HDR does not = Light

We get caught up sometimes thinking HDR is the cure all to everything. No matter the situation, shooting HDR will make it all better. But it simply does not. HDR allows you to capture the light our eyes can see and possibly our cameras can’t but it does not turn bad light to good. 

This was hammered back in my head once again two weeks ago as I was out in Joshua Tree NP on a shoot. A friends I was traveling with called me over to see an area he was looking over down into the valley. It was a beautiful scene in front of me, but quite honestly the light sucked. It was an hour too late to shoot that area and no good light was getting down into the rock outcroppings, just a small area of great golden hour light was hitting the peak of one of those rock formations. 

I took the shot more to appease my friend but thought well maybe something will come out of this. Measuring the light hitting that peak and then down into the crevasse below, it said there was a need for HDR so I did shoot a 7/1EV shot exposure and then went back to shooting my main subject that was losing great light quickly the Natural Arch of Joshua Tree…and I think I was too late at that point 

Getting back to base that night, I downloaded my cards and started culling through the shots of the day and I stopped at the above shot and thought I would see if maybe magically something would come of the image. I loaded the 7 Exposures from Lightroom into Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 and went about my normal procedures…and ,,,Meh, Nothing, It’s just a nothing shot. There’s some nice light on the peak to the left and a deep blue sky but everything in between is just flat nothing light. HDR captured it all perfectly but it was still bad boring nothing light.

 Contrast that with a scene two days later when shooting the WindCaves of the Anza-Borrego desert where I had beautiful late day sun streaming into one of the caves and I used a 3/2EV Shot to capture that light inside the cave and also daylight outside the cave. All beautiful light and I used HDR as a tool to capture that. HDR did not make the light, it only made it possible to capture its range and with that…the beauty. 

3 Exposures +- 2EV processed with Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

We can never forget that regardless of the tools we use, great photography still relies on certain principles…Number one; Great Light and Shadow

Hope that helps,

One Comment

  1. Duane February 22, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    This is so very true!!

    I was reading the review on the newly announced D7100 and it has the same built in HDR like the D800.

    I was thinking this might really open up some new ways to shoot HDR portiats But still need to be able to See… that beautiful light.