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Do you need HDR in 2022?

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It was all the rage a few years ago, but do you need HDR in 2022? After all, modern cameras already capture a load of dynamic range and the HDR ‘look’ isn’t quite so fashionable these days.

But, is there still some life in left HDR? To find out, I bought a copy of Aurora HDR, grabbed my camera, and headed down to the beach for some sunset snapping.


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Table of Contents

What is HDR

HDR in photography stands for high dynamic range and is the process of merging multiple photos taken at different exposures into one single high dynamic range photo.

HDR lends itself to dramatic landscapes.

Why bother? Well, a decade ago, HDR was very popular since even the best digital cameras lacked the dynamic range to capture high-contrast scenes. For example, if you were photographing a sunset – the tonal range between the bright sky and the dark land was far more than your camera could handle. As a result, you had to choose between a well-exposed photo of the sky or a well-exposed photo of the ground.

But with HDR, you could have your cake and eat it. Instead of taking a single exposure, you take two. One optimized for the bright sky and another for the darker ground. In isolation, both photos might look awful but merge the two and you end up with a single photo with well-exposed everything.

Dialing HDR up to 11

Besides the practicalities, HDR photography has a particular aesthetic. Because the tonal range of multiple photos is squeezed and compressed down into a single photo – you could create photos with unworldly sharpness, detail, and contrast.

These days, HDR is so passive and commonplace you probably didn’t notice that it’s used on your smartphone photos as a way to overcome the limits of its smaller sensor. But smartphones aside, the golden age of dramatic HDR has passed for two reasons.


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Why you don’t need HDR in 2022

The reason why HDR is no longer commonplace is two-fold. First, the hyper-real aesthetic of HDR fell out of fashion as the pendulum swung back to the more earthly and natural style we enjoy today.

And second, the sensors in modern cameras can capture far more dynamic range than the cameras of old. For instance, my old Nikon D90 could record up to 9.7EV’s worth of Dynamic Range whilst my Nikon D750 captures more like 14EV.

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HDR

This is a huge difference. And in practical terms, it means I’m far less likely to come across a scene that exceeds my camera’s ability to record it. In other words, one photo is usually enough. So, is HDR obsolete? Not quite.

Why you do need HDR in 2022

Although the case for HDR is greatly diminished – it’s still a useful tool to have at hand as there will always be high-contrast scenes exceeding your camera’s dynamic range.

And as your smartphone demonstrates, it’s still possible to create HDR images without the HDR look. But if you can’t help yourself, you can always lean into it, dial it to 11, and go loud and proud (see below).

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HDR


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Conclusion

Whilst HDR is not quite as essential as it once was – it remains a practical solution for capturing high contrast scenes that exceed your camera’s dynamic range.

As for the HDR aesthetic, it’s not for everyone. However, with a little restraint, HDR can be done naturally. That being said, you might have more fun embracing HDR and creating photos that burn the eyeballs. But practically speaking, you can get by just fine without HDR. And if you do, you might be missing out.

What do you think – is HDR obsolete, ugly, or both?

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