Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Should Probably Get Into HDR, Or Have I already Been?

I guess I might as well commit. People keep on asking if this image or that is HDR (High Dynamic Range). Truth is, I've only dabbled in HDR, making two or three attempts and saying, "hmmm, that's kind of nice" and dropping it. Today's image is a good example of a shot that provokes the type of question that puzzles people who think it's HDR. Looking at it you can see that the bridge is backlit. The face of the bridge "should be" in deep shadow, yet both the background and the bridge are both well exposed. If there ever was a shot that cries out for HDR, this is it. As a side note, this bridge is not located in Central Park in NYC and not a Carriage Path bridge in Acadia NP (guesses people have made). I live on a street that once was the rail bed for the Shepaug Railroad. The trains would come out of the station in downtown Bethel, Connecticut, go up the middle of Maine Street and pass right in front of what is now my driveway. The bridge is about two blocks away. You can walk past it today and never even notice it's there. Today's image was shot a couple of years ago, just after a Boy Scout cleared the area in front of the bridge to create a small park. It's overgrown now and lost as a park. A shame. Back to today's image. Why would I hesitate about jumping into HDR? I can think of a couple of reasons, but the biggest is not in my control. Camera manufacturers are working to build HDR into cameras. Therefore, in a couple of years, HDR will be available to everyman. Another reason might be that HDR is "another" old technique being "discovered" in the digital darkroom. Gustave Le Gray is probably the first photographer credited with using HDR to enhance his images. Le Gray was a seascape photographer who made one exposure for the sea and one for the sky and combined them to produce a final image. The trick is, he did it in the 1850s. To find out more about how today's image was made, hit the "read more".

Today's image can be classified as an HDR image, in the earliest sense of the term. It's a composite of two images, with specific parts of each image masked to allow the underlying image to show through. It was done manually, without the help of a program or pull-in made to automate the work. There are three different shots pulled and pushed to create the effect of having the proper exposure in the highlights and in the shadows. The face of the bridge and area in the shadows in front of the bridge are one exposure. The area above, through the bridge and the highlights in the stream in the foreground is another and the third is the area inside the arch of the bridge.

That's about the definition of HDR. It was done by hand. HDR is another technique in the toolbox of today's photographer. Access to this type of tool should not be abridged. (Bad pun.)