December 20, 2009

Photography Quote o’ The Day

Regarding HDR & its discontents: “This style of tone mapping has become synonymous with HDRI in a way that isn’t good at all. It’s as if T-Pain’s Auto-Tune tracks were the blanket description for ‘music.'” — Author Jack Howard, who’s just started an HDR group on Facebook. Check out Jack’s tutorials (one, two) on “soft” tonemapping techniques.

[Update: Fixed typo in the Facebook link.]

Posted by John Nack at 2:19 PM on December 20, 2009


  • Peter James Zielinski — 2:47 PM on December 20, 2009

    Here’s my question. Where have these naysayers been for the past 2 to 3 years?
    I’ve been creating these images and have had to listen to the belly aching on every site I visit. Always with the complaints of the fact that people can over use tone mapping as a technique.
    Now that that argument is tired out…the new one seems to be “well, it isn’t HDR anyway. You’re all wrong to call it that in the first place. Fools.”
    Not sure why people can’t just shut up about it and let everyone who enjoys it do just that.

  • Gary Self — 2:51 PM on December 20, 2009

    Yes, HDR can be ugly, cartoon-like and over the top, but the same things can be said about any technique if used badly. It is up to us, as practitioners, to find appropriate methods. There are folks doing things I don’t prefer & yet selling their work. Is that not the appropriate test of an art form?

  • Alexandre Buisse — 3:13 PM on December 20, 2009

    Your timing is so perfect that I can’t help pointing to the article that was just published over at Luminous Landscape on that exact topic: A plea for HDR.

  • Todd Kopriva — 3:25 PM on December 20, 2009

    Amen, John.

  • Rice Jackson — 3:44 PM on December 20, 2009

    I think the link you wanted was

  • Stephen Terlizzi — 4:03 PM on December 20, 2009

    We just finished a complete series and competition on HDR photography. We got some great photographs as entries.

  • Jason Randazzo — 8:16 PM on December 20, 2009

    I must agree that too many photographers are getting crazy with their tone mapping. The picture is very nice but it screams photoshop plugin. While it might be a photographic trend, I like to see the more subtle realistic uses of HDR. I enjoy the added dimension and histogram freedom you get from it but we need to remember that a little goes a long way.
    Here are some recent posts of mine regarding HDR:

  • mark stagi — 1:15 AM on December 21, 2009

    Alexandre, that is a great article on Luminous Landscape! lots of great info there.

  • Volker Kunkel — 2:25 AM on December 21, 2009

    John, do you know if one needs Photoshop CS4 Extended to use layers and adjustment layers with 32bit images? I only have “the small” CS4 version and Layers menu is greyed out in 32bit mode – other tools work like shown in Jack Howards video, except Text tool wich would create a layer…
    Could not find anything about this difference in the comparison charts between Extended and normal version.
    [Yep, the ability to create layers in 32-bit files is limited to PS Extended. Our reasoning was that photographers generally want to get back to a printable 16-bit doc quickly, and that it's 3D and special effects folks who want to keep things in 32-bit mode (the data for which won't fit on one's monitor, but is readable by other apps). Perhaps that's a decision we'll revisit in the future. --J.]

  • gene lowinger — 2:46 AM on December 21, 2009

    Thank you John. It’s good to know I’m not alone in my perceptions about HDR. This procedure, like any other that comes into it’s own through advancements in technology, has to go through a gestation and maturation period. The ideas behind using a widely expanded tonal range has fired the imaginations of many photographers, some are tasteful others not. But progress is dilaectic. Saner heads will eventually prevail, and HDR will find it’s place in the pantheon of photographic techniques.

