How Much is Too Much?

I admit, I’m as guilty as anyone I will accuse in this post!

151208 - Ilford HP5 - Olympus XA2 - 011
Olympus XA2 on Ilford HP5

I’m guilty of tinkering with my photos digitally until they please me. Who doesn’t? Way back when the Darkroom was still king, photographers tinkered with their photos too. They dodged and burned, chose a certain paper gradation to get the contrast they wanted. They even cropped! And toned… and last but not least they hunted the dust spots. With ink and a very fine brush!

That was an art, I can tell you. They tried to bring out the essence of their photo by applying these techniques. They either ‘developed’ it to their taste, to match their style or to represent reality as accurately as possible. If they wanted a sunrise landscape, they got up early, often several times until the photo was right.

Nowadays it’s so much easier. We have all those software packages that ‘help’ us to tweak our photos. Film scans or digital files, they are easy to work on and if ever you mess up, well you just UNDO. Easy peasy! A sunrise you say, wait, here’s a sunrise photo I can overlay on that listless landscape to make it pop.

But there’s a trend that raised it’s ugly head those last years. A trend that I suspect originated with the likes of Instagram. Something that you can see in nearly every photo posted on Facebook.

I don’t know how those people see our world but it’s certainly not like this:

170614 - Leica IIIa - Fuji Superia 200 - (1)
Full speed ahead!

Honestly, this is the way lots of people make their photos look today! All the effect sliders to the right, full. No limits! We can do it so we do it! I call it Velvia on Steroids.

By the way, this is how the scene looked to me.

170614 - Leica IIIa - Fuji Superia 200 - (2)
Leica IIIa on Fujifilm Superia 200 – No, there wasn’t even any sun in the photo!

Just slightly washed out, hazy summer light. Nothing more!

The ugly phenomenon I talk about has a name:

HDR – High Dynamic Range

In fact it’s not a bad thing in itself. If simply means that you try to bring out the best possible range of shades, from utter black to utter white, all the while trying to maintain the details in both the shadows and the highlights. That’s what photographers have been trying to do all the time. It’s what photography is all about. Rendering our world as well as possible.

Of course I like high contrast, deep blacks and moody looks to my photos.

170615 - Canon AE-1 - Ilford HP5 (14)
Canon AE-1 on Ilford HP5

Just my bad taste, and I can’t blame anyone for blaming me. Though this only counts for black and white. My color photos are more often than not on the smooth side.

170520 - Olympus Trip 35 - Fuji Superia 200 (20)
Olympus Trip 35 on Fujifilm Superia 200

Now back to HDR. Modern software has made it easier than ever to create imaginary sunsets, garish colours and the internet abounds with examples. A quick image search for ‘HDR’ brings up this:Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 09.11.48

Those colours don’t even exist, I hope! If you just want to take the magic out of our world, go ahead and do HDR to the max. Just don’t expect me to like your photos!

The problem is not the software. MacPhun’s AURORA is a great HDR application. I use their LUMINAR for my photos every day and you can be considerate and gentle with those sliders. But unfortunately most people are not. Mind you, I have no advantages by talking about those programs. I just use Luminar as I said here and I like it!

I wonder why this has come about. One answer might be that we only look at the world through a smartphone lens and Instagram filters. This look has become so ‘normal’ to us that we automatically tend to edit our photos in that way. It has become how the world looks to us.

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Olympus XA2 on Kodak Portra 400 – Colours, yes, but within limits!

Like so many things today it means that we are gradually uncoupling ourselves from reality. We live in a virtual, colourful, bright world while all around us reality goes to shit!

Like I see it, this HDR-trend is only one of the signs that we are losing the world, that we are losing ourselves.

I might be wrong but I think we have to open our eyes, to look at the world, not on a screen but on the genuine thing. It’s there! See it, feel it, if I may paraphrase ‘Tommy’.

Let’s take less pictures and try to make photos instead! Make photos of the beautiful world around us. Show others what you see, not what your crazy imagination dictates.

But if over the top HDR is your thing…. OK, go ahead, just don’t expect no ‘likes’ from me.

