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A series of iconic landmarks and cultural sites shown side by side — one shot in HDR, and the other in classic B&W. Which do you prefer?

IN MY HOUSE, it’s always been coffee with two sugars and milk, or straight black. No middle ground, no changing sides. So it is with photography, where lovers of High Dynamic Range (HDR) images and aficionados of the black & white image very rarely share the same bars. Never mind galleries.

It’s not just a debate about the merits of post-processing versus out-of-camera images, or even questions of the validity and authenticity of altering reality — as both the ‘hyper-real’ enhancements of HDR and the reduced representation of B&W necessarily involve. These debates are there, certainly. But most often it’s a matter of technique and taste.

The angles and light, the moments when a ‘good’ photograph is possible, will be different for the HDR photographer and her B&W counterpart. HDR loves contrasts in colour and saturation. Monochrome depends more heavily on the presence of shapes, texture, and contrast. B&W is more forgiving of noise. HDR can get a viewer’s attention by blowing colours and textures into the category lovingly referred to as “clown vomit.” It’s much harder to make a viewer go blind in black and white.

The colour vs black & white debate has been explored since at least the 1960s by the likes of Joel Meyerowitz (he preferred colour). HDR has only raised the bar a little. Or lowered it into an oversaturated, sugary hell, depending on your photographic tastes. Throwing the scientific method of settling arguments out the window, here’s a tour of some of the glorious landscapes these factions have battled across. Does HDR always trump its older, desaturated cousin? Or is there still a power in composition and light alone?

[For a deeper investigation into this and other highly charged philosophical debates, check out the Travel Photography program at MatadorU.]

Travelers Stoked on this Gallery

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About The Author

Richard Stupart

Richard lives and works in South Africa, exploring as often as possible the strange and unknown places that his continent is so rich in. What stories of far flung places and mischief he is able to trap and bring home are mounted on his blog. Where the Road Goes.

  • Maddie Gressel

    wow, I didn’t think I had a strong preference but now I know I do: black and white all the way.

  • Scott Merk

    I like them both… the black and white images convey a sense of nostalgia, even though they could’ve been taken yesterday… while the HDR images are so vivid, sometimes to the point of being surreal.

  • Ariff Ahmad Tajuddin

    Hi Richard… Thanks for using my picture (Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan, Malaysia).
    Regards, Ariff Tajuddin.

  • Mike C Smith

    Technically, the question should have been Color or Black and white? HDR can also be used with Black and White to great effect.

  • Kathy Amen

    A very interesting question…but I like them all!

  • The Tanned Traveler

    both are great…really depends on other things in the photo, location, time of day, other things in the frame. B/W looks classic, HDR looks futuristic!

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