The image you want……

Richard Charpentier Notes from Rich, Photography 7 Comments

This is one of those “inspired” posts.  What was it inspired by?


A non-HDR heron with its frog. This wouldn't translate well in HDR

RC Concepcion popped up a great artcile, “Why does HDR bring out the best/worst in you as a Photographer?”  Good piece, I enjoyed it.  The comments were pretty interesting.  Pro and Con HDR folks all over the topic.

As many readers know, I do play an awful lot with HDR.  As you may not know, I also put out a lot of images that aren’t HDR.  Often times you can pick between the standard shot and the HDR.  There are times when you can’t as well.  It’s just how I’m looking to present the scene.

Good, bad, irrelevant, there seems to be a good deal of debate on HDR.  Just like there’s always a good deal of debate about “Photoshopping”, going with the pure photo, and even about film versus digital.  Not long ago Arizona Highways did something on that number.

Why did I start playing in HDR Land?

Several years ago I was talking photography and sharing some photos with a person.  We were talking about portraying some of the crazy Arizona landscapes in further depth, and how it could be achieved.  Several techniques were discussed and then the gentleman asked me, “Have you ever tried HDR?”

Well, no, I hadn’t.  I thought that was some type of elicit drug, or worse yet something your doctor might tell you with a grim expression.  “You’ve got HDR, and about 3 months left……”


An HDR and multiple Photoshop filtered image, by request for a client

I knew nothing of HDR, so I did what I’ve always done.  Research the topic.  I remember the good old days when folks would present a unique problem in network engineering, nobody would speak up with a solution and I’d usually pipe up, “I don’t know about it yet, but give me a few days to read on the subject.”  I took that same skill set and now applied it to a photo question.  What I found was amazing.

When I first started researching the topic I stumbled across two photographers and their works.  Trey Ratcliff of Stuck in Customs, and Ben Wilmore of Where is Ben.  I didn’t know who either person was, but when I saw their work my jaw dropped, my eyes hurt, and I worried that brain damage would occur.  Each photographer had their own unique style, each made incredible images, and each was an expert in HDR and photography in general.

After spending a good deal of time looking through each artists works (and not having a hemorage in my brain) I thought it would be pretty interesting to give the technique a whirl myself.  But I didn’t run out, grab Photomatix and start right into the process.  I did a few things first………

Stepping up the game…..

My good friend Bert Gildart is one of the most encouraging people I know.  Bert has liked my photography for quite a while, and I appreciate that.  He’s inspired me to do more and try more.  He’s also the guy who got me off of my own “the photo is the photo” soap box when he explained about magazine photos, his work in particular, and how he wasn’t aware of photos that weren’t “retouched” in one way or another prior to publication.  I stowed my soap box away (it was taking room in the Airstream) and put some time into learning about Photoshop.

I’ve mentioned before, the honest truth of my hard feelings about Photoshop had more to do with sour grapes than with photo edits being a “bad thing.”  Enough tech stuff was already cluttering up my mind….learning more software was out of the question at the time.  That’s where the soapbox came from….sour grapes.

After learning edits are ok, and sometimes necessary, then learning about the existence of HDR I laid out a course of action for myself.  Nearly 6 months of reading too many Photoshop books.   Also during that time I worked on composition, lighting, depth of field, etc.  Everything photography.  Everything Photoshop.  I was on a mission.  But the mission didn’t start day one with HDR.  It started with improving my skills across the board.  I’m still doing that to this day.

The reasoning behind my learning quest was pretty simple in my mind.  I wanted to understand why you could do what you do with HDR.  How does it come together.  What’s behind the fancy little sliders in Photomatix?  Could I do it in Photoshop layering on my own?  The answer to that one was yes!  Not easily, but yes all the same.

Getting to my HDR works

After too many months on reading overload I finally started playing with HDR.  Talk about fun!  Showing more depth in the Dells, making some surreal stuff, and making some “hyper real” stuff as well.  I still enjoy it to this day.

For me though, it’s not all one technique.  I do find it works to show a broader spectrum for many scenes out here.  I also find that viewers enjoy it immensly especially the finished product in print.  Should I shy away from something that pays my rent, pays my expensive medical coverage, and occasionally feeds me?  No, I think that would be a bad idea.  It would also be a bad idea to confine myself to only one technique.  So I don’t.  I’m learning more and playing with more ideas on how to portray what I want people to see in a scene.

