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HDR Photography is not HD

By William May
Published: 01/01/15 Topics: Comments: 0

Do not be mislead. Do not be deceived.

The term "High Definition" may apply to your television or computer screen but "High Dynamic Range" photography is a different breed of animal.

HD and HDR are entirely different things and they are what Signatour Photo Team does exclusively.

HDR refers to a technological process so powerful and so compelling that it has been patented by Adobe software. Almost anyone can use HDR. In fact a rudimentary version is built into Appleā€™s iPhone 5.

Only one in every ten thousand amateur photographers (one in a thousand professionals) can master HDR to become truly capable of using it for dazzling accurate photos.


HDR has many uses but the Signatour Photo Team goal is very simple.

HDR is the advanced tool used to produce architectural photographs that actually reproduce what the human eye sees. You may get tired of hearing the phrase, but that simple capability is essential to making your photos accurate and proper.

Even the world's best SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera requires the photograph to pick an aperture and an exposure time.

For example, for Aperture most SLR cameras have a standard seven "F Stops" that can be chosen, but one must be chosen to take a photo. F-Stops represent the amount of light entering the lens, with digital cameras, the amount of light arriving at the sensor.

Further, aperture values are not absolute measurements. They are relative requiring the photographer to divide the aperture's diameter by the focal length of the lens.

For example, a 50mm diameter aperture on a lens with a focal length of 200mm would have an f-stop of 1/4 - generally written as F4 or 1:4.

Prior to digital cameras, photographers had to spend hour upon hour using special hidden lights to overcompensate for dark areas inside a room, or screen away light form outside.

Very expensive magazines have been doing this for decades but it requires a bunch of workers, toiling together for days to get a single accurate photo.


On the other hand, the wondrous human eye can adjust all F-Stops on it's own lens and judge focal length at the blink of an eye (actually much faster than that.) So as you switch your glaze from a dark interior space to a bright outside window, then back to another interior dark space, your eyes sees it all perfectly. Automatically.

Surprisingly, not all animals can do this well, but humans can. And they never know it happened! The miracle is taken for granted


For over a hundred years photographers tried to solve the aperture and exposure problem using odd techniques and time consuming methods.

Decades ago, some shooters actually tried to take multiple shots of the same image using different exposures. They then cut apart their glass plate negatives, glued them together and made paper prints from them in hopes of getting accurate exposures. It was unpredictable. It was expensive. It was tough.

Other photographers spent hour upon hour in the dark room, covering parts of the light source used to expose sensitive photographic paper to manually adjust the black or white (later color) to represent what they remembered to be correct.

Most famous photographers "dodged" and "burned" and "blended" photo prints relentlessly in the dark room to improve or change the character of the photo.

It was said that Ancil Adams - a dedicated outdoorsman famous for his stunning Yosemite National Park photos - spent more time in the darkroom creating photos than he spent shooting them.

Shooting HDR photos is not for the unskilled or lazy. To do it properly requires patience, proper equipment, computer skills, a good memory (more about that later) and the fine hand of an artist.


The problem with shooting interior spaces is that the range of light and contrast in a room varies from very dark (back in a corner), to the diffused light (on a ceiling), to the very light (seeing through a room out a window).

To correct that problem our team members use very sensitive professional cameras, mount them on heavy tripods, locked down so it will not move, and then shoot up to 16 photos each with a different F-stop.

Be careful - if the camera is jiggled, the photos are useless. Even the slightest movement means the photos can not be amalgamated into a truly accurate photo.

Each single photo is shot repeatedly, at the highest possible digital camera range and in a "Raw" format to stuff the photo full of every pixel of light (or dark) in the room. The files are huge and there are 16 of them for every single photo to be created.

Those photos are then uploaded to a high powered computer with lots of storage and computing power because the software needed for the next step eats computer memory alive.

To complete a single photo, the photograph next pulls all 16 photos into a single screen (remember these are huge files) and overlays them in a cascade so he can examine the exposure of each.

