The End of HDR?

Have we finally reached the end of HDR photography? It seems like we just got started. I will say both yes we’re almost there and no we’ve just begun.

Let me explain what HDR is and what it really is. HDR is high dynamic range imagery which most people know by now. Most people think of HDR as taking several shots (bracketing) at different exposures and combining in software like Photomatix or HDR Efex Pro. This extends the dynamic range of the scene that might otherwise not be possible.

What HDR is today really has more to do with a creative effect that adds local contrast/tone mapping. Often times people take what really is a medium or even low dynamic range scene and process through HDR software to achieve an eye-popping (good or bad) scene. It’s not so much about the dynamic ranges as it is about creating something extraordinary out of the ordinary.

What about those high dynamic range scenes? Funny enough those scenes still are difficult for HDR software to render realistically. Exposure fusion does a good job but tone mapping operations create a number of issues that often give HDR  a bad reputation. What will really make HDR go away is the sensor technology that continues to improve.

Sony just announced the A7s (sensitivity) as another model to go with the A7 (an all around performer) and A7r (resolution) for those that require high megapixel counts. See the A7s features here. The A7s sensitivity ranges from ISO 50 to ISO 409,600! No doubt the usable ISO will be lower but even if it is ISO 50,200 or ISO 102,400 that is still quite a step forward. Time will tell but no doubt the sensitivity is increasing along with the dynamic range of the sensors.  I currently use the Sony A99 and only the most demanding scenes require HDR bracketing.

This sunrise is a single image processed in Lightroom and Nik’s Color Efex Pro. There was enough dynamic range caught by the Sony A99 to work with graduated filters in Lightroom and use Color Efex Pros detail enhancer, glamour glow and tonal contrasts to achieve a HDR look.

single image HDR, end of hdr, sunrise hdr, high dynamic range scene

HDR without HDR bracketing

What people really see as HDR today is the local contrast enhancements that can be made by Color Efex Pro, Topaz Clarity or even the clarity slider in Lightroom. Heck even smartphones have HDR processing and apps like Snapseed do an admirable to really good job with cell phone images.

HDR in terms of dynamic range is really becoming a thing of the past. HDR is now more a creative effect. Some may have already realized this but I continue to see people say “it’s not HDR it’s a single image”. If you’re adding clarity, local contrast, tone mapping or whatever you want to call it you are doing HDR as we know it today.

HDR is over but here to stay 🙂




3 thoughts on “The End of HDR?

    • Thanks Gary! I’ve started to blend images manually (or with blend modes) more often. I love what HDR can do but am really sensitive to the artifacts it creates. It’s all a means to end in my book.

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