Situations Where You Should Never Use HDR Photography

HDR Sample From The NEX-F3

While HDR processing is still touted by many, there are some situations where it just doesn’t belong. For the uninitiated, HDR photography has to do with the processing of an image that both lowers the contrast and brings out the most details in both the highlights and the shadows. The point of the final image is to create something closer to what the human eye may see. This is typically and traditionally accomplished by shooting images at different bracketed settings. For example, you’d shoot a perfectly exposed image, then one set that is brighter and another that is darker.

All of this has to do with the dynamic range of your camera sensor: which is why the process is called high dynamic range photography to begin with.

But there are scenes where HDR is unnecessary.

Portraits

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 more with Nat (2 of 2)ISO 1001-100 sec at f - 5.0

Amongst the absolute most frightening things that we’ve seen in this industry is HDR portraits. We don’t know what would possess you to do them, but portraits aren’t meant to be shown off in HDR. Additionally, they can make the subject look terrible. While the film look can embrace the lower contrast preferences, it does it with some understanding that you won’t capture an entire scene’s shadows and highlights.

There is a difference between HDR and HDR toning though– and sometimes the toning can look good on a black and white image if you’re embracing its gritty side. Otherwise though, HDR portraits look terrible.

So please don’t do them.

Weddings/Engagements

Chris Gampat Kim and Dan's Engagement black and white for the web (21 of 34)

Going along with the theme photographing people, one of the last places where you should do an HDR is at a wedding or during an engagement session. These images are meant to capture a couple at one of the most important times of their life. Shooting any images in HDR ruins it all. Again, we don’t care to see the details in areas where they aren’t important–and shooting a wedding should be more about capturing the events as they happen.

Event/News Coverage

julius motal the phoblographer fujifilm x-a1 rockettes image 04

Now answer us this: why the heck would you want HDR photography to be part of your news or event coverage. It’s been seen for sure though–browse the pages of 500px and you’re bound to find it for sure. HDR shouldn’t be part of news coverage because traditionally news isn’t supposed to have any sort of crazy editing except for basic exposure changes, cropping, and maybe some saturation.  But no one wants to see their party shot in HDR.

Street Photography

julius motal fujifilm full frame 01

Another situation where it is totally weird to see HDR is street photography. Now once again, some of you may be confusing this with high contrast. And HDR isn’t about high contrast, it’s about low contrast. High Contrast black and white is often used for street photography along with excessive sharpness and clarity adjustments. But there is no need to make us see all the details in the clouds and in the darkest corner of a city block.

Sports

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 7 Ice Skating (9 of 9)

Lastly, a situation where we’ve also seen HDR is in sports coverage. Sports, like news, is supposed to be very cookie cutter. And most of all, it’s about the content of the image rather than the technical processing. When you take this away and focus on bringing out the details of everything in the scene, the moment that you’ve captured loses its magic.