The last time I get bummed about HDR

Richard Charpentier HDR, Notes from Rich, Photography 4 Comments

Recently I got a little down about the stones and arrows fired here and there about HDR. Whether it be debates on forums, blog posts about over use, etc., the stuff sometimes gets old. See, I enjoy toying with HDR, and I most importantly enjoy what you can achieve with it.

My friend Bert Gildart reminded me about a few things when I discussed a recent arrow fired backhanded my way. See, got a compliment, then a smack regarding some of my photography and it had me a little blue. Bert laid out two major reminders that I’ll keep in mind the next time a film person picks at any post processing work.

1- For the black and white gang. Black and white photography is not representative of reality. It’s already a distortion on what we perceive, therefore it’s already stepped into the realm of artistic interpretation. Hmmm….that’s pretty straightforward, eh?

2- Bert reminded me that the final concern of Ansel Adams was not the technique, gear, or anything else. It was the final print.

I guess I shouldn’t really let all the technical debate get to me. The criticism I heard recently was from an old school film person who isn’t up on all the possibilities of the digital darkroom. As a matter of fact, they actually pumped me for information regarding my techniques before they levied critique……

Sort of like the sour grapes I used to have about Photoshop when I didn’t take the time to learn about it……

Hmmmm…..lesson there somewhere?

Granite UFO

One of my early "surreal" scifi type HDRs. As you'll read below, I do like SciFi!

Artistic interpretation, showing what I want you to see, and more

Images presented on the Internet, magazines, and on screen all get manipulated.  Sometimes it’s mild.  Sometimes it’s way over the top.  And often viewers just aren’t sure.  You never know, and that’s actually a little fun.  I guess you have to have the type of mind that is curious, “What went into that?”

Photography has always been an art form in my mind.  Capturing the exact scene isn’t the easiest thing in the world.  Folks used filters, developing techniques, special films, etc, for decades.  Now they use a computer.  Like so many other things, the digital age has offered a plethora of tools for the digital darkroom.

Is there anything wrong with that?  Should you be a “purist?”  If so, what type of purist will you be?  The act of capturing a scene with a device that can’t take in the entire dynamic range of a scene has already distorted the reality of what you saw.

You just can’t imagine the number of people through the gallery door who say to me, “How come my photos never look like what I saw?”

In the end, you have to pick what works for you.  Be it HDR, Photoshoping, Topaz, Black and White….whatever.  You get to present the scene the way you’d like to.  That can mean an effort to create the most realistic representation of where you were at the time, or it could mean that you add your own artistic twist, detail enhancement, color enhancement, and more.

For my part, my latest efforts have been to depict amazing places in an accurate way.  Yes, not all of my images presented here are “real”, but I’ve been working very hard to show the landscapes I saw at the time I was there.  Does that mean they’re dead on?  Nope, some of what I perceived is injected into each scene.  Also, lighting, time of day, season, etc, also play into the colors and textures presented (I’m thinking specifically of my Coyote Buttes and White Pocket series).

What I’m trying to evoke in my latest images is pretty simple.  I want people to be in awe.  Not in awe of the image I produced, but in awe of the place that was captured!  When people walk away from my gallery, with or without something I produced, the hope is they will walk away with a desire to see these amazing places for themselves.  If they do head out with that feeling, then in part, I’ve done the job I set out to do.  If they head out with something of mine in their possession, then I really did a good job!  🙂

Crystal Sunrise

A much more realistic but still stylized HDR. Working toward what I see as "reality."

What is art anyway?

It was second or third grade where I learned to HATE art.  I mean hate it with a passion.  The lessons learned then left me disinterested in art for decades of my life.  What happened?  Star Wars and an art teacher with a mission.

See, I’m one of those Star Wars generation kids.  If you want to talk about inspiration, Star Wars filled me up for years.  I’d draw giant intergalactic battle ships, space scenes, robots, imaginary creatures, you name it.  Space was my inspiration, and making my own stories was something I did on a daily basis.

