Author: Rafael Concepcion
Publisher: Peachpit Press
Aimed at: Creative photographers
Pros: Good on surrealistic effects
Cons: Ignores many HDR techniques
Reviewed by: David Conrad
Does it deliver on the promise of the subtitle - "Unlocking the Pros' Hottest Post-Processing Techniques"
What you make of this book says much more about the sort of photographer you are, and perhaps even what sort of personality you have.
HDR is a technique used to extend the tonal range that can be captured in an image. If you take a photo of a room with a doorway and the view through the door is much darker than the room, then you can't set a single exposure that will capture both room and doorway - it's one or the other. Conventional HDR works by taking more than one exposure and putting the frames taken at different exposures together to create a single image. Of course the problem is that the resulting single image now has a tonal range that goes beyond what can be displayed on a monitor or printed. You still have the problem that the tonal range is too great to solve. So the next step is to find a mapping from the extended tonal range to the range of the display.
The big question is what are the desirable characteristics of such a tonal map?
The answer to this question is probably going to determine your reaction to this book. The human eye isn't as constrained as a camera in term of response to light. As the eye scans a room the iris changes the exposure so that it appears that the dark doorway has detail and so does the room. One approach to finding a mapping attempts to make the image more like what the eye would see. This is the purist approach to HDR, but it can still create amazing-looking images that seem natural and yet not what you would expect of a photograph.
The other point of view is to pick up on the "amazing" part of the deal and forget that there was, or needs to be, any correspondence with reality. If you feel like this you probably don't mind just experimenting with settings to get a stunning picture - and what is wrong with that?
Personally I prefer a more conservative approach that, I hope, lets the picture shine through rather than the shine pushing itself to the forefront! However I have to admit that there is a place for both approaches and photography above all else is supposed to be fun.
I also have to admit that there are some really nice photos inside this book. It is therefore even more of a shame that the cover is such a terrible choice - it looks dull, messy and it's a photo I would not have wanted to have taken. So cover the cover with brown paper and continue on inside.
Chapter 1 on tools and techniques typifies the approach of the book overall. It doesn't tell you in minute technical detail what is going on. In fact if you don't have some idea what HDR is all about you might have difficulty in figuring it out from the collection of topics discussed - bracketing, using a tripod, mirror lock and so on. Each is illustrated by a "stunning" photo - for "stunning" you have to read "over done" in some cases. The overdoing can be justified if you are aiming for a surrealistic result rather than just super-realistic or realistic.
Chapter 2 is about what to HDR - and the simple answer would be "anything with a tonal range that cannot be represented in a standard image". This is not the answer presented in this chapter - it's full of examples of situations that really don't need HDR unless your intention is to use tone mapping to create an artwork with a fair amount of surrealism - why one of these images isn't the cover is a real mystery.
From here we go into some techniques - mostly Photoshop, Efex Pro, Photomatrix how-tos. There is little consideration of exactly what the tone mapping is trying to achieve. This is very much a "try it out and see if you like it" approach to HDR post processing. Some of the explanations are of very basic techniques that you probably already know from non-HDR processing.
After this all of the chapters are projects which explain how an HDR image was created. Some of the projects I liked, some not so much. I soon reached the stage of wondering why multiple images and HDR was involved at all because there were simple single-shot techniques that would have produced improved images from the originals with less fuss.
This feeling was intensified when I reached Chapter 13 which is about single-image HDR - which is clearly a nonsense if you are being picky. Essentially this is just about using the tone mapping techniques on an image with a standard dynamic range. This really does confirm that the author thinks that HDR is just another special effect in the photographer's armory - a position I'm not at odds with, but it would have been nice to have an explanation of HDR and what makes it stand out from the general run of tools.
If you want to be creative and use HDR-like techniques to make your photos look strange and otherworldly then you might get a lot from this book. It is undeniable that it has a lot of energy and excitement in its pages and it even has the occasional very nice photo - but for me the overall effect was of saturation. It was like eating nothing but sugar all day long.
This really isn't a book about HDR proper and if you want to find out some of the clever and remarkable ideas involved in creating multi-shot HDR then you need to find another book and give this one a miss.