HDR in a Black and White World...


HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography appeals to me on a very "geeky" level. However, recent experiments had me thinking about this subject more from an artistic standpoint.

Definitely, the technical aspects of HDR are very interesting. There is no shortage of information out there including tutorials and specialized HDR software so I won't bother explaining it again. On an artistic level though, HDR has me conflicted. On one hand I like the colorful, "hyper-real" look you get from HDR images. The images really stand-out. On the other hand, I hate it too... It is just unreal and plastic, and too saturated for my taste. And yet, you know how they say the opposite of love is not hate but indifference? Well I'm definitely not "indifferent" to this topic, so maybe I don't really "hate it"... So what is a photographer with an inclination for black-and-white photography to do with HDR? Enter the realm of HDR-BW (HDR - Black & White).

It dawned on me as I was playing with my HDR software of choice (Dynamic Photo HDR if you must know) that a lot of the images resulting from tone-mapping an HDR image would also look quite good in black and white. Case in point, see the example below:


This photo was taken at Preston Castle in Ione, CA. As much as I like the color photo, I find myself -really- liking the black and white version. Removing all the color information gets rid of all the annoying artifacts and hyper-realism in the original HDR. The photo looks more believable, connected to reality. An added benefit is that the black and white version has a very rich tonality range; a level of detail from shadows to highlights that is very difficult to obtain with a single exposure. The inherent contrast that you get from HDR also translates particularly well to black and white. I always push contrast a bit in my "normal" black-and-white conversion process. I found this is not necessary in most HDR conversions to black and white.
There's a final, more subtle benefit to the HDR-BW and that is "noise". Tone-mapped HDR images tend to get a bit noisier than normal. If you look closely at the color version above, you can see it, specially in shadow areas. Because noise can be broken down into two components: "luminance noise" (detail noise) and "chromatic noise" (color noise), the black and white conversion naturally eliminates the later. The resulting HDR-BW image is cleaner and doesn't require much in the way of noise reduction. HDR-BW opens a new world of exploration for black and white photographers.  I'm still refining the process but I like what I see so far. Hope you enjoy it too.

Comments, questions, suggestions? You can reach me at: contact (at sign) paulorenato (dot) com