Too loud. Garish. Unnatural.
These are words some critics use in lamenting the presentation of bright, bold colors in high dynamic range (HDR) photography. Personally, I like richly saturated hues in my photos. That said, I acknowledge and respect your right to enjoy and celebrate the photographic styles that touch you. After all, photography is deeply personal. There should be room for a wide variety of perspectives and a multitude of forms of expression within the medium.
If asked to describe my HDR photographic style, I suppose the phrase I would choose is, deeply natural. It’s a simple phrase, just two words, but conveys far more about my taste in photography than meets the eye. I’ll begin with the second word, natural. I like my photos to have a natural appearance to them. A natural-looking image is inviting. It’s a whisper saying, step a little closer and have a good look. Natural is something you want to touch, to linger over and sit with. Natural welcomes a long visit.
To preserve that natural quality, I tend to back off on the depth of the processing…just a touch. I mean, let’s not kid around, my HDR is clearly HDR. It’s got that look but it also retains enough of the subject’s inherent beauty to have a natural look. It’s not landscape porn. It’s the landscape next door.
Which brings us back to the first word, deeply. As mentioned at the outset, I like deep rich hues in my photos. These aren’t colors as they appear to my eye. Rather, they’re the colors seen by my soul. When a scene touches and inspires me to pull out the camera and tripod, it comes alive in a way that goes well beyond what can be seen with the eye. It reaches deep inside. The details get a little sharper, the sky a little bluer, the colors brighter and richer.
Bryce Point at sunrise in Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Point in Bryce Canyon National Park basks in the warm glow of sunrise on a mid-summer morning.
Bryce Canyon National Park is truly an American gem. What makes this place so magical are the amazing colors in the stone. They are both totally real and completely unnatural at the same time. For an HDR photographer, the unique quality of the color makes Bryce Canyon heaven on earth.
Occasionally, nature does the work for me. The gorgeous, slightly more intense than life quality comes baked into the scene. That above photograph is a perfect example. Those electric day glow colors are totally natural. Catching the early morning light, this is how Bryce Canyon looks. It’s more than the color of reflected light. It is as though the stone hoodoos and rock layers are powered by an inner rainbow glow.
Is it loud? Garish? Unnatural? Maybe so. But that is Bryce Canyon, one of the most unnatural looking wonders on the planet. Bryce Canyon is a place that has to be seen to be believed. It’s like candy to an HDR baby.
So, where is your naturally amazing wonder? Where do you go to find inspiration? Keep that thought in mind. Grab the car keys, and get out and shoot!
Bill Ferris | July 2013