File this under “I Don’t Get It”

When I sketched out my list of topics I wanted to cover in this blog o’mine, HDR was quite high up the list. I can be slow on the uptake sometimes, and it was only really last year I discovered what HDR actually was.

For those of you who are still in the dark, High Dynamic Range Imagingis a technique, actually a range of techniques, designed to give an image a much wider tonal range than can sometimes be achieved at the time of firing the shutter. As the linked Wikipedia entry puts it:

The intention of HDRI is to accurately represent the wide range of intensity levels found in real scenes ranging from direct sunlight to shadows.

Further research surprised me, because the techniques and ideas have been around a lot longer than digital imaging, yet HDR has only really come to prominence through the ready availability of digital cameras and suitable software for subsequent manipulation of the image.

I won’t go into the how and why, because I’ve got some links to tutorials and how-tos which you can follow if you like. I really wanted to raise the topic because, well, I just don’t get the appeal.

From what I have seen, HDR or tone mapped images done well are simply stunning. It really suits some landscapes and architectural photos, bringing out details otherwise lost in a flatter and more accurate colour representation. When done badly, however, extreme halos and the almost pop-art colours only serve to emphasise the desperation of the photographer to salvage anything remotely artistic from a rubbish photo!

Here’s some links for you to explore, with examples good, bad and downright ugly:

That Wikipedia entry again

Digital Photography School, an introduction to HDR

Digital Photography School, discussion of HDR

I haven’t been tempted to try any of the techniques, I have to say. I do like a nice contrasty image, and while playing with sliders in Aperture, I can almost get an HDR effect without all that tedious mucking about with multiple shots or duplicated layers.

There’s another technique that’s been bubbling about the interwebnet, and it has a crossover with HDR. I’m talking about “tilt-shift”. Again, a technique that predates the digital age, but it’s only really come to the forefront because of the aforementioned accessible manipulation software.

Tilt-shift refers to special lenses which can be adjusted so the imaging elements can be held parallel to the camera focal plane while the whole lens can be shifted up or down. I think. Proper TS lenses are expensive: I think the one that would fit my Canon DSLR is just a smidgen under £1000. Such lenses are ideal for architectural photography, because the adjustments can correct for distortion (where a building may appear to be leaning backwards when framing with the camera pointing slightly upwards).

Why have I brought tilt-shift up at all? Well, the technique is being used to make the real world look like elaborate miniatures. By either using a proper TS lens that gives a true narrow depth of field, or “faking it” later in post production by cunning use of masks and gaussian blurs, the effect of tilt-shift can be startling.I think it’s kind of ironic to be discussing the idea, since this whole blog was aimed squarely at making miniatures look real—polar opposites, if you like!

If you’re still not sure what the fuss is about, here are some links. Be warned: some of the photos are absolutely stunning (and some use subtle HDR to emphasise the detail, which actually works well)!

Flickr set of Fake Miniatures

Smashing Magazine looked at 50 “beautiful examples”

Some of those images are taken with a proper TS lens. Others have been digitally manipulated. Can you tell which is which? No, neither can I, but I can make educated guesses in many cases.

Unlike HDR, I am intrigued by tilt-shift. I will definitely be having a go at this, using software, if I find suitable subjects.

By the way, happy new year! A little late, but there we go. Not sure what the next post will be about, so you’ll have to wait until next time!