Previous news story    Next news story

HDR used properly is appropriate for photojournalism, says Unified Color's Omvik

By dpreview staff on Feb 3, 2012 at 20:26 GMT

Are High Dynamic Range photos appropriate for illustrating news? That's the debate that's been started by the Washington Post's use of an HDR image on its front page in January. Sean Elliot, president of the National Press Photographers Association came down firmly against it, saying, 'HDR is not appropriate for documentary photojournalism.' John Omvik, Marketing VP with HDR software maker Unified Color understandably disagrees. He's written us a response arguing that what we see is closer to HDR than, say, a mono photo shot with Tri-X film.


John Omvik's statement:

Recently, the Washington Post stirred up a healthy debate among amateur photographers and photojournalists when it published  a  photograph on its front page commemorating the 30th anniversary of the tragic crash of Air Florida Flight 90 (January 13, 2012). The photo in question shows the back-lit 14th St. Bridge shot at sunset with an airplane in the upper left corner of the frame. The controversy stems from the fact that staff photographer Bill O’Leary used High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques to process this photo, a fact the Post mentioned in the photo’s caption.

'Using HDR software and processing tools is the only method a photographer has to deliver precisely what he or she witnessed at the time of an image capture'

The caption ultimately led to some confusion by readers, many of whom took it to mean the paper was publishing a doctored photo, perhaps in order to achieve the emotional impact appropriate to the accompanying story. In a subsequent Ask the Post article online, Michel du Cille, the Post’s director of photography posted detailed information on the HDR process while making it clear that the publication did not and does not “manipulate” photos.  

The debate spread to the Poynter Institute’s blog, where Sean Elliot, president of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)  is quoted as saying:

“HDR is not appropriate for documentary photojournalism.” Elliot points out that the NPPA’s code of ethics say photographers should respect the integrity of the digital moment, “and in that light an HDR photo is no different from any other digital manipulation.”

As vice president of Unified Color Technologies, a pioneer in the field of HDR imaging, I strongly disagree with Elliot and the NPPA’s viewpoint. When properly used, HDR does the most accurate job of reconstructing the dynamic range of the original scene at the time the photo was taken. In fact, if one really wants to split hairs about what is “real” and what isn’t, consider this; from the moment you open your eyes in the morning until the moment you close them at night, everything you see in the world around you is in HDR.

There is no camera in existence, digital or film, which can accurately reproduce what the human vision system can capture and process in real time. While today’s digital cameras capture a much larger dynamic range in a single shot than any color transparency film ever could in the past, they still can't match the tonal range humans can see. And so, using HDR software and processing tools is the only method a photographer has to deliver precisely what he or she witnessed at the time of an image capture.  

In the case of Bill O’Leary, his color HDR image is clearly more realistic to the moment then had he used the old gold standard of photojournalism and newsprint: black and white Tri-X film.

Improper use of HDR can clearly create a misrepresentation of the photographic moment, but when HDR techniques are used as they should, they absolutely meet, and might, in fact, go above and beyond the standards of the NPPA’s code of ethics which state, in part:

  • Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
  • Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects. 
  • Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.

Proper use of HDR does not alter, mislead or misrepresent a scene. In fact, true color HDR processing and tone mapping techniques restore the integrity of the photograph, and is the best way to reproduce the original high contrast scene, in low dynamic range media such as newsprint or on our LCD computer or handheld displays.

At the current rate of technology evolution, we’re likely to soon have cameras that can match the dynamic range of human vision in a single shot (though even then software tools will be required to tone map the image for printing.) Until that time, the HDR process is the best option for photographers seeking to convey a sense of realism.  Simply mentioning the process in the caption, as the Post did here, is all the disclosure that ought to be necessary.

-John Omvik

V.P. Marketing, Unified Color Technologies

Comments

Total comments: 252
1234
Teila Day
By Teila Day (6 months ago)

I think HDR is far over done in most instances and I loathe HDR in realty photography. I've seen enough glowing furniture and wood flooring to make myself gag and my eyes tire. The sooner HDR falls out of favor, the sooner I can get back to looking at properties without getting a headache.

I've noticed more than one company that advertises vacation properties, forbid submissions that are un-life like. Sad that they have to spell it out, just so some people can get a clue that a room that looks so surreal that no one would be surprised if a unicorn walk at any given moment = too darn much HDR.

2 upvotes
KuroKam
By KuroKam (Feb 21, 2012)

Is HDR being criticized because there is a temporal discontinuity between shots? I mean if we're making an accusation that it's a fabrication because it's two or more moments in time put together to create the same scene couldn't you argue a similar case for super long exposures with objects moving in and out of the shot? What if we were to create a set of rules such as the shots have to be taken within a certain time frame and one can't move the camera and come back (although that defeats the whole purpose). Or is it because it requires certain kinds of post processing that may be be unacceptable in photojournalism (i.e. tone mapping)? I seem to be indifferent to the whole thing; just don't make the photo look like my dog's breakfast.

