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Toronto in HDR

Posted by Derek Flack / December 2, 2010

HDR Toronto photoHDR photos of Toronto -- or anything else for that matter -- tend to inspire mixed reactions. Photography purists invariably dislike the the look of the over saturated and often surreal looking photos, while others often refer to it as "cheating." As much as I can understand the the former, I've never bought into the reasoning behind the latter. By that logic buying something like Fuji Velvia film or even using a high ISO setting on a digital camera would also be breaking "the rules," as these photographic techniques offer anything but a faithful representation of the wold in front of the camera.

In fact, nothing photographic is natural nor has it ever been -- what is the strange nature of this assumption? -- which is why I have no philosophical problem with HDR. Layering photos with various exposure qualities to increase dynamic range -- the ratio between the lightest and darkest aspects of an image -- certainly involves a hell of a lot of processing, but I would label this a difference in degree rather than kind to those that receive only in-camera work or minor colour-correction and levels adjustments.

The issue of aesthetics is, however, an altogether different story. Certain HDR images just look silly. Whether this be on account of poor technique or inappropriate subject matter, there are loads of circus-show photographs out there to give HDR a bad name. But that doesn't mean that there aren't some fantastic ones to be found as well.

For reasons that probably have more to do with personal preference than anything else, I've always thought HDR suits urban photography the best. And with that in mind, I've plucked some exemplary shots of Toronto from the blogTO Flickr pool to enjoy and debate. Lead photo by Daifuku Sensei [ hiatus ].

20101202-hdrsenseiTTC.jpgAlso by Daifuku Sensei [ hiatus ].

HDR Toronto PhotoPhoto by bomb_tea.

HDR Toronto PhotoPhoto by syncros.

HDR Toronto PhotoPhoto by cl-s.

HDR Toronto PhotoPhoto by ~EvidencE~.

HDR Toronto PhotoAlso by ~EvidencE~.

HDR Toronto PhotoPhoto by fotograf.416.

HDR Toronto PhotoAlso by fotograf.416.

HDR Toronto PhotoPhoto by JdeB.

HDR Toronto PhotoPhoto by ronnie.yip.



Realist (mostly) / December 2, 2010 at 09:29 am
Subtle is usually good with HDR. If you're going to crank the knobs all the way up, though, I think you might as well do away with realistic colors completely (a la cross processing).
DanTO / December 2, 2010 at 09:31 am
Requesting a Rob Ford portrait HDR
Stra / December 2, 2010 at 09:41 am
I have seriously no idea why you brought up Velvia as part of your argument. Do a cursory search on that stock on say Flickr and you get this:;w=all

Velvia breaking rules? Seriously? What rules?

And what does "faithful representation" and photography have to do with each other? If anything you're describing a simple point and shoot picture.

HDR falls outside of the realm of "photography" for the simple reason that it involves a whole lot of post-production computer techniques. Call it computer art if you will. Choose the right film stock, measure the light well, and you'll achieve similar high dynamic range in your shot without resorting to the computer - now that's photography.

And people should stop using the word surreal so inappropriately. End of rant.
Luke / December 2, 2010 at 09:48 am
Velvia is known as one of the most saturated films out there, so I would assume the point is that the stock itself is producing an effect similar to what some people do in post-processing.
Stra / December 2, 2010 at 09:58 am
ah but Velvia like any "reversal" stock out there, offers very little latitude, and because of that alone it is the least likeliest of stocks that would offer up high dynamic range in a photograph.
Derek replying to a comment from Stra / December 2, 2010 at 10:07 am
Yeah, Luke's got it. The point was that certain stocks and camera settings also produce effects that some -- not me -- would call cheating. That's why there are scare quotes around "the rules."
Capucine / December 2, 2010 at 10:16 am
These are gorgeous.
Nick / December 2, 2010 at 10:18 am
It's not so much about cheating, it's that it looks fucking terrible
Stra replying to a comment from Derek / December 2, 2010 at 10:30 am
interesting - I've never heard of one person saying to the other that because they elected to shoot with a certain film stock, that they were cheating. The point I was trying to make in the event one were to ever bring up the word cheat with respect to electing to use a particular film stock, that it would be far less possible to do so with a stock like Velvia because it offers next to no latitude - basically you either get the exposure right or you don't. And because of that, there are no comparisons.

