I once read that the high-dynamic range (HDR) feature in photo-editing software was designed for photographers who know nothing about photography.
I wish I could find where I read that. Perhaps it was only on Twitter.
I've seen lots of photographs that have involved HDR. The idea is that this feature allows you to modify a photo to appear more like what is seen with the human eye. For example, if you want to take a picture of a person who is standing before a sunset, while the eye will see features on the person and the colours of the setting sun, a camera will try to balance the amount of light it reads, and you are left with a silhouette of the person.
HDR will correct for that light balancing.
Some cameras have a pseudo-HDR feature built into them. The iPhone camera, for example, has that setting, whereby it takes a "normal" shot and an "HDR" shot at the same time. Some photo-editing applications can take your photo and apply that HDR look to the photo.
True HDR effects, however, are achieve through blending two or more images that are shot at different exposure settings. When I want to achieve an HDR effect with my D-SLR, I will perform a bracketing procedure, where I set my camera to take three consecutive shots: one, at a normally balanced exposure, one that is over-exposed (typically, between one and two stops), and one that is under-exposed by the same number of f-stops as the over-exposed shot.
I then take all three of those photos and blend them with an HDR tool in my photo-editing software. For me, I use Corel PaintShop Pro.
While it may be arguable that HDR is used by those who know nothing about photography, I say that may be true about the pseudo-HDR tools, like the built-in effect in the iPhone and the applications like Camera Plus. They clarify an otherwise plain shot. But if you think about the shot that you want before you take it, bracket some shots, and then blend them, you still need to know something about photography in the first place.
On Tuesday, I took a few shots of the Mill Street Brew Pub, bracketing each of them. I wanted to capture the background exposure while compensating for shadowed areas. Using PaintShop's HDR tool, I created the following pictures.
After I rendered the HDR tool on these images, I further applied other post-production effects to balance the colour and to add colour to the black-and-white image.
I agree that the HDR effect should be used sparingly, that you shouldn't use it as a crutch to clean up your drab photos. but if you give it some thought before you press your camera's shutter release, you can end up with some creative images.
BTW: the first two photos in this week's Wordless Wednesday were created with my software's HDR tool. I think my first shot is the best of the series.