0 upvotes
ljohnstn
By ljohnstn (Feb 10, 2012)

Ever dodged or burnt a B&W print? How about push the film. I like hot souping to bring out areas of a print. All things were done with B&W film prior to being published.

Maintain the integrity of the moment, keep up with the times.

0 upvotes
TWMH
By TWMH (Feb 7, 2012)

It is essential to know why HDR exists in the first place! Historically photographers have been seeking it ever since the medium was invented. No film and no camera (even today) is capable of registering the whole dynamic range of a scene. As a result phtographic seeing has become paradigmatic and many beleive that cannot be changed. But that paradigm is constantly changing. First from BW to color then from analog to digital. The film industry produces HDR by using lighting thus reducing the dynamic range to what the film can capture. The same is done in studios with flashes. The reporter uses fill flash to bring down the range. Hypolite Bayard used multiple exposures in the 1800s. Ansel Adams created his zone system to capture more range. Countless experiments with emulsion/exposure/development variables sought exactly that - more (High) exposure (dynamic) range- without having to appeal to artifacts (artificial illumination). Healthy is debate and experiment unhealthy to prohibit.

1 upvote
aris14
By aris14 (Feb 7, 2012)

Αll in good measure...

1 upvote
BareFoot Photog
By BareFoot Photog (Feb 7, 2012)

Guys lets not forget the reasons why we take photographs - to capture a moment in time to reflect upon down the track.

If HDR tickles your inner ear then knock yourself out...I use it and more often than not the non-photographer is the one pushing for really weird end results...this to me altering what the eye can truly see...some recent efforts in-house led to some show cars looking almost cartoon-y like yet strangely appealing.

Like any art form there are detractors and absolute raging fans.

Live with it as a developing medium and comment on the true beauty of the photo - composition, lighting and storyline!

0 upvotes
tbcass
By tbcass (Feb 7, 2012)

Sean Elliot simply doesn't understand the technical side of digital photography. No photo, film or digital, is a totally realistic representation of what we see. HDR along with tone mapping, when done conservatively, can produce a more realistic image when compared to what we see. The process can, like any process, be used to create surreal images as well and probably that is what Mr Elliot was thinking about.

2 upvotes
Freycinet
By Freycinet (Feb 6, 2012)

Being against HDR photography is like being against colour photography. Why elevate a technical limitation to documentary truth?

2 upvotes
Klarno
By Klarno (Feb 6, 2012)

What we have here is a confusion between editorial photography and photojournalism. The case described in this article is editorial photography, which is not strict documentarianism; it's a photo whose purpose is to supplement the material, set a tone and add to its impact. It doesn't necessarily have to have anything to do with the material.

Documentary photojournalism can be said to be a subset of editorial photography, but its purpose is to tell a story or show a detail that can't be said as succinctly with the written material.

There is room for both in a journalistic publication. Your readers should be smart enough to understand what is what.

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 3 minutes after posting
1 upvote
cesaregal
By cesaregal (Feb 6, 2012)

In my opinion HDR softwares alter real relation among lights.
Let Photojournalism stay real!

0 upvotes
dfmead
By dfmead (Feb 11, 2012)

Photojournalism isn't real. Photography isn't real. To quote Galen Rowell, photographs are "visual illusions that trick our senses into believing that the images represent the way the eye would see a real scene."

1 upvote
klopus
By klopus (Feb 6, 2012)

It's beyond me how blending together several shots of the same scene taken milliseconds apart can be considered as some kind of cardinal sin against photojournalist dogma. In fact when done right HDR actually reveals more detail present in "reality" and closer to how the human eye sees it in a high contrast scene.

Anybody can explain?

3 upvotes
DaveMarx
By DaveMarx (Feb 8, 2012)

The only material distinction is ghosting. A single, long exposure would leave a streak/blurred image of that plane. HDR produces a series of distinct images of the plane (ghosting). Removing ghosts is, arguably, a form of image manipulation. If the ghosts have been removed, what else may have been edited?

The press photographers are concerned about their credibility with editors far more than they worry about the public. The only way to prove the "honesty" of a news photo is to deliver it unmodified - let the newspaper do what it wishes, after the fact. If that means giving the paper the entire series of bracketed exposures, rather than a finished final print, so be it.

1 upvote
Odiomasaighe
By Odiomasaighe (Feb 10, 2012)

It sounded to me like the news article used one image to make the HDR photo; what I call a single HDR. My spouse shots in JPEG. Every now and then she comes up with a nice shot and I enhance it for her by giving it my single HDR treatment. The nice thing about the single HDR process is there are no ghosts in a single HDR image!

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
imagesbyoe
By imagesbyoe (Feb 13, 2012)

I agree with DaveMarx. Credibility is everything in journalism. When there is a moving object involved and exposures are taken at different times, (regardless of mili seconds or minutes)and then composed for exposures, the moving object should appear as ghosting because of the different position its in, in every exposure. And the fact that the photograph was manipulated to show one composite exposure, begs to ask the question what else was done to preserve the integrity of the moment?