Essentially, don't bring film into this argument. It doesn't belong here. Computer manipulations are just that. Some of these are great for it.
MelS / December 2, 2010 at 10:41 am
Well, that's some bomb tea...
Wendy replying to a comment from Stra / December 2, 2010 at 10:44 am
You're missing the point altogether. It's pretty clear that the writer is making a general argument that people who call HDR cheating fail to understand that basically every action taken with a camera involves some form of processing. The reason that you haven't heard people refer to the use of certain film stocks this way is because it's been a longstanding myth that analogue is somehow more pure than digital. This isn't the case. So stop talking about Velvia's limited range. No one is saying that it produces images similar to HDR.

Corrective rant complete.
EthanD / December 2, 2010 at 11:09 am
To further the initial argument, a photographer is a camera artist who uses different tools to achieve an intended look…Much like Ansel Adams once did in the darkroom as he dodged and burned his black and whites.
Regina / December 2, 2010 at 11:10 am
seconding Rob Ford in hdr
Stra replying to a comment from Wendy / December 2, 2010 at 11:25 am
"The reason that you haven't heard people refer to the use of certain film stocks this way is because it's been a longstanding myth that analogue is somehow more pure than digital. This isn't the case."

Seriously? - do explain please. Love to read this. And do mention photography's history in your argument. I'm lost.
Stra replying to a comment from EthanD / December 2, 2010 at 11:29 am
and in keeping with the fact that film is a chemical process, you're comparing a technique done in the darkroom with someone doing the same on a computer? Nah - two different animals sorry.
ben / December 2, 2010 at 11:47 am
thanks for the photos, some of them are really cool!

stra, seriously. chill out. nobody cares.
terry / December 2, 2010 at 11:47 am
referring to all tone-mapped images as HDR is a bit of a misnomer... while all tone-mapped images are HDR by nature, not all HDR images are tone-mapped. As Ethan notes, photographers have been dodging and burning in the darkroom to acheive high dynamic range for quite some time.

it just happens to be unfortunate that everyone who pushes dynamic range to extremes tags their images "HDR", while those of us who simply blend a few exposures (like a simple shadow/sky/midtone blend) don't, despite the fact that it's still going for a high dynamic range. nearly every architectural photographer creates tasteful HDR images, even if they aren't labelled as such.

in short, this post should really be titled "Tone-mapped Toronto" :)
LKD / December 2, 2010 at 11:53 am
What a failure to understand the complaint about HDR -- it's not AT ALL that it's "cheating". The complaint is that it completely up-ends the experience of a photograph, concocting levels of contrast and jarring sharpness that are unpleasant, distracting, and poorly judged. It's the photographic equivalent of listening to Sleigh Bells tracks all day long, every day -- loudness and compressed grit replacing real impact. Contrary to the whim of many HDR fanatics, isn't the job of every photograph to attempt to bowl over and subdue the viewer.

The nail in the coffin of "good" HDR is that several of the images including here are utterly terrible and overprocessed (2, 8, 10). The technique appears to numb the editorial impulse.
Allie / December 2, 2010 at 12:38 pm
I think when done well these photos are really cool looking. Pretty sure that outs me as a non-photographer. I guess if you want to be a straight up "pure" photographer then digital is pretty much out for you anyway. Either way, these images are great and I DEFINITELY don't want or need to see an HDR version of Rob Ford. Bleck!
Mathieu / December 2, 2010 at 12:54 pm
I'd like to agree that HDRI doesn't exactly mean Tone Mapping all the time. I personally don't like tone mapping when pushed to extremes. All HDRI really means just just obtaining information in an image, thats pretty much it. Whether used for artistic purposes or technical purposes (lighting CG objects using HDRI domes) it has merit and shouldn't just be thrown out because it uses post processing.

