HDR Tip 8 – Accentuate the Weakness

Trey’s Note: this is part of a week-long HDR Tip session with Rick Sammon.  If you want to find out more, feel free to see the free HDR Tutorial or the more in-depth HDR Tutorial on Video.

This is a multi-faced tip that’s hard to pin down, so stick with me.

I only did three workshops last year – in Tokyo, London, and my hometown of Austin. I told every student the same thing… and I’ll share it with you now. BTW, I’m not planning any workshops at all for 2011. It’s not because they were not successful (each one sold out in less than 24 hours), but because I only spend about 10% of my life on education-related stuff. The other 90%, I’m out shooting, learning, experimenting. So, I’m spending that 10% in different ways this year…

Anyway, the key idea here is not to worry about getting 100% of the photo looking right in your HDR software. I use Photomatix, for example, and I don’t ever try to get 100% to look good. I sacrifice 20% to make sure the other 80% looks amazing. I then clean up the “bad” 20% in Photoshop.

Now, a situation sometimes arises when that 20% is the “central focus” of the photo. Think of it like Angelina Jolie’s lips. There’s no way around them. You can’t minimize them… you can’t hide them… you can’t distract from them. They are there, so, as a director, you better make sure that those lips are doing something interesting in every scene.

In this case, Photomatix has blown out the lights across the top. I had two choices, and I kept these two choices in my mind, fighting, for about a week.

Day 1: Shooting the Photo. When I was at this spot inside the opera house in Beijing, I knew that it was definitely an “HDR Situation”, with very bright lights and dark, intricate textures.

Day 2: Run them through Photomatix. I decided to forget about the lights and focus on getting the other textures and tones interesting.

Day 3-6: Think about things…

Day 7: Final processing:

My thought process on this changed a little bit by this point. Having a long workflow is kind of an interesting way to consider solving these problems. I’m a firm believer in delaying hard decisions that are not time-sensitive. I like to serve up the problem, think about it, and then send it to my subconscious for several days to mull over. I’m not sure I ever come up with a solid solution, but I get towards the shape of a solution that feels right.

In this case, I found that arc of bright lights to be so interesting, that I decided to accentuate that rather than hide it. It reminds me a bit of one of the saucer-separation scenes from TNG. There’s an unholy light that connects and binds two surfaces. By breaking some rules and keeping it overblown, it adds some nice mystery back into the piece. Talking through some of these issues is difficult, because words fail me when it comes to describing why I do certain things. Perhaps you have the shape of the ideas here, however.

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