Look, I know I’m a dinosaur. I prefer to take photos on film. I don’t even like auto-focus. I think light meters are optional. The year 2000 basically just passed me by photography-wise. And you know, that’s fine.
I’m not boycotting the internet, though. I freakin’ love Flickr. I’ve spent many, many hours looking at other people’s photos and reading discussions in photo groups. It is actually pretty awesome because there’s a whole community of people like me on there who still love film and are happy to share their knowledge of the medium. I chose my camera based entirely on flipping through the medium format group and discovering that all my favorite photos were taken on the same camera. So, you know, good times.
From spending that much time on a photo sharing site, I’ve become aware of trends in digital photography. Most of them are just silly. Why would you spend the time messing in photoshop so that the photos from your fancy DSLR look like you took them with a Holga when you could…just use a Holga? But sometimes I see things and I’m actually a little horrified.
Case in point: High Dynamic Range (HDR)
Jesus Christ, people. Seriously?
So I’m assuming that because you’re good hearted people who don’t spend hours in photoshop looking to creep me out, you probably don’t actually know what HDR is.
Let me tell you.
Dynamic range is the difference in light that you can see between total white and total black in a scene, basically. So in black and white photography, it is the number of different shade of grey you can capture. In color photography it is the total range of colors you can capture. It is connected to the amount of contrast in photo. Neither film nor digital sensors can capture all of the subtle differences in color that the human eye can see. You generally have to choose to try to get either the very dark things or the very light things in a photo. You can’t really get detail in both.
Although it isn’t as good as the human eye, film does a pretty good job of capturing the dynamic range of a scene. So if you look at my photo of the Bay Bridge, you can see that there’s a decent amount of dynamic range. The shadows over the doors on the dock are lighter than the dark parts under the dock. The white doors have some detail. A low dynamic range photo would have less detail. Either the doors would be totally blown out and sort of glowing white or all the shadows would be the same shade of black. And there are a tons of things you can to get the most dynamic range you can out of a photo, which I am not going to get into right now. Ansel Adams’ zone system, though, is an example of a technique photographers have used to get more dynamic range out of a photo.
Anyway, digital cameras, as whiz bang neat-o as they are, aren’t able to capture the same dynamic range that film can. Because digital photos are, well, digital, they will tend drop some information that you could capture in an analog medium. So someone developed this technique to make up for digital’s lack of contrast which involves taking a ton of differently metered photos of the same scene and then layering them together in photoshop. Doing this allows you to take a photo so that you get all the detail in the scene. In theory, they’re trying to get something that looks like my photo of Brighton’s West Pier but they have to use photoshop to do it.
Which sounds fine. Except that for some reason, everyone who does this gets rid of all the shadows. All of them. Causing all of these photos to exist in some kind of uncanny valley where something is horribly wrong and you can’t put your finger on what it is.
But let me tell you what it is. The light is just sort of….there. You end up looking at these photos and you sort of think you understand where the light source is but then you look again and you can’t. Because by getting rid of all the shadows, you’ve gotten rid of all the light. Clouds are especially weird looking because light normally shines through them and in HDR photos they are strangely see-through in a way that they aren’t in real life. It is creepy and surreal as all get out. Also, everything is too in focus and detailed. And all the colors stand out too much from on another. I assume someone’s started making horror movies using this technique. Because I swear, if I was forced to sit through 90 minutes of looking at HDR photos, I would cry.
And I don’t think people doing this are trying to creep me out. I think they think a world without shadows is pretty? I don’t know. I think it is what the world would look like is Satan ran the place. I got that photo of the West Pier because it was sunny not because my camera is unholy.
I would post example photos here, but I sort of feel mean telling people that their art is made by the devil. So just go look at this Flickr group or the HDR wikipedia page and then come back and tell me what you think.
Yes, yes. I’m being over dramatic. But I stand by my statement. HDR is the uncanny valley of photography.