Monday, December 10, 2007

On Transient Appeal

Maybe you've already heard of "HDR" -- high dynamic range -- photography. As the name suggests, the idea is to capture an image with a very large difference between the darkest dark and brightest bright, rather than flattening dark areas to black or blowing light areas out to white.  In theory, a true HDR system would include a specialized HDR camera, an image format with more dynamic range than normal, and a display device with extraordinary contrast ratio and color bit depth.

All three of those are very complicated and only really understood by imaging professionals who spend most of their time trying to explain it all to people who make cameras, image formats, and display devices.

Fortunately, you can also just apply a couple photoshop filters to a regular digital photograph and simulate the "look" of HDR by flattening the tonal curve of the image into the median range. If you go to and search for "HDR", you'll get thousands of photos where people have done this.

Here's an example I made:

HDR image comparison

Generally I think the HDR version looks like garbage, but the thing is: most people prefer it. It reads as clearer, more colorful, better. As the photographer, I find that really irritating because it's completely disconnected from what I saw, and because I can see all these little artifacts of the photoshop filter like the soft halo around the building. Anybody can apply a photoshop filter to any old photo.

The point of this post, however, isn't about photography. It's about cookies.

A friend recently sent me a link to this webpage detailing one person's cookie recipe; a recipe for bacon chocolate chip cookies. To me, this sounds like one of the best things that I can imagine putting in my mouth, fusing sweet and savory, meaty and starchy, into soft (but slightly crunchy!) mounds of baked perfection.

bacon chocolate chip cookies

I'm not going to try to defend these if you aren't immediately filled with desire and a need for a towering glass of milk, but it sure does it for me and my guess is that there is some similarly over-the-top recipe that does do it for you.

I wonder "why hasn't anybody done this before?" and I think the answer is that bacon chocolate chip cookies are HDR baking.

The HDR photography craze arose along with the various social-networking-style photo sharing webpages. On these sites, popular photos are commented on, voted up, added to favorites lists, or otherwise elevated above the mass of common images. These photos are evaluated at web-friendly sizes on computer monitors of varying quality. The pseudo-HDR filters create an image that grabs eyeballs in just these kinds of conditions because they are immediately stimulating. Evaluate a pair of 8x10" prints however and the HDR version would look tiring and artificial next to the more natural-looking photo.

So I imagine it might be if my grandmother were to make bacon chocolate chip cookies. I might eat through a dozen and decide that I'd prefer the old recipe on a regular basis and that then would be the recipe that goes onto grandma's recipe card. However looking at a foodie blog, bacon chocolate chip cookies look like baked ambrosia and I'll most certainly be making a batch, even if my grandma would be rolling her eyes -- anybody can add bacon to any old cookie after all.


yian said...

in your first series of photos, the HDR photo looks tarted up. reminds me of a gaudy chinatown...

JAYSON said...

I guess it really breaks down to part of your opening paragraph about equipment. I've read a lot of what-have-you about the decline of the old ways of photography. I think the problem is what people do with Photoshop. Photoshop I really believe was intended to be a darkroom replacement and not a substitute for a good camera and some basic photo skill. Add it up with people's general bad taste and you get the HDR craze.

ethan-p said...

Does HDR look good? It's just another effect/technique. It's not something that I'd want to use all the time, but it has a time and place, like everything else.

What the simulated HDR photo suggests, however, is either that my monitor sucks, or there is contrast data in the image that can be brought out with some careful processing (for example, check out under the awnings).

In the case of the photoshop filter; how different is it than, say, printing with an 0-5 filter technique? (It's been years since my days as an amateur photographer, so pardon my misused terminology).

In the case of the bacon cookie...I love bacon, and I love sweet, salty, fat and starch. However, bacon choco-chip cookies sound kind of nasty. I'll stick to my double-salt choco-chip cookie recipe and dipping fries in milkshakes.

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