0 upvotes
tigrebleu
By tigrebleu (Feb 6, 2012)

The fear is that a Pandora box will be opened if HDR processing is allowed in photojournalism. I believe this fear is not justified.

HDR is not retouching as in using Photoshop to remove visually intrusive power lines from a landscape photograph or to remove skin imperfections on a person's face.

As long as the of HDR is use to best reproduce what the photographer saw in REALITY when he or she pressed the shutter release, I don't see any reason to ban HDR from good photojournalism practices. It would be like saying the use of a certain film developper "was cheating" because it provided better details in the shadows or in the highlights.

We're far from the awful examples of very bad (both in the technical and ethical sense) photo retouching that are often seen in a UK newspaper I won't dare to name for this piece of crap is so unethical it's not worth being used as anything but bathroom tissue (those among you who read PhotoshopDisasters will know which newspapers I'm talking about).

4 upvotes
KuroKam
By KuroKam (Feb 6, 2012)

Disregarding the resulting exposures, what differentiates one photo with a given shutter speed vs. two photos at half that shutter speed that are combined?

0 upvotes
Scott O
By Scott O (Feb 6, 2012)

Very simply, HDR makes up for deficiencies in sensor technology. When sensors with greater tonal range are developed, it will not be necessary any more. So I have no issue with HDR in photojournalism, as the image is not being manipulated in any way, just processed to maximize existing information.

3 upvotes
Dan Nikon
By Dan Nikon (Feb 6, 2012)

Disagree, HDR is garbage that does not have any place in photojournalism, this is a sad day for real photography.

0 upvotes
nellydesign
By nellydesign (Feb 6, 2012)

What exactly is "real photography"? You still using a film camera there chief? And posting on a digital camera site? So, was the onset of color photography also a "sad day" for real photography? I say anything that makes a good photo is good. Nobody is photoshopping Obama into a monkey suit or making the leaning tower of Pisa not lean anymore and putting it in newspapers so why doesn't everyone get their panties out of the twist they are in right now and calm down. If HDR images are such a black eye to "real photography" then I guess any camera other than the very first camera ever made is just a technoolgy ridden piece of crap that has no business being used to document life. So if "technology" allowed us to have a camera that properly showed the full range of light and shadow that the human eye can see, without any post processing (film or otherwise) it would be an abomination?

8 upvotes
dfmead
By dfmead (Feb 11, 2012)

The Pentax K-5 does HDR in-camera. If I'm a photojournalist photographing a burned-out building in the desert at high noon, which is the "proper" or "accurate" image that my news magazine should publish? The normal, bright, dark, or composite of all three? I didn't manipulate them; the camera did, following a general-purpose algorithm invented to capture detail from brightest to darkest.

We Americans have a distressing habit of confusing process with results; thus we can execute an innocent man while patting ourselves on the back—and even refusing to rescind a ruling upon proof of innocence—because we followed the letter of the law. HDR is a process; what matters is substantial documentation of the point of the news item.

Speaking as a career journalist, my street test is, if someone challenges my depiction of the facts, can I defend it? The ultimate measure is the integrity of the creator, whether writer, photographer or editor—not the process.

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
freiherrfoto
By freiherrfoto (Feb 6, 2012)

How bout faux-HDR, that would be appropriate wouldn't it? It's just one shot, one moment and processed in fancy lighting.

0 upvotes
hiplnsdrftr
By hiplnsdrftr (Feb 6, 2012)

Ansel Adam's zone system essentially created HDR photos.

There's HDR and then there's extreme HDR. Like any tool it can be abused, over used or used incorrectly.

6 upvotes
Dan Ortego
By Dan Ortego (Feb 6, 2012)

I suppose HDR has its' place but it is not my cup of tea. If you want your photos to look like cartoons, then its great!

2 upvotes
bronxbombers
By bronxbombers (Feb 7, 2012)

You are mixing up bad HDR with HDR. You make garish messes without using HDR too.

1 upvote
Le Kilt
By Le Kilt (Feb 6, 2012)

"used properly" !!! No problem with that.

HDR can be great, and in my mind it should not even be noticeable unless one wants a non-natural look for example for illustrations or advertising.

Unfoirtunately HDR is too often misused.

1 upvote
valera1agon
By valera1agon (Feb 6, 2012)

It appears that they said a wrong thing on hahaped?

0 upvotes
mauritsvw
By mauritsvw (Feb 6, 2012)

The real question is: Are you MOVING pixels, or just manipulating them, i.e. changing contrast, sharpness, saturation, HDR etc (which gets done anyway in the digital process from the moment you press the shutter). If you're moving pixels, you're adding to or removing elements from the picture, which is unacceptable in photojounalism, except where you want to illustrate some point, in which case you have to keep the reader informed of what you've done and why.