Unfortunately for me, the elementary school art teacher wasn’t so into space.  She was into formula pieces.  Drawing people, drawing plants, drawing fruits……..but not anything in space.  I remember being told by her, “You’re not doing it right.  Stop with the space stuff, here’s how you’re supposed to draw a person.  Now, draw it exactly the way I show you.”  If the person didn’t come out like her example, you’d get a bad grade.  That meant no light sabers for the person……

Really, you can do something artistic wrong?  Hmmmm……then why would I be interested in this?  My passions were elsewhere, not in a place where I couldn’t be creative.  So, I came to understand that I was not artistic in any fashion, and that space belonged to the realm of mathematics and engineering.  Go figure decades later I would be considered a highly creative network engineer…….  🙂

It’s literally taken me decades to realize that the act of creating something, networks, images, architecture, is an artistic endeavor.  Making something new requires imagination, skill, and a spark of creativity.  In my new world, HDR is part of that creativity.  So, why are there those out there who tow the same line as my former elementary art school teacher?  “You’re doing it wrong.”

I say it’s up to you.  Ignore those lacking imagination.  And work on what you’d like to work on.  If it works, you’ll know it.  And if it doesn’t you’ll know it too.  But when it doesn’t work that’s not a sign to stop.  It’s a sign to take a new approach and be even more creative!


Not an HDR. And not reality either. My very stylized attempt at making a "Rob Jamason" style shot with a model in it. More fun then reality if you ask me!


I started this post weeks ago.  It was one of those saved and incomplete posts.  You know, I do get busy.  But this morning I figured I’d wrap it up and put it out there.  See, I got a little inspiration from Scott Kelby’s latest guest blogger, Trey Ratcliff.  I’m a big fan of Trey’s, and this morning’s post inspired me to finish up what I started a few weeks ago.  Gosh, Trey’s inspired me several times over in the past few years.  At some point I’ll have to send him a Thank You!

Comments 4

  1. Beauty, as well as art, is in the eye of the beholder. One’s craft is never mastered by an artist.

    Sounds like your former art instructor did not recognize the opportunity to nurture your creativity and teach you how to integrate your interests and explain the purpose of the lesson.

    I agree with Bert. Your gift is to visually present what you feel and like for the pleasure of others. Professionals in other fields deal with the same dilemma. It takes talent to think outside of the box and grow.

    Having the “Blues” occasionally is a reminder that we are “sensitive” and care about what we do.

    Your post reminds me of a podcast that I had listened to yesterday of “Sword Swallower” Alex Kensington’s interview with Chris McDaniel for the National Podcast Company shared some of the feelings you have expressed.

    You must be doing something right to accomplish what you have in the past year. Continue to soar and don’t let anyone rain on your parade my Friend.

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  3. Not so constructive criticism is part of exposing the work to the world. And yes, it can get to you.

    I have had similar criticism levied at some of my work (not adhering to the cannons of realism). Then, on a series where I absolutely focused on realistic rendering, from white balance, saturation, color reference and targeting…the criticism appeared in the form of: “Too perfect, nobody believes that reality is that perfect”. (!! and ?? )

    So, the lesson for me: Take criticism with a huge grain of salt.

    I think that the only observation that have had some impact on my -landscape work- is that by showing a beautiful scene, there is an implicit invitation to visit that place, and how artistic license leads or the obvious disappointment from the spectator, if the invitation is accepted.

    As a matter of fact, as a kid, when I saw for the first time a series of Ansel Adams photos (Yosemite), I remember thinking:

    “How come there are stormy (darkened) skies and not a cloud in sight? Is the sky always dark in that beautiful place?”

    I do not think that as a young boyscout, I would have been too amused with Mr. Adams’ explanations:

    “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways.”

    Some of my HDR experiments here:
    .-= Adolfo Isassi´s last blog ..Longview, long project… =-.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on this topic, I can certainly relate. Keep up the excellent photography and making the beautiful prints! Focus on what you enjoy creating and it will continue to shine for those of us who enjoy checking it out!
    .-= Phil´s last blog ..Shopping Along Market Street =-.

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