To HDR or not to HDR

I’m going to start by expressing my true opinion on most of the HDR work I see on the net, to sum it all up, I really don’t like that particular effect on photos… well, not when its overdone and especially on street photography. I’ll go as far as saying that HDR could never be street photography to me, it just makes everything look like a painting or a very detailed pencil work, in my opinion it defeats the purpose. I’m not saying that my word is golden, it just feels and looks that way to me, that’s all.

But like with many things in life and especially food, if you don’t try it how can you say you don’t like it? True, so I tried it and although I didn’t enjoy modifying my pictures to that extent it actually made me think of another way to incorporate this effect/look without losing to much of the original essence.

Feel free to express your thoughts on this manner and of course on my photos. HDR won’t be something I’ll be incorporating into my future work but sometimes, depending on the client, I’d like to have a little more flexibility when it comes to retouching the final product.

I found that the HDR effect worked best on scenery, on portraits it just made everything too… there, like there’s no more room for any mystery or latitude.

I have to admit though, it was fun to play around with it and especially find a happy medium.

In this particular scene I really gave it a little more of the HDR effect and as you can see its starting to lose that photographic feel and it’s almost crossing into a painting or illustration category.

Here I really wanted to keep as much detail as possible but without overpowering the whole mood.

In my opinion it worked best on structures and pictures which had some sort of textures, like clouds or wood.

Bricks were fun also…

… So were buildings.

I wouldn’t say that I have converted myself to liking that HDR look or effect but I will definitely keep my mind open to certain possibilities when working on new projects. I don’t think that this type of photography could ever save a project or an idea, I think that it could become complementary to it if it has its place.

By the way, I used HDR EFEX PRO from Nik software (the trial version) I think they have some great products and even though I don’t think I would ever buy this one, I can see it working for some people who enjoy this type of photography. It’s a great complementary tool when working in Photoshop. I loooove their Silver Efex Pro software, made me almost fall in love with BW digital photography… almost :)

On a completely different subject now, I’m on my 5th week of P90X and its incredible how my body has changed, not only from the outside but also very much from the inside. My energy level has increased and I especially feel that my core is where it should be. It really is very very difficult to follow especially the YogaX but worth every painful moment :)



220 thoughts on “To HDR or not to HDR

    1. totally agree ! and i concur with the post 100% im not exactly sure if i like HDR yet but some scenery shots look fantastic with it, ie your first photo is absolutely breathtaking; the details on the waves really add depth good stuff =)

      1. Thank you!!! I agree that in this case it worked nicely. When looking at a scene like this one I wanted to recreate what my eyes were capturing… so it did help.

  1. In my opinion HDR works very well on clouds, also on rocks and old buildings. I quite like the one of inside the church, generally in a building you can get a wide range of tones particularly through windows.

  2. I’ll admit to not being a visual artist (I’m a writer, and by NO MEANS a photog), but I kinda dig the effect. I especially love the shot of the feet … dramatic and cool!

    Thanks for introducing me to something totally new.


  3. Beautiful images! Living on the coast, I especially love the first two/three…what coastline are those from? (Also, I noticed we both use the same blog template…a great choice for photos, and it’s neat to see how other people customized it).

    I go back and forth with digital and film, and although I haven’t experimented heavily with HDR, I can appreciate the mood what the artist is trying to portray in HDR, especially if it is done well. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I am so glad another person does not love HDR to death.

    I may try it a little now, that i have seen how nicely you have used HDR in your photos. Great photos esp. the wedding photo using HDR.

  5. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    I am so glad to read this today. You have expressed exactly how I feel. A year ago I was doing a photography course and when it came to HDR I more or less gave up. For me, at that point it stopped being about photography and became about special effects. I loathe the exaggerated ones too, but have come to admit that if it’s only about 3 photos which are merged you can create an effect which might, in fact, be closer to what the eyes see, and perhaps better at conveying one’s message. So glad to read that someone much more authoritative than I feels the same way!