1 upvote
Dan
By Dan (Feb 6, 2012)

What about interpolation? Don't pretty much all digital cameras interpolate because each pixel can only capture one color? As long as the photo wasn't purposely manipulated to misrepresent the scene, all this talk of ethics is nonsense to me. HDR looks more like real life (maybe not in some examples on the web, but the key words are "done properly").

0 upvotes
DougH
By DougH (Feb 6, 2012)

What are the current PJ rules on altering brightness and contrast. I vaguely remember a PJ getting fired or reprimanded for altering b & c and making a scene of a fire or something similar look more ominous. Clearly HDR can do that too. It would seem that some HDR should be permissible and the PJ industry needs to define what is and is not permissible.

1 upvote
Dave Oddie
By Dave Oddie (Feb 6, 2012)

Most HDR I see look unnatural whereas I rarely get that feeling from looking at a photo-journalistic shot even if it is shot on in black and white.

I think this is because the HDR shots tend to lack any deep shadows at all. They tend to appear grey and dark shadows play an important part in making a photograph appear realistic in my opinion.

I am not talking about the poster paint results that can result from HDR which are horrible anyway but when it is applied more subtly to try and just enhance DR. Most times it doesn't need enhancing at all.

1 upvote
tigrebleu
By tigrebleu (Feb 6, 2012)

Good point!

I sometimes do HDR imaging for clients when faced with harsh illumination and when fill flash can't be used (when I need to photograph a building on an overcast day, for instance).

But when I show other photographers the final results, none was ever able to tell HDR was involved, because the way I had done the tone mapping was meant to reflect reality, and as such, the HDR process was used in a subtle way that was hardly noticeable to even the expert eye.

Most HDR we see on the web today is meant to be dramatic and breath taking, not realistic. These images look like the art work fantasy artists, not like reality. Like or don't like, it's a matter of taste.

When HDR stops being realistic enough to be "proper" for photojournalism use is where it starts to be "creative". If the photojournalists of this world can agree on the difference, then HDR could have a chance of becoming an acceptable technique used to better reflect the reality of a scene that's being photographed.

1 upvote
DaveMarx
By DaveMarx (Feb 6, 2012)

I'd suggest that the HDR you "see" consists of HDR that was used with insufficient subtlety. "I can dig out every shadow detail, so therefore, I must." The same could be said for over-use of fill lighting.

You think a scene didn't need HDR, but without being there, how can you be sure? You're judging the original conditions based on a post-processed result.

Part of the Zone System aesthetic is to include deep black and pure white as well as midtones. Billions of photos have been taken lacking one or more elements of that triumvirate, without the help of HDR - all you need is an overcast day and an exposure meter that seeks an 18% gray card result.

Zone System aficionados know to look for its hallmarks, just as Rule of Thirds fans imagine a grid over every photo they view. "Did it follow the rules? No? Then do I think that the violation was justified?"

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
tbcass
By tbcass (Feb 7, 2012)

Actually in real life your eye adjusts to changes in light so when you look at a shadow area your pupil opens up and the shadows, in reality, don't look as dark as they do in a regular photograph. As such HDR with tone mapping, when done conservatively, actually can make a photo look more like reality.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
OneGuy
By OneGuy (Feb 6, 2012)

I'm not making a living taking pictures yet I'm miffed by the mild response. This guy Elliot is supposed to be on the photographers' side. Newspapers lost a lot of business to the Internet and W. Post appears alert to advances in technology and wants to use it.

You cannot ban technology, only manage it. It is the editor's job to set the guidelines. Elliot is dumping "the problem" on HDR technology and has no clue or does not care where his constituents lunch is coming from few months from now. At a minimum Elliot is incompetent to see the opportunities and pulls the proverbial defeat from the jaws of victory.

I think every editor should require submitted photos to have an accompanying 10 sec or so sound track taken along with the photo. It could sure make the paper's Internet extension come more to life.

Readers of the W. Post got a technical HDR explanation. But HDR also improves the signal-to-noise ratio. The noise comes from the sensor and might be removed because it is random.

2 upvotes
Biowizard
By Biowizard (Feb 6, 2012)

It's curious that many of those arguing against HDR are doing so from a standpoint of ignorance as to what it actually means. It does NOT mean removing wrinkles or warts from ageing movie stars, nor adding a child's teddy bear to the foreground of a photo of Fukishima - it simply means compressing a greater range of contrast (from very dark to very light) into a picture, to make it CLOSER in appearance to what the human eye (and brain) can see. And ANYTHING that makes photos MORE TRUE TO REALITY is to be praised and supported.

Brian

6 upvotes
backayonder
By backayonder (Feb 6, 2012)

But not when pictures look plastic, when HDR is done badly.

3 upvotes
backayonder
By backayonder (Feb 6, 2012)

I don't really care, but how will I know if the picture I am looking at in vanity fair? of an aging Hollywood movie star is real. Is it plastic surgery or HDR?

0 upvotes
JakeB
By JakeB (Feb 6, 2012)

HDR only provides a greater range of light and dark areas in an image -- it does not alter a person's appearance as retouching does.

