Blurring Lines

Tisen cuddles on the couch with Mr. Beaver while I’m on a conference call.  I’ve downloaded a new app on my iPhone and this is the perfect opportunity to give it a try.  It’s an HDR photo app.  HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and refers to a process where you take multiple photos and combine them into one.  That’s about all I know about it so far.

The iPhone app takes two photos, the first exposed for the darkest part of the picture and the second exposed for the lightest part of the photo.  Then, it magically combines them into one photo that is exposed properly for both extremes.  Getting Tisen exposed properly is difficult to do with a single shot.

The iPhoto app has some disadvantages.  First, it only uses two photos.  More sophisticated software allows you to use many images, getting the optimal exposure for many different levels of light.  Second, it’s very difficult to hold the iPhone still enough to not cause fuzz because you can’t move between the two shots for them to combine properly.  Finally, the app takes a long time, so if you have a subject that doesn’t hold perfectly still (like Tisen), more fuzz will be introduced.  In the photo gallery, the first image is underexposed, the second is overexposed, and the third is the fuzzy combination of the two.  It’s fun.

This little experiment motivated me to take my camera and tripod on my evening walk with Tisen, finally getting down to the river to shoot the sunset.  Tisen is amazingly patient while I take groups of 3 photos, using the bracketing feature on my camera so there is 4x more light in each successive shot.  We hang out on a pier over the river for 45 minutes watching the light fade, Tisen occasionally barking at other dogs, but mostly just hanging out.

I try a software program called Photomatix to create the HDR photos.  Some people say that HDR photos look more like what we see with our eyes.  While I like a lot of HDR photos, I don’t agree they look like what we see with our eyes.  It’s more like what you see when you look through your sunglasses at the sky and then take them off to look at the ground, but all in the same view.

As I look at the images, I can’t help but pick the darkest ones.  The ones that leave the black clipped and the land in silhouette–I’m pretty sure I’m missing the point of HDR.

Except for one.  The final photo I like in black and white.  But it’s right on the verge of “fake.”  I don’t know what that means, really.  But where is the line between being a photographer and being someone who knows how to use a software program?    And is one better than the other?  For me, it’s not just the combined photo that gets a little blurry.  Perhaps I am just getting old and clinging to out-dated thinking.