High Dynamic Range Imaging has a long historical background.  The first commercial use of HDR was still photographs of nuclear explosions created by Charles Wyckoff in the 1940s and published on the cover of Life magazine. In the 1850s photographers were using darkroom masking and matting techniques to combine images of the same scene at different exposures to combat the limited dynamic range of film media.

The motion picture industry has employed HDR techniques such as in-camera matting and masking for decades. Most of us have seen the “Making of” documentaries of Star Trek or Star Wars where they worked with models of the space ships. They would do several exposures: one for the stars in the background with a black model, another with a model that had the lights and another for the visible body of the ship. This is an example of “in-camera” masking. They also use post-production techniques where they shoot negative film in the camera and then make positive or slide copies of that film at different exposures and recombine these to bring out details that otherwise would be hidden in shadow or lost in highlight.

In commercial and architectural photography we would use in-camera masking and matting through the use of filters or cut mattes. Many photographers would use multiple exposures to capture different parts of a scene at different exposure times; this was my preferred method. Commercial photographers would commonly use post-production contrast masks where we would make an under-exposed black and white negative copy of the image that would darken the highlights and allow us to make a duplicate transparency or prints with a lower dynamic range. I’ve known photographers to “pre-fog” film, where they do a very low contrast under-exposure of their B/W film to simulate detail in the darkest shadows.

Burning and dodging prints is another technique still photographers have historically used to control the contrast of their images. Supplemental lighting, that which the photographer brings with him in the form of flash or hot lights, is yet another.  The technique of manually compositing images on the computer where we combine two or more images has been very popular since digital photography became the norm.

Computer games and computer-generated imagery have employed HDR to recreate realistic contrast in scenes that are scripted as night or bright daylight scenes. In fact, the gaming industry is the source of the majority of theoretical research into HDR and how human vision perceives contrast and light.


So, the underlying theory of High Dynamic Range Imaging is not new. What is new is how we use digital cameras, powerful computers and advanced software to combine the images making the process cost-effective in regards to both time and money on a small enough scale that anyone can benefit from the technique while making the process relatively easy.

However, it takes quite a bit of experience to use HDR and get photo-realistic results. Many people get caught up in the thrill of showing incredible amounts of detail, but it is very easy to go too far and end up with surrealistic images that show the technical details of the space with impressive clarity but the overall presentation of the design can be almost nightmarish. I hear HDR photos like this are now being called “clown-vomit HDR,” and I see this as an indication that the “fad” stage of HDR is nearing its end.

I’ve invested years practicing and perfecting my HDR technique, building on my previous two decades of experience using conventional photographic techniques (strobe, hot lights and bounce panels). I employ the HDR techniques with mastery and finesse to create stunning images that capture the character and emotional context of my subjects in a realistic style that is valued and appreciated by sophisticated buyers of architecture and interior design services for its genuine nature and organic feel.
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AuthorDean Birinyi