  6. I think HDR is a very valid form of photography, when printing from film and slide I frequently used this technique the fact that it is now easier to accomplish with digital photography doesn’t lessen it’s virtues in anyway. Sometimes pronounced HDR is right for the image, sometimes subtle and most often not. when it is used is up to you to chose when is right. What do you want to portray to the viewer.

    The photographs you have taken here, are, by the way, quite excellent. So Kudos.

  7. my eyes don’t like at all HDR effect. Actually, I see it has some sort of good impression only inside churches. Of course as I dont do HDR myself, I certainly dont weigh all the benefits of the technique – its just an opinion based on the pictures I saw here and there.

  8. I agree with you and do admit that I use HDR in a subtle way from time to time, for me also, subtly is key. I’ve been amazed at some of the public reaction to some of the (in my opinion) overdone stuff, a lot of people seem to love it.
    In the end, I believe that it up to what the creator of the picture wants to express as to whether or not to use it and to what extent.

    1. Yes! The only thing that scares me is that if people become to used to seeing overdone images they will become a standard or what is expected and that is not a good thing. It may go to far! Like neon colors in the 80s :)

  9. I have to say that I feel it’s just got out of hand. HDR seems to make for some truly awful landscapes – especially cityscapes. I think the message is use sparingly, use wisely…!

  10. While the effect can be startling or jarring or eye-catching, you are exactly right when you say that it sometimes drains the mystery out of an image. I hadn’t thought about it that way before. I really liked the look of the Chrysler Building. Maybe HDR works best when you are trying to pick out all of the details of a thing rather than convey its sense of mass, etc?

  11. some like it hot, some like it cold. its a matter of personal taste. if black is your fav. color so it is !! you cant justify why it is, in-spite of buying a scheme of things in that color. same with HDR. its like a discipline of any other art. not good or bad, just different.

  12. I really liked the pebbles and feet pic! The effects are good but I know what you mean when you say it can look a little too sketchy, like a drawing. I also agree that it is an effect that seems to get over used and have, myself, steered clear of things for that reason. Seeing your work and how well they have turned out makes me think that I should give some of those things Ive steered clear of a go!

    1. I appreciate it! Thank you! :) And yes, you should try it, I was surprised at how it actually made me think of getting to a point where everything was more doable and not be stuck with something fake looking

  13. HDR is a touchy subject… I think you either love it or hate it. Me, I don’t care for it – although yours (especially the first black-and-white) are subtle. My understanding is, it’s supposed to show the range the eye sees, but I find it doesn’t (usually) look realistic at all. I also guess I am a bit of a “purist” in that I strive to take good photographs without having to edit them afterwards. That’s the goal, anyway. But you have a valid point, in that if a client wants it, you should at least be familiar with it and able to do it for them. Anyhow, you should get LOADS of responses on this hot-button topic – especially since you’re on the front page. :)

    1. Thank you Deina! I appreciate your thoughts on this! I tend to be also more on the purist side of photography but like everything I’m trying to keep my mind open to certain things :) Especially when I can learn something from it. I thought my email had a virus when I saw the deluge of comments… its very nice to be put in front! :)

  14. I have to try this out as well – i think the key is that some people want the illustration feel. they like that effect in their photographs – so i guess for them it is a good thing! =)

  15. I believe photography’s biggest strength is the belief that it portrays reality. At some point in the editing process, be it HDR or good old fashion photoshop, you can drive your photos into the realm of the unreal — meaning the average viewer knows the image is faked or manipulated. Once you lose the viewer’s subconscious belief that they are looking at something that actually happened, you lose the magic of photography.

    I wrote an article about this subject here:

  16. HDR is like most things — good, but people overuse it. It’s at its best when you aren’t sure it’s there, and when it’s used to just make something look a hint more like what the eye sees as it adjusts dynamically to different light levels.

    But most people treat it like ketchup — if a little is good, then smother the damn meal in it. Gross.

  17. Isn’t HDR like building a brick house and covering it with wood contact paper? If that’s the finished product they are looking for they should have bought brushes instead of cameras.

