When I was in high school I watched a second rate magician obviously pull candle sticks out of his sleeve at a country fair. I was crushed that the magic wasn’t real. Around the same time I came to grips with other harsh truths involving Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, and Mark Maguire’s home run streak. Yesterday, I posted an HDR photo of the LLBean Hunting & Fishing lodge at sunset. Today, for the benefit of others pursuing similar HDR results, I will reveal “the magic” behind the photo. Hopefully seeing the bracketed photos, Photomatix output or Photoshop layers doesn’t turn anyone off. In fact, I’m hoping this quasi-tutorial will help you understand and better appreciate such imagery. If you are into HDR photography, no doubt these Photomatix sliders and Photoshop layers will look familiar. If you’re like “what’s a Photomatix?” here’s the short answer:
If you’re unfamiliar with HDR photography, it’s quite interesting stuff and I recommend you read the (creatively titled) article “What is HDR Photography?”
So, is HDR photography fake?
This is a legit question to which there is a simple answer: no and yes. (haha! got you there!)
No: PHOTO-GRAPHY is the attempt to accurately map the light reflected off of stuff around us. If anything, this goal is less effectively accomplished by only taking a single exposure and not processing it in the computer afterward. HDR isn’t a perfect process, but the results do seem to engage viewers on an evocative level that communicates “what it was like to be there” well.
YES: It is as fake as any other form of photography. A camera records light based on the settings the operator chooses and based on the programming that was coded into it by the manufacturer. No matter what, as soon as you take a photo you’ve already made a distorted copy of reality. HDR techniques seek to further help these photo-graphs better communicate “what it was like to be there” (the same could be said for processes like black & white conversion or even ISO adjustment).
But… you painted out the tree branches…
Yup, just like I paint out zits in portraits… it looks better this way.