedona Sunset & Cactus – Processed with Photomatix HDR software


In closing – HDR can be a very “magical” tool but it can also be overused and lose it’s magic. Use it with care, be sure to avoid those crazy gray skies and ghosting that can sometimes occur by dialing it back just a bit – you want HDR to “enhance” your photos not take away from them. But your vision is your vision – if you like to amp it up then I say go for it and have a ball  – afterall we are supposed to be having fun creating, right? There are several HDR software choices out there but I like knowing that Photomatix is the “gold standard” and the software that basically started this creative trend and that is enough for me. Oh and did I mention that I love the results that I get from this easy to use software and I bet you will too. If you want to learn how to apply HDR to your own photos I offer a basic online class to teach you how. “Turn your Photos into Fine Art” Online Photomatix HDR Class – check it out on my Workshop Page.

Happy HDR-ing!


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4 Comments. Leave new

It seems to me that HDR is often used on a not so good image to make it acceptable.
However a good image can be made better with HDR.
I feel the process tends to improve the depth and overall appeal.


Remember the Hosemaster light painting system?
It gave studio still life photography a new and different look. Everyone wanted one. A lot of people bought them. Few were able to use them well. Now you never hear of them, but they are still being used. Skillfully, such that you really don’t notice the effect unless you’re really looking.

Adams was right about the negative and the print being the score and the performance. What he didn’t say, but is evident in his prints is that the performance demands great subtlety and a delicate touch.

Most of the HDR images I see these days lack that subtlety and delicate touch.
There are a few that do. Those will be the once which will last in the viewer’s visual memory.

Thanks for bringing this up.

Gary O’Brien
Tucson, AZ

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing
view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”
–Edward Abbey, naturalist and author (1927-1989)

Gary – mmm……no Adams might not have said that for good reason….I believe that an artist has the right to achieve their vision with whatever tools they see fit AND to make a photo look how they have envisioned it…it is after all THEIR vision….of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion but I don’t believe that anyone is entitled to tell an artist HOW to achieve their vision…no rules in my book…creativity is a free flowing energy that cannot and should not be controlled………… I’m not sure why this is such a “charged” subject but it seems to be for many…for me it is just another tool to help me translate my creativity to the world. We all grow and evolve as does an artists work as they move through the world and see things in different ways…………I know my work sure has and will continue to. Happy shooting!