There is not an image on earth that doesn't have some form of post processing involved. Even cross-processing to create wacky colouring is still a form of heavy post processing, taking your C41 and developing in E6.

Even if you're just tweaking in a one light pass, bringing up some contrast, etc. etc., don't really think there is a difference between when I used to post process in the darkroom, when when I post process my raw CR2's in lightroom now. Its about me trying to get the image I took to serve my message as best as I possibly can. Whether that requires large post processing, or just some simple tweaks depends on the image and the message.

HDRI, like any other artistic process, both analogue or digital, can be over or mis used. It just depends on the artists message and whether his/her message or story is congruent with the craft, creation and execution of that message or story. There's nothing wrong with using HDRI Tone Mapping if it serves your message or story. Not sure if it does here at all.

Troll complete.
Monica replying to a comment from Nick / December 2, 2010 at 12:58 pm
Totally agree w/ the previous commenter. HDRed images like this are just ugly, ugly, ugly.
Scott Snider / December 2, 2010 at 01:05 pm
To the people requesting Rob Ford HDR; I'll try to post something tonight.
Ed McAskill / December 2, 2010 at 01:54 pm
call me old school but i have a mixed reaction towards HDR... i do play around with it and i do like the look and most of it can be quite stunning...but i would prefer to see photographs in a more natural light with proper exposure
terry / December 2, 2010 at 02:07 pm
"call me old school but i have a mixed reaction towards HDR... i do play around with it and i do like the look and most of it can be quite stunning...but i would prefer to see photographs in a more natural light with proper exposure"

But here's the thing, what is "proper exposure"? Any photographer, be they analog or digital, knows that you have to push and pull an analog/digital exposure to "balance" an image. Rarely does a camera capture *everything* in a scene at just the right levels. Try taking a picture looking into the sun, or through a shadow into a well-lit area, and you'll see what I mean. It will be a terrible exposure until it's brought into balance by the photographer. What you see in your mind as a "proper exposure" is, more likely than not, an HDR image, whether achieved by dodging/burning, exposure blending, or software algorithms.
Peanut Gallery / December 2, 2010 at 03:46 pm
WTH did no one explain what HDR is, or does, or stands for? I guess I could google it, but FYI it's not a common acronym.
terry / December 2, 2010 at 03:52 pm
HDR stands for "High Dynamic Range". Everything has a different dynamic range - printed paper is pretty low, monitors have more dynamic range, and the human eye has incredible dynamic range. The intent of HDR is to compress "what's there" into "what your medium can display", which you typically achieve by taking multiple photographic exposures and combining them.
Erin / December 2, 2010 at 04:27 pm
I think these photos are fantastic.
KS replying to a comment from terry / December 2, 2010 at 04:30 pm
"Rarely does a camera capture *everything* in a scene at just the right levels."

But that's just it, playing with that reality too much means you end up generating a morass of inexplicable exposures and ultimately messing with your viewer. You end up jarring them silly with your supposed "perfect" balance that is being anything but. Sure, you'll think you now have great shadows on clouds and a vivid sky and sharp bright everything, but as a WHOLE, as an image, you've created nothing but busy, day-glo ADD pastiche. HDR overuse ends up in images that are far less than then sum of their parts - and talking about HDR like its an end in itself just encourages that overuse.
ter / December 2, 2010 at 04:52 pm
KS, with all due respect please read my other posts here. I previously differentiated between tone-mapping and HDR - the second you dodge or burn an image, you're increasing its dynamic range. Photographers have been doing this for ages. You accomplish the same thing when you use a graduated neutral density filter, because you're intentionally darkening the brighter parts of the image.

