Washington Post photo spurs debate over use of HDR technology

Poynter | The Washington Post | SportsShooter
Photojournalists are debating whether The Washington Post crossed the line by using a technology called “high dynamic range” (HDR) to create a single image based on several exposures. HDR is useful when it would be difficult or impossible to capture a properly lighted image by choosing one exposure. Michel du Cille, the Post’s director of photography, told me that he doesn’t think the technology is a problem, as long as the Post explains to readers how the image was created. But many photographers, including NPPA president Sean Elliot, are questioning the use of HDR in photojournalism:

Chuck Liddy, photographer with the News & Observer: “This could go under the Pogo quote ‘We have met the enemy and he is us.’ ”

Frank Niemeir, independent photographer: “And this 24mm and 600mm junk has to stop too, as the human eye sees around 45mm, so everything must be shot at 50mm. And everything must be presented in color, none of this black and white stuff. Oh, and ISO? Everything must be shot at 400 or less. None of this outrageous high end ISO. Just because modern cameras can accomplish advanced functions, we must stick to 1950′s values.”

Ed Foster Jr., freelance photojournalist: “The simple question is, has truth been altered by technology that permits a more faithful reproduction of what our eyes can perceive? Perhaps if we believe that the use of High Dynamic Range techniques step over the line, we could make the same argument for the use of flash fill or adding any supplemental light source to lighten shadows or expand the dynamic range of a photograph. Perhaps too we could make the same argument for the compression of color, dynamic range and clarity of photographs that results from reproduction on newsprint.”

Ted Han, DocumentCloud developer: “There should be no editorial controversy about legitimate uses of HDR. A photograph is simply a representation of a slice in time, captured on a single piece of film or image sensor. That slice of time could be a fraction of a second, or it could be minutes or even hours. An HDR composite is no different. It is a technique that allows a single slice of time to be captured in separate data files and stitched back together.”

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  • Anthony Amorteguy

    I don’t think HDR violates any ethical standards for photojournalism; it is merely a method of controlling exposure for a wider range of acceptable exposure. It is entirely dissimilar to compositing different elements of more than one image into a single image. Aesthetically, however, I do have a problem with its overuse, but that is merely a personal dislike for this modern photo cliché when it creates gaudy oversaturation. I personally would like to see it go away unless used with skill and aesthetic sensibility.

  • http://rtberner.blogspot.com/ R Thomas Berner

    I have programmed one of my Nikons to shoot three exposures for consideration for HDR output. I fail to see the issue. You can get a better photograph that provides more detail for the viewer. What’s not to like about that?

    I posted a blog entry on HDR photography months ago. http://www.centredaily.com/2011/09/14/2913194/hdr-hat-trick.html

  • Anonymous

    Can’t I have pretty pictures on the front page of my Washington Post? Or am I destined to be held hostage by photographhers in search of reality, or something close to that.


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EYL3AKUMB5RHXFWIXT4BI3UB7E Landyn

    I don’t think there is any problem of using HDR. (http://replicawatchesdeal.com)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HOFWXLJATWG57C6T5L4SJCPTLE Perry Gaskill

    Actually we do see somewhat in HDR, Glenn. Consider the following:

    You have a subject sitting in a chair in front of a window. Under normal circumstances, the camera exposure can pick up either what’s inside the room, or outside the room, but not both. Your eye can see the car driving by on the road outside and in an instant– you don’t even notice it– adjust to the face of the person in the chair talking to you; a camera normally can’t do that.

    Personally, I don’t have an ethical problem with HDR because it’s really not much different from the idea of cropping a film image or using dodging and burning in a physical darkroom. The current best criticism of HDR among photographers seems to be both that HDR images are not always better than the non-HDR equivalent, and that if you do an image that is immediately recognizable as in-your-face HDR, you’re probably doing it wrong.

  • Glenn Riffey

    My problem with HDR is that we don’t see in HDR. So, how do we know for sure that what we see is the real thing?

  • http://twitter.com/rputterman Rebecca Putterman

    The idea of ethical photography in journalism stems from doing one’s best to capture what you as an unbiased and ethical journalist see with your eye — that’s why we’re allowed to use curves and levels in photoshop to make the scene look more like we SAW it, and usually, thankfully, that’s often prettier. That said, if this technique allowed the photographer to show his audience what he saw, then that’s just fine.

  • Tom Jackman

    Frank Niemeir is ridiculously sane. He needs to rein in that sarcasm before someone assaults him with one of those 600 mm lenses. I agree with him.