A lot of people have been asking me lately what I think of HDR Toning. For those of you who don’t know, essentially what HDR toning does, is attempt to recreate the look of an HDR photograph with a normal image, without going through the HDR progress. To be honest, I have a lot of issues with this. Namely the fact, that I have yet to see a program that does it well.
There has been a lot of hype about the new HDR Toning features in Photoshop CS5, but frankly, I’ve found them to well, suck.
So with that in mind, here are three reasons why HDR Toning Sucks:
1) It isn’t actually increasing the dynamic range.
When a lot of people think of an HDR photo they think of something that’s surreal, and looks more like a piece of fine (or crappy depending on the photo) art. Creating a surreal photo, should not under normal circumstances be the goal of HDR photography. The goal should be to create more realistic images that you would not be able to create given the normal limitations of modern photgraphic technology.
All HDR toning does is use a series of effects to create that surreal image, and frankly it doesn’t even do that very well. You aren’t actually increasing the range, so one of the fundamental purposes of this technique is missing.
You can see this below in the photo comparison. The photo on the left was run through CS5’s HDR Toning tool, where as the one on the right was created in Photomatix 3.0 from three images bracketed at +/- 2 stops with the middle one being the image used on the left. In all fairness, I didnt spend much time toning this photograph, so I do believe the software is capable of producing better results. But this really illustrates the lack of dynamic range, particularly in the clouds.
2) It’s giving an effect that good HDR photographers usually attempt to minimize
As mentioned previously the goal of HDR is usually not to create a surreal image. Sure just about everyone starts out doing that, and I’m still probably more in that phase than I should be. But the best HDR images are not the extremely surreal ones. They are the ones that can create a scene that is much closer to that of what your mind remembers. By providing more information, you are able to get a better sense of what the scene was actually like at the time the photo was taken.
3) Better results using traditional contrast, saturation and vibrancy controls
If you are trying to create a surreal image, I think you can use more traditional filters and tools to create a better looking image than what HDR Toning tools allow you to create. Now this is certainly up for debate, but I think you are better off using contrast, saturation and vibrancy, with perhaps another artistic filter in Photoshop to achieve a better result.
What do you guys think? Agree/disagree? What are your experiences with faux HDR?
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