  • Murrey Walker — 10:03 AM on December 21, 2009

    Okay John, this will probably get me raked across the coals by some on this blog. Chris Cox (an Adobe employee) in one of the PShop forums proved nothing short of nasty in talking with me regarding Adobe’s HDR.
    [I'm sorry to hear that. --J.]
    First of all, Photoshop is responsible for AT LEAST one third of my income. I’m an art director/creative who has been Mac’ing since Illustrator 1 and Pagemaker 1.0. I’m a HUGE fan of Photoshop!
    [Cool, thanks. --J.]
    I’m also an advanced amateur photographer (to the extent that whenever I’m shooting from a tripod, I bracket with HDR in mind). I’ve been using HDR for the past four years.
    What I don’t understand is:
    1. Photoshop’s HDR capability is significantly behind that of Photomatix Pro. I hesitate using Photomatix’s tone mapping plug-in. (Photoshop’s tone mapping seems archaic when compared to Photomatix.)
    [Yes, it's an area that we haven't improved in a while. --J.]
    2. Recognizing this, apparently Adobe hasn’t been successful at acquiring the French software company that markets Photomatix.
    [What makes you think we're interested? --J.]
    3. In light of number 1 and 2, why doesn’t Adobe just gracefully back out of this space?
    [Because we can do better than that. --J.]

  • Murrey Walker — 11:21 AM on December 21, 2009

    What makes you think we’re interested? –J.
    Common sense. ;-)
    [You're just assuming that Photomatix does the best job that can be done, and that only they can do it. Fortunately that's short sighted. --J.]

  • Murrey Walker — 11:48 AM on December 21, 2009

    You’re just assuming that Photomatix does the best job that can be done, and that only they can do it. Fortunately that’s short sighted. –J.
    When it comes to software, I’ve never assumed anything. (Remember Digital Darkroom?)
    Perhaps you mistook my winky’s intention. Any software company that’s got the niche cornered, is a takeover candidate as long as it’s the frontrunner.
    At this point, Photomatix owns the HDR space.
    As a matter of fact, I’ve said many times, that the camera manufactures should incorporate HDR into the firmware of their product. Or build that capability into their sensors. That would shut down a lot of HDR coders.

  • Xplo Eristotle — 4:32 PM on December 21, 2009

    Murrey –
    Photomatix certainly does not “own” the HDR space. The notion that it’s “the frontrunner” and Adobe could do no better than to buy it is ludicrous. Even with conservative settings, Photomatix loves to produce cartoony images with exaggerated detail, which I usually avoid (and I’m obviously not the only one, judging from years of complaints about HDR). Of all the tonemapping software I’ve tried, I prefer Photoshop – partly because I like to do all my work in one tool if possible, but largely because it generally gives me the conservative renderings that I prefer. (There’s another HDR app I can’t remember the name of that’s been making the rounds lately, and I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen, but I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet.. there’s no Mac version.)
    As far as HDR in the camera goes, I think that would be neat. But would it really align handheld bracketed shots as well as Photoshop does? (Really great job on this, John, BTW.) Would it handle object removal as well as PC software could do? And once you’ve generated your HDR file, you’ve still got to render it down to a LDR format for print or web display, which is simply not the kind of editing you want to do on a camera with a tiny, uncalibrated screen and clumsy controls. No matter what they put in the cameras, the software’s not going anywhere.

  • Robert Fisher — 6:06 PM on December 21, 2009

    I think people looking for any way to trash HDR will look at the over-the-top, hyper-processed stuff and say ‘See, HDR is garbage’. This is exacerbated by the proponents of extreme HDR tonemapping and their in-your-face attitude to people who don’t like that type of effect. The word ‘haters’ gets tossed around a lot.
    Anyone thinking HDR isn’t or can’t be a legitimate tool in photography simply has their head up their ….. I wrote about this 6 months ago.
    The simple fact is there are a lot of photogs using HDR and using it well. The simple fact also is, HDR is here to stay. Now, if Adobe would just up its game wrt the HDR capabilities of PS, that’d be a terrific development.
    Bob Fisher

  • Nicolas — 3:27 AM on December 22, 2009

    If that may help for future HDR development, I’d point to some programes that do seem better adapted to the task :
    – Guillermo Luijk’s ZeroNoise just does blending without tone mapping, so any tone mapping can be performed with the usual tools like LR/ACR or PS’layers and therefore a second learning isn’t required,
    – Enfuse does the tone mapping, but its algorithm allows more easily for keeping close with what one saw and felt. Moreover, its integration in LR as Timothy Armes’ LR/Enfuse is a HUGE workflow enhancement.
    My personal needs, if of any interest :
    – no stinkin’tone mapping, thanks ;),
    – aligning handheld shots is required (sorry, but I hate tripods), but PS already does that very well!
    – the fewer shots needed, the better (because of less ghosting and alignment problems – see ZeroNoise)
    – blending raw files into something raw-like (again like ZeroNoise does) would allow to keep that coveted non-destructive workflow, and that would be great.
    Sorry to point you at another one’s work about ZeroNoise, but if anyone fool enough asked me, I’d say that is the future of HDR capture.

