Retract that Last Statement・A Contradiction of HDR

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)” – Walt Whitman

Okay, so I know that I have been discussing my lack of exposure merging and use of any HDR software in recent posts and articles. Now it’s time for a little contradiction. I have been completely content with my results from graduated neutral density filters in the field. So have my clients. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction though. Right? Enter the snow cave from stage right. Now, can I retract all those previous statements about tossing HDR techniques to the wind? Unless they devise some kind of special graduated neutral density filter that can mask an irregular object, or better yet be adjustable in the field, I will need to do what is best for my vision. That would be some really cool James Bond type tool wouldn’t it though?

When I saw this composition, I knew what I wanted for my final image, I just needed to figure out how to get it. Once I was back in my office, I quickly performed a few trial and error solutions in various softwares, I came up with this final workflow. I merged four of the exposures that I shot in Photomatix 4, then I took that composite image and hand blended in the sky and the Tatoosh Mountains beyond in Photoshop. I wanted my viewer to see a hint of the streaming water that was blowing in the light breeze, feel the coolness of my surroundings, and finally visualize the color coming through the thinner areas of the snow roof.

This final, final image was then mastered in Photoshop accounting for contrast, dodging and burning, color saturation, and vignetting. I think I was successful?

This truly proves that there is a tool for every occasion in photography. My goal is to never fall into the rut of shooting one or the other, but allowing for my scene to dictate which direction and approach I need to take in order for my vision to shine through to my viewer.

So what is your take? How do you feel about HDR and image blending? Do you regularly achieve the results you were looking for when you utilize it?