  18. Iv always really liked the HDR effect. But have never took it upon myself to try it with some of my own photography. I would really like to though.
    Really like your photographs.

  19. You gave good insights on photographic effects. Though for me, I love sticking to film photography and seeing photographs as it is. I only tweak photos with slide cross processing and that’s basically it.

    I guess some really love to overdo HDR that it compensates for the lack of composition and other stuff that they should have thought of first.

    I like this post!

    1. Thank you! And yes, I also prefer taking pictures on film just makes me feel like I’m really aware of what is going on around me and keeps me disciplined :)

  20. These are awesome! You didn’t do too much with the HDR strength so it’s absoluetly wonderful and not overdone. I’m blown away. Glady you mentioned the software you used. I used photomatix (?) free version but it puts a watermark on the picture. :( bleh. Thsnks for sharing your beautiful work. I’m dabbling in my photography. I created a facebook page to show some of of my work. I’d love your critique if you have any for me. Feel free to “Like” the page. My page is:!/pages/Gayle-Raines-Photography/168092759914046?sk=wall

  21. I completely agree with the other post – the best HDR pictures just look like properly exposed images. I think the tendency to overcook HDR has led to too many people going out and taking poorly composed, unimpressive images, and then trying to process them to death just to get that comic-book WOW out of them.
    You second lake picture (just over the people on the bridge) is incredible.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts on this! Yeah, the lake one took more time to achieve and I really wanted to remember the moment when I took it.

  22. your photograph of the roadside cliff is absolutely incredible. I could quite honestly look in to it for hours, it looks so magical! Great work, it’s made me want to explore HDR myself.

    1. Thank you! And go for it! Its fun to explore, it doesn’t mean you will only use that as a tool but it may take you on a different journey :)

  23. That photography is beautiful! Its so bloody enchanting, and it may seem a tad odd but I could not freaking tear myself away from the photograph of the pebbles and hairy man legs in flip flops. :)

    Love this post x

  24. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen any really good HDR. I must agree that much of it looks like a painting or some other graphic rendering than it does a good photograph.
    Your image “Lake004” is nicely rendered because it looks real.
    I guess I’ll never be one of those HDR photographers, though I can sometimes see the value in having detail throughout a particular image. Nevertheless, that’s what I think makes for great photographs… sometimes the great ones have deep blacks and blown-out whites.

    1. Very true! A great photograph is a great photograph no matter how its turned out technically. Having detail in a poor picture wont save it. :)

  25. I agree that the best HDR is when you can’t tell you did it. I like the effects of your photos. I would not have guessed that all of them were even HRD photos. Great job!

  26. I loved the pictures. Great texture, compostion and mood on some and I would not have noticed the use of HDR unless pointed out. Good Job. I yearn to take dramatic pictures like these.

    1. Thank you! And just practice… take a lot, a lot of pictures and learn from them. See what you did right or where you could have done better and apply it. Most importantly look at some of the great ones. You will learn a lot :)

  27. Thanks for a pretty good layout of HDR. While creativity should not be stifled, I do agree that HDR works best as a way to extend the 10-or so stop limit of a sensor array. Looks like you had fun pushing the envelope around until you discovered your ideal use of the technique :)

    1. Thank you! :) And honestly bout having photographic skills, I think its more like a trip that will never come to an end. I always try to learn new techniques, better my existing ones and of course looking a the same subject from a different perspective.

  28. I could not agree with you more and I like your pencil sketch metaphor as a descriptor for HDR overdone. Or should we say artful instead of overdone? I go for fidelity with most of my photography so when I use HDR its because of the scene having more f/stop latitude than the sensor can address — and I turn the luminosity setting down quite a bit.

    Thanks for your insight and wonderful photos.


    1. Thank you for your comment! And it makes a lot of sense what you say, so the true exercise when using HDR could be taking a metal photo of what you saw, how it looked in your mind and the mood you felt… and then using HDR as a tool to recreate that.

