HDR as an art form

Article by Jimmy McIntyre

When photography was invented artists thought that it would bring ruin to art but it is shown that photography has been an ally of art, an educator of taste more powerful than a hundred academies of Design would have been… .

“Photography and Chromo-lithography,” 1868

King’s Cross, London – photo by Jimmy McIntyre

The reaction of artists to the emergence of photography as an art form was predictable, no doubt. They felt threatened. Here was a new way of representing the world borne out of a technology that few understood, and that could ultimately threaten the livelihood of artists everywhere.

Supported by the likes of Alfred Stieglitz & Edward Steichen, the acceptance of photography as an art form was slow.

Despite the unifying belief amongst modern-day photographers that they do indeed practice an art form, an argument is constantly raging about what exactly constitutes ‘true’ photography.

The most cumbersome of these debates has centred around the use of High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. Many so-called ‘purists’ refuse to acknowledge it as a form of photography at all.  Their argument generally centres around the supposed lack of reality within HDR photos. A purist definition is that photography should be the ‘accurate representation of life’. Strangely enough these same photographers will often create black & white or sepia photographs – a reality no one has yet to experience.

HDR photographers, on the other hand, argue that HDR is not simply a tool for creating surreal photography, it is also a powerful method for building a balanced, more realistic image than any other method available.

Furthermore, HDR practitioners in general question why photography must be an accurate portrayal of real life. They don’t feel the need to bind themselves so adherently to the rules and definitions created by other people.

One word that consistently appears in the HDR vs non-HDR debate is ‘should’. Purists regularly argue what ‘should’ exist in photography, what compositional rules one ‘should’ follow, and what work-flow a true photographer ‘should’ use. HDR photographers commonly ask ‘why?’

The ‘shoulds’ of others only seek to inhibit – photo by Jimmy McIntyre

While guidance can help an individual find their true footing in a particular art from, the word ‘should’ seeks only to constrict creativity. When our imaginations begin to fire it is the word ‘should’ that dulls the flame. ‘Shoulds’ are the walls that we surround ourselves in every day of our existence. We ‘should’ go to work. We ‘should’ get a pension. We ‘should’ do our homework.

In art there can be only one ‘should’. We ‘should’ not be bound by the limitations set by others

In fact, only three things can truly inhibit a person’s artistic endeavours; lack of tools, individual skill, and imagination – not the rules of others.

Many purists proudly claim that they do not edit their work at all. They content themselves with only the hardware they have in their bag. For many HDR photographers it seems strange that hardware like fliters are entirely acceptable to purists, yet software which can often produce the same effect is beyond the realms of acceptability.

In any given field there are elitists who cling on to conventional methods of doing things. It’s difficult to know why this resistence to new technology or belief systems exists. Yet, whatever the reason, curiousity and the need for progress often prevail, changing the practice of established disciplines forever.

While purists continue to debate the use of HDR photography, HDR artists continue to take pictures, to demand more from software, to refine their understanding and practice of composition, and above all, to flex their imaginations whenever possible.

Whether or not people wish to call HDR a form of photography is irrelevant. Purists can also choose to remain ignorant of the wealth of choices HDR offers the world of photography, from surrealism to realism, but we can be certain of one thing; High Dynamic Range Photography is an art form, and arguably one of the most exciting art forms around today.

My name is Jimmy McIntyre and I’m the editor of HDR One magazine. I travel for a living, learn languages, take pictures, and generally strive to enjoy every minute of the waking day! You can visit my HDR travel blog or subscribe to my updates on facebook – Jimmy McIntyre