I agree that excessive tone-mapping leads to day-glo, ADD pastiche. but using different techniques to create a high dynamic range image is something that most photographers do, especially if they don't want to use artificial light. Think of architectural interiors: you can't show the indoors and outdoors in natural light - faithfully and realistically - if you don't blend exposures. Does that give you an image that "jars people silly" or is "busy, day-glo ADD pastiche"? No, but it still has a higher dynamic range compressed into a lower one.

Your beef is with overuse of tone-mapping, not HDR images in general.

Dave Z / December 2, 2010 at 05:00 pm
As much as I dislike HDR, it is a technology, just as much as film is a technology, just as much as a camera itself is a technology. The argument that author makes regarding the fact that "nothing photographic is natural" is spot on. Even in the golden age of color film photography, the chemical dyes used in correspondence to the wavelengths of light received had to be tweaked and tweaked in endless processes of trial and error in their attempts to RECREATE the world as our minds perceive it. The mediums are impartial and objective, it is our manipulation of them that imbues them with a true/false representation of reality, whatever that may be.

The argument comparing 'cheating' to Fuji Velvia is SPOT ON. The comparison shouldn't be taken as literally as dynamic ranges, but expanded to the broader idea that the way you see the world through Velvia is NOT the way you see the world through your eyes. Blues approach green, reds approach deep fuschia... not to mention the saturation of the colors. But, at first glance, YOU didn't manipulate the film at all, that's just the way it came out,, right?

The shift in autonomous creative power in the digital age is apparent in the use of techniques like HDR (which has been used since the days of film, both of my 35mm canon SLR's have a nifty little function called Exposure Mapping which serves this very purpose). Just because you have more knobs to play with either on the camera or at home in post-pro, doesn't mean that photographers in the dark room or chemists in the labs of Rochester or Tokyo weren't aiming for the same goal 20, 30.... 75 years ago.

It's all tech. And it always will be.
Jamaalism / December 2, 2010 at 06:20 pm
Dont know much about photography... But I don't think I need to, to opine that those pics are gorgeous.

It's all subjective (art) at the end of the day.. All in the eyes of the beholder...

Thanks blogTO..
Jamaalism / December 2, 2010 at 06:23 pm
I don't know much about photography... Don't really need to to opine that those images are gorgeous.

At the end of the day... it's all in the eyes of the beholder.
Jamaalism / December 2, 2010 at 06:24 pm
I don't know much about photography but I don't need to, to opine that it's gorgeous.

At the end of the day, it's all in the eyes of the beholder...
Jamaalism / December 2, 2010 at 06:24 pm
I don't know much about photography but I don't need to, to opine that it's gorgeous.

At the end of the day, it's all in the eyes of the beholder...
Bold / December 2, 2010 at 06:52 pm
Wow i love these shots, there breathtaking!!
Nib replying to a comment from DanTO / December 2, 2010 at 07:12 pm
Yes. Somebody make this happen, please.
bsdfrbhewa / December 2, 2010 at 09:43 pm
I think HDR is the photographic equivalent of an Ed Hardy tshirt. They look the same, too.
Scott Snider replying to a comment from DanTO / December 2, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Rob Ford HDR.

Not my best work.
KS replying to a comment from bsdfrbhewa / December 2, 2010 at 11:01 pm
"I think HDR is the photographic equivalent of an Ed Hardy tshirt."

LOL ... pretty much, actually. They both celebrate "more is more" as an aesthetic (and those into brash visual trainwrecks get all slack-jawed by both).
KS replying to a comment from ter / December 2, 2010 at 11:04 pm
"I previously differentiated between tone-mapping and HDR - the second you dodge or burn an image, you're increasing its dynamic range. Photographers have been doing this for ages."

Duh. We both know the technique I'm talking about is being used as a sledgehammer and it's hardly as subtle as a little hand-waving over the paper in the lab. People have decided that every photograph has to "go to 11" -- and it's played-out. When I see these sorts of images now, they look cheap, amateurish, and worse than both: cynical, in that they suppose with enough artifacts and colours and absurd expanses of oversharp contrast I'll be suckerpunched into believing the photograph's good.