  29. HDR has its application when you want to present a photo that looks more like a painting. When you’re trying to capture “reality” in photos, having too much HDR can render a cartoon instead. But it seems like all the rage in photography as of late. More about presentation as opposed to composition and an good eye in photography.

  30. I fell in love with HDR overnight, and then promptly decided I didn’t like it. I’ve now went back to it and I’ve been trying no to go too overboard with it, to maintain a bit of that photograph feel, without being too surreal.

    I love these shots, you seem to have used the best of HDR while keeping it looking like a photograph rather than a painting or illustration, especially love the landscapes.

    I also love SilverEfex Pro, it DID make me fall in live with B&W photography!

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. My pleasure! And thank you for writing your comment! :) Its always refreshing to get people’s perspectives on this subject or photography in general

  31. Good HDR is making the picture look like what you thought you saw. Beyond that and it’s falsifying the image.
    Great post, Thanks

    1. I really think that way also… but it really has a lot to do in the approach you take when shooting film. I believe you don’t see things the same way when you have a 16G card or a 24 frame film.

    2. I second that, I tried to make my move into the digital film world severeal times already, but I couldn’t force myself to like it, I’m still using my 35+ years old Pentax as the main tool for all the photography I do, and right now I’m starting to consider some HDR experiments with it!! I think the film grain will have its influence there and will be quite prominent!!

      But nonetheless, I truly loved your photos! Esp. the B&W ones!! The one with the lady in the forest is just magical!!

      God bless!

  32. I use HDR Efex Pro from Nik. I think it’s quick and easy to use. I’m not that proficient with Photoshop’s HDR filter. I like your work. Check mine out on


  33. I use HDR Efex Pro from Nik. I think it’s quick and easy to use. I’m not that proficient with Photoshop’s HDR filter. I like your work. Check mine out on

    Thanks you. Ish.

  34. I haven’t yet experimented with HDR, but I’d like to. From what I’ve seen of HDR shots, I agree with you. Most things in photography have a use, its just knowing when to use them and how far to go.

  35. I think HDR is a mockery of photography.It is marvelous but it’s a spoof.It’s like watching The Sound Of Music in CGI or Gone With The Wind in 3D! More and more photographers are employing it, more and more are overusing it and I think its beginning to be a drab. BUT, these are the times. The picnic art era.There will always be something new. And I believe there was a point in time when they said that photography is a mockery of painting.

    1. Thank you very much for your comment and I really think you bring an extremely valid point here. Yes, these are the times but I think also that everything needs to be done in moderation. Nonetheless, its a great topic for discussion ;)

    1. Hi, I can post them later on. Some are quite faithful to the original ones but in other cases there was a drastic change… especially in the shadows.

  36. I agree with your point on HDR. I do not like HDR if it looks as if the photographer just let the post process program do the interpretation of the picture for them with a simple push of the button. I do use HDR from time to time but would combine it with a non HDR picture and still maintain the integrity of the shadows which are still dark but with some more details being brought out and highlights retaining some detail but are still bright. In short the final picture does not really look like HDR but is in between an HDR and non HDR.

    1. That’s exactly my approach in some of the shots I experimented with and thus I got the results I wanted. Thanks for your feedback! Cheers!

  37. I agree with the most part on the fact that HDR can sometimes be pushed a little too far, however at the end of the day it’s really comes down to the artists own representation and of course art itself is always going to be highly subjective.

    Of course in saying all of this though I do myself noticed that some of my recent HDR work has been scaled down in it’s tones but it does depend on the scene and what it is you really want to represent

  38. great pictures! i believe HDR defeats the purpose of the art of photography. really, its the way the picture is taken and how the photographr actually puts in ‘hard work’ to make the pictures come out as best as possible without alteration.
    the world is just too high tech now a days.

  39. I love the first photo! I’m not a huge fan of HDR.. it throws everything off expect for those occasional ones that I do find beautiful. I do enjoy them on landscapes and sometimes clouds.. I can’t stand it when people use HDR on portraits! But nonetheless, great articles and props to every photographer who uses HDR.. something I have yet to achieve! :P

  40. It’s funny for a long time I have wanted to get into HDR. I recently purchased the Complete Suite of NIK products that included HDR. I have one HDR image that I specifically set out to take.

