31 Oct 2011

Why so “unrealistic”?

“It doesn’t look real” or “It’s like

31 Oct 2011

“It doesn’t look real” or “It’s like a painting” are some of the common comments I get on my pictures. Most of the time they are intended as a compliment and that’s how I take it. But I feel like people have an old fashioned perception of how a realistic photograph should look like and I don’t always agree with how unrealistic people claim them to be. The reason for the look I get is High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, which I use on a lot of my pictures. Our eyes are very unique in a way they capture light. They quickly adjust to very bright and very dark areas of any scene they set their sight on. Camera lenses however aren’t quite as awesome. There is always a trade off between overexposed and underexposed areas.

You can get around this by taking multiple pictures of different exposures. This allows to capture a lot of detail in both dark and bright areas that a single shot would ignore. Here’s a good example of what it really does. This is one of the oldest coffee shops in Ghent, Belgium. Scene of a nice, cosy looking place, which provides different levels of light, handy for our example. The lighting inside the shop is darker than it is outside. When I concentrate on the light outside almost all of the detail inside the shop is lost. If I adjust my exposure to address the inside then the outside is just blown out.

When you combine these 3 together you get the pic below (on the right). You be the judge of which one’s a better representation of the scene. I find the regular shot (first pic below) very boring and in fact untrue of the real scene. It doesn’t show all the things my eyes have really seen. It doesn’t show the lady by the counter in the dimly illuminated shop. I can barely even see what the inside of a shop looks like. There are no details to reaffirm the very old age of these fading green coloured doors.

Ghent, Belgium

It’s true that with HDR it’s sometimes easy to get carried away with colour and detail. But that’s when experience comes into play. The more I do it the better sense I get of what’s a good way to go about it. Most importantly, photography isn’t all about details or making something look real, it’s also about bringing up the emotions from the scene. And I find HDR to be a nice creative tool in this regard.


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