HDR isn’t always Necessary OR Better

I’ve said this before when we talk about measuring the dynamic range of our scene. ‘If you don’t need HDR don’t use it”

It can be simply just an waste of time and Hard Drive storage space or it may even be detrimental to your final image.

Sometimes we just need to be reminded of this

Last weekend down at the Harbor I was shooting some buildings, mid-day, bright sunny mostly cloudless day. Measuring the dynamic range it really wasn’t beyond -2,  + 2 of the meter. But for a couple of the buildings I shot an HDR  3 exposure +2, 0, -2 series  just to see if something interesting may come of it. Well it didn’t

Here is one building in particular. One image is the HDR, one is just the 0 exposure.

There really isn’t anything I like better about the HDR image. It’s flat, the highlights have become grayed because the tone-mapping compression tried to make everything a mid-tone. There is WAY more noise in the HDR, sensor spots are much more visible in the HDR. I don’t feel the image is as sharp as the single image either.

Now some may say, “Yes but look at the shade side of the building ,it has more detail”.  Well, It has lighter detail, I wouldn’t say more detail. In fact that side of the building looks more realistic in the single shot in it’s tonal rendition than the HDR does.

Remember we use HDR to bring back detail lost in shadows or highlights, not necessarily just to brighten/darken an area of the image. We still want a full range of tones, just with detail in almost all tones (there really shouldn’t be any  or much detail in zone 1 or 10)

Now if you wanted to use HDR just to bring out more detail with Micro Contrast. I still think you would be better off tone-mapping a single image using the Single Image Processing in Photomatix  Pro or Nik HDR Efex Pro 2. Or software like Topaz Labs Adjust 5  than doing a  multiple exposure HDR. I don’t see the benefit.

But of course that is your artistic decision



  1. Russ November 26, 2012 at 1:54 am #

    Hi, I am no expert but I am trying to find the HDR software that gives you the most natural looking image straight out of camera with just one image. I have tried Photomatix (hasn’t everyone?) also NIK HDREfex, Photoshop CS 5 etc etc
    They all seem to do a good job but there are many others out there and would ask if you have tried any of the lesser known brands, SNS-HDR, Machinery HDR? If not do you or would do some trials on these lesser known brands? as you do no a lot more about the subject than I do and would probably be able to give the software a better workout than me.
    Thanks in advance

    • Peter November 26, 2012 at 8:28 am #

      Hi Russ,

      I actually did a single image comparison last year..well almost to the day.

      But I think you are right it needs to be updated and try some of the other challengers

      I will say right now if I do need to single image process something I most often turn to Topaz Adjust 5, the new presets in Adjust 5 are much better designed and are more natural than previous versions. I also will put it on a separate layer so I can vary the effect even more.

      Good idea for a new article. Thanks!