2 upvotes
Guidenet
By Guidenet (Feb 6, 2012)

HDR is a method for processing exposure, not manipulating the subject of the image in any way. The idea that multiple images are somehow more of a manipulation is rubbish. We're just gathering different exposures of the same image. It's still a single image. Nothing is added or removed. Any misunderstanding otherwise is a bit silly at best and displays a lack of understanding.

The fact that some of us use these same HDR techniques in artistic extremes should not be an excuse to fail to understand the process and on how it can be used to create a more natural image just as easily. In the same way we can add saturation, contrast or make an image monotone, we can now adjust dynamic range to make an image more natural or carve out some extreme we also like.

Reality is 3D with time, movement, smells and sounds. It's the wind blowing through your hair and the leaves rustling. You are not going to faithfully capture that with your Nikon camera regardless of Paul Simon's song.

5 upvotes
bronxbombers
By bronxbombers (Feb 6, 2012)

Of course HDR should be allowed to PJ. It's not editing things out or pasting things in or do anything other than basic processing. You can't print linear, un de-bayered RAW files. A carefully done HDR can be a lot closer to how the scene looked the eye/brain than not. Ridiculous. May as well outline any tone curves, and just print a flat, contrastless mesh of R,G and B dots.

0 upvotes
Poss
By Poss (Feb 6, 2012)

The truth is one. The lies are many.
Regardless of the medium used, be it words or pixels or whatever.

1 upvote
fgrau
By fgrau (Feb 6, 2012)

As Galen Rowell correctly points out in his book "Inner Game of Outdoor Photography", all pictures are illusions, created from an image of reality manipulated by our own human visual system. "A photograph can never exactly replicate the already interpretive image 'right there before our eyes' that we assume represents an objective reality".
HDR (or not HDR) how can anyone be sure of what was the image really looking like in the eyes of the photographer?
If the mission of a journalist photographer is to communicate visually as close as possible the perceived 'reality' in front of him, he needs to have access to all the tools he judges necessary to help him. I believe HDR helps in this regard, because a single digital media capture cannot replicate the sophisticated interpretation of our own visiual system.

3 upvotes
jsandjs
By jsandjs (Feb 6, 2012)

Newspaper used black and white pictures years ago, which greatly altered our colorful world. Were they cheating?

3 upvotes
Rafael Edwards 2
By Rafael Edwards 2 (Feb 6, 2012)

beyond the particularity of an HDR processed image in this case (of secondary importance to me at least), this story brings up a much larger and more relevant issue which is "what is truthful and what not" in photography. If we start from today's almost universally accepted notion that all photography is subjective, because it is a partial view and a biased choice of timing, framing and even lighting of a given situation, it is always hard to cast the first stone and draw the line between true and false. It could be a very interesting debate, and in my opinion we should be able to keep it going at a high level, put it where it belongs which is human perception of reality and not trying to draw the line on technicalities. As a final thought (to this message) it appears to me that communications today is a two-way road. and if the Post publishes a hard to believe HDR image on its cover, the readers will decide if they will question or not this Newspaper's credibility.

1 upvote
dopravopat
By dopravopat (Feb 5, 2012)

I think that HDR is being overused and when applied, it is overcooked.

The sample posted in this article is a clear example when HDR was most likely not neccessary at all. I would not mind if there were strong shadows or white clouds or snow, ot the sun in the sky. I seriously doubt that the dynamic range of the scene was greater than 8 EV, a value that a properly exposed RAW can capture with all details. Also I do not like the colors, both greens and blues/cyans, they are "radioactive". The image should have been processed in LAB mode with a stronger global contrast on the lightness channel (local contrast is fine - details are clear). And overall with less saturation and especially the green channel should be a bit darker. That is my opinion, your taste may be different (or your monitor). Even when I am doing HDRs, I try to keep them as natural as possible. It is very simple to get an surrealistic, painterly look. But it is much harder to get a well balanced image with natural look.

4 upvotes
digitall
By digitall (Feb 6, 2012)

I agree, it is a particularly poor example.

0 upvotes
DaveMarx
By DaveMarx (Feb 6, 2012)

I look at the same image and expect the bridge would be near-silhouette under the ambient conditions. I assume the photographer stopped-down to get deeper color saturation, moving the bridge even farther towards black. With the sun where it is, with the amount of ambient light we can expect, how could the stones and masonry joints of the bridge pier show any detail at all, unless there's fill lighting or image manipulation of some sort (dodging, HDR, tone curve)?

Without some form of manipulation, we'd have a large, dark, hard geometric object in the foreground that would compete with the strong color of the sky (natural or not). That strong sky, in turn, draws the eye towards that very small aircraft. Despite its size, the jet is critical to establishing the photo's relevance to the story. Moving the bridge up the gray scale softens its impact enough to shift balance back to the sky.

At least, that's what I infer from the same photo.

