High-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI or HDR) is a set of techniques used in imaging and photography to reproduce a greater dynamic range of luminosity than possible using standard digital imaging or photographic techniques. HDR images can represent more accurately the range of intensity levels found in real scenes, from direct sunlight to faint starlight, and is often captured by way of a plurality of differently exposed pictures of the same subject matter. 
You could say that is has been going on forever. You could say that it has been going on since the art form was developed. You could say that since the inception and invention of the art of photography there has been a lot of change. Since the French guys with moustaches made the first photographs in the late 1800s the art has seen a lot of different kinds of cameras and film and mediums to put an image on, such as daguerreotypes, calotypes, cyanotypes, ambrotyoes, ferrotypes, tintypes, kallitypes, platinotypes, large format, medium format, 35mm format, plate glass negatives, polaroid, palladium, dry plate, wet plate, etc, etc. etc. Mama Mia! There have been a lot of ‘types’.
Painters have it easy. All they need is some paint, a brush, a canvas and their imagination to create. We as photographers have to create from the real, from the material, the constructed and the concrete. Unlike painters and poets we don’t have the luxury of creating purely from our imaginations, we have to rely on boxes with buttons and wires and mirrors to create an image. We have to rely on technology and all the ‘real’ things in the world to create a photograph. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, but to show you I’ll have to go find him and see if he will sign a model release.
So, here we are. It’s 2013, and we are at an amazing time in the history of the art. Now, for the first time we are seeing all expressions of photography from plate glass negatives to iPhones, from polaroid transfers to the rebirth of film. It is an exciting time. As the art form continues to evolve we are seeing a lot of ways of expressing our seeing and HDR is one of the new kids on the creative block. Like Photoshop and the bazillion other technology tools out there to play with pixels, HDR, High Dynamic Range, allows for a new way of seeing but there is a problem. HDR is a fad.
There is a lot of research and money being thrown at making cameras and the art form more and more technical, more and more based on technology. One one hand HDR is a push of the technology being used in still cameras, video cameras, Go Pros etc. etc. etc. On the other HDR is another way of creating something we have not seen before. Like the Stereoscope or printing on canvas HDR provides a fresh way of seeing an image. We can take a subject we have seen a million times in photographs, like a city skyline, take it in HDR and make is something new. New for now. The reason HDR is temporary is that it is rarely used to make us really feel. The most successful photographs are the ones that make us feel- make us respond emotionally. Flip through any old Life, Time or National Geographic magazine and see what catches your eye. I bet it’s the photos that make you feel. The only real emotion that HDR makes you feel is – ‘cool’, as in, ‘that looks different’. I have yet to see an HDR image that I will remember 10 years from now. Imagine the most amazing photos you have seen and picture them as HDR. Move you? Make you wonder? Or are they weird? Grandma, what weird eyes you have.
HDR is just another in the long line of ideas in this art called photography- one that is being over used, and often abused, because it is new. It will take hold for a while, get used a lot, until we get bored of it or something else comes along. Like that new shirt, Boy Band or new flavor of Dairy Queen Blizzard we eat it up until it gets old then we move on. In the end, the photographs that will mean the most in the future are the ones that rely less on technology and more on telling a great story. HDR is here for a limited time only.
“Poets, priests and politicians have words to thank for their positions”- Sting
You camera should be your friend. As we talked about in the last post, the modern DSLR camera is too complicated. I wrote about how the camera is simple and it is the camera manufacturers that make it complicated. They make it more difficult to use every time they add a new feature, a new menu and a new button. To make sense of it all they give you a big fat manual that we never take out of the plastic wrap because it is too thick and too many words and “why do I need 337 custom settings?” and “what is picture style anyway?” and “what am I going to do with another French version?”
Painter’s brushes don’t come with a manual and writers don’t get excited about a new word processing program. So why do we get so excited about new cameras? Photography is one of the most technical art forms but it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Most pros approach photography simply, putting creativity before buttons. This post is all about the importance of having a better relationship with your camera because to really make great photographs and express what you feel and translate that feeling through the lens onto the sensor and into the heart of the viewer, you need to be good friends with your camera. (How was that for a Hemingway sentence?) Your camera should be your BFF. If you talk to most pro photographers they don’t constantly update cameras every time a new one comes out. (Yes, some of them salivate like the rest of us at the bigger better more buttons thing that Canon just announced but most throw down their visa card down for the new lenses). Some of the best photographers in history, like Henri Cartier Bresson, used the same Leicas for years. Yes, maybe he was cheap and saved his money for lattes at the Café de Flore, but I bet the reason he used the same gear was because he got to know it intimately, like you know your favorite cooking knife, fly fishing rod or that sweet spot on your cars gas pedal that likes to go 120. By using the same gear for years, or at least thousands of frames, Bresson got to know all its little nuances, and by knowing it well he knew how to use it smoothly, easily, quickly. So if you want to become better friends with your camera don’t send it out to the consignment pasture as soon as something newer comes out, hang onto it and get to know how to make it your creative friend like New York fashion legend Bill Cunningham (great film!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYqiLJBXbss)
Next week…how nothing is something