  • Murrey Walker — 5:19 AM on December 22, 2009

    XE, I will put my money where my mouth is:
    I dislike overcooked HDR as much as the next person. However, there is a great deal of outstanding work out there by folks who think the same. As with any new software app, electronic “puke” is a certain by-product, and I dislike it as much as you.
    As far as your remark about alignment of multiple images in a camera, I ask you why? A camera with HDR firmware would only need ONE image to display that extra DYNAMIC VISUAL RANGE as a result. You’ve got me puzzled on that remark.
    Don’t get me wrong, but John did allude to the shortcomings of Photoshop with regard to HDR capabilities, didn’t he?
    1. Photoshop’s HDR capability is significantly behind that of Photomatix Pro. I hesitate using Photomatix’s tone mapping plug-in. (Photoshop’s tone mapping seems archaic when compared to Photomatix.)
    Yes, it’s an area that we haven’t improved in a while. –J.
    I stand by my remark that currently, Photomatix “owns” the HDR space, and genuinely hope that Photoshop will ultimately become the new “king of the hill”.
    At least until Nikon builds a better sensor. :

  • Robert Fisher — 7:26 AM on December 22, 2009

    Murrey, just out of curiosity are you linking that photo as an example of good or bad HDR processing?

  • Murrey Walker — 7:53 AM on December 22, 2009

    Murrey, just out of curiosity are you linking that photo as an example of good or bad HDR processing?
    Personally, I think the image is a good example of the proper use of HDR.
    Since good or bad art lies in the eye of the beholder, I’ll let you draw your own conclusion.

  • Murrey Walker — 8:11 AM on December 22, 2009

    Robert, to further illustrate my position WRT HDR (and minimalism of the process), here is a comparison that I posted on Nikon Cafe.

  • Xplo Eristotle — 9:21 AM on December 22, 2009

    Murrey –
    “As far as your remark about alignment of multiple images in a camera, I ask you why? A camera with HDR firmware would only need ONE image to display that extra DYNAMIC VISUAL RANGE as a result.”
    The amount of dynamic range a sensor can capture is a physical limitation and has nothing to do with firmware. Until there’s a breakthrough in sensor technology or we start using much larger sensors, we’re more or less stuck with what we have, meaning that HDR photography will continue to require multiple exposures for the foreseeable future.

  • Murrey Walker — 10:05 AM on December 22, 2009

    XE, I think we’re talking past one another WRT the camera’s firmware and the sensor.
    Of course the limiting factor is the sensor and it’s shortcoming in capturing both the visual high and low ranges of what the actual eye can see. After all, isn’t that what HDR software is all about?
    WRT the sensor: each new iteration of sensor brings about an improvement in DR (dynamic range) which is the visual aspect of what the sensor records.
    WRT the firmware: Each camera allows the shooter to take advantage of the camera’s internal processing capabilities (firmware, which produces a product based on user input), or override (as in RAW, in which case the firmware is moot).

  • Onibalusi Bamidele — 6:13 AM on January 02, 2010

    I sort of love this post

  • Jack Howard — 1:39 PM on January 07, 2010

    Peter, I’ve been here all along, talking about the benefits and shortcomings of HDRI. Do a quick search if you need to ;) . I am a huge proponent of HDRI, but I grow dismayed that the Black-light poster style of ultra-grunge tone mapping has become, for many people, their working definition of what HDRI is-and only is-about, when it reality, HDRI photography is much, much more than this one school of trippy tone mapping. Stop on by our new Facebook group to chat if you want, I’m always willing to talk about all aspects of photography. ~~~ Jack

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