0 upvotes
tbcass
By tbcass (Feb 7, 2012)

Actually I suspect you are incorrect. Look at the shadow areas at the photograph you mentioned. Most likely the shadows were so dark in the normally exposed photo that little detail was visible. In reality if you were there and looked at the shadows they would appear as they are in this photo, not very dark. By applying moderate HDR to the photo a more realistic scene was produced.

0 upvotes
Mssimo
By Mssimo (Feb 5, 2012)

Maybe they should also limit the lenses and sensor size. Never heard of a human eye with great Bokeh. No more full frame cameras with F1.2 lenses. We should really get rid of all lenses aside from 48mm or whatever the human eye is. Maybe ban black and white pictures. Destroy all these "fakes" taken in the past.

This argument can get quite out of hand.

8 upvotes
ericimbs
By ericimbs (Feb 5, 2012)

touche.

0 upvotes
BIJ001
By BIJ001 (Feb 6, 2012)

> Maybe ban black and white pictures.

I see your point but there are colour blind people. Maybe we should ban the colours?

Comment edited 36 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Samb15
By Samb15 (Feb 5, 2012)

I agree generally with Mr. Omvik's take on this, but would add the following. We are all too hung up on the specifics of processing. HDR is one of many techniques that can make a picture either or less true to "real life". Built-in "digital range optimizer" can do some of the same, as can a tweak of the gamma and contrast.

I once took a picture of a two friends standing next to car in fairly bright twilight that looked more like day than night. Iin aperture-priority, the friends and the car were properly exposed and the sky became quite bright. It looked like bright day. Next, I tried with a diffused flash. The subjects were properly exposed but the background were dark; it looked like a scene under a streetlight at night. Neither one would be good journalism.

I will go out further on a limb and suggest that if the processing created a picture that looked like the scene would in person, the newspaper probably just created a distraction by mentioning how it was processed.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
DaveMarx
By DaveMarx (Feb 5, 2012)

Ansel Adams' technique required pre-visualization. It was not an attempt at impartial documentation, as the tools were inadequate to that task (and still are). He had a vision to distill into one frame what a person standing in the same spot might need minutes or hours, or years of viewing the same scene to encompass.

Whether it's silver halide or CCD, creating an analogy of a scene is all we can ever hope for. It will always be a representation, not a copy of the original.

There will always be a difference between pictorial and documentary news photography - Ansel Adams and Robert Capa. Publications use both types.

The scene in question is editorial eye candy, to draw readers to the story. It was not documenting a news story. But had there been crash victims in deep shadow while a wreck blazed in the background? They'd have done whatever necessary to make both visible. The point is not to capture the "truth" of technology's limitations, but the "truth" of the event.

2 upvotes
NormSchultze
By NormSchultze (Feb 5, 2012)

This photograph is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional object. It isn't 'real', it is a representation of reality. What's the big deal ?

1 upvote
micahmedia
By micahmedia (Feb 5, 2012)

The conceptual problem is that "-shopping" an element from one image into another image has traditionally been considered the line between an objective representation and a dishonest manipulation. HDR is done mechanically by computer, yet it is still performing the function of adding together two different images.

If we accept that adding together two images or even just two exposures from different moments is a way to present reality, we're opening up a conceptual can of worms.

That's it! It's about time. A photograph represents a discreet moment. You are manipulating TIME to present HDR images. Most other manipulations, alter the result of that discreet moment. You violate the uniqueness of the moment to in the application of multi-image HDR.

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
tigrebleu
By tigrebleu (Feb 6, 2012)

Good point.

But then, recovering details in shadows and in highlights in post-processing (using some fill light adjustment, for instance) can easily result in a look similar to that of HDR. According to PJ rules, that could be considered as "cheating" (as could be the use of a graduated ND filter) , and as such, would be inappropriate, as it is still a manipulation of the original image to transform this image into one different from the original. The only difference with HDR is that HDR is more effective and that more than one photo was used to produce the final image. Time manipulation, as you said. And yet, the intent was the same: to produce a more realistic looking image.

I think that's what the debate should be about: intent. The truthfulness of the intent is the key, IMHO, not the means used to reach thos truthfulness. Because in the very end, it's about if PJ is showing reality or fiction.

As long as it's mentioned HDR is being used, HDR can be appropriate PJ use, IMHO.

Comment edited 7 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
micahmedia
By micahmedia (Feb 5, 2012)

John Omvik is obviously biased and has a vested interest. I appreciate that DPreview is up front about that.

HDR can LOOK more realistic, if done correctly, however, it IS a manipulation. There's no way around that as a fact. Even when performed by a limiting automatic mechanism, we are manipulating information in order to present it. Ex. slide film doesn't just exist in nature and does not process itself.

The problem with HDR, conceptually, is that it is combining two or more images, and that has traditionally been considered a technique of manipulation that presents a real moment in a way we could never experience it. Photography can help us examine the world in a way that we don't normally experience it, yet with an honesty to an objective reality. HDR is the antithesis.

