High Dynamic Range

HDR has been a controversial subject in the world of photography. Some of the best and most popular photos have been made with High Dynamic Range techniques. And also some of the worst.

The recent history of art has encouraged and even required its artists to push boundaries as far as they’ll go. Painting reached astonishing levels of photo-realism in the 17th century, but in more recent years there came the impressionists, the minimalist abstracts and the expressionists, and society’s expectations and perceptions of painting were blown explosively out of the water. Some contemporary journalists were clearly unimpressed:

Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.
Louis Leroy (on Monet)

HDR photography is still a very new technique. When it suddenly became popular a few years ago it was often used without subtlety, and the Harry Potter school of photographic wizardry was born. But the backlash was equally unsubtle. The result was that these expressionist techniques were refined and the volume turned way down, and then the real value of HDR became obvious.

We’re used to cameras only telling part of the story. The range of tones they can capture is much more limited that those we can see. So the photographer has to compromise and make a decision. Shadow or light? Often the result is all the better for this limitation, as a tale half told can leave interesting questions dangling around the frame. But sometimes it’s good to tell the whole story.

HDR reveals what’s hiding in the shadows or drowning in the highlights. It reaches in and pulls out textures and colors, and suddenly a new more intense reality emerges. In capable hands it’s very impressive stuff.

The godfather of HDR is Trey Ratcliff. He posts a new HDR photo on his blog Stuck in Customs every day, and some of these photos are stunning. If you’re a photographer and haven’t tried this yet, read his free introductory tutorial and give it a go.


In Other News

So many books but so little time!

When you pick up a book and start to read you’re making a big commitment – it may take many days or even weeks before you turn that final page. So if you’re going to read a book you’d better make sure it’s a good one.

Following hard on the heels of David Bowie’s list of his 100 favorite books, released a couple of weeks ago, here’s a recent interview with Woody Allen in which he describes just 5 books that most influenced him.

My advice? Read the classics. The clue’s in the title…


Leave a reply

    Straight-talking New York street photographer Jay Maisel is a living legend, and his insights on the subtle complexities of street photography are unique and priceless. One of his fundamental concepts is Gesture.

    Its difficult to define but might best be described as the emotional trigger of a photograph. It can be a human gesture such as a facial expression or body position, or something more esoteric such as the interaction of some other elements within the image. Its the quality of this “gesture” that differentiates one photo from all the others and gives it that extra something which holds your attention.

    Everything in the world has gesture. Its not about just people. You have to wait for something special to happen
    Jay Maisel

    In Jay’s opinion, gesture takes precedence over the more traditional technical requirements for a good image (lighting, framing, color, etc) as without it a photo can be good but it can’t be unique and so it won’t be great.

    Jay holds photography workshops in his huge old bank building in Manhattan, but these cost several thousand dollars. An easier and cheaper way to learn from this master of the craft is to watch his online video courses hosted by Kelby Training. Worth every cent of their $6.99 rental!

    And here’s his portfolio.


    In Other News

    Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. He may be long gone, but it looks like those conspiracy theories will live forever. Here are some merged “then and now” photos showing some of the places where it all happened.


    Leave a reply
      Lady in Red

      Color Theory is one of the dark arts! They’re subject to the whim of current fashion, and today’s cool colors are tomorrow’s embarrassment. Just stroll around a mall from season to season and watch as the marketing color management machine dictates to us all, forcing us to replace perfectly good but suddenly outmoded interior decor and clothing with this year’s absolutely fabulous. Most of us are sheep and do just as we’re told. From pastel to camo to fluoro we’re led firmly by the nose!

      But sometimes unfashionable, inaccurate or wildly clashing colors look good. For some reason they just seem to work.

      Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing? Can one really explain this? No. Just as one can never learn how to paint.
      Pablo Picasso

      For photographers, color management and correction can be one of our most complex challenges. From the light sources at the time of capture through to the bewildering variety of post processing tools, difficult decisions and corrections have to be made. Certain color combinations are either right or wrong, and lots of color is too much. But, sitting quietly watching the waves, this Lady in Red and Gold broke the rules, and so have I.

      Adobe has an excellent tool for browsing and selecting groups of colors that work well together. Called Kuler, its available on the Apple App Store and also on the web.


      In Other News

      After 10 years with his feet up David Bowie has been unusually busy recently and has just released an incredible new video for the track Love is Lost from the new extended edition of his latest album, called The Next Day Extra. The video is a remixed electro version of the song with some impressive and mesmerizing 3D graphics, and (with the caveat that it contains mildly adult scenes) you can see it here.

      This follows his release a few days ago of another video for the original version of the song – its a creepy DIY home movie that apparently cost only $13 to produce!


      Leave a reply
        New and Improved

        Henri Cartier-Bresson, the godfather of Street photography once said

        Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst

        So, on this new and improved incarnation of the Shadow or Light website, I’ll be taking that into account. He went on to say

        It’s an illusion that photos are made with the camera‚Ķ they are made with the eye, the heart and the head

        That’s the wisdom that those first thousands gradually reveal – photography is vision and emotion overlaid on competent technical capability and good graphic design.

        But don’t let that put you off. Henri also said

        Of course, it’s all just luck!

        You can see some of his own legendary pictures at Magnum Photos.


        In Other News

        If you’re a fan of the TV series Game of Thrones (and who isn’t!) don’t miss this superb compilation of out-takes and extended scenes compiled carefully by the guys at Bad Lip Reading.


        Leave a reply