The photography world is a revolving door of formats, processes and techniques. Some hang around for a while, others become passing tends. It’s the latter that seems to be much more prevalent in this industry. And to some degrees, it makes myself and others a bit skeptical of new techniques. High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is a trend that I was skeptical about. The problem, I think, is that there appears to be an over-saturation of cartoon-like HDR photographs. Such photos feel like mixed media, not a strict photographic medium. But there are gems, carefully carved by a photographer with a well-honed skill set. One such gem is Tesoro HQ @ Sunset, shown here, crafted by photographer Brandon Watts.
I don’t find anything necessarily wrong with the over-done HDR. To me, it’s still art and it still has a place. But as a photographic medium, many of those photos feel so far removed from the photography world that I feel ignorant – not much familiar to me. This is something I struggled with. I experimented with HDR myself, and I’ve followed a great number of photographers who shoot HDR and I am growing more and more comfortable with the medium. My fault was not realizing the state of the technique. Like all new techniques, the majority of photographers are experimenting. And those who aren’t are doing their best to mimic those that they admire. In early stages, no medium is going to have a large amount of experts – photographers to look up to, photographers to imitate and respect. But now, HDR is coming into its own with well respected masters of the medium. And now I realize that this isn’t a medium that is going to disappear. I see that it has it’s merits and it’s uses. It is thus far the only way to get close to the dynamic range of the human eye. And those, like Brandon Watts, that do it right can separate themselves from the cartoonists.
When you observe Tesoro HQ above, you can tell it’s not a traditional photo technique. The colors are too rich, the dynamic range far too vast. Traditional photo techniques fall short in these dynamic ranges. But believe it or not, even Brandon’s photo is a likely far cry from the human eye’s abilities. My point is that the technique looks surreal only because we’re not used to seeing photos in this manner. With hundreds of years of photographic history, our mind is trying to convince our eyes otherwise.
Before anything else, a well done HDR photo must have good composition and setting. Brandon does that well here, balancing the large building with a good helping of space to the left. As one should with any glass building, he introduced a good reflection upon its surface – really, what is better than a setting (or rising) sun? A big advantage of introducing the setting sun is that there is so much light reflecting off the building that you can’t see clearly into the offices themselves, which I feel would be a distraction. But here’s where Brandon’s HDR shines: The skies and the foliage really pop, thanks to the dynamic range delivered by his skillful post-processing. The shadows cast across the ground are more than shadows hiding important details, the HDR reveals the lawn and the blades of grass contained within. The result is a photo that shows off the building, its surroundings and all of its virtues. Used well, this is what HDR is for. And thanks in part to Brandon’s work, I now feel comfortable stating that HDR is here to stay.
Brandon Watts can be found on Flickr – where his alias is appropriately “Definitive HDR”. As you would expect of someone who clearly loves HDR, his photostream is packed full of great examples of HDR photography. But there’s an interesting gem in there as well – a step by step HDR tutorial (you’ll need to right-click and select “Original Size” to read it) that serves as a great starting point if you’re interested in HDR. Of course Brandon has a number of his works are also available for purchase at Imagekind.
Brandon’s photo, featured here today, was selected from our very own Shutter Photo @ Flickr Group. If you would like to see your photo featured here on Shutter Photo, you may want to consider joining and contributing to the group. If nothing else, it’s a great place to discover great and talented photographers and be discovered.