I think Bob Ross would have loved HDR Photography

Photo Credit Hawthorne Ave via Flickr

I know Bob Ross had millions of fans and inspired armies of people to paint happy little clouds with oil on canvas but his technique was never really considered to be classic oil painting as such. As Bob said many times “…in your world you can paint any colour that makes you happy.” I guess the same could be said for HDR photography because the majority of HDR, that I see, most often resemble nothing of this world and a lot closer to Bob Ross’s world that most people realize. In fact there are some that go beyond that and are closer to oil on velvet. Yes I said it and I know that I may stir up a bit of emotion with this subject but I have to get into it because I just don’t see the appeal.

I am an old school photographer that has been mixing chemicals and spooling reels of film since, well since “Girls on Film” were shot on film and the song was still in the top 100. I am not an analogue curmudgeon either as some might think by the tone of this post. I am fully digital when it comes to photography and don’t really hold any sentimental attachment to the millions of silver halides lost in the quest for stolen photographic moments. No, I love the digital workflow and all of the goodness that Photoshop and Camera RAW brings along with it. We have all kinds of new and amazing tools at our disposal that that even Ansel Adams would want to use. That all said I believe that the majority of HDR photography is just not on. Hell I realize that my images are processed like crazy and that the difference between the raw image captured and the final rendered image at times can be light years apart. I even use a ton of iPhone apps that ad faux 70’s neg frames and flashed film fx so who am I really to open this can of worms.

I possed this question last night on Twitter:

Tell me why you like HDR photography. I need to be sold on the concept. I find the style is what Bob Ross was to oil paintings. Sorry folks.I was quickly rebuttled with a wide range of opinions by people that I truly respect: “rofl. liked it when i first saw it. now it’s kinda tired.” and “really depends on the ‘artist’….clicking on a couple of presets, not so much. But some of it can really be stunning.” were just a few. There were quite a few more and the responces were all very polarized. It really is a love hate thing to most photographic folks. Some argue that it’s like painting with broad stokes of heightened colour etc. I scoured my art books and the Internet to find what type of painting HDR reminds me of and well like the title reads, Bob Ross oil paintings. Some responded with the question that maybe I had not seen really good HDR and samples were sent along with. Sure they where ok but again the heightened “reality” just feels too forced for my tastes.

When I think about why it’s not really my thing, I guess it comes back to what I like and don’t like in general and not just in photographic styles. I am a modernest at heart and am  less is more kind of  stuff. I don’t care for the ornate, fantasy or pastels in illustration or paintings either and take greater pleasure in . With exception of Van Gogh and all of his ear cutting, prostitute loving madness. Images processed through HDR become too fanciful and push towards a more ornate use of detail then I care to see in an image. The detail that usually gives way to shadow and light fragments the images and . Shadows help sculpt an image and give it shape. In some the HDR forces the shadows to surrender to an unnatural lighter place revealing too many of the images ornate details. Other areas of the image that would be light are too dark and play tricks on what the mind would expect to see. The natural gradation of light to dark is tossed out the window. Here is a page from the very well respected Smashing Mag blog that highlights “35 Fantastic HDR Images” I can’t find one on the page that I can’t say “Yes that one is awesome”.

So that’s my take on the subject of HDR and remember opinions are like a’holes…everbody’s got one, including me. Tell me why I am so wrong or why I am so right. Discuss amongst yourselves in the comments below.



  1. JP Holecka

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