Photography is an art of restriction. While the human eye has a dynamic range capable of as much as 20 stops. Your camera, on the other hand, could only have about 10 stops of dynamic range (12 or 13 stops for some top-end cameras). To make up for the difference – to really pull the detail out of those shadows – you could create a High-Dynamic-Range photo (HDR). I won’t get into details, but HDR photos are typically created by combining data from multiple frames with slightly different exposures or by extrapolating data from the same frame to reveal more detail. When used sparingly, the results can be impressive. But I generally think of it as an aesthetic choice, little more. Until now. The photo above, Brilliant 3000, was created by Lukas Litzinger and it is an HDR photo that exists not only for aesthetic reasons, but to tell a story (and a creepy one at that).
HDR is a preference: Some photographers like the look, some do not. Some like the end result to look close to direct-from-camera, others like the cartoon look of the over-saturated HDR. Those who dislike HDR tend to focus on the latter, claiming that HDR looks fake or at least unnatural. But it is a style that Lukas took advantage of here. It should be somewhat apparent to you that the dynamic range of this photo and the saturation is a little exaggerated – not so much as to detract from the intent of the image; just enough so that it is barely noticeable. Also thanks to the HDR, the flaws in the wallpaper – the dirt, grime and peeling edges – are more apparent. This sets a mood. The way Lukas uses HDR – even in his other works – is creepy in and of itself. With a great subject like old television and that wallpaper, Lukas could have stopped there and still had an awesome image. But he didn’t stop there. He went a little creepier by adding the reflection of a dark, shadowy figure standing in the doorway. It’s an effective use of HDR.
Without HDR, I’m pretty sure that reflection wouldn’t be so discernible. Glass isn’t an efficient reflector. Even a mirror will eat some light. A television screen is very inefficient, so I would expect any reflected imagery to be quite dim with a very low dynamic range. The figure, the story, would fade away. Now to be fair, one could do a selective exposure boost just for the screen, but that won’t help the poor dynamic range of reflected light. I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure the HDR is why the reflected image is clean and discernible, even in the event that Lukas selectively boosted the area. In the end, the resulting image is a testament to Mr. Litzinger’s ingenuity. I will admit that this is one of the first times I’ve seen HDR used as a tool to tell a story.
Lukas Litzinger is an urban explorer and photographer. Very often, he makes cameo self-portrait appearances within his own works, though he’ll be wearing a monkey mask. The “City Chimp” as a reoccurring character is part of his lore and a fun part of his portfolio. As you would expect of someone working in such harsh lighting conditions, Lukas is also a master of HDR. So if you like HDR, urban exploration or creepy masked characters, you should wander on over to Lukas’s photostream.