High Dynamic Range, or HDR, photography has been around for a long time but it’s still a bone of contention for many photographers. It started with photographers using multiple negatives to create a more evenly exposed final product, moved on to dodging and burning black and white prints in the darkroom, followed by more advanced color film that was able to capture a greater tonal range, and most recently through multiple exposures and digital editing with computer software. At this point many cameras, of the point and shoot, DSLR, and cell phone variety, have the ability to capture HDR in-camera. This takes it from something only a skilled few can do to something anyone with a knowledge of how to push the right buttons on their equipment can take advantage of.
Whereas most photographs are only able to capture the available light, or lack thereof, HDR allows for a more accurate representation of the overall light intensity of a scene. This is where things tend to get touchy as people argue the merits of being able to capture so much data in a photograph. Despite the fact that the human eye is able to pick up a huge range of light and color many find photographs representing that same thing unappealing. Is it because we’re used to the way photographs are “supposed” to look? Or is it the way that some of these HDR shots are processed, in that they can sometimes look too real and almost stylized — more like a painting or digital rendering than reality? (Discuss.)
Whatever your feelings I think we can all agree that the above photo of the Capitol Dome at sunset by Angela Pan is a wonderful representation of the scene and how HDR can be done well. The colors of the sunset are bright and saturated but not garish while the dome itself looks subtly lit as if by a giant reflector. The lines are crisp and the details are gorgeous. The warm glow coming through the windows draws your attention and you notice the Stars and Stripes drifting in the breeze. Would you know this was an HDR photograph if Ms. Pan didn’t indicate as such in the tags? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s what so great about it — you’re not focusing on the technique she used to capture the image but the image itself. Isn’t that the whole point? Great job, Angela.