The Lens Versus the Eye: HDR and Garden Photography

When I design gardens, I think a lot about views of the garden from inside the house. When I photograph gardens, I don’t often shoot from the inside out, so to speak, but those kinds of images can be magical. (For stunning examples of what I’m talking about, see A Clearing in the Woods: Creating Contemporary Gardens, by one of my photography teachers, the incomparable Roger Foley.)

One problem that you face if you want to photograph a room and the view from its windows is exposure. The eye can see a much larger range of tones from very bright to very dark than a camera lens is capable of recording. So recently photographers have discovered HDR (high dynamic range) imaging, which involves taking multiple images at different exposures and combining them using a software program such as Photoshop or Photomatix. Sometimes the results can look a little funky if you’re not careful. In other situations the final result is much better than what you could get with a single exposure.

As a garden photographer, this isn’t an approach you can often use successfully in all-outdoor settings unless there is Absolutely No Wind At All, since you usually need about five exposures and any movement of trees or plants will screw the whole process up. Last October, however, in a photography workshop at Chanticleer Garden, I found myself with a situation in which I could try an HDR approach, so I did. Below are two images – the first one processed as a single image in Lightroom and then Photoshop; to produce the second one, five images were processed in Photomatix.

Chanticleer Garden, HDR, landscape photography, Photomatix

This shot was processed as a single image in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Chanticleer Garden, HDR, landscape photography

Five exposures were combined in Photomatix to produce this image.

The single-shot image has more “punch” to it, but some of the areas seen through the veranda openings verge on being blown out, even though I lowered their exposure as much as possible in Lightroom and Photoshop. The HDR image is more muted, overall, but both the “outdoor” views and the indoor furnishings are  more evenly exposed. What my mind’s eye remembers is more like the HDR image, but I welcome comments and feedback as to which photo you prefer.

Related posts: Chanticleer in the Spring

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4 Comments on “The Lens Versus the Eye: HDR and Garden Photography”

  1. sequoiagardens Says:

    Interesting, Melissa, as my impression (via flickr friends) of HDR is that it tends to give harsher rather than gentler results. Exposure extremes is to me the most difficult problem in photography. Perhaps one day I will graduate to a camera and software (not to mention the time!) to try my hand at HDR. Thanks for sharing! Jack

  2. Pam/Digging Says:

    I prefer the first, Melissa. The second one seems kind of flat to my eye.

    • Melissa Says:

      Thanks for the feedback. The more I look at them, the more I think I prefer the “straight” shot (albeit heavily worked over in Photoshop to eliminate over-contrast issues as much as possible). So it’s great to have some confirmation. And HDR is very hard to accomplish in garden settings – this is about as ideal conditions as one could have.

  3. John Says:

    Hi Melissa, I too prefer the first shot. It seems much richer than the HDR version. I sometimes feel the HDR pictures look to “painterly” but this one just looks flat. Nice reminder of Chanticleer in any case…

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