Aug 4, 2006

Was It Done With a Lens, or a Brush?

Source: The New York Times
Written by Ian Austen

Like many amateur photographers, Joe Dejesus posts his photos online and compares them to the work of others on the photo-sharing site Flickr. At some point last year, a number of landscape photos caught his eye with their vibrant tones and colors.

Their secret was a software technology known as H.D.R., for high dynamic range photography. And Mr. Dejesus quickly became one of its practitioners.

“You can get different combinations of colors you cannot achieve with photos,” said Mr. Dejesus, who lives in Granada Hills, Calif., and posts his work under the pseudonym Kris Kros at “You can easily come up with something that looks like a painting.”

A photo of Hollywood Boulevard by Joe Dejesus shows what can be done with H.D.R. software.

H.D.R. is one of many digital darkroom techniques catching the fancy of amateur photographers. With the rising popularity of digital single-lens reflex cameras and more powerful personal computers has come a growing interest in visual experiments.

At the same time, software makers like Adobe are increasingly automating many of those processes, including H.D.R. While they may not always be straightforward, tricky digital techniques no longer require months of experience or hours of study.

Although H.D.R. photos are often compared to paintings, they are an attempt by software makers to allow photography to more accurately mimic human vision.

Dynamic range measures how great a difference between light and dark can be captured by a digital camera or film. Relative to the human eye, all photography has a limited dynamic range, and digital photography suffers even more than film.

It is this limitation that leads to landscape photos where a dramatic sky appears as a washed-out smudge. A classic example of the problem is trying to photograph a room’s interior while still capturing the view outside its windows. In that case, photographers are usually forced to choose either the room or its view as their subject.

While it is certainly possible to darken skies and lighten shadows using Photoshop and other image editing programs, even Adobe, the company that makes Photoshop, acknowledges that those methods fall short.

“You’re just not going to get access to the whole range of the scene,” said John Peterson, a senior computer scientist at Adobe who helped develop Photoshop.

The problem, quite simply, is that the data image editors need is not captured by cameras, even if the image was saved as a RAW file, which holds more data than a conventional JPEG photo.

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