HDR and photographic integrity.

Once upon a time, I used a single Jpeg – into Nik’s HDRfxPro2 – to make use of its very considerable ability to lend a photo tonal separation. This tonal separation is crucial, and especially before making black and white conversions. A gentleman of extraordinary skill and knowledge with the black and white form did once roundly criticise my choice by saying that the ‘photographic integrity has been compromised because you’ve taken the photograph two steps away from reality: HDR and B&W conversion.’

I agreed with the sentiment that the further removed from reality, the weaker the integrity of the photograph., But, I deeply questioned the idea that HDR was ‘a step away from reality’ at all? I discovered soon after the criticism was made that the reason behind the criticism was an ‘acute dislike of HDR – and especially the way it makes plants and bushes look sharp, halos, and noise!’

My well-argued rejoinder to my critic was to explore the possibility that HDR is – after all – a superior kind of dodging and burning – and an automated way (using Photomatix, HDRfxPro etc) of toning down the highlights, and opening up the shadows, to find more detail. And yes, if you do tackle the halos, over-crisp herbiage, and the sooty, grimy overkill that can ruin too many HDR photos, then an excellent tool for acquiring tonal separation in any photograph (B&W included) is there for the taking!

For an in-depth consideration of why HDR is really just a superior, and finely-tuned, system for dodging and burning, see my words below at “HDR – an especial form…”

But to open up the argument further – how many steps away from reality is actually a betrayal of the photographic form? When a photograph has its horizons “set more towards the face of art” it becomes digital art; if its horizons are “set towards photography” then it retains its integrity? Where is that line crossed? Where and when does a photograph cross the threshold “losing its integrity” and become art… ?


4 thoughts on “HDR and photographic integrity.

  1. redstuffdan January 23, 2014 / 2:33 pm

    A really complex question which l resolve by telling myself that if l create something from any of my original pictures then they retain their integrity because they are and remain unique. If another person likes or dislikes my ‘art’ then so be it – But my stuff will always be what l want it to be NOT what others think it should be.



    • torcello January 23, 2014 / 8:21 pm

      Hi RedStuffDan – and thanks for the input. I think the point I was aiming at was that if a photograph is edited and edited and edited, it gets away from an immediate record of the moment it was created. Its story – the story contained within its frame – is placed there the second the photo is created. Editing can make a photograph tell a different story – the story present at its birth has been disconnected from the photograph through (too much) editing. Every action that removes a photograph from its reality – at its moment of genesis – subtracts from the integrity of the photograph.

      • redstuffdan January 23, 2014 / 9:24 pm


        Very interesting point of view. However your proposition that the moment of creation has to be preserved seems a little naive and simplistic. If we want photo journalism or evidence of the subject as it was at the time e.g. crime scènes or real estate pictures etc then your genetic fundamental image works. If on the other hand we use it as start point towards creating something more illustrative or innovative, as in CGI or digital art or even some psuedo photo art then that is equally valid.

        Just because l take a picture of a aircraft wing why can l not manipulate that image to make other images – especially as the original piece was taken with the end result in mind – not just a bog standard photo of a wing but something more ethereal and artistic.

        My own view is that photographic integrity is in the eye of the photographer – as is our individual taste in art – your view is not diminished just because l disagree its just a difference of opinion. Thats what makes life interesting dont you think – or not!



  2. torcello January 24, 2014 / 8:44 pm

    “…has to be preserved – or very small/unnoticeable edits” for a photograph to keep its integrity as a photograph. And there is a line – if crossed – a new integrity is achieved – the integrity (of the photo) as digital art. So my question remains: where does the integrity of a photograph end by changes, manipulations, edits etc in Photoshop, or Paint Shop Pro, Lightroom etc – and in ending a new integrity is arrived at, the integrity of digital art. It is not that the photo suffers from a loss of integrity, but that as it moves away from its reality stage by stage, edit by edit, it acquires a new integrity. Where is that line to be drawn? When does a photograph, as a photograph, leave its integrity as a photograph, and morph into digital art, which has its own integrity? My original critic stated that he thought that two removes from reality and the photo had acquired a new integrity (and not ‘lost integrity’) – the integrity of digital art. I put the case quite strongly that two removes from its original reality (the HDR work, and the B&W conversion) were not necessarily removing the photo from its original integrity as a photo because, according to him, its new integrity was the integrity of digital art.

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