February 7, 2012

Am I Misusing HDR?

Let me start by saying that I have been a fan of HDR for a long time.  However, I am not generally a fan of the over-the-top HDR look that some HDR photos have.  It’s just too surreal for me.
I believe that over the past few years I have misused HDR.  Instead of using it just to adequately capture a dynamic range outside the range of my camera, I have often used it to capture more details within a scene.  This point was recently driven home to me when after a portrait shoot, I shot a few urban scenes.  Without thinking, I composed the scene, set my tripod up and banged out seven shots with a range of +3 EVs to -3 EVs.  I processed the images in nik HDR Pro (my favorite HDR processing program) and upon first look, was reasonably happy with the results.
I then started studying the processed HDR image and, to my surprise, I saw that many of the details that I wanted in the photo were just not there.  I know that RC Concepcion in his book “The HDR Book” says that after you process the image in an HDR software, you then need to further process it in Photoshop to bring-out your artistic intent.
I would much rather shoot photos than process photos.  Sitting at the computer is not that much fun for me.  So, I thought “what sort of result could I get from processing just one of the images and using nik Color Efex Pro to enhance the details?”  For this processing I selected the exposure that had some highlights blown-out, but had details in the shadows.
The first photo is the one processed using nik HDR Pro and the seven exposures.  The second photo was processed only using nik Color Efex Pro’s Detail Enhancement and Tonal Control filters.  I was surprised at how well nik Color Efex  Pro 4 was able to recapture some of the blow-out highlights.
Conclusion:  if you do not like processing images but still want a lot of details use nik Color Efex Pro 4 or Topaz Adjust or Detail to bring them out, not HDR processing. 


  1. Interesting test and thoughts. I would have to say I prefer the second image, using only Color Efex. The transitions between sky and buildings seem so much cleaner and sharper.

  2. I agree with Steve. I would never have guessed that you would get this difference. Good to know.

  3. I'm making it 3 for 3 at this point. Photo number two seemed a more pleasant rendition of the scene.

  4. I think that your point is excellent. We see these surreal HDRs and we think HDRs produce super details. Thanks for the information. I hope to use it in the near future.

  5. Agree.. quite often I find myself over-laying the HDR photo over the top of a processed original in photoshop and making a quasi-image. The sky is often too unreal in HDR images, so in a lot of instances I bring back original cloud detail (or lack thereof) in order to get a more natural looking image whilst still gaining the benefits of the HDR in say, darker areas of the image I want more detail in, etc.