    I like the sureal look that HDR makes. I do agree that HDR and portraits don’t mix, except for the marriage ceremony image you took. It works, because the real subject wasn’t the bride and groom, it was all about the fine detail in the wood and stained glass.

  41. I particularly liked the effect on the b/w trees – it almost looks like pen and ink, but at the same time like a completely unique medium. I also like the strange quality it gives to the landscapes – they reminded me of The Lord of the Rings – fantasy meets reality.

    I imagine some people could use HDR to try and pretty up a bad photo, but when the images are great (like yours), it’s almost a new art form.

    Thanks for sharing your work and your thoughts. x

  42. I like the affect but I think it is being over used making the world look like a cartoon.

    Some of your picture it works very well in one or two I’m think why.

    1. Yes, it true and I think in that manner it was a valid exercise. It was really to bring it to a breaking point or as close to as possible to see what would happen.

  43. The Sound Of Music in CGI or Gone With The Wind in 3D! More and more photographers are employing it, more and more are overusing it and I think its beginning to be a drab

    1. Yes! Its one thing to use it as a tool but to fix something that doesn’t need any fixing is unfortunate and strips it of its soul.

  44. All the pictures turned out great, but y’know what? My favorite is the one of you standing on wet pebbles on the beach.

    1. :) Thank you! I know its far from being original but those pebbles were really cool to work with in contrast to my feet. Being there was truly something else!

    1. Yeah, I’ve seen that article in the past! He did a great job with it! So it really comes down to capturing something unique or in an original matter. I really liked it!

    1. Very interesting video! Thanks for sharing!
      And your shot is very dramatic looking I like what you achieved, which is more of a mood rather than going for lots of detail. Nice!

  45. These are spectacular photos. I’m just getting into photography as a hobby, so these photos are very inspirational. I haven’t even come across HDR, but it looks like something to check out. As you mentioned, how do you know if you like it if you don’t try it? Thanks for posting these amazing pics!

  46. Beautiful use of HDR imagery Richard. I’m curious though, are you tonemapping single images, or combining multiples as I know, especially with street shooting, it’s nearly impossible to capture multiple frames at varying exposure values, and one can take an individual raw file and adjust to different EV’s, then process those multiples as a more ‘true’ HDR image, but I’ve found that never looks as good as files actually captured properly at different EV’s. I’ve spent a bit of time with HDR as well and put together an initial tutorial based on capturing the actual dynamic range of a scene and processing them using Photomatix here:

    I’d be interested in your, or others thoughts as I’m currently testing a couple different HDR software packages out for a couple companies to put together a new series of tutorials and insight.

    Again, great images!



    1. Thank you Tyson! I actually used the HDR filter in HDR pro from Nik software and they have presets for single image tone mapping. But before that I make a duplicate of my original layer in photoshop, then I apply the desired filter and playing with the opacity of the affected layer I can bring down or enhance the effect. Lastly there’s some dodging and burning just to isolate some of the desired areas. Other than that I might play with saturation but nothing drastic.

  47. I love HDR ! The examples you show are spectacular, especially the wedding chapel one, which shows a lot of details.
    What software did you use?
    I try some HDR software before, but I still couldn’t get great result all the time. some photos turn muddy after apply HDR

    1. Thank you! I used HDR pro from Silver Efex but also photoshop CS3 and played around with layers and curves to tone down some of the effect or enhance certain areas. There’s more control this way.

  48. Your evaluation of the HDR is accurate. Holding true to the ‘photographic feeling’, I can see why you would want to not delve into this so much. Yet this could very well become just another version of a photograph, like transferring from film photography to digital. The effect is interesting, and I think you are wise to use it sparingly.

    And congrats on the P90X! I heard only a bit about it in my circle of friends- it sounds intense! I’m very glad it’s working out for you!


  49. Your photographs are amazing!!! They are just great! My favorite one is the autumn lake. Gorgeous! Love them all!!! Keep up the splendid work!

