EDITOR’S NOTE: Since Trey and I are leading a workshop together, I won’t be reviewing this book since some would see it as a conflict of interest. However, our regular book reviewer, Conrad Obregon has a review, which we publish now.
Author: Trey Ratcliff
Publisher: New Riders Press
Review by Conrad J. Obregon
There are good words in the English language that have bad connotations. One of them is flippant. That’s a shame, because it would certainly be nice to describe Trey Ratcliff’s language in A World in HDR as flippant, without disparaging the book.
This book has two different themes. The first is as a collection of travel photographs from around the world. Opposite each photograph is a commentary in which Ratcliff provides his thoughts about the image. For example, in showing a photograph of a monkey in Malaysia, the author discusses thinking about how things are named, and the place of monkeys in the context of the larger world around them, and even of how a photograph can be used to start a discussion.
The book is also about High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging, a process of extending the range of light in photographs by combining differently exposed images of a subject. All of the pictures are made using HDR techniques. There is also a short tutorial on HDR processing with an emphasis on the techniques Ratcliff favors.
When reading this book, it’s useful to keep in mind the dual nature of HDR imaging. On the one hand HDR can be used to capture a range of tones equal to the human eye, rather than the more limited range of a camera, and thereby create what is actually a more realistic photograph. At the other end of the scale, HDR can create surreal pictures with vivid colors and abnormal lighting effects that are more like illustrations. Both effects can be used to convey the vision of the particular artist. Ratcliff appears to prefer the surreal extreme. (Indeed, he doesn’t even discuss the exposure fusion function of the Photomatix Pro software, which can be used to merely extend the range of light.) Readers should remember that surrealism is not the only option.
Readers unfamiliar with Photomatix Pro, which is rapidly becoming the standard software for HDR processing, may prefer a little more detail. One book that I found useful for early encounters with Photomatix is “Practical HDR: A complete guide to creating High Dynamic Range images with your Digital SLR” by David Nightingale. On the other hand, more experienced users may find some of Ratcliff’s suggestions useful. For example, even though it’s a standard Photoshop technique for local adjustments, I’d never encountered or applied the advice to blend the HDR image with the original images to tone down surrealistic effects or deal with image motion.
Strangely enough the author’s breezy language is one of the reasons I recommend this book. It helps to convey the idea that creating images can be fun.