Using various software tools he does what those photograph explorers did a century ago with their glass plates - he picks and chooses the proper exposure for every inch of the room.

The software automates this some, but not entirely. It is necessary to examine pesky problems like blinds or draperies that are composed of very dark and very light components.

Sometimes the photographer must tone each color in the room to match what his eye remembers (remember the memory requirement?) Then set about to insure that lines are as straight (or not) on the photo as they are in real life. Camera lenses are round and naturally straight lines, such as ceiling to wall junctions can appear rounded.

After all the proper parts of each photo have been chosen, the photographer instructs the software to combine them leaving out all the photo parts not chosen. Software helps make intricate connections clear but it takes an artist to insure it is realistic.

In the end the photos are truly dense in pixels which is where the term "High Dynamic Range" originates. The file is massive but full of details.

Today architectural photos are primarily used for the internet and large file sizes can cause web pages to load slowly or improperly. Therefore the next step is for the photographer to resize and reapportion the photos to reduce file size while retaining the same accuracy.

Using nothing more than his wondrous human eyes the photographer artist reduces the file size until just before its reduction would be visible. He does this separately for each final size and reduces the file size significantly without decreasing the quality and accuracy of the photo.

This entire process is all made possible by multiple images of different exposures, a huge computer file size and the millions of resulting pixels but only if the HDR process is properly handled at every prior step.

It takes hundreds of hours to master. Great HDR photographers get progressively better over years.


Many try, but few succeed. Signatour photos are better than those produced by some other very skilled HDR photographers because completing the photo to match what the eye sees, requires a true artist.

The difference between Michael Angelo, and his contemporaries, was not their tools or the quality of their paints or marble for carving. It was that Michael Angelo had the touch. He had the eye. He had the magic.

Signatour Photo Team members use HDR in ways far beyond what your garden variety professional photographer can do. By specializing in architectural photos for the travel and tourism industry they are able to proceed through the photographic process over and over again.

Each time they use specialized skills to create photos that are as vibrant and accurate as what the miraculous human eye can see.


Putting inaccurate and embarrassing photos in your advertising or website means you are subliminally telling customers that your property is not of the highest caliber.

Using Signatour HDR photos tells them just the opposite. If you care about the quality of your advertising then they will presume you care about the quality of your business.

The Signatour Photo Team process is called "Perfect Touch" because we use the latest technology, the best equipment and have movingly beautiful properties to shoot - but mostly because we have artists who can make every photograph come to life.

Now all you have to do, to get photos that will properly show case your property and business, is to call us today.

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False Assumptions

Every now and then someone says, "But gee your photographs look fake or odd." In some ways they are correct, but mostly they are unobservant.

For hundreds of years, printers have been forced into reproducing photos using a pattern of tiny dots to trick the viewers eye into thinking it was seeing a photograph. To produce color photos, they had to overlay four versions of those dots, offsetting them slightly to fill the gaps. It worked but close inspection shows imperfections and inaccuracies.

In very high-end printing - such as National Graphic Magazine - the dots are so small (and the printing so costly) that your eye can not see the dots. But in most pulp printed newspapers, a close look at the photos reveals those dots with the naked eye.

These methods were good for the day, but they were not accurate, failing to reveal the proper dynamics of dark and light and medium. In short, what you saw in print was not what your eye saw in person.


Until the advent of digital photography, amateur photos, such as those most amateurs get back from the photo store, the problem of F-Stops remained. Photos of moms, dads, kids and vacations were taken with simple cameras with scare ability to alter exposures and aperture.

Now that everyone has a pretty camera in their pockets, their phone, the number of photos taken is skyrocketing. Although some smart phones have rudimentary HDR, the onslaught of photos simply means that a whole lot of people are seeing far more photos that remain improperly exposed and focused.

The result is photos with improper exposures. Yet - due to a history of looking at bad photos - consumers have been subconsciously trained to think that crappy photos are accurate. They are shocked to see accurate photos that they think something is wrong with them - when nothing is wrong with them - and everything is right.

Author: William May, Signatours
Blog #: 0380 – 01/01/15

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