Around 2007, a friend introduced me to this “new technique” called High Dynamic Range photography or HDR for short. He had just gotten into it and was making some truly epic images.
We sat on the banks of the Taehwa River in Ulsan South Korea, looking at what is now my current home. He showed me how to bracket the images and then edit them with this program called “photomatix” and from then on I was hooked.
HDR also increased in popularity soon after. Propelling photographers like Trey Ratcliff to stardom. His free HDR guide was hugely popular and so was the rest of his Stuck in Customs site. His HDR images even hang in the Smithsonian. With the rise in popularity also came legions of haters.So why do so many people hate this style of photography?
In The Beginning…
Not all people were as good as Trey and so not all HDR images were well… good. When photo sharing sites like Flickr were in their hayday, a lot of people were exposed to very bad photography and it was easy to pick out the HDR shots. Just look at mine below. NASTY!
With any trendy style of photography, from faded instagram photos to all the way back to selective colour shots of your cousin’s wedding, people go nuts for new trends. With the emergence of photo-sharing sites back then we were witness to a lot of HDR experiments. It was the trend.
From murky skies to images that looked like unicorn vomit, HDR shooters changed the way we look at photography (or made us wish we didn’t look, in some cases). This also also opened up a world of toxic articles and comments.
After shooting for so long I have pretty much seen it all. There’s the film shooter who believes that shooting expired rolls of film documenting homeless people makes him a superior photographer. The studio photographer who masks out every blemish and wrinkle from his model but comments about a landscape photographer’s work as being “over-processed” and unrealistic. Childish insults are often thrown at people’s hard work and passion.
Articles from popular websites like this one casting shade on photographic styles that they don’t like. Note the part about HDR where the author states “When I look at most HDR photos, I sometimes wish that HDR was never invented in the first place. HDR is a great technology, but people overuse and over-abuse it too often. Sadly, most HDR photographs appear plain ugly, with photographers trying to pull something special from a failed photo” . That particular article was written in 2014 and those snobbish ideas still are around today. The sad part is that too many photographers carry that air of superiority. A bad photo is a bad photo, but as soon as you mention HDR, people start sticking their noses up in the air.
The problem is that nobody is really seeking to teach or to help. They are simply either writing the articles for clicks or (even worse) simply doing it to put another photographer down. This is something that I am keenly sensitive with as I have faced it a lot with my own career. There are just too many snotty holier-than-thou photographers out there for my liking.
The point being is that you can hate people’s work. That is fine. There are many terrible photographers out there. However, you don’t have to be a jerk and unless you are an award-winning photographer (the local photo club annual MVP award doesn’t count). Even if you are Trey Ratcliff or and Elia Locardi, then you are in a better position to be a better guide or teacher without being a jerk.
The thing is that we are all capable taking terrible photos. Even our best photos will not resonate with everyone. The people hating on HDR or any other form of photography? They are just your average photographer, in most cases. Nothing more. So keep that in mind. We are all no better than the next photographer.
Give It Up
This toxic drivel is nothing new. When I was university, photoshop was a taboo word. It was just starting to emerge and this was long before digital photography became affordable to the public. My professor’s went on and on about the meaning of what they called “real photography” and how a photoshopped image was not to be called a “photograph” but an “image” because it was edited in a computer program. That was close to 20 years ago and I hear the same arguments about HDR photography.
There are those subtle insults as well. I am sure that you have seen them where the commenter is giving a compliment where they say “you can’t even tell that this is HDR!” Which is meant as a compliment but is in reality a subtle put down because it implies that using HDR is a negative thing.
Basically, I feel that we should all just give up on the finger pointing and move on. Sure, you can snicker about the latest hyper-saturated monstrosity that a colleague has shared, quietly at home but just keep in mind that there is somebody rolling their eyes at you everytime you talk about your love of film photography and black and white street signs.
The final thing is that you have to realize that hating on HDR or those who like it, is nothing new. It is not clever or funny any more than your Dad calling you a hippie when you don’t put your hair up in a man-bun. It’s that outdated cringe worthy put-down that deserves to be laid to rest.
The bottomline here is that we need to just focus on our own photography and forget what everyone else is doing. If you don’t like someone’s photo, don’t comment. Nobody is going to hire you because you called out that guy one time on a random post on petapixel’s facebook page.
With the recent advancements in photo editing and programs such as Aurora HDR 2019, I think that the says of the murk grungy HDR are long gone. So should the insults.