  50. Your photography is amazing, you capture some truley amazing images. I’ve been studying photography at school for some years now, and im soon travelling to europe so as my practical piece of work i need to capture europe in a frame by frame photo album, but you see they arent allowed to be average tourist happpy snaps.

    After looking at your work, i’d be really appreciative if you could give me some hints with my assignment.

    1. First of all thank you for your comments, much appreciated and as for giving you pointers… let’s see, for sure I can give you my perspective on things. Normally when I get to a place I’m not familiar with I take the time to just walk and let the surroundings sink in me. A very important thing is to observe and think of the different angles from where you would shoot. But even more important than anything else is light, look at how the light hits and where it hits and if you have more time, wake up early and try some in the morning or late afternoon when you get more dramatic shadows. Try to capture a point of view that would do YOU justice, something that is particular to the way you experience things and do your best to communicate that through your photography. Do with honesty, don’t shoot to please others, shoot to please yourself.

  51. I’m just arrived in this blog, and soon I fall in love with the last post! Firstly you have to know I am Italian, so excuse me for mistakes. I like the HDR effect and I think you have used it in a perfect way in this photos, especially the firs four photo (I really like the foot’s photo!). I can’t wait the new post.

    1. Agreed! I think everyone should take the time and look around at how beautiful nature is and what we have around us. Sure many live in poverty and its hard to take the time to look around when you have no food to eat but we still need to take care of our environment.

  52. I like your images, especially the B&W shots. HDR? I’ve never used it because I lack the equipment. Then again, I work exclusively with B&W 35mm film. I suspect HDR was originally designed to overcome some of the limitations of the digital tonal range. Used with restraint, as you have, HDR can be a valuable tool.

    1. Thank you for your comment! Yes, indeed I see where it has its value… especially with the limitations of the digital tonal range. But even though many things can be achieved this was I still prefer working with film and especially in B&W. Although Silver Efex Pro is really really good! :)

    1. Yes! When I was applying this effect on the church photo and the NYC one I realized how this was a dramatic change… it was fun to play around with :)

  53. I love HDR, but the picture has to be right for it. I see too many photographers using it, when the original photo isn’t good enough to carry it off. I like your work.

  54. While the effect can be startling or jarring or eye-catching, you are exactly right when you say that it sometimes drains the mystery out of an image. I hadn’t thought about it that way before. I really liked the look of the Chrysler Building. Maybe HDR works best when you are trying to pick out all of the details of a thing rather than convey its sense of mass, etc?

  55. the bridal photo seems out of place, and I feel like I have seen it before? Cliff Mautner maybe? If it is your own work great job, take it as a compliment that I think you are stealing from one of the greats.

    1. Thank you Michael! I’ll have to check out Cliff Mautner… thank you for the compliment though seems to be a talented photographer. Yes, the bridal photo is a bit out of place here, I just used it to show how much detail I was able to get from using a slight effect of HDR. And yes, its my own photo, I shot a wedding last Summer 2010 in Montreal, gorgeous church near the Windsor station downtown. Lots of old wood details and great light… although a little on the dark side because of the wooden interior.

  56. I loved the pictures in this post! for me it can go either way, HDR or not, its the uses of picture by picture that counts for me :)

  57. Your post was very inspirative and very well written !! I will continue to come back to your blog to see what articles you have in the future !!Great graphics that kept my attention. Well done! Thanks for sharing!

  58. very few pics are so soul touching…..

    This is what real photography is about…..

    Brilliant work keep it up !

    I have bookmarked your blog, will be following you :)

  59. i really enjoy reading about your exploits in photography

    i’m beginning my adventures in photography myself, and i appreciate the inspiration and encouragement you share to the wordpress community and to me personally

    1. Thank you! Well all I can tell you about photography is that you should find a subject that inspires you, try to approach it in a very original way… or should I say personal, that is a great way to begin. After that you can work on your techinque, try different things and don’t be afraid to shoot, shoot, shoot and when you’re done, shoot some more :)

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