If Bill O'Leary had burnt the sky of the image to reveal a plane that was really there, that would be acceptable, since in that moment, a person looking could have experienced that moment with unaided eyes.

0 upvotes
bronxbombers
By bronxbombers (Feb 6, 2012)

Carefully done HDR can actually present scenes much CLOSER to what reality looked like. HDR is anything but an antithesis to objective reality. You need to read up books on the human visual system. That said, poorly done HDR can look weird and garish but so can cranking contrast to 0 or 100 or saturation, etc.

0 upvotes
JakeB
By JakeB (Feb 6, 2012)

Deal with Mr. Omvik's argument, not his motivations.

When used well (and doesn't this apply to any photographic technique?) HDR brings us closer to what we experience because the human eye allows us to experience a much greater range of light and darkness than a single photographic image (except perhaps a RAW file that has been severely processed, the IQ drawbacks of which are clear).

So HDR used carefully brings us CLOSER to what the eye actually saw in the moment.

0 upvotes
sagebrushfire
By sagebrushfire (Feb 5, 2012)

Well I wouldn't say you see in HDR, you see sort of like a movie though. Instead of everything just being a single snapshot spanning a fraction of a second (or even a few seconds) it's constant, persistent vision. What makes it seem like HDR is the fact that you can actually only focus on things in your direct cone of vision and your eye can compensate for changes in light (exposure shift) very fast.

So when you're looking in the shadows you can see everything because only the really dark area is in your cone of vision; when you look up into the bright sky your eyes quickly tighten their aperture (iris) to properly adjust for the brighter light.

Sometimes it's not fast enough if your eyes aren't ready or you transition to swiftly.

So it's similar to HDR and your eyes are definitely more advanced than any camera. I don't have a problem with HDR, I don't consider the combining of otherwise unaltered images comparable to "any other digital manipulation." Color/Contrast is trivial.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 4 minutes after posting
1 upvote
jase
By jase (Feb 5, 2012)

I want Velvia banned because because the warmth and richness of the colours it records are not an accurate reproduction of those visible to the photographer at the time the shot was taken.

2 upvotes
Kibo in SF
By Kibo in SF (Feb 5, 2012)

Isn't using HDR just like using dodge, burn or switching paper contrast grades in the darkroom?

3 upvotes
Kenneth Margulies
By Kenneth Margulies (Feb 5, 2012)

HDR is fine. I think there should be a warning when a picture is published in 2D as opposed to the more natural 3D. :)

4 upvotes
jhoff80
By jhoff80 (Feb 5, 2012)

Maybe it's just me, but I wonder if there would be less controversy if the Washington Post explained it better. To a layperson, their description that the photo is a composite of several images combined with computer software makes it sound like things were Photoshopped into the picture.

I wonder if a better description would have helped... something about how it's multiple images of the same scene combined to show a broader array of light, or something like that.

By mentioning multiple images but not saying that the images were just different exposures of the same scene, I can see how it would seem more controversial than it is.

0 upvotes
Fredrik Glckner
By Fredrik Glckner (Feb 5, 2012)

He has a good point, of course. Our eyes, in combination with our brain, can interpret much larger dynamic range than the camera can. So in a way, our eyes/brain are doing HDR for us, in real time.

It is quite common that I take a photo, and then feel that it is not what I saw with my own eyes. And quite often because the camera cannot process as wide range of shades.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
6 upvotes
MichaelK81
By MichaelK81 (Feb 5, 2012)

HDR makes a scene look fake, and begs the viewer to question its authenticity. What John Omvik seems to conveniently forget is that while the cameras in use today are not capable of recording the full dynamic range, the display methods (whether in print or on the screen) are equally incapable of reproducing it. So in effect, while an HDR photo may contain the full dynamic range (as seen by the human eye), this image cannot be accurately displayed because neither newspaper nor magazine print can reproduce such a broad dynamic range, and neither can LCD screens. Photo reportage, whose authenticity is questioned by the viewer, has in effect failed to deliver that raw emotion which it aims for. However, this debate is best had amongst photographers, and not marketers of HDR software.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
sagebrushfire
By sagebrushfire (Feb 5, 2012)

HDR does not make a scene look fake, BAD HDR makes a scene look fake. If it's used properly it can do many good things like get rid of blown-out bright spaces or bring back blackened shadow detail. For photographers who want to show the scene as it really looked, HDR or some sort of modification is almost necessary. There are applications for combined exposures that most certainly can be represented in print and on screen, mostly those that have to do with overall exposure correction and not actually a higher color depth (of which no consumer product can currently display anyway).

Aside from that it can definitely be used artistically to give a scene an interesting effect, and why shouldn't it be? Photo purist are allowed their opinion but their only one group of artisans. Digital manipulation is its own valid form of art; I think a lot of people tend to magically forget just how much of the original photographic process was done in the darkroom vs. in the field.

