It’s a Love/Hate Kind of Thing…

your grandfather’s barbershop, photograph

“Here’s the interesting thing about HDR images – a lot of photographers seem to dislike them, it’s a love it or hate it kind of thing, sadly. But the general public, the non-photographers out there, love them. And we should be asking why.”

David DuChemin

This is an interesting observation from a well-known photographer about HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. HDR has become very popular and controversial at the same time. My experience is just as he says: this technique and resulting style of images polarizes photographers but non-photographers seem to really, really like the images.

This post will not discuss the pros and cons of HDR nor discuss how it is done. Rather DuChemin’s comment makes me wonder why this difference exists and why it should matter to us as photographers. This discussion extends to artists working in other mediums because the differences I’m talking about can just as easily exist in their world.

Photographers too often lose sight of the emotional impact their images have on others – we become focused on technical details (of which there are a lot in our world) and we become attached to the traditional approach. The former is a well known trap photographers fall prey to. Being in the printing business, I have a lot of experience watching photographers obsess about minute technical details in their prints that I guarantee you no one else will ever notice. While attention to detail can be important, sometimes it becomes nothing but trees hiding the proverbial forest.

The general public rarely cares about how you made an image and they don’t usually care too much about many of the minor details or technical imperfections in a print or painting. They care about how the image makes them feel. The artist is always looks at their work with a more critical eye than the general public. How many great images would have seen the light of day if the artist could only look at them with the eye of the general public?

Which leads to the other question – if a general style of image makes the public feel good, shouldn’t we be interested in understanding that better? Maybe we don’t have to embrace the HDR style in our own work, but perhaps if we understand what it is about this style they like, we could find ways to move in that direction. Assuming, of course, that that direction isn’t totally contrary to our own style.

If you are an artist of any stripe who has an interest in sharing their work with the public, it is in your interest to understand as much as possible about their preferences. Artists who say they do what they want and don’t care about the public’s desires either don’t really need to sell their work, are incredibly lucky to be doing what the public wants, or are very unsuccessful.

By the way, the reason I think the general public likes the HDR style so much is that it combines the verisimilitude of traditional photography with a heightened surrealistic quality that creates a new visual experience.

And a final note, do you miss the good old days when your local barbershop had a stuffed deer head mounted on the wall?

9 responses to “It’s a Love/Hate Kind of Thing…

  1. Yes, I miss the good old days, even the ones I only read about in books! And this picture makes me feel so cozy . . .it’s like that moment when the caramel melts in your mouth and brings up that mind dissolving goodness. . .ahhhh.

  2. Well, I love investigating junk shops and antique stores, looking at the way things once were. Deer heads per say, I don’t feel nostalgic about.

    I took a workshop once, where the instructor, in response to a student lament, put her face right down next to a painting and moved her fingers in a very small area right in front of her eyes. It was a perfect pantomime of fussing. She said as artists we get caught up in the smallest detail, but that is not how the viewers see the work. Her quick demonstration has stuck with me. I care a great deal about the quality of my work, but I remind myself to step back to really critique the work.

    My art does not support me, my day job does that. The trade off is I spend more time doing my job-job to earn money, and less making art. I’m okay with it. That’s the way it is. And the other side of the coin is I make the art I make first to please myself. There is freedom in that.

    • I guess the greatest weakness an artist has is not being able to see the piece for the first time complete. This is more true for painters who cannot escape the detail as they paint. Photographers spend relatively less time with their work, some very little if they have someone else do the printing. The more they are involved, the more there is a tendency to fuss.

      I suspect this is why I like photographs that are out of focus – there just isn’t any detail to fuss over!

  3. I guess in every medium– not matter what – painting, photography, whatever– there are those that get too caught up in the medium and techniques– I used to myself– but thankfully ‘grew up’ and now I just don’t care– only interested in the results– the final product– does it have meaning, a connection to me– do I respond– do I linger and look longer–

  4. I am one that generally doesn’t like the look of HDR, but I find many people go overboard with it. However, that said, I generally don’t care what the technique used was, but what the final image is and my gut reaction to it. For example, I love your image here, which I assume is HDR. There is a softness and a quality of light that seems old and nostalgic. Given a more modern subject the feeling of the image would be completely different, and I’d probably not like it as much.

    I am enjoying browsing through your art and photographs.

  5. I too read the post from David and was delighted in his thoughts. My position has always been that HDR is simply another tool that the photographer/artist has that can be used to create his/her vision. I always wince at some of the comments about HDR and how polarized some feel about it. I have seen paintings that I felt were horrific. They looked like nothing more than paint thrown at canvas, yet others responded very differently and were willing to bay thousands of dollars for them. I see HDR the same way… some will respond others will not and neither is right or wrong.

    I have enjoyed my time browsing you blog. I found you as you were kind enough to comment on my blog. Thank you for visiting.

    I have added your site to my RSS feed and look forward to future posts. Great images and thoughtful comments. Sorry its taken so long for me to respond!

  6. Done well, I’ve seen HDR images that amaze me. Done poorly, they’re no better than a bad photograph, just with a lot more time put into the finished product. There seem to be a lot more of the latter. Personally, I’m going to try to improve my exposures to remove those blown highlights that sometimes plague me, rather than spend more time in front of my computer creating Frankenstein’s monster. I can achieve the heightened realism that non-shutterbugs seek in HDR….I think.

  7. Very nice post. Your comments about obsessing over trivial details hit the nail on the head for me. Quite often I will find some images that are so technically perfect, they become sterile.

    • Mark

      Some images become too technically perfect for their own good and others are needlessly rejected for falling short of some arbitrary technical standard that has nothing to do with the impact of the image.

      BTW I checked out your blog, have subscribed to it and look forward to following your work!

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