Monday, May 28, 2012

High Dynamic Range and the Film Aesthetic

Downtown Miami at Sunset
Years ago when was still thought of as something different from "real" photography, people took to using Photoshop to get a technique called selective color to add or keep color in a part of a black and white image. I admit, I have a few images like that, just a few. This technique was used so much its become a cliche and fallen out of use, to a large extent.

I say this because trends come and go.  Years ago it was selective color, today it is High Dynamic Range.  HDR is essentially an attempt to use two or more photos of the same scene shot almost at the same time but at different exposure values in order to mimic the dynamic range of the human eye.  If done right, the results can be very pleasing.  If overdone, well, it looks like a graphic illustration.  While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, I just don't find it aesthetically attractive.  Perhaps that's a generational thing.

I came to photography with black & white film.  My aesthetic was formed from Life magazine compilation of images from the forties, fifties and sixties, almost all of which were black & white and, owing to the limited technologies, of restricted dynamic range.  Shadows and darkness are compositional elements to be used not problems to be overcome.  Sure, there's a place for HDR, if used sparingly.  Still, I really prefer the look of high contrast scenes. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Perfection is Overrated

Lauren in Chicago
There are three types of photography sites: those that concentrate on gear, those that concentrate on technique, and those that concentrate on photos.  The technique and photo sites are generally a wash as they often overlap but the gear sites greatly outnumber the other two, unfortunately.  I say this all somewhat sheepishly as I tend to frequent the gear sites much more than the photo sites even though I think that the photo sites are without question more worthwhile, at least in an artistic sense. 

I think this is partly because photography is almost unique in the arts that it requires both some artistic ability and technical/mechanical ability too.  This attracts lots of people who obsess over measuring results in order to seek technical perfection.   The Canon 5D3 has 23 megapixels but the Nikon D800 has 36 so the Nikon has to be better, at least for now.  Is this lens sharp enough? Don't know if it is?  Well, then get a sturdy tripod and photograph a brick wall.  Yup, do it again at all apertures and focal lengths and then look at them at full magnification in Photoshop.  Keep doing this because it'll make your pictures more technically perfect.  Yup, corner-to-corner, edge-to-edge sharpness in all its 36 megapixel glory, or 23 if you're a fanboy. [continued after the break]