As I began to brush up on my landscape photography skills I came across the polarizing (pun intended) issue of HDR photography. More specifically, I came across a well written blog post titled "Is a Lightroom HDR "Effect", Really HDR?" . To quote the post:
I saw this post the other day on 500px (link: http://500px.com/photo/8023755) and it got me wondering. The photographer, Jose Barbosa (who’s work I think is fabulous by the way), wrote “No HDR” next to his photo. But the photo (to me at least) looks like an HDR photo. (...) I did a little digging in the metadata of his photo and saw lots of adjustment brush work done with Clarity (Basically the HDR effect slider in Lightroom). And in the comments on 500px post, the photographer himself wrote “processing in Lightroom and Viveza 2”. (...)
My point (and question to you) is whether HDR (that’s not really HDR), is still HDR? Hasn’t HDR simply just become and effect? Kinda like Black & White or the cross-processing effect. Do we still need 3 or 5 or 7 bracketed photos that were processed in a program like Photomatix, to classify an image as an official HDR photo? Or is HDR simply the effect of bringing out more detail in the shadows and highlights (and maybe a little gritty/surreal look to it).
It seems I have the same question as the author: What really is the difference between these "fake hdr" effects added through say, lightroom's clarity adjustment, along with a shadow/ highlight recovery as opposed to "real" HDR involving bracketed exposures at +/- n EV ? Is there extra noise in the "fake" method? Is there any (noticeable) difference at all ? On a similar note, is there any reason to take an hdr image if we can just use shadow/highlight recovery to evenly expose the entire scene?
if we can just use shadow/highlight recovery to evenly expose the entire scene
This depends on the dynamic range of the scene you are trying to capture and the dynamic range the sensor is able to capture.
If you barely get any details in the shadows when you expose in order not to blow the highlights, you need multiple exposures.
If you can get enough details in the shadows (with minimal or acceptable noise levels) while also preserving highlights, you might be satisfied with capturing and adjusting a single photo.
In my opinion, it's as simple as this: An HDR photo is a photo in which you try to bring up the details in every part of a scene with a high dynamic range. After all that's what the name "HDR" says by itself.
Now, what is a high dynamic range? It's when the shadow parts of the picture are a lot darker then the bright parts of the picture. Historically, one would take multiple photos with different exposures to capture the detail in every part of the scene, because cameras didn't have the ability to capture a high dynamic range. Nowadays, camera's can easily capture 14 stops of exposure (which means that the detail in the darkest tone is 2^14 times less physical light than the brightest tones the camera can capture) (for example: the Nikon D750 has 14.5 stops of dynamic range). This is a lot, and in more situations then before enough to achieve the same effect of an "HDR photo" using multiple exposures. So in short, cameras have become better at capturing large ranges, and therefor the need for multiple photos of different exposures has dropped, but that doesn't make it not HDR. To conclude, the photo on 500px you linked is definitely an HDR photo, since you can tell you can see lots of details in all parts of the picture for a scene with originally a lot of dynamic range.