To HDR or Not HDR? That is the question.

With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare

Can someone tell me why photographers use HDR

When there is no apparent need for it?


Click to enlarge

Three Examples

HDR needed (IMO) – No, No, Yes

All three images from the website – The HDR Image


I often see HDR images that make me ask – WHY?!?!

There may be a reason, but it’s not obvious

One thing is clear though –

It was NOT because the dynamic range was too wide

The photographer who made the above three images (nice website, check it out)

Specializes in HDR as a teacher and author

He certainly understands when & why – and why not

So I suspect he had reasons for the 1st two other than the dynamic range being too great

Granted there might be a tiny bright spot or two, but

There are easier and more effective ways to handle them than HDR

Unless a natural image isn’t your goal

I saw many images like the 1st one (bright sunny day, front lit subject – palm tree shadows on the church front)

Posted daily on the HDR Efex Pro beta site by professionals

Showing how “great” HDR software handled their latest 5-bracketed exposures

I never asked “why” (a beta site isn’t the place to question a photographer’s work)

But – certainly wondered


I’m still trying to understand

When it comes to pros I suspect the answer is that

It’s very hard these days to make a living in photography

Many pros are switching to teaching to augment their income

It helps if they can make potential customers view the world through HDR lens

Like a carpenter with a hammer – everything looks like a nail

Hey – in the early days of HDR (think Photomatix v1, now 4.1)

Grunge was “invented” by pros hit by loss of sales of images

And – that invention spawned a small industry

(A couple of pros reprimanded me when I stated that HDR was first and foremost needed to create natural images in situations otherwise impossible. Their position was that a big reason for HDR programs was to “create that HDR-look”. I can guess what they do for a living. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

When it comes to non-pros

I think “HDR-look belief” has lead to a generation of newbie’s whose answer to Shakespeare’s question is –

Hell, yes – HDR, no matter what.

Why else would you use it? ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Just sayin’ …..


At the start of the HDR Efex Pro 2 beta a number of pros (read instructors) complained that HEP 2 was too simple – even while admitting it did provide natural looking results right from the default preset.

The most replied to beta forum thread was titled (by the poster)

Canned HDR for the Masses?

Via a lot of condescending remarks the message came through –

The interface & controls were too simple (not professional enough)

Getting the “grunge” effects of the original HDR Efex seemed to take a back seat to making natural images

(Thanks, Nik, for listening to the rest of us after that disaster that was the original version ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

My reply was –

QUOTE (Ed Knepley @ May 10 2012, 04:07 AM)
“As long as the main objective of a HDR program is to produce realistic & natural results for a scene whose dynamic range exceeds the latitude of the camera’s sensor….”

Which got this immediate “pro” response

“I don’t agree with that statement at all.”…..

(followed by others)

Be aware of carpenters with hammers….


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10 thoughts on “To HDR or Not HDR? That is the question.

  1. You can design or invent something with an intended use in mind; even have some sort of goal or mission you wish to accomplish, but that doesn’t mean that it will be utilized in a fashion consistent with the original vision.

    When I first learned of HDR I jumped right in and played around with it. I created some very bizzare images that were not natural looking at all – they were freeky. I don’t HDR much anymore as I do not see a need. There are other tools available to achive certain desireable effects. I would use HDR though to achive a full dynamic range.

    There are just as many opinions as there are possibilities. I don’t see right and wrong in photography; it’s an art form.

    • Dan,

      Thanks. Well said – especially the last two lines. I agree 100%.

      My latest HDR “rant” should’ve made more clear that I’m puzzled by HDR images that didn’t appear to require HDR for a natural result AND the end result appears natural (not grungy). If one shoots bracketed exposures to achieve the same result as could have been made with a single exposure – why? They like processing images more than capturing them??

      The center of the 3 images above is certainly an example – I would never have picked it out as HDR (except possibly the poor cloud treatment), nor does the scene give any reason to suggest HDR was needed.

      • I do enjoy processing. I get a little mad-scientist-like at times just to see what is possible, but find myself shying away from the extreme as of late. I do not enjoy bracketing exposures. In my experience, I have found that frabricating the additional 2-6 exposures from the original works just as well; better with hand-held shots.

        I am one of those people that look at things and say โ€œwhy notโ€ more often than โ€œwhy.โ€ I donโ€™t care for rules much and follow them sparingly. I like to challenge the established and accepted ways of the masses.

  2. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of pro photographers or to take arms against a sea of dogma, and, by opposing, end it?

  3. Need for HDR? Why does there have to be a need? I don’t think there’s any need for fine art photography at all, so let’s all go home, so to speak.

    I don’t understand the constant complaints about other people’s photography. My painter friends don’t say of other painters, oh there was no need for that or it doesn’t look realistic or… We all have our styles and let’s just live and let live, huh?


    • So who was complaining, Judy?. It seems that all of your comments over the past few months tend to be defensive in nature. If you read a complaint against “fine-art”, I’m truly sorry as none was intended.

      I was simply asking a question to understand why folks used HDR to achieve a natural result when seemingly no HDR was needed. It is a point that truly puzzles me and I don’t think you should take offense at my asking “why”. I never suggested the folks who do this should not – just trying to understand the reason, or am I not even allowed to ask?

      If there was a “fine-art” criticism in what I wrote, please point it out to me and I’ll remove it. An unbiased reading should show that I was simply asking “why HDR if none is actually needed based on the tonal range of the scene”.

      Seems that one or both of us needs to lighten up a bit. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • We don’t see a “properly exposed” version of the first two, but my guess is the sky would not be nearly as dramatic without at least some tone mapping. I use tone mapping to bring out what I want to show in an image. People see the real world as it is all the time. Painters as well as photographers sometimes exaggerate the real world in order to bring attention to something. In this case, the sky.

        • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As for tone mapping to create drama, sky or otherwise, I usually prefer filters in Color Efex Pro – mainly because they offer greater control over the effects than does HDR. Here is an example

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