Thanks for hearing me out…. feeling better now 😉

P.S.: I just found a nice quote by landscape photographer Ian Plant:

These days, there are many who resort to extreme Photoshop manipulation to create stunning landscape “photos,” using the computer to change the very substance of the scene photographed by replacing skies, radically warping compositional features, and adding color and light that simply weren’t present when the shutter was triggered.

Personally, I resist that approach: I consider myself a photographer, not a Photoshop artist (or whatever you want to name it). Call me quaint, but I believe the true magic of the landscape is found out there, and not something to be fabricated while sitting at home in front of the computer.

17 thoughts on “How Much is Too Much?

Add yours

  1. I agree with you. Reality now, is virtual. What is ‘real’ is mediated through the screen rather than being experienced directly. The viewer ‘knows’ that what is being seen is a fabricated version of a selected and manipulated reality. But as the common experience becomes more uniform, so the commonplace is perceived to be of less interest with everyone now having a phone-camera in their pocket. Consequently, it’s now more about the individual rather than the ‘shared experience’, and ‘sharing’ has taken on a different connotation entirely. The iPhone has some great apps, though 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that you are making two different points here. One is that people have created distorted view of the reality around them because of multiple reasons and this manifest itself in over edited images. It is very interesting observation but unfortunately I do not have enough experience to discuss this.

    The second point appears to be that HDR is inherently bad. This is something I can not agree with.

    HDR is just a computational technique to overcome limitations of the image registration medium (film, digital sensor) by combining multiple exposures.

    This can not be bad by itself like a sensor or a film with the higher dynamic range can not be bad. Capturing a nice sky and shadow details at the same time can not be bad.

    With what I can agree with is that over usage of the digital manipulation is often not tasty. It can be anything, either setting contrast too high (or weird in case of badly done HDR), making picture over saturated or over sharpened or something else. I think it is far more important to identify these problems instead simply saying that HDR is bad – because it does not educate.

    But what is also curious is that many of your pointed out examples are advertisements for the TVs with HDR function. This definitely will affect peoples expectations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you misunderstood me here. I clearly say that HDR is part of the photographic process and not a thing of the devil. It’s rather the way it is used and the amplitude it has taken that bothers me. The limitless use of this technique producing unreal looking stuff.

      As for the googled examples, those HDR TVs will further skew people’s view of the world and bring us more of the ‘bad’ kind of HDR.


      1. I must have then. Thanks for clarifying. I think that the key for me was the comment after the HDR examples. I think that not all of the examples have unrealistic colors. Many have quite intense colors but it is hard to be unbiase in such a dull place we live. Especially this time of the year. I hope there will be some snow on the trees like we had for one beautiful morning.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The great thing about film is that you don’t need sliders! HDR is built-in. Shadows and lights – the essence of a photograph. Granted digital sensors are getting better, but I still think they have a while to go before they match film for dynamic range.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting topic Frank.

    Before I knew what HDR stood for, my only experience of it was on places like Flickr where images with over saturated garish colours and a fake plasticky sheen to them, labelled HDR by their creators. I found them – and still find them – some of the ugliest photographs I’ve ever seen.

    But I think it’s a case of a word or phrase being taken to label a whole range of things that was not within its original definition. So the average person’s perception of the word, and definition of it is far from its original.

    I got a Ricoh CX1 very recently, a digital compact from around 2009 I think. It has an HDR mode on the dial, which, from reading reviews, was something of a unique selling point for the camera at the time.

    The manual talks about how it broadens the camera’s dynamic range by essentially takes two images – one exposed for the highlights, one for the shadows, then combines the two to make one image that overall appears to have been exposed by a camera with a wider dynamic range.

    I’ve only dabbled with it out of curiosity, but it does indeed seem to work, and when used in a darkish room with a couple of lamps helps reduce highlights being blown out at the brightest points, and draws more detail out of the shadows at the darkest points.

    It’s not something I’m likely to use much (I try to expose for the highlights with the Ricoh(s) and like my shadows dark and inky) but it is intriguing and clever how it works. And of course for me it has little to no connection with those ghastly “HDR” images on Flickr.

