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A World in HDR: The Perspective of Light

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Trey Ratcliff implores you to throw off the shackles of existing camera technology and realize that we no longer need to live with the light limitations of a camera.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

The patterns of light we encounter and record over time are uniquely ours. Those of us who are photographers already understand how light’s practice can fundamentally change the way we experience the world. We are accustomed to using the camera frame to reduce entropy and compose a mathematical pattern out of a chaotic world that looks beautiful to us.

Once you start experiencing the world and capturing it in HDR, it can add another layer to this already rich experience. I implore you to throw off the shackles of existing camera technology. For too long we have come to expect and live with the light limitations of a camera. We see the world one way and capture it in another. This does not make sense. If you have been shooting for a long time, this might take a while for you to internalize, depending on how open-minded you are and your personal propensity for change.

A Cube of Light

The notion of a “cube of light” will only work if you are exceptional at visualization and if I am able to deftly describe a wonderful concept of light to you. Imagine your best friend is color blind and you both sit down one night for dinner. You try to describe what it is like to see a hot red, midnight blue, or a velvety brown color. No matter how good and poetic you might be, describing color to those with no frame of reference is nearly impossible. This also gives you some indication of how our minds have built a rich vocabulary around color. Unfortunately, we have no common vocabulary for discussing ambient light.

Color-blind people have spent their entire lives living in a world of color but have never been able to see it. Likewise, all of us live inside a happenstance slice of the electromagnetic spectrum, and we struggle with ways to recapture what we experience.

You would agree that someone who sees in color has a better chance of taking a color photograph than someone who only sees in shades of gray. It then follows that someone who sees in “light” can take a better photograph of it than someone who does not. As opposed to the color blind who can never be taught what “red” is, anyone can be taught to see in “light.”

The first step is to think about the dimensions of light. We are all used to the three physical dimensions of height, width, and depth. When you take a photo, you certainly have the first two. Begin to think of light as the third dimension, measured in brightness, not in depth.

Imagine a glass cube with a transparent photo on the front. Every part of the entire glass cube has a different light level that allows that photo to make visual sense. The thicker the glass, the more room you have for various light levels. The process of auto-bracketing allows you to increase the thickness of the glass, enabling a wide range of light levels that you can remix into your final version of the photo.

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