Pulling over to take a phone call today I noticed that pedestrians walking by me were casting great diagonal shadows against the wall beside them, and subconsciously I noted that here might be a chance of an interesting portrait.
Trouble was the brightness of the light. I’ve written before about how camera sensors can’t cope with this, clipping shadows to pure black or highlights to pure white where the human eye would adjust to see detail in either. Look at this image of Gary shot at a “normal” exposure. Most of the image is OK, but look at the highlights on his head where the detail is lost in a patch of brightness. This can be addressed by under exposing so long as the whole image is bright, as I’ve done here, but with the shot of Gary by the time you get some detail back into the highlights the rest of the image is becoming too dark.
For some the solution is to produce HDR, or High Dynamic Range images. By shooting a number of different exposures, you capture all of the detail and then fuse it together using image processing software. Trouble is that it looks rather strange.
All these images of a door were produced using HDR, and only the monochrome version gets away with it to my mind. It does have its uses for images requiring a lot of emphasis on detail like this flaking paint. (I recently read a comment on a wedding photography forum that suggested HDR should be put into Room 101. It certainly provokes strong responses.)
So what would Gary look with a touch of HDR? Well firstly I didn’t have a sufficiently underexposed image of him to incorporate into the process so whilst there is now lots of detail about his clothing and the brick wall, those highlights on his face remain problematic. Still with a little bit of burning and overlaying you get something striking, though he looks like a character from a video game now.
I waited a while for someone else to shoot in the hope of rectifying the lost highlights which is when I met Lisa. Turning her away from the sun risked losing her face to the shadow, but it avoided the highlight problem, and when it came to processing the image I still had light in her eyes and a great smile. Now the question remains… did I use HDR?