You're correct with your terminology, but the overuse has got to end. Some of the pictures here are horrid.
D.B. / December 3, 2010 at 12:25 am
Doesn't sound like a lot of furniture shooters here. As a real estate photographer, my job is much easier using multiple files. Many times, we do not have adequate interior lighting, and using hidden slave flashes is a pain and takes a lot of time moving them from room to room. Yet I can do 5, 7, or 11 frames in available light and then process for the details, while downplaying the "fantastic" effects. In fact, my Photomatix presets make this job easy. I try to make it look like a wide angle snapshot - with everything evenly lit. I could not do this without HDR processing. Whether you like the heavy HDR effects is unimportant to me. The fact remains that HDR technology is making already good photographers even better. Apparently, the detractors haven't learned just what this technology can do for their vision. Amateurs should continue carping online...
Matt / December 3, 2010 at 09:39 am
I'll add my .02 here. I shoot some HDR, and sometimes push it a bit extreme (but still try to avoid the plasticness of some of the crazier looks).

One thing I've noticed, the positive feedback of my HDR work comes from the public, non-photographers (at least non-serious photographers).

The only time I've ever had negative words about my HDR pieces have been from other photographers.

I've always found that interesting, and in fact it seems the pro/anti HDR debate generally follows that line (even these comments seem to follow that throughline).

Not anything groundbreaking, but just food for thought.
Geo / December 3, 2010 at 01:46 pm
Most of my work is HDr.
everyone has their perspective.
here's is my Flickr site
shayne / December 3, 2010 at 02:25 pm
So funny how people get so bent out of shape and borderline offended by HDR.

In the mid-1800's Gustave Le Gray (and others-see works by Oscar Gustave Rejlander for example) put negatives together to produce a single image. He overexposed for the water (with blown out sun and sky), then underexposed for the sun/sky (with water clipped in dark shadow). People have been debating the integrity and validity of these techniques ever since. 150 years we are on BlogTO still mud-slinging over the very same issue!

funny that....

I personally think that HDR can definitely be overdone, though I think it can be a very cool effect when used "properly". But even if it isn't...why should we argue about it? Even if it's totally unrealistic...someone created that image because it was interesting to them. I think that should be valid enough whether I like it or not. If I'm a photographer why should I have to depict things exactly as they are? On the one hand, HDR can help us get closer to the dynamic range our eye sees, though it's still a long way off. On the other hand even if it's "unreal" or unbelievable, we can think of it as taking something out of nature and creating something new just as many other art forms do.

Other visual artists strayed from realism long ago, and despite heated debate, it has become now more widely accepted to paint vertical and horizontal lines filling the boxes with red, yellow and blue. So why should this not be accepted in photography?

Does a musician have to mimic the sound of the wind in the trees?

And speaking of music, if I don't like...say...Brittany Spears...what difference does it make if I publicly say how terrible I think her music is? Lots of other people seem to like it. I can still have my opinion and others who like it can have theirs - really it's a moot point to argue whether it should be there or not....

KS - does "the overuse have to end"? If I don't like...I won't look at it. When Brittany Spears comes on the radio...I'm well within my right to change the channel!

This really is an interesting topic and the discussion could go on all day. I'll try and post a discussion within the week for anyone who's interested at:
Joe / December 3, 2010 at 05:07 pm
Most of these have been beaten with an ugly stick.
shayne replying to a comment from Joe / December 3, 2010 at 05:28 pm
Exactly my point, Joe - I just don't see how your ten succinct words of poetry are any more valid than any of those pictures posted above....
Tina Nguyen / December 10, 2010 at 11:34 am
Great collection of photos of the city! Thanks for sharing! I really like the one of the streetcar... actually i like them all! haha :)
Other Cities: Montreal