What is HDR and Why Do I Like it?

Happy Sunday to all of you and welcome to the first of many Weekly Featured posts. This new section of Phogropathy is going to be geared more to those interested in learning a little bit about photography, or at the very least, a little bit about how I capture and create the shots you see on a daily basis. I am by no means claiming to be a photography guru, I’ve only just started this hobby a couple months ago and therefore am still learning a lot of the basics. However, I want to be able to share my learning experiences with those readers potentially looking to break into this hobby.

Ultimately the Weekly Feature section will be a way for you, my readers, to get to know me a little better, what I like and how I go about creating the photographs on this site. Of course, there will be many other topics covered in this section of Phogropathy – From tips to reader polls, from learning experiences to personal failures and so on. So… lets get started!

What is HDR?

'The Roof' - Jason Hines Photography

I wanted to kind of get this out of the way as I know I’ve talked a lot about it in my photographs, but I’ve never really explained what it is. I’m really kind of falling in love with this style of photography and I felt that since it’s taking up a good chunk of my daily photographs it’d only make sense to take a moment and explain what it is, how it works and of course, most importantly, why I like it.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, but what exactly does that mean?

Let’s break it down a little further. Dynamic range is the difference of light that a scene has. Basically it’s taking into consideration the extreme lights (the highlights) and the extreme darks (the shadows) and everything in between. Therefore, high dynamic range, is the process in which we try to capture as much of that entire range as possible in a single image.

Why is HDR Important?

The reason for HDR techniques is because a typical camera can only properly expose for so much light. In fact, the average camera can’t even capture (in one exposure) half the dynamic range that our eyes can see. This means that when you take a photograph of something that has a huge dynamic range, like a sunset or an old black car with a chrome bumper, you will end up losing out on either the dark end or the light end of your photograph depending on how you expose the shot. Thus we have HDR.

How Does HDR work?

The key to HDR is layering multiple images which have been exposed differently on top of each other and then through the process of turning various knobs, dials and buttons (okay I’m being facetious here), but the software part is beyond what I want to cover in this post, so to keep it short lets stick with this – After the images are layered in an HDR file you have to process them to get the look you want. Jason Hines Photography who’s image you see above is one of my favorite up and coming HDR photographers. You should definitely check out his blog by following that link to his site!

Now for a more in depth look let’s take a look at one of my early HDR images – My Computer Desk – and see exactly what made up that final image.

As you can see each image is slightly more exposed going from left to right where the first image is extremely under exposed to the point of the computer being buried in shadows and the far right is extremely blown out to the point where you can barely make out the wall in the background. The final image is a result of these seven shots being layered on top of each other and of course some tweaking in photoshop to create the final look you see below.

So Why Do I Like HDR?

Ultimately it comes down to the fact that I enjoy spending time on the computer editing the photos, tweaking them to get just the right look. That look of course is up for interpretation depending on who is creating the photograph.

Admittedly I have a lot yet to learn about HDR and how to better process a photograph that remains realistic enough to not take away from story that is trying to be told. The problem with bad HDR is it can come off extremely fake and totally unrealistic – and that can ruin your shot.

Of course I’m not a die hard HDR fanatic either. I still like the challenge of taking a photograph without the use of multiple exposures and computer processing, look at today’s Sunset photograph, that was done with minimal processing in Adobe Lightroom and I’ve got to say that it’s one of my favorite shots thus far in my short photography career.

Of Course I’d Also Like to Know – What do you think of HDR?

Are you a fan or do you prefer the straight out of camera no computer processing involved idea? Please vote below and leave a comment voicing your opinion on the matter.

[poll id=”3″]


  1. John Hickey

    HDR is lazy lazy lazy theres nothin you can get from HDR you cant do that cant be achieved in photoshop.But you wont be left with a hyper-realistic representation of what I am sure was a perfect scene. lovin your blog though.

  2. John Davenport Post author

    I don’t think HDR is necessarily lazy – it’s just it’s own style. HDR gets a bad name because so many people way over process their shots to the point where they’re no longer realistic looking at all. There’s a fine line between over processed and processed to the point of being cool and adding an interesting edge to a photograph. Sure it might not be a pure photograph, but there are definitely situations where HDR is warranted and where normal camera settings could not capture that image – namely anything with extremely high dynamic range.

    No matter what it comes down to, HDR is still photography, it’s definitely an artistic expression of photography and certainly is not just a what I can capture with a camera, but a what I can do with my computer feel. HDR is what it is and I would never say it’s lazy because you still have to take the time to frame your shots, decide which settings you want to include in your HDR image and fire off your brackets.

    I myself use the D3100 from Nikon which doesn’t auto bracket and I’m typically too lazy to carry around a tripod so that means my HDR work is done handheld without an auto-bracketing camera – personally I find that at least a little more challenging than those with the auto-bracket ability 🙂

    Thanks for the comment and I know HDR is a touchy area of photograph for many people so I respect your stance and can honestly see where you are coming from.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and I’m glad you like the site!

  3. Katie Foster

    I was not an HDR fan until I stumbled onto the “ghost” photograph you took by the lake. I’ve seen a few HDR images that I liked; however, the rest of the photographers work was a little to extreme for me. Your work is amazing!

  4. John Davenport Post author

    Thanks Katie! HDR is definitely one of those techniques that can be easily over done. Sometimes people use it when they don’t even really need to and it’s a shame. I feel like HDR gets a bad name because so many people can create those ugly over cooked photos. In the end it’s really up to the person doing the editing and what they’re going for – my personal preference is to stay as true to reality as I can while adding a bit of the “pop factor” that HDR adds.

    Thanks for the comment! Hopefully I’ll see you around here again 🙂

  5. Angie

    When you have a great passion about photography, The most important thing your do is to more about the keyword, techniques and gadgets