Learning to see in HDR

NOTE: This is an article I recently published over at HDROne.com, which is a new website dedicated to HDR Photography - go check it out!  So if you read it there...well here it is again.  But I liked the idea behind this article and I wanted to share it here on the blog as well.  And of course, I sprinkled in some photos that were previously published here on the blog to help illustrate my points about HDR.
Hope you enjoy the photos and the article as much as I enjoyed putting them together!

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. – Wayne Dyer

That is one of my favorite quotes and as a photographer it applies pretty clearly.  Once you really get into photography you do start to look at things differently, and as a result you begin to look at different things.  You may actually look at the same old things, but they become new things because you see them as if for the first time.  Photography gives you a new set of eyes…a better set, if you ask me.

But as an HDR photographer I think that quote has even deeper meaning.  There is a shift that occurs when you start to see in HDR.  You do change the way you look at things.  By “seeing in HDR”, I am referring to the moment when you are fluent enough in your HDR processing that you can visualize your results while still in the field.  You start to recognize where HDR will work, and where it will not.

In the beginning of your HDR journey, you may have fired brackets at everything, possibly without any thought about whether the scene would actually benefit from it.  Maybe you got excited about how radical you could make a photo look.  I know I did that - most everyone has (and sometimes we still do!).  Somewhere I have an HDR of a cat (seriously, Jim?).  Sure it might be fun – and there’s nothing wrong with some good old fashioned fun – but shooting Fluffy in HDR isn’t really necessary…that’s playing around.

But like life, HDR photography is a journey and things change as your style and skills mature.  Your eye becomes better suited to recognizing when HDR will help you communicate the vision you have for a photo.  You start to see how HDR will help you bring a scene to life for your viewers.

On my own journey I have come to realize that HDR really enhances certain scenes, or just elements of a scene.  At some point I began to see in HDR, and I think that has made me better at utilizing HDR as a tool in my photographic arsenal.  It’s another arrow in the quiver, so to speak.  Here are some examples:

  • When there is a big disparity between dark and light in a scene:  Exposing for one or the other makes the shot incomplete.  HDR overcomes that.  This is huge.
  • Architectural interiors: These are never the same once you shoot them in HDR (think churches and train stations).  You can’t get the range of light in a single exposure here.  HDR really opens these scenes up in a whole new way.  It’s incredible, really.  I’m fired up just thinking about it!  I might actually go to church.  LOL
  • Sunrise/sunset/blue hour: These take on an entirely new meaning.  Everyone loves to shoot at the edges of the day since the soft light can be so beautiful, but with HDR it is magic, my friends - pure magic.  If there are clouds too – you’re going to love it!!
  • Textures and details: You will notice these when you never would have looked at them before.  HDR can accentuate these, bringing you a more interesting photo.  It’s seeing with new eyes.
  • Rusty old stuff: Rust and HDR is a match made in heaven.  Lots of people may think rusty old items are junk, but not me.  HDR puts some life in rusty, abandoned things.  There’s beauty in antiquity!  You just have to look at it.

Keep in mind that the most important thing is to enjoy the journey you are on.  I think it comes down to that.  Pay attention to how your vision is changing: not just what you look at, but also what you see.  It’s exciting when you realize how far you’ve come, and with your new vision you can see where you are going more clearly.  Enjoy the trip – and say “hi” to Fluffy for me.