2 upvotes
Ohnostudio
By Ohnostudio (Feb 5, 2012)

Absolutely. What's worse? Very good HDR that should in essence be undetectable to anyone to properly balance the image, or a bad Curves adjustment that can potentially obliterate data in the image?

And by the way, there are "one shot" filters that can apply a dose of HDR to a single image - you don't need bracketed exposures. Most here likely know this, but several people I know personally are under the impression that you need multiple exposures. You don't.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
1 upvote
PCPics
By PCPics (Feb 5, 2012)

This is a dilemma - the picture in the Washington Post is not actually 'a news event' and the manipulation is clearly mentioned - and let's be perfectly honest, the HDR aspect quite subtley applied, to the point that many people wouldn't have realised it was HDR unless it was mentioned. It could easily have been a single shot with tweaks to contrast and saturation - and is that wrong/disallowed?

I think that if it is a 'news event' then manipulation outside of contrast/exposure corrections should not be permitted.

As this particular shot is 'illustrative', then perhaps it is ok - just as long as it doesn't become a common ocurrance...

And how do you police this exactly - definitely a dilemma!

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
2 upvotes
JohnWho
By JohnWho (Feb 5, 2012)

'Using HDR software and processing tools is the only method a photographer has to deliver precisely what he or she witnessed at the time of an image capture'

I think this statement is key - the most important thing is to provide an accurate as possible image. Whether it takes some post processing or HDR or fill flash or something else, if the goal is to show a "true to life" image then the photographer should be using whatever tools he or she has.

On the other hand, if one is attempting to show the "photographer's impression", then as long as the image display is not presented as showing an accurate representation of what is being imaged, whatever "artistry" the photographer uses should be acceptable.

Consider - Ansel Adams is a renowned, respected, and highly esteemed American landscape photographer yet none of his images showed precisely what he was witnessing since he photographed in black and white.

0 upvotes
roy5051
By roy5051 (Feb 5, 2012)

I think the problem with HDR is that people who use it overdo the processing. Whilst I agree that properly use HDR processing can make the picture look more natural, as seen by the human eye, the fact that most HDR pictures are over-processed, over-saturated and over-sharpened gives the process a bad name. You only have to look at published pictures in the photographic press to see what I mean.

An idea that I have raised in the past is, why can't camera manufacturers build an extra process into their algorithms when processing the data from the sensor, to evaluate the light hitting different parts of the sensor, and processing the data so that the exposure is equalised. For example, in a landscape picture, if the light hitting the top half of the sensor is brighter than the light hitting the bottom half, under-process the top half to equalise the result of the processing of the bottom half. I am sure this is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

3 upvotes
jetmag
By jetmag (Feb 5, 2012)

Roy! Your "Idea that you have raised in the past" is coming!)))
Probably sooner than we think! They had to get the ISO thing straightened out first ... Lol! Active ISO! ... Great idea BTW!

0 upvotes
Sdaniella
By Sdaniella (Feb 5, 2012)

HDR image representations are closer to NATURAL PERCEPTIONS, albeit a flawed approximation of it, but non-manipulated image capture are the LEAST HONEST and FURTHEST from NATURAL PERCEPTIONS... after all, no camera, neither film nor digital, so far, can do it the way we see things... and they NEVER HAVE straight out of the camera, period.

This is why HDR is used, and it STILL can do with improvements, even though if done properly, is SUPERIOR to any image that do not go through any HDR adjustments. Avoiding HDR is IDENTICAL to avoiding 'dodge and burn' from the film days, or using different contrast film papers (as low as is visually sensible) for enlargement, etc.

Folks have gotten too used to accepting the UNNATURAL look of how cameras have been capturing images for so long, they FORGET NONE of it was ever TRUTHFUL in any attributes of representation, be it color, or contrast, with a very truncated looking Dynamic Range.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
Feud
By Feud (Feb 5, 2012)

Yes, I'm inclined to agree with that. I have ADR on my Nikons and I tend to use that as it actually evens out dynamic irregularities and blocked up contrast areas -- HDR, when not 'overcooked' can produce an image which is more representative of the original scene, rather than less.

0 upvotes
The Ghost Traveler
By The Ghost Traveler (Feb 5, 2012)

All this misunderstanding about HDR being "superior" is just nonsense. HDR is not "superior" to anything. Light comes from a certain source and hits objects from a certain angle, and our brain understands lighted and shadowed areas in a different way. Therefore - as Michael Uschold aptly pointed out - there is no way our brain can process light _and_ shadow at the same time in the same way. In fact, one of the things I really can't bear about almost all HDR-processed images is the way you can't understand where the light comes from. The scene looks as if it was artificially flooded with light coming from a range of diffusion panels arranged in front of it. Most images in HDR look unnatural and not "truthful" at all because of this.

It is true however that double exposure has been used in film days for ages, and up to a certain extert HDR is akin to that. but going all the way to proclaming the "superiority" and "truthfulness" of HDR as a sort of religious dogma is simply absurd.

1 upvote
Total comments: 252
1234