Something Rare

I do not like my steak to be cover-cooked. Normally I would have them medium. Similarly applied to photography. I detest over-processed images, that looked overdone. Some people think that those over-ambitious HDR shots look like surrealistic paintings, but to me its a simple case: steak accidentally, or unskillfully over-done, that it has lost its original flavor, tenderness and juiciness. 

Nonetheless, I also acknowledge that like everything else in life, certain aspects of photography is all about personal preference, and some may not be as widely accepted as the others. 

Olympus PEN E-PL1 with 14-42mm kit lens, mounted on tripod

However, I do think that when it comes to a shooting situation where I am presented with a scene with dynamic range being too wide, far beyond the capability of my camera to capture required details in the highlight and shadow regions, I turn to HDR method. Such as this shot taken at the park behind the KLCC Twin towers. The foreground (walking pavement) were brightly lit by strong spotlights. Having the foreground properly exposed, the buildings at the far back were lost in the shadows. Therefore, to balance the dark buildings in the background, against the strongly lit foreground, I shot three separate images at 2EV apart, with the camera and lens mounted on tripod. I then used Photomatix and merge the RAW files, producing a mild HDR effect, to have an evenly exposed images. Do I think this image is a good one? Not really, somehow it did not look as naturally convincing as I have intended, but it is naturally convincing enough. I showed this image to a few friends, and without telling them, they cannot tell it was a HDR taken shot. 

I used the HDR method, not to make the image look like a HDR image. All I wanted to do was to tone down the extremes of both highlight and shadow ends. 

Oh, and the bonus I got from this processing? The details in the sky. Without this HDR technique, with properly exposed foreground, the sky would have been almost pitch black. Bringing out the details from almost nothing shadow will only result in one unspeakable horror: ugly chroma noise. With HDR processing, I managed to squeeze out plenty of good cloud visibility to add drama in the sky, and the image still appear clean of noise. 

HDR photography. What is your take? I do not encourage it, but as I have mentioned, when I need more dynamic range than my camera can handle, I will not hesitate to use it. 


  1. Donald W Leitzel5/04/2012 01:33:00 AM


    I think a lot of people confuse HDR a style (over saturated colors etc.) with HDR a technique. I believe that HDR is best used to capture the dynamic range that the eye can see but the sensor or film cannot capture.

    The famous American landscape photographer Ansel Adams was creating HDR images with his printing technique. Today he would use Photomatix Pro.

    1. Hello Donald,
      Thanks for differentiating between style and technique. And I like the way you describe how Ansel Adams would have loved Photomatix too !

  2. Donald makes a good point. "HDR" style isn't representing what the photographer sees. But you could see the detail in the sky when you were there, and you needed the HDR process to reveal it in a photograph. Basically, our brain does the HDR process for us.
    Showing what we "see" to others is one of the reasons we take images. I find I "see" in a couple of ways that others may not:
    -I tend to compose in my mind in telephoto! I relate better to long lenses than wide. Perhaps because I'm a hunter, and tend to "zoom in" on details in a scene rather than seeing the whole picture.
    -I also "see" the world through rose tinted glasses! I usually wear sunglasses with orange, yellow or occasionally rose lenses. Started doing it while shooting and hunting, depending on the light conditions. I find I tend to overemphasize that end of the spectrum when adjusting colour balance!
    A valid example of using saturation that ends up with a greatly altered image would have to be sunsets/ sunrises. I took series of images recently on the Butterworth-Georgetown ferry in the early morning. the colours (to me) were crazy, and I had to really push the saturation slider to reveal them in the final image. Perhaps most critics would say they are over saturated. But they were what I saw at the time.......

    1. hello Tom,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on how HDR technique can bring us closer to how the individual interpreted the scene in the first place. I believe that sometimes the camera did not manage to capture faithfully was what the eye can register, but through careful post-processing, sometimes on the bit of extreme side, where HDR is necessary to bring out the hidden or lost details. Also, I do see your point: showing the photograph as the photographer sees it: having more saturation, or colour tint, it does not matter, as long as the result is intended by the original photographer.
      I might be making plans to go Penang. Will keep an eye out for that Butterworth-Georgetown Ferry you just mentioned. I missed that the last time because i used the bridge instead.

  3. Robin, we took the night train to Butterworth, then you walk to the ferry. It's a very cool trip. The train costs about the same as a bus, but has a made up bed. Leaves KL about 11pm, gets in at 6.30 am. Penang has a good bus system, it's easy (but a bit slow) to get around. Not many Malaysians take the train, I had a hard time persuading friends that I'm not crazy! But I like trains.....

    1. Thanks for the tips Tom. Recently with so many bus accidents (with passenger deaths) in Malaysia, I do think train is a safer way to travel, with much lesser risks, especially for long journeys.

    2. Yes, safety is another point. The section from Ipoh to Butterworth is slow, but they are working on a twin track project. Ipoh to KL is already twin track, so is much quicker. I'll probably travel between KL and Singapore by train on my next trip as well. It really is nice that Malaysia is making progress with its railways. In New Zealand, our rail system is slowly dying.

  4. Helo Robin,

    I think its possible to make a HDR Image Out Of Camera from pen/OM-D series. I've tried it with E-M5. It's combination use of Oly camera features:
    1.Exposure Bracketing
    2.Image overlay
    3.Light tone art filter
    *shoot RAW.

    Nice job on your picture, and if i were there taking picture beside you, i will use custom with balance 2300K to 2500k


    1. Thanks for the suggestion, but I figured shooting 3 images directly with EV set apart, is a lot simpler. Chuck three files in the software and its done, with minor adjustments here and there. I was shooting RAW so the white balance part was done afterwards.

  5. For me, the foreground and the sky look good, but the buildings are too bright. If the buildings were a stop on two darker with the window light staying the same, it would look more natural to me. Now the buildings looks like 3:00PM with a dark sky.

    BTW I don't do HDR, can you manually change the building exposure? This is almost a very good shot.