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.]