With great power comes great responsibility. With the release of affordable DSLRs (aka, the fancy cameras with the complex lenses) came an ocean of new “photography studios” (if I could air quote any harder, my fingers would snap right off). While most are rubbish, it makes sense, really: if you own a camera that makes it difficult to screw up a photo and have the skill to purchase and install Photoshop, you can come up with some decent-looking photos. It’s not surprising then that these amateurs can also use the tools of the trade and their complete lack of artistic ability to completely destroy those images. The latest tool in their chest of abomination? High Dynamic Range. And with a recent development in off-the-shelf tech, AMP is bringing us horrible-looking HDR photography (like the murky, blown out shot of Tokyo above) to us in 1080p at 24 frames per second. I fear for the future of our species.
What the heck is it, Nick?
I’m so glad you asked! The problem with high dynamic range photography is that in the right hands, it’s one of the coolest things. Unlike 3D, which ruins everything, HDR is a tool that’s been used responsibly by real, honest-to-god professionals for years. So what is it? Have you ever stepped outside into a bright sun and had to wait while your eyes adjust? That’s the biological cameras that we know as ‘eyes’ adjusting exposure (or ISO in photographer lingo). Our eyes, like a camera, have a limited range of light that we can absorb at any time, this is a large reason why our night vision is so awful, our eyes can’t adjust to super low lighting.
Cameras work the same way. Depending on your exposure, you’re going to get images of different lighting conditions. Highlights are blown out in bright light, lowlights disappear in low light, and so you have to adjust to see them. HDR then, is the composite of multiple shots to create a more ‘even’ exposure across the spectrum. It’s called high-dynamic range because you’re seeing a larger spectrum of light in a single image than you normally would. In the example below, you see the original series of images and then see the master image that blends these all together for an even exposure.
So what are you ragging on about? That doesn’t look that bad?
It is! Primarily because people abuse the heck out of it, like lens flares were so en vogue in the late 90s. The even-ing of these exposures is called tone mapping, which can be used decently to create a better picture (like the one below) or can be exaggerated slightly to create a painterly effect, as in the shot above.
HDR used properly.
And then of course, there’s going to be the horde of amateur clowns that are going to abuse it by layering on too many pictures and misusing their Photoshop/Lightroom-provided powers. Then we end up with these:
One of the pictures in this shot might’ve been a decent one. Maybe.
This looks like an evening after an episode of food poisoning. Too much even-ing has reduced this to an unnatural wash of color.
Wow Nick, that is truly terrible!
It gets worse! Processes like these, which take many images at once with a complex algorithm had traditionally only been done in post, after all the pictures had been taken. Cameras are now getting powerful enough that they can process these images, 3-4 per frame, at 30hz (or 30 times per second). This has practical applications for security systems (like Sony’s View-DR system) where washed out imagery obscures critical detail, in much the same way that higher refresh rates on TVs is better for critical action, like sports games.
Together, however, these are monstrosities for film. The newly unveiled AMP camera is now promising HDR photography for filmmakers and it’s possibly the worst thing that could happen to movies. Once again, technology is being touted to improve art and it can only seek to ruin it. Watch their promotional video below.
Once fanciful and delicately timed photography now becomes a bizarre mix of color and contrast. I don’t even need to say much more, the video is terrifying enough as is.
Please, HDR, go away. PLEASE.