Photographing Contrasts on the Sussex Downland

Summer on the lush Sussex Downland around Midhurst, England brings with it the chance of capturing some striking contrasts. Dotted around the hedgerows are these old dead oaks, stripped of foliage and bleached by the weather. They stand grey and stark against the full green blackberry bushes, nettles, and grasses. Towards the end of the summer, the bright blue skies contrast beautifully against the yellowing cornfields and bubbling cloud formations.

Striking contrasts — Why I sometimes like to use HDR techniques in my photography

In it’s simplest form, High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is a technique that uses software to mix and match multiple exposures of the same view by enabling the photographer to emphasize and de-emphasize the color of individual pixels. Some photographers have very strong negative feelings about the use of HDR as it can be used to make gaudy and overdramatic imagery, but they miss the point. Photography has and always will be a creative art. Just as in oil painting there are those that choose to paint as realistically as possible just as there are those that feel a photograph should be raw and unprocessed. But there are also artists who push the boundaries. They create highly communicative imagery by being less pure and adding more ambiance to their pieces. HDR is just a way of doing that through photography.

Another way to look at HDR is that as we look at the world our eyes are constantly adjusting to the light and constantly re-focusing on different objects. We do not see the world in a single exposure shot. In traditional photography, you take a single shot at a single exposure. If the photographer is really good she can create depth in the image using visual tools and shadows but it is still a relatively flat piece. HDR allows the artist to bring out different areas of light in different ways, mimicking the way the eve adapts to different focus points and brightness’. This is why HDR photography gives a more emotional feel to the viewer and a heightened sense of color and light. For me, I see HDR techniques as just part of toolbox. It works really well for landscapes but not so well for portraits or moving imagery Like all art, you should judge each piece on its own merits, not by the techniques used to create it.

Pushing the limits of HDR on the Sussex countryside

The use of a high dynamic range in photography is to give the scene a more personal and interpretive view. It adds an artistic element that allows the photographer to bend the view to be moody, or happy or whatever. Most of the time I use HDR to enhance an image rather than over-cook it. I keep the saturation within limits and avoid the more funky lighting settings. Occasionally an image calls out for a more dramatic approach. In the image above I wanted to emphasize the contrast between the smooth, grey wood of the tree and the lush green foliage around it. By turning up the HDR in various ways I could also bring out the twisted grain of the trunk and branches. At the same time, I was able to bring out the blue sky against the yellow cornfield. Not the best pic I’ve taken but it was fun playing with it I’ll have to try another set of shots next time I’m back in England.

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