HDR or EDR?

Lets talk some tech for a little bit. For those of you that have no interest in photography tech and tricks.. move on because I am not speaking your language.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to camp with my family out near the coast at a fairly secluded boy scout camp called Camp Meriwether. This post is not about our trip exactly, that will be in an upcoming post. I wanted to specifically talk about one situation that I was in and how I handled it.

Imagine if you will an expanse of beautiful sandy beach sprawled out in front of you running right up to the water that is gently washing back and forth. To the right is a monumental piece of land jutting out and splitting the beach and sky. Fluffy clouds drift from right to left across the sky and mingle playfully with the setting sun. Got all that in your head now? Ok good, then in the foreground add a huge black lump and what looks to be people sitting on it.  Kinda ruins the beautiful image in your head doesn't it?

Now lets flip flop the scenario. Set in front of you is beautiful, golden sand with almost artfully placed shadows and textures. Half way out is a massive tree laid out in the sand and turned smooth and white from its days of sun bathing and playing in the wind and rain. Atop the tree is a family, smiling and enjoying each other and the experience they are having. Got that image right? Good.. keep reading! Behind the family is what looks to be a white background with a funny looking wedge shape off to the right making the photo look unbalanced. Ruined again! ACK.. whats a photog to do?!

Ok, now for the meat an potatoes of this post. The title says "HDR or EDR." I'm sure that if you are a photographer that you probably know what HDR is even if you don't use it. For those unfamiliar I will simply tell you what it stands for and add a simple summery. HDR is short for High Dynamic Range. Put simply, our cameras can not see all the light and dark areas in a scene like our eyes can. HDR techniques combine multiple images to create something more like what our eyes see. Ok, enough of that.. go hit wikipedia in the for more info.

So what do the two scenarios above have to do with all this? Easy, what I just described to you are two photos that I took from my camping trip. Both were what could be considered part of and HDR image. let me show you the images so that you can see for yourself what I am talking about.

Now those of you familiar with processing HDR photos may see a couple of problems. Inconsistencies, if you will, between the two photos that might make it hard to create an HDR photo. Not seeing them? Here are a couple of things.

  • Mismatched amount of people.
  • Cloud positon has changed.
  • No "base" or correct exposure image.

Nope.. not a very good case for an HDR photo. But... and this is a big but.. what you see is two perfectly exposed photos that were deliberately taken to create, what I like to call, and EDR photo, or Extended dynamic range. Before I reveal the final photo let me give you a few things to think about.

While HDR is a great technique for adding more detail into a photo and creating a more "natural" image it has some flaws that also come with it. Now let me saw that this is MY OPINION, so take it as it is. HDR as far as I am concerned is garbage. Ok, harsh.. let me rephrase that.. most HDR images, not HDR photography, are garbage... remember, my opinion! There are loads of techniques and bits of software out there that do all kinds of neat things and I have tried lots of them. I have "cooked" images to create those surreal landscapes or scenes. I have bracketed 3 stops under and 3 stops over in hopes of creating a more "dynamic" or realistic image. I have spent hours dealing with software sliders and histograms trying to reduce halos, improve local contrast, and squeeze every last detail out of my file. In the end, after numerous attempts and what I consider mediocre results, I have all but given up on HDR.

Now, I am not saying that I don't enjoy HDR photos from other photogs. No, no NO! I do very much. There are some fantastic images created by some very dedicated folks out there that have spent a lot of time and money to create these types of images. I take HDR images for what they are.. Art work. They may start as photographs but in the end they become art work. The over the top colors and extreme amounts of detail on every surface.. all great elements found in some of the worlds most famous paintings. While I enjoy that type of look for certain situations, it does not always work out for every photo.

I'm making some bold statements.. I can do that, my blog! I completely see the usefulness of HDR techniques but not every situation calls for it. So lets talk about this EDR idea. I know that I am not the only person doing this and I am sure that it is used a million times a day, but it can be easily overlooked now that BIG BROTHER HDR is standing over its shoulder. What it comes down to is thinking about the scene and rather then going over the top to create this "artsy" type photo using an HDR technique it really comes back to common sense. I knew that it wold be impossible to create and HDR image in the situation I was in. I knew that I didn't like the look of and HDR photo. I also knew that there was no way to get the sky, sun and clouds to be at decent exposure while keeping my family and I exposed correctly (without extra equipment anyway.) So whats the solution, and all this EDR mumbo jumbo? Two photos simply merged, by hand, to create a final image, extended dynamic range.

As you can see in the final image above I was able to keep the sky and the foreground with next to no compromise. I even brought a little bit of a darker tone back into the sand. To me this is what an HDR image "should" look like. Something natural. And yet it was made from blending two photos together in Photoshop rather then using 7 differently exposed images. I know this is a lot of talk just to get to the point but I feel that this is one of those situations were "just because you CAN do it  doesn't mean you SHOULD do it" fits perfectly. Ever try to get a 7 year old to sit still for 7 photos one right after another? Ever try to get them to sit still for JUST ONE? It's not easy. In the end I got the photo that I "saw" while I was at the beach that day. While my vision of the final image was already locked down in my head the limited sight of my camera needed some TLC to create that vision.

So thats it. EDR explained, good old common sense and pre-planning. I was going to call it WNMTTEFDR (who needs more then two exposures for dynamic range) but it didn't really have as nice a ring to it. ;)

Oh, and for those of you that do HDR, please, no hate mail. I know that this is not the exact scenario for an HDR image but that was kind of the point of the post anyway.