HDR – Is It Always Necessary?

This is another HDR image from my visit to St Peters Episcopal church in Washington North Carolina. The old cemetery is really perfect for photography and is full of potentially beautiful images. I spotted this very large tree trunk next to an iron fence and immediately started framing my shot. The texture of the ivy, tree, and fence had me imagining tone mapping heaven.

There are times when HDR imaging may not really be necessary to get the full tonal and lighting range of a photograph. This shot was processed using five exposures spaced from -2 to +2 ev. I worked with control points in Nik HDR Efex Pro to do very slight enhancements to the textures in the ivy, tree and fence.

Of course, this image could really “punch and glow” with additional tone mapping and further enhancements to get a “beyond reality” look as with this example. Here the contrast was increased along with adding depth and a more defined edging on the ivy and fence. I also included a slight, dark vignette at the corners to draw more attention to the fence and ivy. This still leans more to reality but has been pushed to more of an extreme.

But, for a realistic result, just manipulating a raw image file is sometimes all that is necessary. The image below was loaded from Adobe Bridge into the Photoshop raw conversion process and adjusted for a totally realistic look. As you can see, it is almost identical to the five image HDR example above.

With a little additional work in any photo editing software, this single image version could be made to look exactly the same.

Equipment used: Nikon D700 with AF 50mm f/1.8 D lens set to f/5.6, ISO 800. One human body.

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4 thoughts on “HDR – Is It Always Necessary?

  1. LensScaper

    An interesting comparison test. The top image certainly has the edge over the single raw image, but for me I actually really like the ‘punch’ of the second image. One of these days I must start experimenting with HDR.

    1. Mark Neal Post author

      Thanks for stopping by, Andy. I like to get somewhere between realistic and “punch” without going too far. That second image has only slightly more effect than I normally use. If you do start playing with HDR imaging, I would suggest the Nik software or just plain Photoshop. I’ve had great results with both.

  2. Marc Collins

    No, I don’t think every image needs the HDR treatment, but once you have applied the tone mapping you can get such great textures you tones that really add to the image. If thats the case I simply mask in the tone mapped areas and leave the rest of the image untouched by HDR.
    I tend to shoot less HDR these days but when the need arises, I’m bracketing those shots!

    1. Mark Neal Post author

      Thanks, Marc. I appreciate your comments and agree completely. For now, I’m sticking mostly with HDR imaging mainly because it’s the focus of my blog. But, I am posting some non HDR images next week from a few years ago. Gotta mix it up sometime. I’m thinking about starting another blog for straight photography and/or marketing.

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