In the end it’s up to you to present the image you want

I think the most helpful thing I’ve heard in years came from Ben Wilmore’s DVD on HDR.  It’s a great piece of work.  And toward the end of the lessons Ben said something that hit me just right.

As he was showing how he edited one of his well known HDR pieces and guiding viewers along with him he said something to the effect of, “You can do this to your taste.  It’s up to you.”  He was punching up the light on some debris in the foreground and showing Photoshop technique.  But it really made me happy to hear that it could be up to me.  No right or wrong way, just to my taste.

The Hitchhiker

Surprisingly enough, not HDR. A single shot that I liked and then worked on in Photoshop for 20 minutes.

Straight photography with no edits, mild photo shopping, infrared, under water, heavy photoshopping, film, point and shoot…..whatever it is there’s a bottom line.  It’s your image, your discretion.  What comes out of it is what you want to present.  The final product is yours no matter how you arrive at it.

As a child I HATED Art class.  See, I was really into Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings, and some other fun sci-fi fantasy stuff.  When we went into art class that’s what I wanted to draw, paint, color, charcol, etc.  However, we had one of those truly horrible art teachers.  One that stifled creativity.  I was told that I could not draw those things, I had to do portraits the way she told me to.  Seriously, you had to do it her way or it wasn’t right.  Hmmmph, that’s art?

HDR is a tool like all of the other tools out there used to present images the way that you want to.  Taking a crappy photo and then HDR’ing it won’t make it a good shot.  It will make it an overcooked bad photo, probably worse than what you started with.  The same can be said for every other tool out there.

Last year an HDR opponent said to me, “I hate the technique, but I do think you’ve got a good eye.”  Well, thanks.  I’ve worked on that for a while.  The technique in the case of the image he was talking about was used to present what I wanted to present.  His “right way” of doing it might be good for him, but it doesn’t mean everyone else has to follow his perscribed work flow.  If we all did that I’d be walking out of yet another art class wanting nothing to do with it.

Thanks RC for the cool article, and thanks for all the pro and con commentators there.  Fun to have an inspired post now and again.

With all of that said, go out and take a picture of something you like, and that speaks to you.  Do whatever you want to with it from there and be sure to have fun doing it!

Comments 7

  1. Post

    Thanks Kathy! Glad you enjoy them. Fun, fun if you ask me. Still, I’m having fun experimenting with some new non-HDR ideas that will probably show up here soon. More reading, more experimentation…..then of course I’ve been working on black and white too….and I’ll continue working. 🙂

  2. That sunflower on Route 66 speaks to me…

    Thanks for featuring it again…

    and for taking the time to put out so much useful and interesting info on your blog!

  3. Post
  4. It always astounds me how many creative people in the world had so many “bad” art teachers. I can remember really NOT being comfortable with mine in grade school…and it carried all through my school career, which made me shudder when I changed my major in college and decided to go the creative route I should have done in the first place. Even though I constantly drew, painted, and sewed…the thought of taking a structured art class left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. Luckily, I got a fantastic teacher who not only was a practicing artist, but was very encouraging…and allowed me to explore my creative side fully. Thank heavens for art teachers such as these…as for the others? Please quit your jobs. You’d be doing future artists and present unemployed art teachers a huge favor!

  5. I had never heard of HDR until I saw some of the first prints you hung in Ian’s old place. I was intrigued and looked it up in Wikipedia. I’ve never been a big post-processing type and prefer to use the camera to do as much of the manipulation as possible. (I agree that there is no such thing as an “authentic photograph.” The entire process from bringing the camera up to your eye to hanging the print on the wall is manipulative of reality.) It’s probably not something I would do, but I can’t figure how HDR could be any more controversial than dodging-and-burning or push/pull processing or color correction or filters or reflectors or flash or any of the 1,001 other manipulations of reality that make a photograph. I love looking through your HDR’s and, who knows; I may even take a crack at it at some point.

  6. I was just talking about this recently dude…honestly, art is art, and it really peeves me when Photographers try to act like what they do isn’t art, like it has some sort of construct around it that you can’t venture out of. As you brought it up, where do you draw the line? I could wag a finger at anybody who does ANY kind of post-processing in the darkroom, like a vignette, burn or dodge.

    In the end, it’s just an artform. HDR is nothing more than a technique that is being utilized by artists everywhere now, no different than Andy Worhol’s eclectic style.

    Ultimately, the artwork speaks for itself and people should let it have a voice, rather than trying to tell people what art is and what it isn’t.

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