    This has also made me think more about the kind of “rules” I apply (often unconsciously) for my own photography – during and after taking the pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same for Fuji’s X10 ´compact’ Camera with the EXR processor. 2 photos with different exposure combined for increased dynamic range. Works! Need it? Not sure! As you say, shadows are meant to be shady…

      The so called HDR crap that’s around is an aberration that has nothing to do with photography.


    2. Some panasonics do this too. Only use it for static subjects though, unless your after a weird effect! Had someone complain once that photos of moving subjects were blurred. They will be if the object is travelling at speed as the camera takes more than one photo of the same scene.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, you have to factor that in. And the X10 used that technology too for low light shots. 3 photos taken to increase the light on the sensor…. worked perfectly…. for still subjects!


  5. Gudde Moien Här Lehnen,

    Ech hat lo di läscht Zäit en décke Koup ze schëppen, suwuel privat wi op der Arbëcht, an ech hoffen mat Ärem Fouss geht et besser?

    Villmools MERCI fir di 2 läscht Posten, déi sin einfach wonnerbar a schwätze mir riicht aus dem Häerz!
    Wat mech am meeschten iergert ass, dass sou HDR-gepimpte Fotoen och bei dene groussen internationalen Fotosconcouren och nach gutt ofschneiden a suguer Präisser a Medaillen gewannen!
    Do stellen ech mer di Fro, gëtt dee beschte Fotograf priméiert oder dee beschten Softwarespezialist???
    Aus dem Grond hun ech och nit méi sou Concouren matgemeet well dat menger Opfaassung vu Fotografie widersteht.
    Ech hun vill Diaen mat Fuji Velvia 50 gemeet, e Film dee vu sech aus scho kräfteg Faarwen hat, a je no Situatioun hun ech just nach e Polfilter geholl fir d’Reflexer erauszefilteren an d’Farwen besser erauskommen ze loossen.

    Hu jo och digital probéiert, mee HDR war fir mech nie eng Optioun, dat huet emmer sou iwerdriwwen irrealistesch ausgesin.

    Losst mech den Andreas Weidner zitéieren, den mol gesot huet: “wer es analog nicht geschafft hat, braucht es digital nicht zu versuchen”

    An dem Sënn, bescht Gréiss a bis geschwënn,

    JC Argentix.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Merci fir dat schéint Zitat! Genee richteg.

      Wat ech schro fannen as dass zum Beispil am offiziellen Facebook Portal vun Luminar bal nemmen esou HDR Geschmeiss ze gesinnt as. Dei machen sech keng Reklam bei ‘seriöse’ Fotografen domat. Obschon ech de Luminar selwer ganz gär benotzen.

      Mee gaat schengt jo eis ‘Brave new World’ ze gin….


  6. Hi Frank

    I have to say that I love HDR – up to a point. One of the things about HDR that I had to sort out in my mind was how far should I push the envelope. I started out using Photomatix Pro for HDR and the standard presets in that software were very often extreme, almost leading one to believe that they were the “norm”. Affinity Photo also boasts some pretty extreme presets.

    I know better now – but sometimes I do still like to push the envelope ….

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well this is the kind of thing I was thinking about, anyway – digital hi-definition – examples here taken here from photo competitions from the Royal Society and today published in an online version of a national newspaper where the clarity of the readers’ screens can do them some justice perhaps that only a glossy magazine might match on paper.

    But to me this sort of photography is all about kit, they are really showing off the capabilities of the equipment, both camera and screen. I wonder if photos made using a film camera would even be accepted by newspaper picture editors these days..?

    Maybe photography always was about gear. But to my mind there are really now different kinds of photography going on, based not on genre but principally over choice of equipment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gear plays a role in photography, that’s sure but it’s definitely not as important as Canikonfujietc want to make us believe. A camera and a lens, a minimal setup that works beautifully.

      Of course, as you say the taste in photography has changed…. has declined I say!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I like some of these, but some, like the lead image of the bird, just don’t look natural. It reminds me of movies some years ago when people would be sitting in a (fake) car pretending they’re driving and then a moving street scene would be projected as a background. It always looked like a fake background added afterwards. It just doesn’t look like a real photograph. Which is still important to some of us.

      Liked by 2 people

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